Category Archives: Ohio

The LeBron James Redemption

Friend and former colleague Scott Campbell shares this excellent rendition of LeBron James’s quasi-apology letter… in the voice of Morgan Freeman in the classic film The Shawshank Redemption as performed by comedian Frank Caliendo. (Which was, to those who don’t know, filmed an hour away from James’s home in Akron at the former Mansfield Reformatory.)

I highly suggest watching the video. Caliendo is very talented and does an amazing impression (his specialty.) Had never heard him do Morgan Freeman before.

I wondered what the Caliendo track would sound like put to the score of The Shawshank Redemption. So I put the track to music to find out.

Here it is:

EDIT: Apparently there was music when it ran, but it was edited out.

Can Reason Save Cleveland?

Earlier today, I shared Matt Yglesias’s story on why Silicon Valley should relocate to….Cleveland.

The facebook post I shared came with this message:

Yglesias writes “It’s time for tech hubs to go where they’re welcome.” And he picks…. Cleveland? What? Off his rocker.

The post received a number of comments, including one from a thoughtful a neighbor, whose son I played hockey with. He writes:

So Jimmy, you have been away long enough that you are now a Cleveland basher as well? True, we have three months of bad weather…..but unbelievable property values, great cost of living, great culture (I would put the Cleveland Orchestra up against any from San Francisco or Washington), the largest theater district west of NYC, a great art museum, the Hall of Fame, fantastic restaurants, great music ……and, oh yeah, you can actually get to all of them within 30 minutes – not 2-3 hrs. BTW…how much would your old home on Eaton Rd cost in either SF or Washington?

I frequently, and sometimes more harshly than I should, criticize Cleveland. I’d like to clear the air and share my thoughts on the matter. I don’t hate Cleveland, I criticize because I love where I grew up and want my hometown to thrive — despite its efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Here’s my response to my former neighbor, an all around good guy who frequently inspires great discussions on my facebook wall:

Dr. S. — I don’t disagree with your points on Cleveland the region. I do think, and agree, that the region would be good to host a wide range of industries for the reasons you express. And, for what it’s worth, I love the bad weather.

Indeed, the house I grew up in on Eaton road would easily go for a million or two here in Washington or San Francisco, if not more. (So, three to six times the cost.) Detroit, as Yglesias notes, has even more affordable housing, but he wrote them off as a lost city, noting that if he had picked Detroit, people likely migrate to Ann Arbor. I don’t think Cleveland is lost yet, but it’s not going out of its way to improve things, in my opinion.

Solving Cleveland’s inability to attain the growth it could attain is a puzzle, one with locally imposed constraints and with ones imposed by the state. The Cleveland area has many great attributes and it also has some things it needs to work on. That goes for Ohio, as well.

While I am frequently critical of Cleveland — sometimes more harshly than I should be — it’s because I’d love for my hometown to be the next Silicon Valley, but at present, I don’t think it can be. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t. Some of that is on the city of Cleveland itself, some on the suburbs, and some on the state. Before I forget, some of it is on Cuyahoga County — now with less corruption!

One reason is because I think that municipal income taxes are a poor way to structure things, especially if individuals who live in one city but work in another have to pay taxes to both in some respect. Unlike other comparable jurisdictions in other states, potential employers would have to pay more in salary and benefits to offset the tax differential. Not exactly a welcome beacon to relocate to NE Ohio. Sure, low-income earners get an exemption, but, in the case of the Yglesias example, tech employers probably employ fewer people exempted than those subject to paying taxes in Cleveland and (insert name of other jurisdiction).

Like the electoral map, Ohio has a bunch of residential clusters and a larger swath of area with lower population density.  Yes, California has high taxes — but it doesn’t allow city income taxes the way Ohio does. I do think an examination of the state’s tax policies are in order. That could benefit Cleveland and NE Ohio greatly.

Yglesias is correct to note that, unlike Detroit or Buffalo (no offense to my Buffalo friends), Cleveland could be fertile ground for such a resurgence. But, knowing that Cleveland and nearly every other major city does what it can to sell itself to businesses (like Philadelphia is doing to California’s Sriracha maker, under fire from the city in which it does business), businesses aren’t flocking to Cleveland. I wish they would, because I’d love to move back some day and watch the Browns lose in person. Maybe some day, we’ll win big.

