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Remarks on Memorial Day 2014 Hopedale, Massachusetts

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May 28, 2014 · 9:29 pm

On Occupying Congress: Essay for October 22, 2011

It was in mid-September that the Occupy Wall Street movement began. It has continued unabated in New York since then and has spread throughout the country; indeed, throughout the world. I had a hankering to understand this movement in more depth so I went to the Occupy Wall Street dot org website. Here is a quotation from a former Wall Street analyst cum organizer for OWJ that describes the movement:

“(I am) Concerned about the egregious Wall Street bonuses — particularly after the industry accepted a tax-payer bailout and the middle class continues to be squeezed — I believe it’s time for a fairer system that provides health care, education, and opportunity for all, and rejects corporate influence over government.”

What is there to effectively argue about with this statement? Many a Tea Party advocate could make a similar statement. We could debate how much contribution the government might make towards achieving these goals but the key point is that the middle class is getting unnecessarily squeezed by a system that promotes crony capitalism at the expense of the unconnected. No objective observer of the current situation could dispute the disproportionate role special interests play in doling out a status of Most Favored Company or Most Favored Federation. There is no status the decrees Most Favored Middle Class. We are on our own and have been for quite a long time.

Has the time come to Occupy Congress?

At the untainted heart of this movement lies a kernel of common ground around which we all can muster. There is a place where the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers can agree: government is failing the people because it has become slave to the interest groups that own Congress. Pay attention to the heavy hitters in contributions since 1989:
ActBlue $56 million
AT&T Inc $48 million
American Fedn of State, County & Municipal Employees $46 million
National Assn of Realtors $41 million
Service Employees International Union $38 million
National Education Assn $37 million
Goldman Sachs $36 million
American Assn for Justice $35 million
Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers $34 million
Laborers Union $32 million

Are you getting the picture? Our government is for sale. These organizations lean heavily towards the party of the Democrats but influence peddling is always in season on Capitol Hill.

On top of that, Lobbyists play a prominent role in directing policy in Washington. In 2010 there were almost 13,000 registered lobbyists stalking Capitol Hill. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks political spending, lobbying efforts reached a record $3.5 billion last year.

We very often hear that class warfare is being stoked by the highly charged rhetoric from no less than the President himself, his Vice President and other members of government. The Occupy Wall Street crowd talks about being part of the 99% who are disenfranchised, not the 1% who hold all of the cards.

I tell you this: there is a war between the classes but it is not who you think it is. It is not between rich and poor; not between left and right. It is between the people and the political class in Washington.
Our elected officials in Washington have become corrupted by the power, the prestige, the money and the influence it brings. They cling to their seats in Congress or offices in Washington in hopes of being the martinet who inflicts pain and later comes to the rescue using other people’s money to solve the inflicted problem. They have created a Munchhausen syndrome that only they believe they can fix. I disagree.

Despite the pain and dislocation caused by our current economic woes, and they are substantial, I see no evidence of a percolating class struggle that exists naturally. The embers of discontent are fanned by ill-intentioned members of the political class who have agendas far from those the likes of us.

If I had to suggest another place to occupy, it would be Congress. I would gladly link arms with a fellow sojourner bent on changing the face of the political class in Congress.

Press on.

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On an Economic Solution: Essay for October 15, 2011

If anybody can tell me what is going on with the Occupy Wall Street crowd, as Ross Perot once said, “I am all ears.” Are these people really victims of an economic malaise or a rabble encouraged by the unseen hand of conflicting sources?

It matters not to me. Whether they know it or not, whether they are tools or not, they are card carrying members of the Lost Generation. Their economic future is in the hands of someone else. Their choices are limited and their futures are in doubt. Surely, they are doing nothing to improve their economic situation by squatting in a park and mindlessly ranting on television.

Some would have us debate the threshold of wealth as if the taxation of the wealthiest of society would be enough to free us from the shackles of reckless financial management. “Tax the rich; feed the poor, till there are no rich no more.” And if it could not, and it will not: then what? We will still have a lot of people out on the streets, young and old asking the question: Whatever happened to my American Dream?
I could rant on and on about the many issues before us in this great land: the social issues, the personal liberty issues or the foreign policy issues. They pale in comparison to the economic issues.

