Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Too little, too late?

I worry that my speech today is too little, too late. I worry that many Americans have already formed their opinion about the Recovery Act, based on the inaccuracies they hear from beltway pundits or from their elected officials.

Al Franken may be right -- after all, they say a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has put on its shoes. And this speech was given to an empty Senate Chamber.

But it's worth a look, as he talks about the success of the Recovery Act, and refutes the lies and distortions that are already out there.

The speech is the fastest half hour you'll spend this week, and perhaps the most valuable, but it is 27 minutes. For those who don't have that kind of time, here's the transcript.

And here are a few excerpts:

My friends on the other side of the aisle often imply that tax cuts would have been more effective than the Recovery Act. But perhaps they've forgotten that over one-third of the Recovery Act was comprised of tax cuts.

Unfortunately, the tax cuts were designed in a way so that many Americans didn't notice they were getting them. An extra twenty bucks on your paycheck adds up for you and the economy over time, but people don't notice like they do a big lump-sum refund. But here's the thing about lump-sum refunds-people like to save them, or pay off debts with them. When you get an extra twenty bucks in a paycheck, you're likely to spend it-giving the economy a boost.

This explains one unfortunate paradox of the Recovery Act-because the tax cut was well-designed, it helped boost consumer spending. . . but nobody noticed it. But that's not a failure of the Recovery Act policy, that's a failure of getting the message to American taxpayers.

And the tax cuts in the Recovery Act did their part. According to CBO, tax cuts for those in lower income brackets increased GDP by $1.70 for every dollar spent. But, for those who would argue that the Recovery Act should have been only tax cuts, consider this. While tax cuts for the lower brackets yielded a $1.70 GDP boost, tax cuts for high income earners and companies only raised GDP by 50 cents per dollar spent. And neither of these figures compare to the return on the Recovery Act's public works investments-an impressive $2.50 increase in GDP for every dollar spent.

*          *          *

Here's another project in Two Harbors, building a water tower. In addition to five crews of workers on the project, the tower tank is made of 723,000 pounds of American steel, and the rebar is another 33,000 pounds of American steel. So additional American workers made that steel. And more American workers mined the taconite. On Minnesota's Iron Range. More jobs.

I visited Two Harbors on September 6th, just a few weeks ago, and personally saw this project in-progress. Now, these folks aren't in suits and ties, shuffling papers. They're building bridges, roads, and water towers. 

These projects are going to improve transportation, health, and safety for people in Minnesota. And because of these jobs, made possible by the Recovery Act, they will be able to keep a roof over the heads of their families, put food on the kitchen table, send their kids to college, and, yes, buy stuff.

*          *          *
Everywhere I go, they thank me for the Recovery Act. They thank me for the teachers and firefighters, for the Workforce Investment Act funds, which they used to train people for jobs. For the highway extension or the wastewater plant or the funds for rural broadband or for weatherization of public buildings.
In fact, Michael Gunwald, writing for Time Magazine, said this: "the Recovery Act is the most ambitious energy legislation in history, converting the Energy Department into the world's largest venture-capital fund. It's pouring $90 billion into clean energy, including unprecedented investments in a smart grid; energy efficiency; electric cars; renewable power from the sun, wind and earth; cleaner coal; advanced biofuels; and factories to manufacture green stuff in the U.S. The act will also triple the number of smart electric meters in our homes, quadruple the number of hybrids in the federal auto fleet and finance far-out energy research through a new government incubator modeled after the Pentagon agency that fathered the Internet."

A few weeks ago I heard a prominent conservative talking head on one of the Sunday news shows describe the Recovery Act this way. He said: 

If I pay my neighbor $1,000 to dig a hole in my backyard and fill it up again and he pays me $1,000 to dig a hole in his backyard and fill it up again, according to the national income statistics, that's a $2,000 increment to GDP and two jobs have been created. The American people understand, however, there's no real wealth created in this kind of transfer payment.

How out of touch. How downright offensive. And yet this is why so many Americans believe that the Recovery Act hasn't created any jobs or just created jobs for bureaucrats.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Larry the Animal

I doubt that Larry the Animal thought twice when he saw the lineup of motorcycles outside the Bonnie Doon, sporting colors. After all, the Undertakers were his friends. They did business together. And he really wanted a milkshake, so he walked on in.

