Archive for economy
Kevyn Orr is just like any Washington, D.C. bankruptcy attorney who is black, who has a strong resume, and who oozes confidence.
Except that he’s been plucked from the vine to save a city that some say is beyond saving.
Orr is Detroit’s new Emergency Financial Manager (EFM). He is unique in that, while he’s a bankruptcy lawyer and has been a part of many such restructurings, he actually would prefer not to lead the city into bankruptcy as a way to cure what ails it.
“Frankly, I’d like to avoid it,” Orr told the Detroit News’ Nolan Finley. “Bankruptcy can certainly have benefits to what the emergency manager would have to do, but I would like to think of that as a last resort as opposed to a first option. No, I don’t think we’re inevitably headed to bankruptcy, but people have got to be realistic, reasonable and focused on changing the architecture of the finances of the city so they can go into a sustainable model for the future.”
Orr might be the most delusional man in America. He calls the Detroit EFM job “the Olympics of restructuring,” yet he says the job could be done not within the planned 18 months, but three to six months, “if people in a collegial and good faith basis could get together.”
Ahh, more delusional thoughts. Words like “collegial” and “good faith basis” are not normally indigenous to the machinations of Detroit.
But Orr is confident, and with a connection to Michigan, professionally (“this is the state that gave me my start”), and a University of Michigan graduate, he says he felt “compelled” to take the EFM job when Governor Rick Snyder came calling.
“(This could be) something I can tell my grandkids about.”
Orr is 54. With the decisions he has to make, and the enormity of the task before him, you would think his main objective would be to make it to 55.
But at least the City Council dropped plans for a lawsuit to stop the EFM, albeit temporarily, from taking over. Orr officially starts his new job on March 28. Be thankful for small favors.
The good news, I suppose, is that Orr doesn’t seem to think that the turnaround of Detroit is an impossible task. Difficult? Yes. History making, potentially? Double yes. But not impossible.
But Kevyn Orr might not be so delusional after all.
“I’m prepared to be the most hated man for a period of time,” Orr told Finley.
That may be the most intuitive thing anyone in a leadership role in the city of Detroit has ever said.
How long before video stores go the way of travel agencies?
Remember the local travel agent? They’d advertise on local TV and they had tiny offices with globes on the signs and maps on the walls. You’d ring them up if you wanted a surrogate to get you the best deal on a hotel in Chicago or a rental car in Boston.
Then the Internet struck, with its multitude of websites, and the American traveler became his or her own travel agent. The middle man, as so often has happened after the Internet, was cut out, like a tumor.
Why pay someone to do something that we could do for free, and still get discounts to boot?
So I wonder about the fate of the corner video store.
Actually, you may have to drive past quite a few corners before you find a video store these days.
NetFlix, the Red Box kiosks, the Internet (of course) and more people owning BluRay discs than DVDs, are all contributing to the slow death of the local video store, I’m afraid.
But some of it is the video store’s own doing.
Take late fees. Please.
One of the allures to the above alternatives to renting movies is that none of them will charge you a late fee. And late fees, if we’re just talking between us, is surely a big revenue gainer in the video rental business.
One of the reasons why late fees are so common is that the due dates for the movies are all over the map.
This one’s due in two days. That one’s due in three days. You have a full week on that other one. Oops, better get THIS one back TOMORROW. Or else.
We used to run a late fee balance at one of the local stores like a drunk would a bar tab.
Even asking for a printout of the due dates, which the store gladly provided, didn’t always prevent Video A, B or C frome being brought back tardy.
But here’s the deal: video stores must be feeling the heat from their competitors. So why not back off on the late fees? And I have just the idea to make that happen, and make the video store more attractive.
If I ran a video store, I’d advertise that every movie in the joint, from A to Z, was a one-week rental. Every single one.
Doesn’t matter if it’s a “new release.” Doesn’t matter if it came out on Tuesday, or 12 years ago. Every one of my films, you can have for a week.
Simple. Easy to remember.
Will people still be tardy, even under that arrangement? Sure. But that’s on them.
I’d even call my place One Week Video. Seriously.
Think of it. You come in, browse, grab a bunch of movies, pay me and know that everything is due one week from today. Simple. No muss, no fuss.