My other concern/criticism with his piece is, at least as it pertains to the city, is this: If Yglesias thinks that it’s time for “tech hubs to go where they’re welcome” because SF residents are complaining about private bus stops — wait until he learns about some of Cleveland’s NIMBY problems.

Cleveland’s zoning and regulatory policies, for me, leave much to be desired. In my opinion, the city of Cleveland’s problem isn’t due to one-party rule, it’s more a problem of ideology. It’s more of a “our job is to help business ‘thread the needle‘ of regulations” than it is to make the regulations and laws more conducive for businesses to want to locate there in the first place.

My TL:DR is this — If Yglesias were revealing some secret about why everyone should “flee to the Cleve” and move their business there, people would already be doing it. I wish they were, as Cleveland is a great area with a lot to offer. But they aren’t. It’s not because of a lack of publicity or PR. Other journalists, with a love for Cleveland and Ohio, have already suggested some reasons why Cleveland might want to shun PR and focus on change, but they’ve largely been ignored.

While I’d love it if Ohio and Cleveland adopted the Texas and Houston models, that is unrealistic. It won’t happen. It’s part of the culture, which is fine. Even some modest changes in that direction, though, could help Cleveland.

bsig

UPDATE: I recommend this post by Daniel McGraw on the same topic.

‘Jackass’ Approved for Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit

bgThe upcoming film Bad Grandpa, part of the Jackass series, was filmed in Northeast Ohio.

I noticed a frame of the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, a bridge I crossed frequently during my high school years on Cleveland’s West Side.

In an effort to win filming locations, Ohio offers the “Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit” as an incentive, though many films use Cleveland as a backdrop for other cities like New York, Chicago, or Washington, rather than a feature. In other words, Ohioans are subsidizing Hollywood firms to turn Cleveland into New York.

So far as these incentives go, Ohio isn’t alone — over 75% of states offer some form of incentive.

According to the website of the Ohio Development Services Agency:

“The Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit provides a refundable tax credit that equals 25 percent off in-state spend and non-resident wages and 35 percent in Ohio resident wages on eligible productions.”

It also specifies that “[e]ligible productions must spend a minimum of $300,000 in the State of Ohio”.

The Ohio Development Services Agency confirmed to me that, while “the production company has not yet sent in their final audit … the project was approved for a $1.5 million Motion Picture Tax Credit.” The production company projected that “47 percent was to be shot in Ohio.”

Motion Picture Tax Credits and other incentives for filming are popular among state legislators. The Tax Foundation observes:

“Forty-four states [in 2010] offer significant movie production incentives (MPIs), up from five states in 2002, and twenty-eight states offer film tax credits.”

While they are popular, they are not without controversy. The Economist called such incentives a “stupid trend.”

Since 2010, three states have dropped their motion picture incentives. Many others, including New Jersey — the epitome of states with silly policies, have suspended such programs.

The non-partisan Tax Foundation is skeptical of the value of incentives and credits for motion pictures:

“While broad-based tax competition often benefits consumers and spurs economic growth and development, industry-specific tax competition transfers wealth from the many to the few … Movie production incentives are costly and fail to live up to their promises.”

The report continues:

“Based on fanciful estimates of economic activity and tax revenue, states are investing in movie production projects with small returns and taking unnecessary risks with taxpayer dollars. In return, they attract mostly temporary jobs that are often transplanted from other states.”

and:

“Furthermore, the competition among states transfers a large portion of potential gains to the movie industry, not to local businesses or state coffers. It is unlikely that movie production incentives generate wealth in the long run. Most fail even in the short run. Yet they remain popular.”

I’m in agreement. Scrap them.

But if you’re going to keep them, at least require that they say they’re in Cleveland in the film, so that you can pick movies that cast Cleveland in a positive light.bsig

Here’s a screen grab from Google street view of the bridge seen in the movie.

gmaps

The next frame cuts immediately to Charlotte, North Carolina. From the trailer, it appears most of the film is depicted in North Carolina. (Also, Cleveland’s tallest building one of Charlotte’s tallest were both designed by Cesar Pelli and look similar.) Other scenes were filmed in North Carolina.

bg2

You can watch the trailer here:

Memory Madeleines

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Proust, in In Search of Lost Time, uses the madeleine cake as a symbol of memory. For me, one item like that happens to be Lime Tootsie Flavor Roll Twisties.