I can't remember when I first met Larry the Animal, but I suppose it was my sophomore year in college. Larry was one of those high school kids who hang around campus because he's too smart for his contemporaries, but he's not quite socially poised enough to realize that he doesn't really fit in with the college kids, either. Larry was bright and funny and harmless enough, and so we took him in and let him hang around like a stray puppy.

And he really was a stray. Larry had been tossed out of his own home, probably for being too stiff-necked to cut his hair and behave the way his parents wanted. And I'm sure -- very sure -- that he mouthed off to his parents. There was no filter between Larry's brain and Larry's mouth and it was a time when there was plenty of positive reinforcement around for shooting off your mouth in defense of freedom. So Larry lived with Laurie, another high school kid. They weren't boyfriend and girlfriend, simply a pair of bright kids, but apparently Laurie's parents were more tolerant than Larry's.

They'd have to be, because Larry would try anyone's tolerance. He was obnoxious. But, at that time, there was a strong tendency towards tolerating people, and so Larry was welcome. After all, in addition to being obnoxious, he was funny and smart and good-natured. I'm sure I got a few passes on the same basis.

I'm not sure how Larry got by in the world, but it appeared to be a combination of Laurie's parents providing room and board and Larry doing some hustling and a fair amount of dealing.

Larry got his nickname, "Larry the Animal," because he could be clean-shaven one day and heavily bearded the next. You could sit and watch his beard grow. To give you a visual, imagine if Benny Hill, rather than Robbie Coltrane, had been chosen to play Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies. Like Benny, Harry wore wire-rimmed specs and had a constant expression of cheerful expectation. Like Hagrid, he was covered with hair.

In fact, Larry the Animal was so hairy and jolly-looking that he was, very briefly, employed as Santa Claus at the department store downtown. Anyone who has done this job knows about the wiseass teenagers who try to goof on ol' Santa, but they got a shock when they'd sit on Santa-the-Animal's lap and ask him for a nickel bag of Panama Red.

"Ho-ho-ho," Santa would say. "I don't know about that, but maybe Santa could hook you up with some Michoacan that the elves just scored, or how about some blonde Lebanese hash?"

However, the career of Larry the Santa Claus ended abruptly when a pair of South Bend police were headed up on an escalator on which he was headed down, and wished him a merry Christmas, to which Santa responded by suggesting an anatomical impossibility, adding a porcine epithet.

Larry didn't consider this in the least a setback. The job hadn't been that much fun, and he really didn't like the police. The fact that the Santa gig had been providing him with pocket money was, well, not a priority.

Larry had good reason to dislike the police. As a kid with long hair, he was hassled on a regular basis. And, as a kid who couldn't keep his big mouth shut, he was hassled more often than other long-haired kids. South Bend wasn't so big a city that anyone who bothered to stand out was lost in the mix.

The South Bend cops were not so good at undercover work -- they tended to the oxfords-and-white-socks fashions. But even a blind pig finds some acorns, and Larry the Animal was eventually busted for possession.

We all heard that Larry had been busted, but there was often a gap between the bust and the result of the bust. Still, it seemed like Larry was out on the street a long time after we'd all heard he had been busted.

And then a pattern seemed to emerge.

Larry the Animal might have stayed out of the clink, but his clients did not.

Had the South Bend police been more polished in their approach, the link might have gone undetected a little longer, but the connection between dealing with Larry and getting busted became pretty clear in a short period of time.

For example, someone bought grass from Larry and, by the time he got home, found police cars in his driveway. It did not take long for people to begin to connect the dots.

But Larry the Animal went on his merry way, believing that his accomodating manner had saved him from a jail sentence and would also go unnoticed in the world.

So when he dropped acid one day and, somehow in the course of his trip decided that a milkshake would be a very nice aesthetically-enhanced experience, he had no hesitation to head down to the Bonnie Doon.

Now, not everyone who trips on acid wants a food experience, but any experience you have on LSD will be greatly enhanced.

