Bert Sperling just released a new list of “The Best Places to Hit Refresh” and perhaps surprisingly many are located in the much-ignored flyover states. According to the list, five cities throughout the Midwest and Great Plains perfect for those looking to start over. Their methodologies included looking at the city’s overall population, unemployment rates, rates of singles living in the city, and the types of economies that the city can call their own—from oil in the upper Great Plains to education in the eastern Midwest.
What cities grace the list and why? In fifth place, Sioux Falls, SD, with its location in a state with some of the country’s most business-friendly laws (no corporate income tax, for example), low unemployment rate (5.5%), and a singles rate that rivals some of the larger U.S. metros (19th in the nation) allows for a perfect opportunity for those looking to start over. An economy that includes a number of banks and other financial firms and excellent health care has attracted a huge growth rate in recent years.
Next on the list is a tie between two more southwestern cities: Lawton, OK and Logan, UT. Both of these locales offer low unemployment rates (5.6% and 5.7%, respectively) and a high singles rate (15.9% and 16.4%). Lawton’s economy consists mostly of the Fort Sill U.S. military base, while Logan’s boasts Utah State University as its major economic provider.
Next up is the city of Lincoln, NE whose residents enjoy the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 4.1%. The city’s economy is composed of several financial and insurance firms, a Goodyear tire factory, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln which helps to give the city a high rate of singles at 15.1%.
The second best city to start over is the northern city of Fargo, ND. Home to Microsoft Business Solutions, Fargo began its growth even before the explosion of the oil and gas industry in western North Dakota. The populace enjoys the nation’s third-lowest unemployment rate at 4.5%, while the presence of North Dakota State University and Minnesota State University at Moorhead contribute a high rate of singles (15.9%) as well as a young feel to the isolated city.
Finally, the best city to start over according to Sperling is the Midwestern college town of Iowa City, IA. The city boasts a very low unemployment rate (4.7%), a high singles rate (16.1%), and a well-educated workforce thanks to the presence of the University of Iowa. The city’s culture is positively affected by Chicago’s proximity and the university’s label as a Big Ten college, as well as a diverse student population. Iowa City is a flourishing Midwestern city with deep cultural roots that make for a great place to not only start over, but to live as well.
All of this comes at a perfect time after a University of Iowa journalism professor, Stephen Bloom, openly marginalized the state of Iowa’s populace as the “elderly waiting to die”. Sperling’s list helps to solidify Iowa (and the rest of the Midwest and Great Plains) as a hopeful place with opportunity as fertile as the soil itself.
Illinois has become famous for producing Barack Obama, but now another sort of fame is in the news. The Illinois Policy Institute has come out with a devastating report on “the state of Illinois”:
Illinois residents are fleeing the state. When people leave, they take their purchasing power, entrepreneurial activity and taxable income with them. For more than 15 years, residents have left Illinois at a rate of one person every 10 minutes.
Recent data from the Internal Revenue Service shows that, in 2009, Illinois netted a loss of people to 43 states, including each of its neighbors – Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky and Iowa. Over the course of the entire year, the state saw a net of 40,000 people leave Illinois for another state.
The data reflects a continuation of a trend of out-migration from Illinois that has lasted more than a decade. Between 1995 and 2009, the state lost on a net basis more than 806,000 people to out-migration.
When people leave, they take their income and their talent with them. In 2009 alone, Illinois lost residents who took with them a net of $1.5 billion in taxable income. From 1995 to 2009, Illinois lost out on a net of $26 billion in taxable income to out-migration.
Illinois lost one person every 10 minutes between 1995 and 2009. Will the people who stay in Illinois demand reform before more wealth and jobs leave the state?
A recent poll of 3,000 C-level manufacturing company executives found that 85% see certain manufacturing functions returning to the U.S., citing increasing costs overseas (37%), logistics/delivery demands (20%), quality issues (7%) and other reasons (37%).
From the Cook Associates Survey:
85 percent of manufacturing executives see the possibility of certain manufacturing operations returning to the U.S., with 37 percent citing overseas costs as the major factor. Nineteen percent cited logistics and 36 percent stipulated other reasons, including economic/political issues, quality and safety concerns, patriotism and overseas skills shortages for highly technical manufacturing processes.
Cook Associates Executive Search polled nearly 3,000 manufacturing executives primarily in small- to mid-sized U.S. companies from October 13 through November 18, 2011. Participants consisted of C-level executives (CEO, CFO, COO) and key functional Vice Presidents (Operations, Manufacturing, Supply Chain).The survey data was supplemented by written comments submitted by individual executives.
