Yearly Archives: 2010

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Shaker Heights: The Documentary

I’ve blogged a lot about Cleveland lately. I think I’ll take some of this time to shoot some video around town and do a short documentary about the decline of Shaker Heights and its causes. Of course, I’ll show the good parts of Shaker, too, of which there are many.

I got the idea tonight on my way from Mike O’Neill’s house to White Castle. It’s a somber drive down Northfield into Bedford Heights, past the old Randall Park Mall of my youth. This 2.2 million sq. ft. mammoth former mall sits abandoned in a near east suburb, having been closed for years. In driving around Shaker, especially its limited zoned areas for commerce, I noticed most of the stores were vacant. I started filming.

For Christmas, Mary gave me a flipcam. I love it — my family hates it.

In the interim, enjoy a quick video of my White Castle feast.

Honey! Look at this quaint, closed store!

Alexandria Storefront XMas trees

After dinner with Mary a few weeks ago, I walked back down King Street to my car. I saw the little glass trees depicted above, and remembered that nearly two years ago I photographed them.

I observed a bunch of groups of people window shopping. I got to thinking about it, and wondered: with all of this foot traffic, why are these stores closed for the night? Of course, businesses often know best when they get customers, and how best to set their hours. If they don’t, they typically fail.

King Street is often referred to as “quaint” and historic, but if you take a close look at our shops, you’ll see some hegemony that you wouldn’t expect. Two wig shops, two Moroccan rug shops, multiple  hotels, multiple Irish bars, banks, convenience stores, coffee shops. With some variation, they all sell the same products.

Wig shops sell wigs, rug shops sell rugs, hotels rent rooms, and Irish bars all have Guinness. You get the point.

Some are locally owned chains, like the Pines of Florence and Hard Times Cafe. Others are part of national chains, like Walgreens, CVS, Hilton & Hampton Inn. But we also have gems like Ernie’s Crab House and Pat Troy’s that aren’t part of any chain and are locally owned. We have local banks like Burke & Herbert, the Senate Credit Union, and chains like BB&T. There is a lot of business diversity in Old Town and on King Street, but, in a broad sense, they all offer the same services, and have to compete on price. More on this later.

I observed a married couple looking at rugs, and the husband quipped sarcastically “I’m sure that these stores get their rugs from the same factory in India.” And I’m sure he was probably correct about that.

All of these stores need components or goods to sell, whether they sell things or provide food and service. Ernie’s, Pat Troy’s, The Pines, and Hard Times all sell Budweiser, which is made throughout the U.S. and abroad by Belgian-based Anheuser-Busch/InBev.

Murphy’s, Pat Troy’s, and O’Connell’s all sell Guinness, made by Diageo throughout the world.

BB&T and Burke & Herbert sell banking products, one local, the other a regional chain.

Some stores might sell unique products, like Shiner Bock, a Texas beer. You can get that at Austin Grill or Hard Times. Others might sell wigs or rugs, but they all come from specific producers that aren’t here in Alexandria.

I remember when we went to Morocco, a local rug salesman told us some tall tale about young women making these rugs for years. Of course, he was lying, selling us some quaint notion of “buy local Morocco.” A feel-good story, complete with a loom in the lobby to encourage us to buy his rugs. My parents and the Moriartys bought rugs, because they were nice, even though he was a liar. They took Polaroid pictures with us, and mailed us our rugs. Only the Moriartys were shipped the wrong rug, and the rug salesman refused to accept a return at the local port until a few phone calls to the government were made.

Which brings me to another story. Mary and I helped drop off Christmas food to people in need in Alexandria with St. Mary’s chapter of St. Vincent De-Paul, and afterwards, we stopped at the local open air market next to city hall. Local farmers and others were there selling goods.

Now, the farmers aren’t likely buying eggs and re-selling them, but they were expensive eggs. Those eggs need to compete with the mass-produced eggs I can get at Giant, Shoppers, Wal-Mart, and even Whole-Foods. Unlike the lying rug salesman, they were indeed selling eggs with a story of buy local. I’ve had a lot of eggs in my life, and I must tell you that I cannot tell the difference between store-bought eggs and locally produced eggs. What I can tell the difference between is fake eggs and real eggs. That’s a no-brainer. But some people can tell the difference, and prefer “local” “organic” eggs. And that’s fine.

Other people sold coffee, which, as we talked about earlier, cannot be produced in the United States (except Hawaii). Others were selling fake Uggs made in Asia. So much for buying local, I thought.

One lady was selling custom made Alexandria calendars — for $35. I kindly told her that, while they were nice calendars, I didn’t carry cash and wasn’t buying anything. She persisted, “there’s an ATM at CVS.” I was trying to be nice, instead of saying “for $35, that calendar better tell me the weather, the exact time, and do a bunch of other things.” Instead of being mean, I told her I’d consider it.