I’d even have seven different types of bags, each with a day of the week on it. You come in on a Monday, you get a Monday Bag. And so on.
“Honey, when are these movies due back?”
“What does the bag say?”
Of course, you go beyond the seven-day limit, and we have a problem. But I won’t tag you for very much. Promise.
It’s an idea that makes far too much sense, which is why it won’t be adopted.
Which is part of why the video store will join the travel agent, the drive-in movie and mini-golf in the Dungeon of the Forgotten.
Sooner, rather than later.
The sandwich board is making a comeback.
I’m not talking about literal sandwiches here, like the kind you eat.
I’m talking the term often used for the signs those poor folks are holding or wearing these days, hawking a variety of retail outlets, from cell phone stores to oil change places.
The sandwich board was so named because of its original incarnation, which was usually two pieces of wood, connected with rope or twine, which the wearer would sling over his shoulders, advertising on the front and back, creating a sort of human “sandwich.”
The sandwich boards started showing up in earnest in the late-1920s and early-1930s, which were, not coincidentally, the days of the Great Depression. But in those days, often the human sandwich was promoting himself, not any company.
The sandwich board is back, but in a more streamlined fashion. It used to be that the only businesses in recent years who commissioned people to stand on the curb and wave people in, holding a sign, were car washes (the fundraising kind) and, during tax season, tax preparers (with typically someone dressed as Lady Liberty or Uncle Sam).
Now, there are so many sandwich boards and signs out there, I’m surprised they’re not bumping into each other.
There’s this one dude who works for one of those companies that buys and sells gold. I see him every Friday when I’m on my way to cash my check on Rochester Road, and I have seen him for over a year now, rain, snow or shine. He wears headphones and is swiveling his sign like mad, all the time. And I just see him on Fridays. Doubtless he works the whole week as well.
The thing is—and granted, it’s hard to tell just by driving by at 40 mph once a week—he seems perfectly happy to be doing it. Not bored at all. He walks up and down, forward and back, swiveling his sign.
To be honest, I don’t even know where his employer’s store is located. I only see him, not the actual store front.
But he’s there, every week, with his gold sign with black print, walking up and down that tiny stretch of Rochester Road. He looks to be in his 20s, and physically fit.
I wonder what they pay people these days to be human sandwiches?
Back in the day, the sandwich board advertised people, not businesses
Is it worth the cost? Is such advertising really effective? Using my Friday Guy as an example, maybe not. You’ll notice I have made mention of driving by him, but not knowing the name of his company, nor exactly where the store is located. And I’ve seen him do his thing for well over a year.
Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of having him there?
I also drive by an oil change place every night on my way home from work. That dude strays from the sidewalk, however, and damn near stands on the street. Kind of dangerous, if you ask me.
But again, does his presence make me want to get my oil changed?
Does any human sandwich influence your wanting to drop some dollars at the sandwich’s business?
Regardless, there’s no question that the human sandwiches are increasing in number. I guess it’s the new wave of guerrilla marketing.
We’ve come a long way, I guess, since “Eat at Joe’s” was the sandwich board of the day.
Not sure if that’s good or bad.
I have this crazy, mixed up thought that the politicians we elect are supposed to represent those of us who elected them.
Yet there is one man who has a Svengali-like hold on the Republican wing of Congress, a hold that I’m not sure is disturbing, annoying, reprehensible or all of the above.
His name is Grover Norquist, and apparently Grover’s interests and marching orders trump those of the electorate when it comes to the GOP members of Congress.
Norquist, back in 1985, started Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), apparently at the behest of President Ronald Reagan. Norquist has never held political office, nor has ever run for so much as city councilman. Yet he has somehow managed to convince dozens of Congressmen (and women) to be his lapdogs.
Norquist is the originator of The Pledge, which holds to the fire the feet of every member of Congress (and Senate) who has taken it. It’s a pledge to never raise taxes, under any circumstances.
From Norquist’s Wiki page: Prior to the November 2012 election, 238 of 242 House Republicans and 41 out of 47 Senate Republicans had signed ATR’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”, in which the pledger promises to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
“I’ll have to check with Grover,” one of the new U.S. Reps from Michigan actually said when the Detroit Free Press recently asked if that rep would support modest tax increases on the wealthy.
