Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Inevitable Death of a City - Blogging the Detroit Mayor Election

I've been checking in from time to time this evening to watch the Detroit mayoral election returns slowly filter in (its now 1:39 a.m. est). All signs are now pointing to an upset win by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick over challenger Freeman Hendrix who had a commanding double digit lead in the polls as recently as this past weekend.

First thought: never trust pollsters when it comes to local elections. Whether its their incompetence or fickleness of Detroit voters, these polls seem to be as accurate as the answers I gave on geometry exams in high school.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Do They Even Read What They Write?

Take a look at these fantastic U.S. economic figures:

  • Retail sales rose .2% for the month ended September, 2005 (such sales were off 1.9% for the month ended September, 2004);
  • The GDP increased at a 3.8% gallop for the 3rd Quarter of 2005 (compared to an as nearly as impressive clip of 3.3% for the 3rd Quarter 2004);
  • Factory orders were up 2.5% for 3rd Quarter of 2005 (in contrast to a 2.5% decline in the 3rd Quarter of 2004);
  • 56,000 new jobs were added in October, 2005, dropping the unemployment rate to 5%, the level it was before Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast (what is considered full employment by the way?);
  • Despite pressures caused by increasing oil costs, inflation dropped in October, 2005 from 2.1% to 2.0 %; and
  • Average hourly wages rose .5% in October, 2005, the biggest monthly increase in 2 years.

So, in light of these dazzling figures, MSNBC of course chose the obvious headline to extol the virtues of the U.S. economic juggernaut for its piece on the economy today. Yep, you guessed it... the headline for the report is: "Employment Grew Weakly in October."

Is there any wonder that consumer confidence is falling? By any measure the U.S. economy is firing on all cylinders and yet the media repeatedly hypes its supposed failings. Keep in mind that the unemployment rate actually dropped last month. And it dropped despite the lingering impact of the worst natural disaster ever to afflict the United States.

Of course what do we find buried deep in the article? This little nugget:

While the employment figures were slightly disappointing, other data in the
report showed surprisingly strong wage gains for workers who do have jobs.

I can only imagine the euphoric headlines that would have been published had these same figures been released during the Clinton years..."The U.S. Economy: Unstoppable!" or "Mother Nature No Match For Clinton Economic Policies!"

Frankly, its amazing that Bush's anemic poll numbers are as strong as they are given the negative spin given by the media to even the most positive of economic reports.


Devil's Night Finds a New Home

Detroit has long suffered from an image as a brutally violent city, its very name evoking images of widespread murder, robbery, and arson. Perhaps nothing cemented this picture Detroit more than the wave of "Devil's Night" fires that plagued the city in the early 1990s.

For those unfamiliar with this ritual, starting in the early 1980s, minor pranks performed on the night before Halloween ranging from ding-dong ditch to the tping of a local curmudgeon's house escalated into widespread arson as Detroit's gangs torched the city's many abandoned (and some un-abandoned) properties. The number of arson incidents rose to such an alarming level that Detroit itself was seemingly set ablaze each year on the night preceding Halloween. The annual Devil's Night conflagration became so notorious that journalists from as far away as Japan travelled to the Motor City to view for themselves the inevitable flames that set the city on fire.

Fortunately for Detroit, patience for these acts of violence wore thin. Renamed "Angel's Night", the City of Detroit dramatically increased its police presence on the nights leading up to Halloween. More importantly, regular citizens readily volunteered their time to serve in citizen patrols that roamed the city looking for n'er do-wells. These "angels" (along with a muscular police presence) dramatically reduced the number of arsons that once afflicted Detroit in the run-up to Halloween, and they continue to serve as a beacon for the good that can be accomplished by an active citizenry that is motivated to make a positive impact on society.

Unfortunately, another city with French ties is now experiencing its own wave of Devil's Nights. The suburbs of Paris have now burned for 9 days as the mostly Muslim residents of the impovershed suburban areas ringing Paris have taken to widespread arson, vandalism, and rioting.

Can Chirac become the "angel" necessary to stop this violence. I doubt it.

On the plus side, perhaps now that the world's most civilized city has experienced its own Devil's Night, others may soon start recognizing the tremendous strides made by Detroit in bringing civility to its streets through a combination of good policing and citizen involvement. I doubt that too since Detroit seems destined to be everyone's convenient whipping post.