It must be our solemn quest to restore opportunity to our countryman. This must be goal Number One. If our economy is not functioning, we will be focusing on the wrong debate at the wrong time. Perhaps we can set aside the rhetoric that panders to the primary fringe voters from both parties and focus on the one true issue in this campaign that should rightly dominate our discussions: the faltering economy.
The “fix” is not a simple one. Nor can it be simply stated. It calls for a concerted effort between government, business and education. It must start now. Time is catastrophically short. The overall fix is long term but it is one that will begin to yield results immediately.

There are three legs to the stool we must address immediately and well.

First, there is the business component. Simply stated, we must retain a manufacturing base that leans towards high technology and high value added activity. We must dispense with the image of manufacturing as a dirty and menial job. Modern plants of today demand highly skilled workforces who often work in office or laboratory-like conditions.

Secondly, we must revise our system of education. It must align itself with the manufacturing sector. We need to focus our efforts on the four pillars of science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM subjects. These disciplines will serve to support the expansion and further development of the manufacturing sector.

Finally, there is a role for government. It was less than 30 years ago that the federal tax code was revised to give the United States the lowest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. It worked. Direct investment soared. The economy soared. Over time the rest of the world followed suit in lowering rates while our rates crept back up to where they are now. America is number one in having the highest corporate tax rate in the world. It is a dubious distinction. Direct investment, both foreign and domestic, is shrinking. Additionally, our regulatory burden is unnecessarily high. It is ambiguous. It is prohibitive. Our regulations must be focused on the common good of society not bureaucracy. The last meaningful review of regulations took place during the Clinton Administration. Our agencies have remained unchecked throughout the last decade.

Andrew Liveris is the Chairman of Dow Chemical. He heads up the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership initiative under the Obama Administration. He leans a little towards the left but makes eminent sense in his book, “Make It in America.” His recommended path is clear. First, make it easier for businesses to remain or locate in the United States. Second, remake the manufacturing sector into an advanced, high-value added industry. Third, create an economy that can sustain itself through long term job creation and economic growth. Fourth, prepare the next generation’s workforce for the challenge of a changing economy. And, fifth, improve America’s global competitiveness for the near and long term. I concur.

Amid the cacophony of the choruses from left and right there must be a way forward that both parties can agree upon. It is of no use to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. To carry the metaphor, we have already struck the iceberg. It is time to save the ship.

Press on.

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On Security and Liberty: Radio Essay for October 1, 2011

My first airplane ride was unforgettable. I was a 14 year old Boy Scout en route to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. The Boeing 727 was a passenger/cargo configuration that left LaGuardia airport on an evening flight making stops in Nashville and Memphis before heading west to Colorado Springs. Who could sleep? The choreographed hum on the tarmac; boarding not through a jetway but from stairs; the roar of a JT9 engine on takeoff and the ear splitting whine at altitude; the reds and blues and whites of the taxiways and runways at night. It was easily 3 AM before I fell asleep.
Air travel was alluring and exotic then. The Mutual of Omaha insurance kiosks reminded us that the dangers of flying were generally limited to full blown disaster and the occasional hijacking to Cuba. I cannot recall much in the way of airport security and visitors were free to come and go to meet and greet you as your flight landed.

Fast forwarding some 42 years to my experiences this week provides quite a contrast. You know all-to-well the drill. First one shows ID at check-in and shows it again for the privilege of going through security. The latest indignity begins at that moment when one has to empty the computer into a separate bin and place shoes, belt, pocket contents, and all liquids into another before going into the screening booth that reveals more about your anatomy to a stranger than you are probably willing to disclose to your physician. You can be swabbed for nitrates and patted down for who-knows-what. Long gone is the innocence of that classically romantic airport farewell between Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund in the movie Casablanca. The intrigue of flight and flying that captured the imagination of so many youngsters who, like me, used to hang out at the end of runways watching airport traffic has been traded for some sense of security that comes from proscription.
I’ve been traveling like mad since the mid 70’s. Airplanes and airports have been the target of choice for would-be villains of the skies for nearly half a century. I recall receiving some counsel back in the 80’s from a CIA agent who suggested carrying a Sunday New York Times in my briefcase in order to shield my body in the event of gunfire as I traveled through European airports. I wonder if a Kindle would do the trick.

All of this caution and willing dilutions of personal liberty are appropriate responses to the threat of terror and the responsible thing to do aren’t they? If our security consciousness were contained to airports I might be able to compartmentalize the experience as a focus of security necessity.