The survey identified low-volume, high-precision, high-mix operations, automated manufacturing and engineered products requiring technology improvements or innovation as the primary forms of manufacturing returning to the States.
New Internal Revenue Service migration data, compiled by the Tax Foundation, confirms that more people are again moving to Florida than are moving out. After a loss in the number of 30,000 domestic migrants ("exemptions") in 2008-9 as indicated on tax returns, Florida added 30,000 in 2009-10. This is still a far lower net migration than before the burst of the housing bubble, but is an indication that Florida has returned to growth. Florida's migration turnaround was recently noted in new American Community Survey data (see Domestic Migration: Returning to Normalcy?). Additionally, in 2009-10, Florida ranked third out of the 50 states and DC in personal income gains from net domestic migration relative to 2009. Only Montana (#1) and South Carolina (#2) did better.
Phillip Marlowe, Joe Friday, pack your bags. Your talents are needed elsewhere. The City of Angels is starting to live up to its namesake but the same cannot be said of the state’s agricultural communities.
Homicide has long been associated with the inner city, the worst crime suffered disproportionately by those who fare the worst. But the annual report on homicide released this month by the California Attorney General reveals that counties traditionally dominated by agriculture have the highest rates. Monterey, Merced, San Joaquin and Kern counties top the list where the largest city to be found is Bakersfield with under 350,000 residents. In fact, the counties that hold the state’s four largest cities, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego and San Francisco, are not even in the top ten. Alameda, Fresno and Contra Costa are the only arguably urban-dominated counties to be in the top ten and including Fresno on this list is a stretch.
Why is this the case? The city of Salinas in Monterey County has a horrible gang problem as does Fresno. Although most criminologists do not link murder to a poor economy, the Central Valley has suffered tremendously in recent years, causing one observer to call it “California’s Detroit .” Los Angeles, which had the state’s second highest murder rate in 2001, saw a precipitous drop in violent crime in the last decade under LAPD Chief Bill Bratton. It’s 2010 murder rate (5.9 homicides per 100,000 residents) was nearly half of the rate in 2001 (11).
Another eye-popper in the report was the incidence of homicide in the Hispanic community: Hispanics comprised nearly 45 percent of the state’s homicide victims and nearly 49 percent of those arrested for the crime (27 percent of victims were black and 18 percent were white for comparison).
Other interesting highlights of the report:
• The homicide rate went down for the fifth year in the row to a rate of 4.7 homicides per 100,000 residents – the lowest rate since 1966. Monterey and Merced both had rates of 10.
• Thirty-six percent of all homicides were gang-related. Another thirty-six percent occurred as a result of an argument.
• Whites who murder and are murdered tend to be older than other ethnic groups: 40 percent of white arrestees were age 40 or over, and 52 percent of white murder victims were over 40.
• For cases in which the cause of murder is known, 71 percent of homicides involve a firearm.
I came to report on the occupation of Zuccotti Park expecting it would pass in a matter of days, like the stillborn movements before it.
In spite of its self-celebrated cosmopolitanism, New York after 9/11 has become an arid environment for protest under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. The press and the public yawned through the massive anti–Iraq War march in 2003 and the excessive police response to the 2004 RNC protesters (the city is still dealing with those lawsuits). Even after the Wall Street meltdown, an eerie silence prevailed.
Zuccotti was something else: a physical presence, symbolically charged by its location a stone’s throw from both Ground Zero and Wall Street, with no end date to wait out and no demand to be placated.
While the act of occupation had little to do with the broader complaint—at the core, unhealthy economic distribution perpetuated by increasingly unresponsive elected “representatives”—it proved a dramatic setting for airing them, and for bringing participants together. For one season the park took on a life of its own, before reverting to a place for “passive recreation.”
In the course of that season, though, the scene aged badly. With a big push from the Bloomberg administration and tabloid coverage fixated on civic order, Zuccotti Park descended from a new public commons to a fever dream.
I surveyed the scene for the first time about a week after it started. In that first of what became many such visits, I stayed from early afternoon through the next morning, listening to professors, students, union members, veterans, homeless women, eccentrics, lunatics, librarians, old colleagues from other newspapers, members of various working groups and even a neighbor from Brooklyn there to take it in.
Occupy Wall Street had yet to draw the high-profile NYPD abuses and errors—the pepper spraying and Brooklyn Bridge arrests—that would give them a shape and purpose they couldn’t sustain themselves. But amid the drum circles and music festival “model society” absurdity of the park, people who’d been at a loss until now about how to express an array of concerns sensed an opening.
I was less interested in the protest itself than in the creation within Zuccotti of the sort of freewheeling commons New York City has lost under this mayor, even as the Internet and mobile devices eroded what was left of a shared café culture.