Including walking into a roomful of motorcycle bandits who know why you aren't in jail.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What if people judged gun owners the way 
they judge Muslims?
What if all gunowners were judged by the actions 
of a crazed, dangerous few?
Imagine how talk shows would respond to these stories, 
all of which appeared in a single week:

A man is in critical condition after being shot Saturday morning at a convenience store in southwest Atlanta.

Five bystanders were shot during a wild gun fight that took place last night outside a Long Island bar.

An unidentified man in Kentucky shot and killed five people before turning the gun on himself after a domestic dispute on Saturday, Breathitt County Sheriff Ray Clemons told CNN

Minutes after a woman was suspended from her job at a Kraft Foods Inc. plant and was escorted out, she returned with a handgun and opened fire, killing two people and critically injuring a third before being taken into custody, police said.

Edgar Cooper said he was shocked to learn his 14-year-old daughter had been shot in the forehead while walking home from her first day of high school Tuesday.

A man was shot and seriously wounded last night inside a barbershop on Tremont Street in Roxbury, a relative of the victim and police said.

A 45-year-old woman was shot in a drive-by shooting early Saturday in what police believe was an act of retaliation for a stabbing the night before.

A 16-year-old male was found suffering from gunshot wounds early Saturday morning in the 1100 block of Virginia Ave., according to a news release.

Kansas City police say Montra Johnson of Kansas City was found shot to death at the bus stop Thursday. His identity was released Saturday.

Investigators say 36-year-old Thomas London was found in the parking lot of the Majestic Nightclub on Cusseta Road 2 AM Saturday morning suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.

DeSoto Parish sheriff's deputies say a man who refused to prosecute his father-in-law for a shooting five years ago has allegedly been shot by him again.

Two people were injured in a shooting Thursday afternoon near Hirsch High School on the city's South Side.

Authorities are investigating after one person was shot and killed this afternoon in Beltzhoover.

At the corner of 9th and Monroe streets, responding officers located a 28-year-old Wilmington man suffering from a single gunshot wound to his head. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene where he was then transported to the state's medical examiner's office.

Police detectives are looking for a suspect who they believe shot and killed a 54-year-old man on Friday night.

A home invasion Friday in Richmond left one man with a bullet wound to his leg.

A Crawfordsville man charged in the shooting death of his girlfriend's daughter might have been told to take a gun to the room where she and other kids were playing to scare them.

A Capitol Heights teenager who was shot Tuesday night died Wednesday, authorities said.

An 18-year-old woman was arrested this afternoon after she was accused of shooting a man while they were camping on Mount Lemmon, authorities said.

Two teenagers were shot just outside of Mumford High School in Detroit this afternoon on the first day of school

A 14-year-old boy was shot in the leg Friday evening while walking in the Pullman neighborhood on the South Side.

A Knoxville man is in critical condition after being shot in the neck late last night, city police said.

An Antioch man was shot dead during an argument near an East Oakland taco truck, and investigators are trying to determine whether he was killed with his own gun.

The triggerman behind the drive-by shooting that killed a 14-year-old boy and injured two others outside a Paterson bodega might have been seeking retribution for a fatal shooting earlier this week, police said today.

Authorities have identified the man shot while driving at Oakridge Drive and Mia Avenue on Friday, Sept. 10.

A teenager who was charged with manslaughter and had escaped from a mental health facility while awaiting a final resolution on the case was fatally shot Monday night in Mattapan, officials said yesterday.

Clarksville Police responded Friday night to Lincoln Homes, where a 14-year-old girl had been shot while inside a residence on Ford Street.

A Jackson delivery man who was shot on the job has died. It happened around 3:30 Friday afternoon at the Super Saver convenience store on Medgar Evers Boulevard near Palmyra Street.

A young boy and a 25-year-old man were shot and wounded on the city's West Side Friday night.

Police believe robbery was the motive behind the fatal shooting Tuesday afternoon of the co-owner of a DeKalb strip club.

Eva May Francis died after being shot while her home likely was being robbed, Gwinnett County police said Thursday.

A 25-year-old man was shot in the thigh Friday afternoon in north Stockton, and police were searching for the assailant.