I’ll have to check with Grover?
The GOP is no longer a party; it’s a political cult. And Norquist is their Jim Jones.
Norquist has steadfastly refused to reveal the identity of those who fund his ATR, but it’s widely speculated that the contributors are wealthy individuals, foundations and corporate interests. Big surprise, I know.
I have a fundamental problem with a non-elected person—Norquist himself; he IS the ATR—wielding so much power and influence over those elected and who are sworn to represent their constituents.
As the nation teeters on the brink of the so-called “fiscal cliff,” Norquist has become front and center in the debate, as one-time sensible, independent thinking politicians have been revealed instead to be members of Norquist’s cult.
There isn’t any wiggle room for common sense, reasoning or debate in ATR’s pledge. Only now are some pledge takers beginning to see the light of the oncoming freight train and backing away from Norquist’s outdated, outrageous pledge.
Norquist appears to be a one-man lobby and special interest, all by himself. He wields power a lot of elected officials could only dream of having.
As long as actual members of Congress are saying things like “I’ll have to check with Grover” when confronted with issues affecting our national economy and children’s future, something is seriously wrong.
You want to talk about pledges?
How about the one to the American people.
It’s not rocket science to declare that, when running as a presidential incumbent, it’s better to run on a campaign of “Look what I did”, instead of “Just give me a little more time,” i.e. four years.
It’s looking like President Obama has been opting for the latter option.
It’s said that people vote for president from the inside out, meaning that they assess their own personal situation first, before they consider any state, national or international consequences.
Makes sense. Taking care of Number 1 isn’t necessarily a selfish, arrogant thing to do. Who else is going to do it?
The latest jobs numbers came out, and for Obama, less than four months away from Election Day, they could be better.
Just 80,000 jobs added in June. Unemployment rate stubbornly remaining at 8.2%. Economic experts suggesting that the brief recovery may have already petered out.
It’s the economy, stupid. Isn’t it?
It hardly matters that the president, in reality, has limited influence, by himself, over the national economy and jobs creation. It takes a village to raise an economic child, re: Congress, the states, and the Executive Branch.
But as Harry Truman espoused, “The buck stops here.” Obama will, rightly or wrongly, take the hit if the jobs numbers remain sluggish come fall.
The economy, frankly, is the only thing that is preventing the dynamic president from trouncing the stiff, less-than-brilliant, hoof-in-mouth Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.
Obama has, so far, been forced to run a campaign that is a little more defensive than he would prefer. OK, maybe a LOT more defensive. The president is at his best when he’s on the attack, being proactive and framing a vision.
Then again, isn’t any candidate?
Obama, in 2008, was the attack dog, going after George W. Bush and assailing the president on his eight-year track record, and then doing a wonderful job in casting John McCain as someone who would simply be a Bush in McCain clothing.
It was a campaign filled with enthusiasm, vision, and that four-letter political word, hope.
2012 sees a much different Obama—one that doesn’t resonate as well and one who isn’t in his comfort zone.
Obama, until now, hasn’t really ever had to defend anything, politically. His has been a career of looking forward and asking that Bobby Kennedy question (as channeled by Teddy), “Why not?”
Now, Obama must ask a bastardized version of that.
“Why not give me another term?”
The president talking to patrons at an Ohio diner, on the campaign trail
It’s a question he doesn’t relish, and not just because the answers he will get are liable to be plentiful and soaked with battery acid.
It’s a question born of weakness, and Obama has never been about weakness in any political campaign.
The message that Obama and his campaign people ought to be drilling into the skulls of American voters, especially the so-called independent ones, is very simple.
Stay the course.
Now THAT can be a message filled with courage, determination and mettle.
Just think of the metaphors, some of them encapsulated in great moments in history.
The first that comes to mind is the brave ship captain, insisting his crew plow forward, because past these storms are blue skies, dry land and a bounty.
It takes more courage and guile, sometimes, to stay the course than to veer off at the first sign of trouble.
The second part of the message is to clearly identify why staying the course is wise instead of stubborn.
But that’s it, basically. Obama needs to convince the majority of the electorate that his way is best, despite the seemingly gloomy June jobs numbers.