That shift is epitomized by the increasing commercialization of public spaces like the generator-powered gift market at Union Square. But it left a hole that the occupiers briefly filled.
The handmade cardboard signs, the conversations with engaging strangers, the library, even the General Assembly all seemed like flashes of the participant city that’s hunkered down to wait out an unpopular mayor. Bloomberg has built an ever-expanding safe space for the very well-off at the expense of the rest of us, using his private fortune to encourage New Yorkers to simply leave the city’s civic life in his hands.
Problems in Zucotti stemmed in no small part from the massively disproportionate police response, intended in part to limit the size and scope of the protests by warning the economically marginal, the physically frail, and the meek about the bad things that might happen to those who participated.
That tactic backfired. As the occupation grew, the would-be political participants found themselves starved for space, overwhelmed by their own tents and by an excess of hangers-on, panhandlers and carnival-goers unsober in all senses. They were ringed by barricades and police officers, blinded by spotlights aimed into the park at all hours, and eyed at all times by dozens of NYPD cameras carried by officers and atop a 20-foot pole on an unmarked police truck.
“Just because you’re paranoid,” one Occupier said, sweeping her arm across the park, “doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”
The NYPD response was a far more significant disruption to the life of the city than the protesters themselves—for the first time since 9/11 penning off streets to those without IDs to prove they “belonged” there, erecting barricades that starved businesses of customers, sending so many officers to “protect” the demonstrably nonviolent marches that crime rates went up elsewhere.
In turn, the occupiers became fixated on the police department. At each march, rumors would swirl about brutality, arrests and reports that “they’re taking the park.” Crowds would at times work themselves into mobs, facing off with the NYPD as though they were in Oakland or Egypt. Yet they failed to notice—let alone respond to—the tactics used to manage them, like complicated penning schemes that broke bigger groups into smaller ones or tricked protesters into separating themselves from the rest of the city instead of showing they were just like everyone else.
After I reported that the police were exacerbating a split between participants and nonparticipants in Zuccotti by encouraging drunks and rowdies to head down there, the NYPD’s main mouthpiece issued a tepid denial. “Not true,” he said, without specifying what exactly wasn’t true, adding that those types would of course find their way there.
Explaining his decision to finally clear the park, Bloomberg pointed to the EMT who broke his leg on the sidewalk just outside the park (but inside the barriers separating the police from the protesters) a week earlier, in the middle of the night.
I was the only reporter on the scene when that happened. My colleagues had dispersed around the park to track a spate of seemingly contagious violent incidents on an especially ugly night.
Two very large OWS “community watch” members were patiently working to calm down and eject from the park a crazed 20-year-old, Joshua Ehrenberg, who I was told had punched his girlfriend in the face earlier that night. Just outside the barriers separating the sidewalk from the street, officers watched the crowd swelling around the scene.
The police ignored requests to move on as Ehrenberg kept playing to them, spitting out slogans of the occupation: “The process is being disrespected” since “the community hasn’t consented to this,” trying to get friends to form a human chain with him. As ever, the gawkers accused each other of being infiltrators and police agents.
As that scene played out, two huge men in still another fight emerged behind us, inside the park, throwing ineffective haymakers at each other, nearly toppling tents. One of the OWS security members left to try to handle that, while his partner finally asked the police, watching from outside the barriers, to come in and remove Ehrenberg.
Despite the invitation, the crowd swarmed around the entering officers, yelling “Pig!” and the like as the police carried the struggling, still slogan-shouting would-be Occupier out by his arms and legs.
An EMT there to take him for a psychiatric evaluation, walking backward just ahead of the swollen group of police, protesters and park campers, put his foot through the rungs of a ladder that for some reason was leaning against the sidewalk.
As he wailed in agony, the crowd gave no space—even as the police calmly asked them to give him room, pushing those who wouldn’t listen back with measured force.
In press reports about the incident, a city spokesperson incorrectly claimed that the EMT was shoved or assaulted, while Occupation sources peddled the line that this was just one of those things, an unavoidable accident unrelated to the occupation.
Did he fall or was he pushed? Yes.
Would the Occupation movement—really, a moment—have collapsed under its own weight without the city’s heavy-handed help? Thanks to that help, we’ll never know.
This piece first appeared at City and State New York.
Finally astronomy has begun to keep up with the legendary television show, Star Trek. For decades, one of television's strongest fan bases has been aware of "M-Class" (Earth-like) planets, on which carbon based, and often-human like life can exists. More often than not, such life did indeed exist in Star Trek. Until this past week, however, there was no hard evidence that our "M-Class" planet, Earth, had any company.