In the early 1990s or late 1980s, I remember spending one Halloween in Sidney, Ohio with my grandparents. I don’t recall why we went there instead of going door to door in my hometown, Shaker Heights, but I was happy to spend time with them.

Sidney, Ohio

Sidney, Ohio

My mom’s father wasn’t immobile, but he preferred the confines of his La-Z-Boy with his pipe, newspaper, books and yellow legal pads to moving around a lot, especially getting up 40 or 50 times to dole out candy and exchange pleasantries to little kids seeking handouts.

So, Grandma and my mother took Betsy and I out to go beg for candy. I don’t remember what I was — it was one of those years maybe your memory decides to forget on purpose, but remembers all the silly costumes. What I do remember, is grandma grabbed a metal bowl, put it on a chair, filled it with Tootsie Flavor Roll Twisties, and tacked a note “Please be kind — Only take a few.”

It was foreign to me that people could, or should, be trusted to take the appropriate amount of candy responsibly. I asked whether she really believed people would honor her request. She told me that she didn’t know, but for her, God was to be the judge of them.

I surely thought the first miscreant and deadbeat parent combo to saunter to the porch would take all the candy, maybe even the bowl. Yet, as we returned from the Halloween festivities, the bowl (and some candy) remained. Maybe her instincts to trust her neighbors was right. Or maybe the candy wasn’t all that good.

As an adult, I’m not sure I would be so trusting. (As an adolescent, I used this tactic to set up a perfect opportunity to scare the shit out of teenagers by hiding in camouflage with my friends.)

Today, as I picked through the office candy bowl at the office, what did I find?

Lime-flavored tootsie rolls and a memory of my late grandmother.

Some day, a few years or decades from now, or even soon, this candy will disappear from the world. What won’t go with it, I hope, is this memory of my kind and trusting grandmother.bsig

The Wonders of Privatization (Snow Edition)

contractorsBainbridge Township, Ohio

“Did they shovel our porch?” my sister asked my mother. “Yep.” replied mom. “Wow.”

Ohio, at least northern Ohio, is experiencing one of its worst storms in recent years. Last night, the meteorologists spoke only of dire outcomes. And we’re only supposed to get a foot of snow.

This is not the same Ohio I grew up in, where snow was quite prevalent and a few feet fazed only the carpetbaggers. Snowmageddon in D.C.? Nothing compared to the great snowstorm of 1996 where we got over four feet of snow.

In recent years, snowstorms have been more mild here.

A year ago, my parents were still residing in my childhood home on Eaton road in Shaker Heights. To its credit, Shaker Heights has a very good public works system relative to neighboring communities. Of course, that comes at a high cost.

Shaker recently raised its taxes to keep its very good public works system — snow and trash removal — despite state budget cuts in the form of aid to cities. They proposed, and the voters approved, tax increases.

My parents moved. One county over, in fact, to Bainbridge Township in Geauga County, where taxes are lower (both in income and property taxes.)

Despite telling us for years they would impound our childhood in storage and buy a loft downtown, they opted to move east to an even bigger home. It’s a nice home. But, it’s in the snow belt.

Shaker Heights, like all inner-ring suburbs, gets its share of snow. Chagrin Falls and the surrounding parts of Cuyahoga and Geauga Counties tend to get a lot more snow.

The meteorologists were a little off on the timing, but they seemed to be correct on the amount of snow. It’s coming down hard.

Interrupting our alcohol-fueled games of bananagram and Jenga was the sound of snow plows. Since most of Bainbridge is unincorporated, the communities (run by Home Owners Associations) hire contractors to do the work of government that cities, like Shaker, ordinarily perform.

Dad came out of his new office and notified us that Ali and I would have to move our cars if the contractors were to plow our driveway. It was more of a command.

This, of course, was foreign to us, since we grew up using the winter mouse murderer known as the snowblower.  (If you’ve never seen mouse blood and parts sprayed over snow, then you haven’t truly lived, my friend.)