He needs to stop defending and start defining.
There’s a difference, you know.
Ever wonder what happened to Winkelman’s? Jacobson’s? Uniroyal?
What about Farmer Jack? Great Scott? A&P?
Stroh’s? Twin Pines? Pants Galore?
Fretter Appliance? Belvedere and Bond-Bilt? New York Carpet World?
Highland Appliance? Sanders? Kresge?
Cunningham’s? Red Barn? Burger Chef?
To name a few.
And that’s just a percentage of the businesses, mostly local, that no longer exist but which I remember in my days growing up in Livonia in the 1970s.
I remember the commercials for many of the aforementioned as well.
Ollie Fretter promised us a five pound bag of coffee if he couldn’t beat our best deal. Mr. Belvedere’s phone number was TYler 8-7100.
TV newscaster Marilyn Turner did commercials for Carpet Center, flashing her gams. The Highland Appliance spots were legendary, often featuring local (and sometimes national) celebrities.
Irving Nussbaum proudly said that New York Carpet World was “the better carpet people.”
Mel Farr flew through the sky with a cape, promising a “Farr better deal.”
Remember listening to the radio and suddenly it was “Farmer Jack savings time”?
The Twin Pines man, I have written about before. I can still see the bright green trucks.
There was a Kresge in Universal Mall in Warren, back when it wasn’t unusual to find drugstores and “five and dimes” in malls.
I also fondly recall the outdoor signs of the retailers and restaurants back in the day.
One word comes to mind—two, actually: BIG and garish. And they often rotated on an axis.
Think about the Arby’s signs of the day: the HUGE 10 gallon hat with ARBY’S ROAST BEEF SANDWICH IS DELICIOUS spelled on it.
Now THAT’S a sign!
Little Caesars had its namesake rotating above the pizzeria, a pie impaled on his spear.
Kentucky Fried Chicken joints had the big, rotating buckets. Union 76 gas stations had that round, orange ball with 76 on it, twice. It rotated, too.
If they weren’t rotating or spinning, the signs were lit like the Vegas Strip.
The ’60s and ’70s signs were big on lightning bolt-like arrows and anything that flashed or changed colors intermittently.
I swear the signs of those times must have weighed several tons.
Look at a Holiday Inn sign now and then compare it to those of 35-40 years ago. The older versions were, again, big and garish with the script “Holiday Inn” brightly lit with sparkling lights.
There was nothing compact about those days.
Today, as those companies have long ago withered away, we’re mostly stuck with “big box retailers” and franchises that I don’t really trust.
And their commercials stink. And their signs are too small. And they don’t light up right.
I’m a man who actually doesn’t mind going shopping at Target.
I know I’m in the minority. I know a trip to Target, for most men, is one that is commonly accompanied by kicking and screaming.
But I have an ulterior motive for treks to Target: popcorn and soda.
It’s a hidden gem, I tell you.
At Target—at least the one near our house—you can get a decent size bag of popcorn and a medium-sized drink for $1.99.
So while Mrs. Eno grabs a shopping cart and sets out to cross off her list, I make a beeline for the snack counter to grab my deal of the century.
For $2.11, after tax, I can munch on fresh popcorn and sip an icy cold drink, like a child, while my better half shops.
Oh, I’m not stodgy or protective. I absolutely offer my wife popcorn and pop throughout our shopping visit. So I’m sharing the wealth.
Popcorn and a pop for $2.11.
I bring this up because a similar combo, at your neighborhood movie house, would set you back about $8-10. Easy.
The Free Press ran a story yesterday about why concessions are so expensive at movie theaters. A theater owner, Jon Goldstein (Maple Theater, Bloomfield Hills), offered up a relatively unsurprising “explanation.”
It’s simply an example, Goldstein says, of theaters passing costs onto the consumer.
Good, old fashioned American capitalism, in other words.
He also blamed us messy moviegoers.
“The life of a popcorn seed would actually be very interesting, from getting popped to putting into a bucket, to where it ends up at the end of the day, whether it’s in someone’s stomach or smushed into the seats or the floors of the theater,” said Goldstein in the Freep story.
