Tag Archives: economy

On Educated Congressmen: Essay for December 3, 2011

The monthly jobs report came out this week and it reflects an increase of 140,000 jobs. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Well, 140,000 jobs is less than this economy requires every month to offset the new job hunters that enter the marketplace. So, how did the unemployment rate go down then? The sad truth is that 315,000 people decided to stop looking for jobs. By the way, new jobless claims topped 400,000 for the last month but that data is not included in this month’s unemployment figure.

The economy is in a mess and increasingly we turn towards Congress to divine a solution. But who are these people to whom we turn? What are their qualifications to transform an economy? Where are their credentials to lead in business? How have they earned the right to speak with authority on the subject of directing our economy?

Let’s take a look at a few of the Congressmen in Massachusetts who have been self-proclaimed defenders of the economy; the fathers of economic recovery. There is Richard Neal, a 23 year incumbent who made his way to Congress via the City of Springfield as Mayor, as City Councilor and assistant to the Mayor. He has a degree in political science. He has taught some high school courses early in his career but I can’t find any evidence of experience that might provide insight into running a business, even a corner bodega. Verdict: career politician.

Then there is Congressman Jim McGovern. His career has been completely contained within politics. He has a degree in Public Administration. He was active in the Presidential campaign of Senator George McGovern (no relation). He was a Congressional aide to Joe Moakley of Massachusetts and successfully ran and won election to Congress in 1996. I heard Mr. McGovern speak this week before a council of manufacturing executives. He said he originally campaigned as a proponent of manufacturing in the state and the country but admitted that when he actually went to DC, he had no idea what he was talking about. I suspect that he has no better idea today than he did in 1996 or he would not have supported the legislation that has wrought havoc on the economy. I have no evidence that Jim McGovern has sold lemonade from a roadside stand no less understands the complexities of global enterprise. Verdict: career politician.

One more favorite is surely Barney Frank. He earned his degree in law at Harvard but never seems to have used it. He was a political aide then a Massachusetts legislator before ascending to US Congress. That is 40 years of politics and, again, there is not a hint that Mr. Frank has developed even the tiniest bit of business acumen during that time. Verdict: career politician.

Perhaps you are detecting a pattern here in the Commonwealth that we value our elected officials as politicians. And why not? They bring home the bacon, don’t they? Think Big Dig, that pet project of another famous Massachusetts politician, Tip O’Neill. He parlayed a $2.8 billion dollar project into something big and hideous that will cost, according to the Boston Globe, some $22 billion dollars. Tip O’Neill got involved in politics at age 15 when he campaigned for Al Smith. Verdict: career politician.

The Massachusetts democrats have a very long history of grooming its politicians seemingly from political puberty. What it has got us is a group of careerists bent upon advancing themselves politically at any cost and without any business experience. Nor is there is not a veteran among them. They know well how to service constituents with benefits but they know not about service to a higher cause. We don’t need another Big Dig or a highway repaving project to get us out of this mess but that is the usual litany of public works projects proposed to stimulate the economy. It is formulaic of old school politicians; formulaic of ways gone by; formulaic of failure.

So what is the new formula? It must include people who have lived an American Life: a life filled with trial and tribulation with a job that requires them to add value every day. I want them to know what it is like to take a position of financial risk. I want them to have a sense of sacrificial service to country. In short, I want to send a person to Congress who is more like you and me than like Richard Neal, Jim McGovern or Barney Frank.
There is a golden opportunity in Massachusetts to put in a career citizen in the new Fourth Congressional District, a person like you and me. That seat will be open when Barney Frank retires next year. When the New Age of Massachusetts candidate emerges they will require a full court press from people like us to put people like us, career citizens, into Congress from Massachusetts.

Press On.

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On Ordinary People: Radio Essay for November 20, 2010

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On Ordinary People: Essay for November 19, 2011

With almost 40 years of travel experience under my belt I have become something of a subject matter expert in the field. Name the mode and I have experience in it. By sea, by rail, by motor coach and automobile, I’ve done it. And in each class of service, too. Two years ago I received my updated frequent flyer card from American Airlines. It designates me as a million-miler. Now I get to check my bags for free.

There once was a certain romance about travel. I started my career on ocean going ships that plied the seven seas. The British coined the term posh in the days of the Raj to describe first class travel to India before the days of air conditioning. Port Outbound, Starboard Home accommodations would keep you on the shady side of the ship during the long hot voyage. My wife’s grandfather was a frequent flyer back in the 1940’s. Allegheny Airlines even featured him in a print ad. Then there is travel by rail. People would spend days and nights traveling by train. Arlo Guthrie’s depiction of rail travel was an endless card game punctuated with cigarettes in the parlor car.

When I wrote this, I was sitting in South Station waiting for my son to arrive by bus. Hollywood was never very kind to busses. They were depicted as dank and cold on the inside, stopping along some dusty road deep in the south to pick up a drifter, bus travel was the domain of common folk. It still is. Today’s busses are comfortable and feature movies, the internet and power outlets in every seat. And by common I mean ordinary people: those who have places to go and people to see without crazy amounts of money to spend on planes or time to waste in an airport with the ramp delays and weather.