I could make my own calendar on snapfish for less than $20. I’m a photographer, but I’m also a price hawk — $35? St. Dominic’s, St. Mary’s, and non-profits like Young America’s Foundation all give me calendars for free. Some people, tourists probably, might be willing to shell out what would amount to be 2 hour’s pay for many, on a calendar. Not me.

At the end of the day, regardless of who owns a store, whether or not it is part of a chain, or if gets its products locally, regionally, in-country, or internationally — there are two major truths to consider.

  1. All of these stores employ locals.
  2. All compete on price.

And that’s why I think it’s a flaw to buy any good or service because it’s perceived to be, or actually made, locally.

Want a savings account in Alexandria? BB&T competes with Burke & Herbert on rates. Do you really want to take a lower rate because Burke & Herbert is local? Now, they might have higher rates, I don’t know. Both BB&T and Burke & Herbert employ your neighbors.

Want some chili and Shiner Bock? Austin Grill and Hard Times offer both, with some distinct differences, and you may prefer one to the other, dependent or independent of price. It’s your choice.

Same goes with eggs. Giant of Old town sells them as does the local farmer at city hall. And calendars. Guinness. Budweiser.

In the end, I think the most important thing to preserve is consumer sovereignty. People should be allowed to buy what they want, from who they want, free of government interference — like tariffs, subsidies, and special tax treatment.

But, if you want to pay more for a good because it’s produced locally, and a non-locally produced substitute good is cheaper, you’re free to do that. I just think it’s silly to make yourself poorer doing so. (And I acknowledge that not all similar goods are substitute goods.)

Sine Die, 111

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

For some 360* view of the Old Senate Chamber, click here.

For the Capitol Rotunda, click here.

For some of the enrolling of the DADT repeal, click here.

H/T- Marc Shultz

A Cleveland Browns Exchange

UPDATE: I found, called, and spoke to Mr. Cox by phone today for a while during my lunch hour. The letters are indeed real. He remains a loyal Browns fan.

Deadspin and the Cleveland Scene report the following letter exchange. As a frequent  letter writer, I admire Mr. Bailey’s brevity and am surprised by his candor.

Complaint:

Response:

H/T: Metzigner

This is absolutely rad

Can you imagine living in a van during graduate school to save money? Click the picture to read more.

One post stands out so far, mainly, his encounter with a local homeless person, who dupes him.

I gave him three bucks and he thanked me and said he was leaving town to find work. But only one of us got what they wanted from the transaction.

Which gets me thinking, since donating to the homeless is indeed a transaction, not unlike purchasing a good. Except these donations are where you buy “good will points” from somebody peddling them through desperation.

He later finds out the following:

Just yesterday I heard the same voice yelling in my direction. From amongst his council of homeless comrades, huddled together, warming their hands around a flaming barrel, he yelled, “Hey man! Are you from town?,” which I then realized was the prologue to his standard routine. This time he was audibly drunk and had no idea that I was the one he “fooled” the week before.

I had no sympathy this time around; just disdain, maybe even a strange hint of envy. I ignored him and his subsequent screams.

It’s experiences like these that hurt the likelihood of future donations to homeless people. I know of a couple that walk around my old part of Old Town Alexandria perpetually seeking money for gas.

The cost-break down shows that this is a very cheap way to live.

I’ll update this post as I read more over the coming weeks.

Larry David, Harbinger of Growth

Larry David unintentionally and sarcastically makes a case for low(er) taxes.

One of my more liberal high school friends posted a link to this Larry David op-ed today. A while back, I actually wrote a huge missive responding to former Enron Advisor Paul Krugman (who by the way won a Nobel prize before selling out to become a partisan op-ed writer). I was going to post it here, but decided not to. I’m still finishing it. Let me know if you want a copy.

On a side note, I just wonder what will be posted on facebook after the evil-businessmen at the NYT have to raise the pay wall to stay in business?

Anyway, Larry David. Funny guy. I love his work, even when he’s trying to be sarcastic and fails. We all do fail from time to time (even banks!), so I’m not trying to make fun of him.

Thanks for the Tax Cut!
By LARRY DAVID


THERE is a God! It passed! The Bush tax cuts have been extended two years for the upper bracketeers, of which I am a proud member, thank you very much. I’m the last person in the world I’d want to be beside, but I am beside myself! This is a life changer, I tell you. A life changer!

I get it Larry, you’re rich. You’re filthy rich. This isn’t changing your life. Not that a dry-cleaner owned by a sole proprietor would appreciate your sarcasm about preventing a tax increase, but the point is made. You don’t need the money. However, your title is misleading, since your income tax rates are staying the same. Maybe it’s minutiae, but since you have a business degree and likely know better, I’m inclined to think you (or the NYT editors) are being deceptive on purpose.