“If people would spill that popcorn in the living room as they do in the movie theater, I think they would understand the labor costs that go into running a concession stand in a busy movie theater.”
I have spilled my share of popcorn in the living room. But cleaning it up certainly wouldn’t run me a fortune in paid labor.
Even extrapolated to the rows of seats in a theater, I can’t imagine how sweeping popcorn from the floor equals $10 for a bucket and a soda.
But at least Goldstein spoke on the subject, which has mostly been dealt with with rolling eyes from consumers and little explanation from theater owners.
Yet Goldstein’s comments about why concession prices are so high smack of greed and gouging—by movie studios. The price of a ticket—also high—apparently goes mostly back into the studios’ coffers, Goldstein says.
“If we can’t keep a majority of that ticket price there’s only one way that we can pay for everything……and that’s at the concession stand,” Goldstein said.
Understood. A theater guy’s gotta make a living.
Just think how high the prices would be if the employees were paid more than $7 an hour.
The above sentence isn’t fact-based; I’m guessing. But I can’t imagine that theater owners, already crying foul over having to raise concession prices to make a buck, are paying their employees—who are mainly teenagers—much more than peanuts.
I don’t think Goldstein is a bad guy. I don’t think theater owners, in general, are bad guys. But still, the prices seem awfully high, don’t they?
Goldstein did say something that I respect.
“If you treat your customers like they are not smart, then they are going to do things that are not smart, but if you treat customers with respect and with honesty then you usually get that in return as well.”
I like that philosophy.
But there’s also this, which will continue to happen until the end of days.
“If you have to make money, that’s fine,” said Amber Hunt, 29, of Ferndale. “But more people are just going to be sneaking in candy like me.”
Now, if they start screening movies at Target, you think the $1.99 popcorn/pop special will go away?
In a Hollywood minute.
It’s often used in the world of sports, the notion of “doesn’t anybody want to win this thing?”
Typically, scribes and observers will say that about a baseball pennant race or some other competition in which the players or teams involved appear to be more insistent on losing and screwing up than actually winning.
The Michigan GOP Primary is nearing, and the two front-runners are stumbling over themselves to crow how they would NOT have authorized a bailout of the Big 3 automakers if they were president.
This on the heels of news that GM just announced a 2011 profit of $7.6 billion. Profit sharing checks are upwards of $7,000 for giddy GM employees.
Yet here are Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum sweeping into the state, trying to out shout the other about how against the bailout they still are.
It’s a rather strange strategy, to say the least.
Usually politicos are wont to crow their “I told you so” stance. It’s a tried and true method of making yourself look good to voters—to be able to puff out your chest and tell everyone, “If only you had listened to ME, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
But when the results of your stance are proven to be wrong/misguided, wouldn’t you just want to shut up about it? Or, at the very least in this case, eat some humble pie and feel good for the car industry?
If Romney looks weary here, it’s probably because he’s been expending a lot of energy double and triple-talking his way around the auto industry bailout situation
Romney and Santorum, however, don’t see it that way, apparently.
Romney is more egregious, as he’s done some verbal gymnastics in trying to explain his 2008 column in the New York Times. The one entitled, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
Yeah, that one.
But Romney has not only explained it, he’s re-defended it. Amidst all sorts of facts suggesting that he was dead wrong. His “solution” of a “managed bankruptcy” has very few, if any, people with industry and financial knowledge on board with him. Some have described it as laughable, given the state of the economy in 2008.
Again, strange strategy heading into a primary in—MICHIGAN.
Especially when you’re trailing your opponent by four points, in the latest Detroit News poll (34-30, to Santorum).
What’s next for these GOPers? Some caustic remarks about corn just before traveling to Nebraska? Decrying the movie industry on their way to California?
Romney is airing some TV ads that show him driving around Metro Detroit, waxing nostalgic about his childhood. He talks about going to the Auto Show with his dad. Then he makes an about face and openly wonders, “How could this great industry get itself into such a fix?”
Romney has it wrong. It’s not about how the Big 3 got into the mess (that’s a whole other story), it’s the success story of how they got out of it. But I can see why Romney doesn’t want to harp on that, because he was against the eventually successful solution. And he’s still against it, and would be against it again.