An elderly man and his nephew were found shot dead at a neighborhood in southwest Atlanta, detectives said.

A renowned car racer and auto shop owner was discovered shot to death inside his El Monte business early Wednesday after he failed to return home the night before, investigators said.

A man was fatally shot inside a car in Hartford North End Friday morning, police said.

Atlanta officials said they are investigating a deadly shooting in which a father killed his own son.

Atlantic City police spokeswoman Sgt. Monica McMenamin tells The Press of Atlantic City that a man and woman were shot shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday while sitting on a porch at the Carver Hall apartment complex on Caspian Avenue.

Officials have released the name of the man who was shot to death Thursday evening while repairing a limousine in south Fort Worth.

Akeem R. Jones, 19, was found bleeding from a gunshot wound after shots were fired Friday inside a north Omaha house.

Witnesses say a woman calmly walked up to Dominic Nicholas Mahone while he was dancing on the floor of an uptown Charlotte club early Friday, pulled out a gun and shot him twice.

A Marion County sheriff's spokesman says a woman was fatally shot Thursday at a northeast Salem mobile home park.

A former University of Tennessee football player was home recovering Friday after being shot outside an East Knoxville apartment complex.

A 14-year old Highwood girl was fatally shot in her chest early Sunday in North Chicago, officials said.

It was a tragic end for a man who was trying to do a good deed. He broke up a fight and was then shot in north Harris County.

A North Carolina man has been shot to death in what police say was a robbery attempt.

Robbery may have been the motive for a fatal shooting in the parking lot of a Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store on Beechnut.

On Tuesday evening at 1057pm, officers were called to 7007 Longview Road to investigate a shooting. Upon arrival, officers discovered a 29-year-old male dead in the parking lot of the Express Mart.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Laboring on Labor Day

I had a break this week in my normal duties, as the youth publication I edit for the Denver Post was taken over by the Colorado Foundation for Agriculture, one of the four weeks a year they do that.

So, with nothing to do but catch up on neglected work, I wrote a couple of chapters of the serial I'm working on, and struggled with the last chapter, which is always the hardest.

I also redid the website for those serial stories and would like to invite you to visit and marvel at

It's not a very sophisticated website, but then I'm not a very sophisticated guy. The last one was a little fancier, harder to navigate and full of broken links. The layout also required some redesign in order to add new stories as they were published, similar to adding stars to the American flag. Worst of all, when I needed it fixed or updated, I had to find someone.

I approach the web like I approach my car -- I know what's wrong, I know I could probably learn to fix it myself, and I don't. Fortunately, there are some shortcuts and plug-and-play site builders that are made for people like me, so I just redid the thing with what I suppose is the digital equivalent of duct tape and paper clips, but it's up, it's up to date and, unless someone finds a busted link I missed, it's working. And, if someone does find that busted link, I can fix it.

The prime audience for the site is the Newspapers-in-Education people who continue to run serial stories. This is a somewhat shrinking group, but that simply means you have to be a little more aggressively available. Broad-side-of-the-barn marketing isn't as effective when the barn has shrunken down to the size of a detached garage. My revenue from this work is about a quarter of what it was four years ago. The good news is, I was splitting with my artists and my newspaper back then. Now I only split with my artists.

Speaking of whom, you'll get a chance to see some nice artwork if you check the samples on that site. I've been fortunate to catch a few people on their way up over the years and they're given me an advantage in that area. Some of my competitors use "talented relatives" to illustrate their work, and the quotation marks are there for a reason. But even those who hire professionals often end up with a kind of generic kid art that I find uncompelling, though kids have been taught that this is what illustrations look like and so it works well enough. I'd rather offer them a little more.

Anyway, come have a look. Now, I've got to run. My break is over and I have to start putting together the next issue. A few weeks ago, we had a new writer, a fifth grader, turn in a story about his baseball team's elimination from the state tournament. He's enthusiastic, loves baseball and enjoys writing, so, when Ken Burns came to town, we sent him out to get the interview.

Getting back to work, when work includes something like that, isn't really so painful.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Now that he's gone ...

The hurricane having blown past my most northeasterly friend without having done any significant damage, I can now confess that this silly thing has been running through my head for the past week.