As I looked around the terminal I saw a reflection of America that appealed to me. There were a thousand people with a thousand different stories. I saw their industry in quickened steps; I saw determination on their faces. They were of many races and colors and backgrounds yet they shared the common purpose of moving onward towards their next endeavor.
Bus terminals are not the domain of the elite but they ought to be. When those of the corporate jet set are without their planes, they are unlikely to be on the Megabus from New York but they should try it now and again. We can learn a lot from the denizens who partake of this most egalitarian of transit modes. In fact, we can all take a lesson from those ordinary people with extraordinary talents who make our world run. They make courageous calls every day on how to make ends meet and how to balance the demands of raising a family under expectations that continue to diminish.

Our elected officials ought to join us in the bus terminal, as well. Limousines and NetJets are no way to commune with the common man. You won’t find the ordinary man at Occupy Wall Street, either. When our elected officials hob-nob with the elite to exchange access for money on one end, then pause for the photo op at Dewey Square at the other end, one thing is clear: there is no ordinary man in sight.

The ordinary people of our country are caught in a vice. The political elite are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while our ship of state founders. These elite are fat, dumb and happy engaging in turf wars while our futures are at stake. The ultimate example of abrogation of responsibility is the Super Committee in Congress who is charged with making unpleasant decisions that neither chamber of Congress would make last summer when raising the debt ceiling became a crisis. In Washington, a crisis postponed is as good as a crisis solved. With their backs against the wall the big question is whether they can come to a courageous compromise just like ordinary people do every day. The problem is that they have not yet demonstrated that they have the courage that ordinary people display every day to solve that problem. Funny thing is the last word they would use to describe themselves is ordinary.
In that I concur. Maybe they need to take a Greyhound.

Press on.

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On Redistricting and Courage: Not Necessarily in That Order– October 29, 2011

It is very hard not to wax poetic about baseball, America’s national pastime. As Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager and subject of the book, Moneyball, says: How can you not be romantic about baseball? True. And for those of us baseball stalwarts who watched Game 6 of this World Series last Thursday night and into the wee hours of Friday morning, who could not have felt that romance?

Baseball is an egalitarian game. No room here for whiners. If you want to “Occupy Busch Stadium,” you have to earn it. And you have to want it. Mark Lowe was the Texas Ranger pitcher who surrendered the game winning home run to David Freese of the St. Louis Cardinals. Freese will go down in the annals of baseball as a bona fide hero. Who among us has not fantasized about hitting the game winning home run in the World Series? But Lowe may have emerged as an exemplar of heroism. Do you know what he said after the game? He said, “If you don’t want to be in that situation I was in, you’re in the wrong business. This is what I’ve worked for my whole career and I was where I wanted to be.”

It may only be a game but is there a lonelier feeling than facing down a hitter in the bottom half of an inning with the game on the line. One swing and it is over. And as two Ranger pitchers can attest, getting that last strike is not a given even if the odds are with you. Each of those pitchers, especially Mark Lowe, will be ready to go again, ready to take the ball, because that is what people of courage do. Maybe we make heroes out of baseball players because the game is so pure, so perfect. And maybe we know that sports cannot transcend politics.

We get spoiled by that purity because when we look to extend it to courage at a political level we are most often disappointed. So what does courage and redistricting have to do with each other? In Massachusetts, sadly, the two do not cross paths too often. At the State level, it is complicated and of course it is political but at least the numbers of seats do not change. At the Congressional level this year in Massachusetts, when the music stops, there will be one less Congressional district in the State. One incumbent Democrat has to get “voted off the island” by fellow Democrats. Conjecture about who that might be has haunted the process since the US Census numbers were announced early this year. Every incumbent declared they were going to stand for re-election in 2012. No quarter given and none asked.

Somehow, behind the tightest of closed doors, the Statehouse committee was making some choices. Let us consider what the process yielded 10 years ago. It yielded the First District that comprises 40% of the land mass of the State and runs from the New York border on the west to Pepperell, a town just south of Nashua, NH. It is 3 hour car ride. The Second District incumbent benefited from this madness by the obvious exclusion of Springfield and Northampton, bastions of Democratic Party legacy and the home field of that incumbent. The Third District snakes along a torturous path from the Worcester suburbs in Central Massachusetts to Fall River. That is a 70 mile drive. The Fourth District shares Fall River with the Third and winds its way north to the edges of Boston proper. Five Congressional districts split up Worcester County horizontally, thereby diluting any clout it has in promoting a more conservative political outlook. Central Massachusetts sent a bevy of conservatives to the Statehouse in 2010.

The outcome of this year’s deliberation was nearly at hand when the bolt out of the blue announcement that Congressman John Olver, the incumbent who presides over 40% of the State, would, indeed, retire. If there were any thoughts in our minds that courage would prevail in this redistricting process, the words of Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin put an end to that. He said that the announcement might require the entire process to be rethought. Why? Was not the committee to be looking independently of the incumbents and focusing on the needs of the constituents of the Commonwealth? I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you, that the needs of the incumbents and the perpetuation of power in the hands of the Democrats has taken precedence over the concerns of the people. I cannot imagine that Worcester County will soon reunite under a single Congressional District, or even two.

No, the spineless are in control on Beacon Hill, and many other Statehouses, by the way, while the courageous, those want to be given the ball, are left to toil on the pitcher’s mound in Busch Stadium. What I wouldn’t give for a legislator with one half the courage of Mark Lowe. Give me the ball.

Press on.

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On Occupying Congress: Radio Essay for October 22, 2011

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