That changed with the recent discovery of, Keplar-22b, which was discovered by a NASA team using the Keplar Space Telescope. The planet is described as the first of similar size to earth that has been found in the "goldilocks zone" of habitability relative to its sun.
Of course, Star Trek had many more M-Class planets. But the race may be on. Researchers intend to use their results to extrapolate an estimate of the share of M-Class planets. Star Trek's nearly half-century lead in this inventory could be at risk.
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced today to 14 years in prison. Illinois will now have the dubious distinction of having two back-to-back Governors in jail at the same time. Could a more vigilant press have stopped the amazing political career of Rod Blagojevich? When you look into the background of the former Governor the tentacles of organized crime can’t be ignored.
Rod Blagojevich has been identified as a former associate of the Elmwood Park street crew of the Chicago Mob by Justice Department informant Robert Cooley. The allegations concern Blagojevich paying street tax to the Chicago Mob to operate a bookmaking operation. Former senior FBI agent James Wagner confirmed that Cooley told the FBI about Blagojevich in the 1980s. The Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune still haven’t reported on the Cooley allegations concerning Blagojevich. WLS-TV reporter Chuck Goudie has been most vocal in reporting on Blagojevich’s background.
Blagojevich was tried in room 2525 of the Dirkson Federal Building, the same room used for the massive Family Secrets Chicago Mob trial. It’s odd that Judge James Zagel was the federal judge in both cases. But, there’s more in common than the media has emphasized.
Blagojevich can’t help but be a little bitter. Former friend Eric Holder was supposed to help Blagojevich land a valuable casino in Rosemont, Il. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is under an ethics cloud but is not going to be indicted for the Obama Senate seat deal. While Barack Obama claims to know nothing about Chicago corruption, as Joel Kotkin said recently: Illinois is a state of embarrassment.
During my college days, I had the opportunity to interview a local government official tasked with conducting various disaster response programs. North Dakota had, at the time, been dealing with severe flood issues for nearly a decade, and the interviewee had vast experience dealing with the ins and outs of working within the system to find mitigation solutions. Asked about the challenges of having to deal with a multitude of state and federal agencies, he informed me that the most vital contacts he had were at the federal level. His reasoning?
"That's where the money is."
Given the current political winds blowing from D.C., the conditions that spurred that view might be about to change in substantial ways.
With the recent failure of the "Super Committee" to find a deal on potential budget cuts and tax reforms, states may soon find themselves faced with a set of federal spending cuts to programs and services that undergird large parts of their economy. These automatic cuts, triggered in 2013 by the committee's failure, will total nearly $1.2 Trillion and be between domestic and defense expenditures. While many may laud such cuts as a way to help bring the federal budget back towards a semblance of order, it is worth noting that the impact on state economies moving forward could be substantial.
Federal spending, be it on defense, salaries for federal workers, infrastructure, or procurement makes up a sometimes major part of state economic activity. As outlined in a recent piece at stateline.com, some states have far greater exposure than others. In New Mexico, home to several major federal research institutions, over 12% of Gross State Product (GSP) is attributable to federal government spending. Virginia and Maryland, home to so many federal workers and contractors are even more economically dependent on federal spending, with 13.5% (MD) and 18.5% (VA) of their economies being due to federal activity. The spillover of cuts at the federal level can't help but impact on the overall economic health of such states. The impact will likely be felt throughout the nation as federal agencies find themselves forced to tighten their belts.
Scholars of federalism often refer to the period since the late 1970's as the era of "New Federalism." Beginning under President Carter, and embraced fully by the conservative movement during the 1980's, New Federalism was marked by increasing devolution of powers and responsibility to state governments and calls for states to be given more control over the reins when spending allotted federal dollars.
While states continue to play an important role in the system, actions taken over the past few years under the Bush and Obama administrations seemed to hearken back to the earlier, cooperative model of federalism, with the federal government taking on a more assertive role in working with and through state and local governments to provide stimulus, reform healthcare, and implement post 9/11 security initiatives. While state leaders might have chafed at the strings tied to certain lines of funding, the dollars provided offered states a way to backfill budget shortfalls during a time of economic stress.
With the demise of the Super Committee, continued calls for deeper spending cuts and gridlock over raising revenues are setting the table for a changed federal-state relationship. As federal agencies strike their tents on various programs and initiatives, states will find themselves receiving less direct federal largess and facing lower economic activity as federal dollars working their way through the local economy are reduced. Budget austerity may lead the federal government to increasingly leave the states to their own means- devolution by force, instead of by choice.