To begin with, I was planning a trip to Cabo with my kids for Christmas vacation. We were going to fly coach, but now with the money I’m saving in taxes, I’m going to splurge and bump myself up to first class. First class! Somebody told me they serve warm nuts up there, and call you “mister.” I might not get off the plane!

This is where I realized that Larry might not have thought through the op-ed before hitting “send.”

One of the biggest criticisms that liberals have about keeping tax rates the same, or lower (gasp!) is that “the rich don’t spend their money.” I get that demand-siders and Keynesians tend to view things through a narrow lens, but if liberals are saying the rich won’t spend the money they’re allowed to keep (compared to if tax rates expired and increased) what does Larry David say he’ll do with the money? SPEND IT!

Since Larry had planned on visiting Cabo anyway, we cannot attribute his trip to extension of current tax rates. But now, as he sarcastically jokes with mentions of warm nuts (who doesn’t love a nut joke?), he is going to bump himself, and presumably his family, up to first class.  With that, the airline will spend more on goods for his consumption during the flight, like  better food, and copious amounts of alcohol. Unless things have changed, everyone still gets nuts on flights, but not everyone gets meals. In turn, producers of those goods benefit. The airline, its employees, and shareholders, all benefit, as the profit margin for first class is presumably higher than that of coach seats.

I’m also going to call the hotel and get another room so I don’t have to sleep on a cot in the kids’ room. Don’t get me wrong — I love a good cot. The problem is they tend to take up a lot of room, and it’s getting a little tougher in my advancing years to fold it up and drag it to the closet. I mean, I’d do it if I had to, but guess what? I don’t! Not with this windfall coming my way. Now I get to have my own room with a king-sized bed. And who knows, maybe I’ll even get some fancy bottled water from the minibar. This is shaping up to be the best vacation I’ve had in years.

Larry continues — now, he’s going to consume more hotel rooms! While the hotel is located in Mexico, it is likely owned by some multi-national hotel company. Due to our backwards tax structure, those dollars won’t likely be repatriated to the United States, because we’re one of a handful of countries that believes in double taxation of foreign-earned income. However, it still has a positive effect, since if that hotel company is U.S.-based, more room occupancy means more profit, and lessens the need of the parent company to divert capital from the U.S. to its Mexican holdings. As for the bottled water, we have no idea what water he’d drink, but liberals love drinking Fiji water, since it’s owned by some big-time U.S. liberals. However, Fiji might go the way of the dodo soon, due to burdensome higher taxes imposed by the new Fiji government. (Taxes can be burdensome, who knew?)

But even if the hotel is a local bed and breakfast, we still benefit, because Larry will have to spend those little green pieces of paper to get his hotel room. He’ll either trade them to somebody here in the U.S. for Pesos, or the hotel will accept his green dollars, and trade them with people in Mexico for Pesos. At the end of the day, those dollars are really only effective here in the United States and will have to be spent, saved, or invested here.

When I get home, thanks to the great compromise, the first thing I’m going to do is get a flat-screen TV. Finally I can throw out the 20-inch Zenith with the rabbit ears, the one I inherited from my parents when they died. The reception is terrible and I’m getting tired of going out to bars every time I want to watch a game. Last month, the antenna broke and I tried to improvise one with a metal hanger and wound up cutting myself. Every time I see that scab, I say to myself, “If, God willing, those Bush tax cuts are restored, I’m going to buy a new TV.” Well, guess what? They have been!

What will Larry do when he gets home? Spend yet even more money? Sure, there’s virtual certainty the television wasn’t made in the U.S., but since he’s buying it back in the U.S., our economy benefits. The television was likely created with money invested in the producer by Americans. The company that makes the television benefits, so its employees, both in the U.S. and abroad benefit. The producer of the boxes and packaging benefits. The shipping company that brought the TV to America benefits, as does the importing entity (if not the same as the producer). The domestic shipping company that brings the TV from port to store benefits, the person who maintains the trucks, the people that sell them gasoline, all benefit. And the store, its owners, and employees benefit from the sale. Way to go, Larry.

My guess is Larry will buy a VIZIO, and if he’s sincerely in the market for a television, I highly recommend VIZIO. They’re of great quality, and pretty much unbeatable on price. VIZIO was started in 2002 by some folks in Irvine, California. They started with $600,000 and three employees. I’m sure that in their early days, an increase in taxes would have totally helped them create more jobs. (Republicans can use sarcasm, too.) A few years later, VIZIO is the top seller of HDTVs in the North America.