In Shaker, the city plowed the streets. When I was younger, they had this strange device designed to plow sidewalks. But given the age of those sidewalks, it often resulted in destroyed slabs and damaged machines. I don’t know this for sure, but I am pretty sure they killed that program.

The plows were big, and all of their drivers were city employees. Presumably belonging to a union. While the plows afforded bigger economies of scale, the labor contracts probably negated those benefits, since public employees’ unions have CBAs with pensions and overtime.

Of course, you had to plow your own driveway, and we used our snowblower to clear the block’s sidewalks because that’s how we roll, but the streets were plowed well — better than in the city of Cleveland.

Out here, however, the contractors plow your roads, your driveway, your walkway, and your porch.

Ali’s car — the Lesboat I call it, since it’s a Subaru — has 4WD. It pulled out of the driveway with ease. The “Silver Fox”, my dad’s old Honda Accord  that I now drive– complete with FIGHT TERRORISM license plates –does not. It was quickly evident when trying to move it why he no longer wanted it.

It got stuck.

I tried, in vain, to back it out of the driveway, a slight decline. Our driveway in Shaker was about a one-story incline that required skill to navigate. This, one would think, would be easy. Not so much. Without 4WD, skill was required.

After a few tries, my dad put on his boots and came to my aid to help push my out. It didn’t work.

All of the drivers of the snowplows stopped and got out of their trucks to help push me out.

That’s service.

(My mom rewarded them with a sixer of Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold.)

It got me thinking about city-provided services and private contractors.

While city-provided big trucks may be superior at providing the economies of scale necessary to plow big thoroughfares, the same could be done by a smaller amount of F-250’s, or bigger trucks. (Ohio isn’t big into privatization, while my current home of Virginia has embraced it, with VDOT using private contractors to plow main roads.) If allowed to compete, they’d presumably buy bigger trucks.

When the weather is tame, cities eat the cost of stagnant trucks and employees. Contractors have more flexibility. If it is particularly snowy, they can hire guys with trucks to join their team for the season, or lease trucks fitted with plows. That saves time and money, especially when competing for contracts.

And when it comes to providing service, they do a better job and more thorough job, at least when it comes to plowing snow.

In Bainbridge, however, my parents still have to take the trash out to the end of the 30 foot driveway. In Shaker, they employ little golf-like carts that pick it up from the back.

In the end, it’s all about trade offs, I guess. And my parents seem to value lower taxes and better snow service.bsig

 

 

 

 

Progressive AM Station in Columbus Goes Under

According to its webpage, WVKO 1580 AM in Columbus is going under.

The anonymous author writes on its very barren wordpress themed website:

Unfortunately, it was not a two-way street, and lack of advertising support from the Obama campaign all the way down to local races ensured that we will be unable to continue into the new year. I put my time, money, heart and soul into doing what I believed to be important for the country, but those who benefited most from our efforts chose to spend their campaign dollars elsewhere. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice….Well, we can’t get fooled again. Also, a number of advertisers who supported the station in the past chose to turn their backs on us this time. I can’t say why, since they would not return our calls. I want to thank our advertisers, supporters and you the listeners for everything, and i hope that Progressive Talk can somehow return to Columbus in the future.

Ouch.

The new format? Gospel.

The 634 likes the webpage has were probably an indicator. Columbus conservative AM station WTVN has nearly 6,000 likes. Quasi-competitor NPR station WOSU has 4,500 likes.

I don’t know their opinion for sure, but maybe the operator might re-think supporting taxpayer subsidized media that competes with them before getting into business in the future.

Advertising seemed to be a bit of a problem for WVKO, since its webpage had none whatsoever.

A screenshot of the webpage:

WVKOscreen

Obligatory Sherrod Brown Jay-Z “Dance” .gif

H/T to EK for the video.

Bravo, RTA Staff!

Cleveland!

Dear Editor,

Kudos to the RTA staff for recommending that it use the best firm to conduct the joint RTA-Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency study.

In picking the best firm — and noting “this isn’t like buying pork chops”– RTA’s staff has done a valuable service for taxpayers: pick the best firm.

Of course, local politicians and their aides — namely Valarie McCall — are encouraging RTA to “buy locally” and use a local firm instead of the firm in Olathe, Kansas they’ve recommended. (Despite the fact no local firm with this specialization exists.)