Santorum told the Economic Club of Detroit today that he wouldn’t have bailed the Big 3 out, either. Good for him.
Don’t either of these guys want to win here?
Detroit, once upon a time, was a bustling, thriving city—an international port with industry coming out of its ears. They made cars in Detroit, and better than anyone else. But Detroit also was a huge component to the WWII effort—building tanks and other items of importance.
It was a riverfront city with a brand new convention complex (Cobo) built by 1960 and was even considered as a host city for the Olympics. President Kennedy, no less, appeared on film, making the case for Detroit to host the Games, which was shown to the selection committee.
Detroit had well over a million people living within its boundaries. It was a media market that was just a notch below the New Yorks and LAs of the country. It wasn’t unusual for Detroit on-air talent to vamoose to New York, with no stops in between.
Detroit is crumbling. Its infrastructure is a joke. The money is gone. It’s a city that can’t adequately protect its citizens, pick up the trash on time, or change a busted street light without a month of Sundays going by.
The financial crisis going on in the city is both a tragedy and a mystery. Tragedy because a once great city is tattered and torn; mysterious because it’s a wonder how we got here, to this degree.
The enormously frustrating thing is that, whether suburbanites want to admit it or not, the fate of Detroit greatly impacts that of the entire state of Michigan.
Can there be a strong Michigan without a strong Detroit? Yes, but not likely, and it would be oh-so-much more difficult to pull off.
Can Detroit be strong and the state not be? Yes, but also not very likely—though it has happened throughout history.
Governor Rick Snyder, to his credit, isn’t a Republican who thinks his state can operate independently from Detroit, as if the city exists in a plastic bubble.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t the usual contentiousness between City Council and anyone who works and plays outside the city borders.
Especially politico types.
Bing: Working against a fast-running clock
But time has never been running out on Detroit as it is now. It’s so appropriate that the mayor is an ex-NBA star. Dave Bing is used to working against a short shot clock.
He needs to hoist a desperation three point shot at the buzzer.
No, it’s not terribly brilliant or clever to make basketball analogies.
But can you think of a better one?
Detroit is on life support. How tragic. And mysterious.
A less scrupulous parent might encourage his daughter to drop out of high school before her senior year. Or a poor one.
I’m about to be the latter, because I’m not the former.
Our daughter is entering her senior year of high school, or as it’s otherwise known to parents, The Shakedown.
The schools have us senior parents between a rock and a hard place, and don’t think they don’t know it.
My wife registered our daughter this morning for the school year, and being a senior is not only a very special year, it’s also very expensive.
There are the senior photos, of course. Those were taken this summer and while the proofs are absolutely beautiful, the packages begin at over $500.
I graduated high school in 1981, and I remember making a very understated trip to the Olan Mills studio in Livonia in the summer of 1980 with my polyester, three-piece suit and a comb.
We snapped a few head shots and I was probably on my way back home within the hour, at most.
Today, the poses are multiple, there are more wardrobe changes than a Lady Gaga concert, and there are so many good proofs you have no idea how you’re going to whittle them down. Hence the large and expensive packages for such undecided parents.
Then there’s the yearbook and the hoodies and sweats and the senior dinner and the all-night party. We also have to pay for the cap and gown, don’t you know. Cha-ching!
The all-night party, by the way, runs $80 a head. I have no idea what the kids get for $80 a head, but it ought to involve the aforementioned Lady Gaga concert! As in, Lady Gaga herself shows up and performs.
By contrast, the senior dinner is only $10 a person. I’d like to know what makes the all-night party eight times more expensive than the senior dinner. Come to think of it, I’d rather not know.
We’ve already purchased must-haves like the class ring and our daughter’s varsity jacket. That was last year. Thank goodness those are out of the way.
Eventually there will be graduation announcements that need to be selected and paid for. My wife made the analogy that having a senior is like having a daughter who is someone’s fiancee. Because the whole thing takes on a wedding planning-like aura.
I know it was 30 years ago, but I don’t recall all this…stuff going on during senior year.
If our daughter reads this, I would remind her that daddy isn’t really complaining. I’m proud and happy for you, sweetie. This truly is a special time.
Just as long as you don’t mind eating Kraft Mac and Cheese three nights a week.