Friday, February 25, 2011

Rich Man, Poor Man: Charting the Income Gap


As these charts show all too clearly, not everyone is hurting equally as the country deals with the recession. (If it's not clear, click on the charts to enlarge them.) Of course, this is probably old news for anyone who has spent time in Flint, but it's worth repeating in an era of massive budget cuts.
The Great Recession and the slump that followed have triggered a jobs crisis that been making headlines since before President Obama was in office, and that will likely be with us for years," Zachary Roth reports. "But the American economy is also plagued by a less-noted, but just as serious, problem: Simply put, over the last 30 years, the gap between rich and poor has widened into a chasm."
Lucky for me, that time span pretty much covers my entire working life.

The Snowy Streets of San Francisco

The locals panic as snow hits San Francisco in December 1882.

Feels just like home...
"Those blue skies kissing the Bay Area with a chilly semblance of warmth Tuesday were just teasing, it turns out, because the cold - and we do mean cold - hard truth is that snow appears to be on its way to San Francisco," reports Kevin Fagan of The San Francisco Chronicle. "On Saturday morning, forecasters say, city folks could wake up to find their find their streets carpeted an inch deep in wet alabaster for the first time in 35 years. And it's expected to be even thicker elsewhere around the Bay Area, especially in the hills."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Auto Factory...German Style



Funny, no mention of drinking in the parking lot during breaks.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Flint Postcards: Elms Motel

An Educator Learns the Lessons of Flint

Keith and his squat on Second Avenue in 2006. [Photo, Left, by Mickel Darmawan; Photo, right, by Wes Janz.]


Wes Janz, an architecture professor at Ball State University and founder of onesmallproject, has visited Flint numerous times. He sums up the experience in a great essay in Design Observer that's worth reading.

"Flint is elusive," Janz writes. "It’s like this for me now, after twenty-plus visits: Buildings once there are now gone, replaced by lawns, by weeds, maybe by gardens. Buildings I photographed are now charred rubble or have disappeared. I knew something once, but now it’s changed; or maybe my memories are faulty, maybe I’m at the wrong intersection, expecting to see a building that is a block away. That happens. People I knew have left. They lose jobs, lose interest, lose their way. I lose touch with them. That happens, too. I think I know somebody, and on my next trip to Flint, find out they’ve vanished."
The essay also captures some of the very human lessons Flint has to offer:
Flint is, or was, Keith. I’m not sure where he is now. On one of our early trips with students, we were told that a squatter was being evicted from the front porch of an abandoned house where he had lived for a week. Hung blankets were his walls, the front steps his kitchen. He wasn’t “home,” so we walked on in, stepping around a couch and chair, loaded cardboard boxes, table covered with his belongings, several posters including one that read: “I AM ME ... I AM OKAY.” Later I thought: Who the hell did I think I was? Why was I so comfortable walking around, looking at his personal stuff? Maybe the “personal stuff” of squatters is not so obvious. Then, suddenly, Keith appeared. We talked. He talked with my students. That day he was moving to another squat a couple of blocks away. He said he had several possible places in mind, was always on the lookout for new places. In some ways, Keith’s city was a network of connected camouflages, small unseen places to make his home, if even for a day or a few weeks. Keith had been squatting for three years, said he knew where to get food and water. He knew “how to hunt.” A student said to me, “Perhaps this is like living in the wild.”

As we departed, Keith said to us: “You can get as much as you want out of life. I believe in being positive.” I didn’t anticipate a pep talk from a squatter. A life lesson.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Flint Photos: On the Road with an Expatriate


St. Mary's graduate and former Eastsider Duane Gilles sports an official Flint Expatriates T-Shirt in front of the downtown Halo Burger. Oh, wait, I guess that's the Taj Mahal in the background.

Will Hollywood Still Love Michigan Without the Tax Incentives?

Clint Eastwood reacts to news that movies like Gran Torino might be shot somewhere other than Michigan if tax credits for filming in the state are eliminated.

Michigan has attracted more than 100 TV and film productions since 2008, but that could all be changing soon. Richard Verrier of The Los Angeles Times reports:

Like the Clint Eastwood character in the Detroit-area-set movie "Gran Torino," the new governor of Michigan is telling Hollywood to get off his lawn.

Rick Snyder, a Republican who was elected governor of the Great Lakes State on a platform to curb spending, wants to gut Michigan's film tax credit program, one of the most generous in the country. In his $45-billion budget plan, unveiled Thursday, Snyder proposed reducing or eliminating various state tax credits, including those awarded for filming.

If approved by the state's legislature, the move would be a blow to Hollywood, which has flocked to Michigan in recent years to take advantage of the generous tax break. Snyder has proposed setting aside a meager $25 million for film incentives from a jobs fund. In 2010, Michigan approved more than $100 million in film tax credits.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Flint Artifacts: I Build Buicks Button

In Memory of Jackie (Smith) Suttles

Jackie Suttles, a long-time resident of Humboldt Avenue in Civic Park, died Monday. She will be missed.
"Jackie graduated from St. John Vianney High School and was a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church. She enjoyed spending time with her family, going to casinos and watching baseball."
Read Jackie's complete obituary and sign an online guest book in The Flint Journal here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bonus Time at G.M.