It’s also going to be a boon for my health. After years of coveting them, I’ll finally be able to afford blueberries. Did you know they have a lot of antioxidants, which prevent cancer? Cancer! This tax cut just might save my life. Who said Republicans don’t support health care? I’m going to have the blueberries with my cereal, and I’m not talking Special K. Those days are over. It’s nothing but real granola from now on. The kind you get in the plastic bins in health food stores. Did someone say “organic”?

And I’m sure you can buy them at Whole Foods, whose CEO thought the health-care bill was bad policy, and by golly, I think he’s about to be proven right. That is, unless the Supreme Court rules the individual mandate is constitutional, and that isn’t likely happen.

But I am glad that you’ll consciously choose to consume more, although I sincerely doubt that you couldn’t afford blueberries before. Deep down, I realize you know you’re helping blueberry farmers keep and grow their business. Your decision to switch to blueberries, in a very small way, helps make bananas more affordable to people who couldn’t afford them in their regular diet. If more people act along the lines of Larry and choose blueberries over bananas, that leaves more affordable bananas for others, and Michelle Obama should smile because of that.

The only problem is if, God forbid, the tax cuts are repealed in two years, how will I ever go back to Special K and bananas? Well, I did quit smoking, so I’m sure if push came to shove I could summon up the willpower to get off granola and blueberries. Of course, I suppose with the money I managed to save from the “Seinfeld” syndication, I probably could continue to eat granola with blueberries, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Life was good, and now it’s even better. Thank you, Republicans. And a special thank you to President Obama and the Democrats. I didn’t know you cared.

Larry David appears in the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Now, I doubt that the tax rates will expire. More likely, we’ll have tax reform that will change our deeply flawed code. Maybe thinking that is naive, I don’t know. I’m glad that Larry quit smoking, but one must consider the effect of his decision on healthcare for poor kids, now that he’s not paying federal excise taxes? How inhumane is that? Doesn’t he care about the kids?

But, as Larry paints in this picture, he’s worried he’ll have to go back to Special K and bananas, even though he has considerable savings. Savings — be they in stock, bonds, munis, ETFs, or even money market accounts, or savings accounts, help the economy.

And that’s the flawed economic view of Keynesians, who are overly obsessed with demand. Savings and investment are of little importance to Keynesians. But, to those who need capital or loans, be they businesses or individuals, they get that money from the savings of others.

Much of this post has been written to accommodate the demand-siders, hoping they’d see that in Larry’s sarcastic column, he inadvertently makes a case for the tax compromise.

Now this compromise isn’t perfect. It’s not an intrinsic boom to the economy, especially considering all of the horrendous policies that will take effect between now and 2014, but it’s far better than if taxes were increased.

The big debate between liberals and conservatives is pretty much this — where is the money that individuals earn better off? With the individuals, or with the government? Yes, deficits occur when we spend more than we take in, but extending current rates doesn’t create the deficits — overspending does. We have a spending problem. In 2011, the federal government is expected to spend about twice as much as it did a decade earlier, even though we’re collecting about 29% more in revenue since then.

Adjust the numbers for inflation, and the figures tell pretty much the same story. We collect 4.36% more in revenue than we did a decade ago, but we spend 66.58% more.

Click to Expand

And I’ll be the first to admit that much of the increases in spending took place under President Bush and a Republican Congress. But let’s not forget that Democrats had control for a fair amount of that time, 37% of the squares during the George W. Bush years. The Democrats had two years of absolute control of Congress and two years of control of the Senate.

In my view, it is a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Yes, Republicans were bad on spending, Democrats were worse, and the problem ballooned when they took back Congress and later, the Presidency. The big difference of opinion is this, where is that money better used? Private sector or public sector?

We’ve tried our hand at government-led stimulus, a bill that, in adjusted for inflation dollars, cost nearly $300 billion more than the New Deal itself. It didn’t work.

I know one thing, I won’t use the money I earned, that would have gone to the government if the Bush tax relief expired, to purchase a subscription to HBO. While it may help Larry, HBO and its investors, as well as Cox Communications, I think I’ll save that money, invest it, and maybe use the dividends to buy Larry a book or two. I’ve got one in mind, New Deal or Raw Deal — How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America. Because those government policies sure cost us a lot of money over the years.

Anyone know the best address for him? 

2010 E-Card for the Holidays

Click to expand to see my 2010 E-Card for the Holidays.

I have nothing against Post-Office employees, and I am not meaning to hate on them, but the cost of stamps would mean I spend $100+ to send out these cards. Ain’t happening.

Also, I do sincerely think that Kwanzaa is a fake Holiday. View’s not changing there. Sorry if you’re offended.

Liberal Elite

The Hunt for Hayek’s Treasure

Oh god. Bad idea.

Oh Erin. Use some judgement.