On November 18, President Obama signed into law a bundle of appropriation bills for FY 2012 including appropriations for the U.S. Department of Transportation. The measure had been passed earlier in the House by a vote of 298-121 and in the Senate by a vote of 70-30.
The bill provides $39.14 billion in obligation limitation for the highway program, a reduction of almost $2 billion from FY 2011; however, an additional $1.66 billion is appropriated for highway-related "emergency relief." The transit program is funded at $10.31 billion (incl. $1.95 for New Starts), a $400 million increase from FY 2011, and Amtrak at $1.42 (incl. $466 million for operating expenses). The discretionary TIGER program is retained at $500 million, a slight decrease from FY 2011.
Conspicuously absent in the new budget is any funding for high-speed rail and the Intercity Passenger Rail Service program --- a fact cheered by fiscal conservatives but mourned by boosters of high-speed rail and supporters of the California bullet train. The California High-Speed Rail Authority relies heavily on further federal funds to complete the project. According to its business plan, it expects $33-36 billion to come from the federal government. Failure by Congress to appropriate money for high-speed rail for a second year in a row makes the prospect of future federal support for the California rail project increasingly doubtful.
Also refused any funding in the FY 2012 congressional transportation appropriation are two other Administration priorities: the Livable Communities Initiative ($10 million requested in the President's budget); and the National Infrastructure Bank ($5 billion requested). The conference committee action would seem to put an effective end to any further attempts to create the Bank, at least during the remainder of this session of Congress.
Solvency of the Highway Trust Fund in Jeopardy
The congressional conferees have warned that the bill will deplete almost all resources from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) by the end of fiscal year 2012. "Without enactment of a new surface transportation authorization bill with large amounts of additional revenues this year," the report said, "the Highway Trust Fund will be unable to support a highway program in fiscal year 2013. The conferees strongly urge the committees of jurisdiction to enact surface transportation legislation that provides substantial long-term funding to continue the federal-aid highways program."
As Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) pointed out in a commentary, the appropriations committee is willing to acknowledge the problem, but quickly passes the buck to the authorizers to come up with more cash for future years. But the authorizers aren't doing any better. The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee passed a $109 billion reauthorization bill that would fund two years of transportation spending by essentially drawing the HTF balance down to zero (and still unable to identify the remaining $12 billion in offsets). To House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) the implications of the Senate action are clear. In a November 14 letter to Senate EPW Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) he warns that the Senate bill will "essentially bankrupt the Highway Trust Fund and make it impossible to provide any funding for fiscal year 2014."
To its credit, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recognized the precarious state of the Trust Fund and took steps to impose spending controls to prevent the Fund from falling into insolvency. The Senate bill provides (in section 4001) for mandatory reductions in the obligation limitation should the Trust Fund balances in the Highway Account, as estimated by the CBO, fall below a certain pre-determined level (for example, in the event gas tax revenues fail to match expectations). The designated triggers are $2 billion at the end of FY 2012 and $1 billion at the end of FY 2013. In other words, the Senate EPW committee has wisely provided for a mechanism to reduce highway expenditures below the authorized $109 billion level in order to prevent the Trust Fund from going bankrupt.
The House, for its part, is exploring a different way to fund a longer-term, five-year reauthorization. On November 17, Speaker Boehner announced he will unveil in December a combined transportation and energy bill, dubbed the "American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act," (HR 7). The bill would authorize expanded offshore gas and oil exploration and dedicate royalties from such exploration to "infrastructure repair and improvement" focused on roads and bridges.
However, many questions have been raised about this approach. Several lawmakers --- notably, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Sen Barbara Boxer (D-CA) chairman of of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) the committee's ranking member---have criticized the aproach as problematical and potentially miring the bill in controversy. They allege that the royalties the House is counting upon would fall billions of dollars short of filling the gap in needed revenue (the gap is estimated at approximately $75-80 billion over five years). They further allege that the revenue stream from the royalties would not be available in time to fund the measure.
Other critics have pointed out that states in whose jurisdiction drilling may occur, will assert a claim to a lion portion of the royalties. Also, using oil royalties to pay for transportation would essentially destroy the principle of a trust fund supported by highway user fees. For all the above reasons, the House proposal is likely to meet with a skeptical reception in the Senate.
As the TCS memorandum aptly concluded, in the end it's a big game of "kick the can." The appropriators kick the can to the authorizers. The authorizers kick the can down the road a couple of years or rely on speculative and uncertain revenue that may or may not materialize. In the meantime, the fate of the Trust Fund continues to hang in a precarious balance, victim of Congressional indecision and new fiscal imperatives.
Note: the NewsBriefs can also be accessed at www.infrastructureUSA.org
A listing of all recent NewsBriefs can be found at www.innobriefs.com