Nick Bunkley of The New York Times reports on record-setting bonuses at G.M.
General Motors said on Monday that it would pay the largest profit-sharing checks in its history to 45,000 hourly workers in the United States.

The checks will be worth “upwards of $4,000,” a G.M. spokeswoman, Sherrie Childers-Arb, said. That is more than double the company’s previous record of $1,775, paid in 2000.

About 3,000 G.M. workers at four plants in New York, Michigan and Indiana that were formerly part of the Delphi Corporation will receive about $3,000 each.


Flint and the Streets of San Francisco


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Where does a Flint Expatriate hang out in San Francisco? Flint Street, of course. It happens to be a dead end, but I'm trying not to take that personally.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Flint Movie Trivia of the Obscure Variety

Just watched a movie with Will Ferrell. His character once played in a Christian rock band in Flint, of all places. Can you name the film?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Detroit: What Do Twenty-Something Californians Think?

I had a chance to talk with 14 college students in California about Detroit and the Chrysler Super Bowl commercial. We even watched it together. (By the way, it was sunny and 70 outside; not exactly conducive for conjuring the Motor City in February.)

Eleven of the students were from the Golden State, along with one each from Washington, Illinois and Colorado. Only one person had ever been to Michigan. All were in their early twenties. Eight drove foreign cars; six drove American. They were kind enough to participate in a very unscientific survey.

Before watching the commercial, I asked them to write down any thoughts they had about Detroit:
Eminem and 8-Mile.

It's the airport my friends at UM use to get to Ann Arbor.

Literally, I don't think of anything.

A kid I went to middle school was from there.

Motown.

I know it's cold and they make cars, but I don't know much else.

Foggy, dirty, cold, car industry.

Dirty, homeless people, diverse, factories, industrial.

Most dangerous city in the U.S.

Ghetto.

Crime, dirty — never been though.

Did watching the commercial change your opinion of the city?
Makes me realize there is much more there than bad rumors — more history and culture.

It makes it look modern, clean and classy.

No, I've been to Detroit. I liked what I saw. I loved the colorful atmosphere and, to be honest, it confirms a lot of stereotypical Detroit images.

Not really. It seems to depict a hard-working city with a history. Hard and harsh.

Verifies it as a city, but paints a "tougher" image than I imagined.

I don't think it taught me enough about Detroit to judge it.

I never had an opinion but now I think it's a "tough" area.

Flint Artifacts: Carpenter's Apron

The Chrysler Super Bowl Ad: When the Commercial Becomes the Political


Hank Steuver of The Washington Post is not that impressed by the Chrysler Super Bowl commerical:
I puzzled over Chrysler's daring yet laughably pretentious ad about a Detroit rebirth, in which Eminem drives meaningfully though the Motor City. Tagline: "Imported from Detroit." It was a bold statement, delivered unconvincingly.
And like seemingly everything else in America, the ad has taken on political implications. Stephanie Condon of Political Hotsheet writes:

One Republican congressman, encapsulating the negative response of many conservatives, pointedly put the ad in the context of the taxpayer bailout Chrysler received.

"'Imported from Detroit'...'borrowed from China,'" Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) tweeted last night.

Detroit's own Democratic congressman, meanwhile, and other liberals praised the ad as a fine representation of the hope that lives on in the downtrodden city.

"I can't think of a more fitting way to depict Detroit's story than to have fellow Detroit native, Eminem, announce that the city is back and to remind Americans that the revitalized Southeast Michigan auto industry is brimming with new investment and optimism," Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) told the Hotsheet. "This year marks a serious upturn for the city of Detroit."

Commercials That Matter

Flint Expatriate Ian C. Friedman, author of Words Mattered, weighs in on the Chrysler Super Bowl commercial:
It acknowledged the fact that Detroit and the entire region has suffered economically, and with that suffering has come real damage to the self-image and spirits of its people. But it also offered inspiring words (“it’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel”) that, placed in the context of an overall recovery in auto sales and the American economy, suggested the possibility–or inevitability–of a comeback.

Bonus Bonanza

It's almost bonus time at G.M.

Christina Rogers of The Detroit News reports:

General Motors Co.'s hourly workers can expect some of the largest profit-sharing checks ever, when the automaker pays bonuses for the money earned in 2010, a top union official said Monday.

United Auto Workers' Vice President Joe Ashton, who oversees the union's labor relations with GM, said the bonuses are likely to top the average $1,775 workers got for 1999, the company's biggest payout to date.

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"I would think so," he said.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Detroit Fights Back

Love By the Bay

Louise Rafkin of The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a Flint Expatriate who found love in San Francisco:
A flummoxed Chanda stood up, sat down and basically did a dance of confusion before accepting, though at first she hesitated to look at the ring. "It was so unexpected, I wondered if maybe it was a joke," she says. The supportive Orr community caught the drift and gathered in celebration.

Later that year, the two traveled to northern Germany to visit Jurgen's family in the small, conservative town in which he'd been raised. Despite their different backgrounds — Chanda is from Flint, Mich. — it was increasingly evident that both their values and families were incredibly similar. Flint, says Chanda, is as far from California woo-woo culture as is rural Germany. "But we are not so different," says the soft-spoken Jurgen.