Nonsense. Surveys like this must be done right, especially since they will determine how millions of taxpayer dollars are spent. Firms specialize and earn a reputation because they do a good job and want to grow their business.

The same can’t be said about “buying local for locals’ sake.” I don’t want a bunch of inexperienced people doing the job just because they’re from Cleveland.

You wonder why Cleveland has brain drain? Articles like these make this native never want to come back. It seems Cleveland is governed by people with the economic sensibilities of peasants from the Middle Ages, when everybody bought locally and everybody was poor.

Cleveland must shake itself of its obsession with “buying local” and join the the rest of the country in trading with other people.

Jim Swift
Alexandria, Virginia

There’s a reason Teen Unemployment is High

Below is a letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch.

Dear Editor,

In your 7/22 paper, you editorialize that because the recession has made employment difficult for teens, they should volunteer their time because they are, as you put it, “disadvantaged.”

You also write “Our grandparents called it ‘paying your dues.'” Essentially you’re suggesting that teens, whose unemployment rate is 23.7% nationally, should make their labor worth $0 an hour.

There is nothing wrong with working for free to get your foot in the door. Interns do it all of the time, and this practice has been around for ages. However, nowhere in your editorial do you point out why teens are “disadvantaged.”

Perhaps your readers would be interested to know the effects of the minimum wage, which legislates a price floor on what people can accept in exchange for work, on teenage employment. In short, most economists can tell you that the higher you set a price floor on wages, the higher the unemployment rate for workers with lower skills, including most teens.

Yet, some in Ohio — namely unions and those supposedly interested in a “living wage” — are pushing for Ohio to raise its minimum wage by $2 an hour. If successful, that’s nice work — if you can get it. Anyone else might be relegated to the other minimum wage set by the help of unions and “progressive” liberals: $0 an hour.

If one is to believe their argument — namely that there are zero economic disadvantages to hiking the minimum wage to a “living wage” — why not require all employers to pay the prevailing wage set by unions. I’m sure unemployment won’t dip one percentage point.

Jim Swift
Alexandria, VA

Too Soon?

Tonight on twitter, I saw former MO Senator Jeff Smith comment that Josh Mandel of Ohio “is about as likely to be a Senator as Wendy Long [NY].”

Only when I expanded his quote did I see that he was answering a question with some snark, rather than pontificating independently.

Wendy Long is a candidate that has little/no chance of beating Kirsten Gillibrand. Josh Mandel, however, has a much better shot of unseating Sherrod Brown in Ohio. Smith’s comments are either uninformed or absurd.

A cursory review:

Wendy Long is down 37 points in a recent poll and has $96,411 in the bank. Kirsten Gillibrand has $10.5 million in the bank.

Josh Mandel is down 4 points in a July 18 Rasmussen poll. Huffington Post notes “Brown has raised $15.3 million to date, compared to Mandel’s $9.9 million. He also has about $6.5 million on hand, compared to Mandel’s $4.9 million.” Mandel recently claimed, and Politifact found “Mostly True,” that Sherrod Brown’s approval ratings have plummeted.

So, for Jeff Smith to say that Mandel is about as likely to be a Senator as Wendy Long is asinine. This from a guy who has a PhD in political science. My snarky reply is below. It’s snarky because Smith was sentenced to jail for a year and a day for obstruction of justice.

Too soon?

I’ll have you know that I was considering saying “You’d know about unrealistic bids first hand, you thought you could be a Congressman.” But that would give him too much credit. He was wrong about his chances and wrong about Mandel’s.

But what do I know? 

Update: John Celock notes in HuffPo that OHSEN has seen some of the highest independent expenditures of any Senate race, a sign that it is competitive.

Update #2: Jeff responds. I guess my comments hit too close to home. His switch to “wanna bet” is a nice way of avoiding the fact that the numbers don’t confirm his prediction that the likelihood of Mandel winning is “about as likely” as Wendy Long. Smoke and mirrors. Did Jeff study statistics?

My response:

Update #3: The snark-fest has subsided and Mr. Smith and I have agreed to a gentleman’s bet of a beer at Humphrey’s.