Here is where I get skittish. Scott Pelly recently interviewed NYPD Chief Raymond Kelly on 60 Minutes. Kelly runs a police department that is larger than either the United States Coast Guard or the FBI. It has its own navy, including submersibles and surface craft equipped with nuclear detection equipment that is sensitive enough to sense yachtsmen who have had recent radiation therapy. It is an army of 45,000 police augmented by 10,000 more civilians and its air force has the capability to shoot down aircraft, presumably civilian airliners turned into missiles.

All of this manpower is fed by sophisticated intelligence on the ground in all corners of the globe. The NYPD has officers in Riyadh, Baghdad, Singapore, London, Belfast and Islamabad, just to name a few cities. All of this feeds the intel beast. And here is where the slippery slope grows more so.
There is an underground bunker in New York City at a secret location. I’m not making this up. CBS took us there on a tour during the Kelly interview. The intelligence center processes all of the information collected from its myriad of sources. Those sources include some 2000 video cameras, soon to number 3000 cameras, spread across the city streets. They have the ability to automatically track left baggage and dispatch bomb squads to locations across the city.
Impressive capabilities, to be sure, but this is where chills went down my spine. The camera system has the ability to find and track a suspect by description. They demonstrated how a suspect in a red shirt could be culled out from a crowd and tracked across the city. Immediately, anyone wearing a red shirt in range of 2000 cameras became a suspect worth following. That might or might not include the person of interest but it would certainly include hundreds or perhaps thousands of innocent and unsuspecting citizens.

My law professor at Kings Point, Captain Laurence Jarrett, once said, “The right to swing your arm ends at my nose.” I know that the days of unfettered access to airports and airplanes is not going to return in my lifetime. That has been ceded to the War on Terror. And who would argue that pursuing the criminal terrorist is wrong? I am all in favor of pursuing the jihadist bent on terrorism.

The incremental usurpations in the name of security are transforming our society in ways that we could never have imagined only 10 years ago. These tools are used to close the net on the enemies of the state. The time that I am concerned about is when the NYPD is directed to divert its’ tracking from the suspect in the red shirt in favor of the suspect holding a Gadsden flag. Whom we place at the helm of this ship of state grows increasingly important. The public discussion of what liberties we are willing to cede to the state is needed now lest we incessantly redact portions of the Constitution.

As the novelist Henry Miller reminds us, “The man who looks for security, even in the mind, is like a man who would chop off his limbs in order to have artificial ones which will give him no pain or trouble.”

Exchanging liberty for security is not an even trade.

Press on.

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On Security and Liberty: Radio Essay for October 1, 2011


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The Tom Wesley and John Weston Review: September 24, 2011

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On Daydreaming About the American Dream: Radio Essay for September 24, 2011

I read a very disturbing article this week about a “Lost Generation” of American children. It sounds quite chilling, as if some macabre science fiction movie were being released about alien abductions and zombies gone wild. The reality is actually much scarier than any Hollywood thriller. Richard Freeman, a Harvard economist, coined this phrase to describe the growing number of recent college graduates who have entered the workforce since this great economic downturn only to find themselves underemployed, unemployed, still at home and more likely to be in poverty than at any time since World War II.

It gets worse. Today’s young people are continuing to delay marriage and purchasing homes, the bedrock of starting a life together. They are more prone to have children out of wedlock for reasons that escape me since fully 20% of them live in poverty. For this ever growing number of 20-somethings, the dream is fast becoming a nightmare. The promise of a meaningful career based upon a college degree has faded but their debt has not. Never before have the cost of education, and the subsequent debt that accrues, been more onerous and the prospect of obtaining relevant employment been more distant. The debt to opportunity ratio is approaching zero as wave after wave of young graduates come ashore each May.

For them, their fortunes have reversed. The stereotypical way of paying for tuition was to get a job as a waitress or barista. Now the young graduate is just as likely to be settling for such a job after graduation in order to pay off the college loan. Employment among those 16-29 is a mere 55.3 percent; teenage employment is only a startling 30 percent.

If this were a short term thing, a normal business downturn, it would be an insignificant blip on the radar. Instead, this protracted poor performing economy is likely to forever alter the job prospects of these graduate classes on the shoreline. Some will settle to be forever underemployed or sidetracked from their careers by their own choice. Others still will find themselves edged out by the fresher graduates several years down the road. Imagine the questions that employers will ask: how did you allow yourself to take your degree in sociology and parlay that into a gig at Starbucks? Hiring managers have short memories and unshared experiences.

Already, the calculus of the hiring equation is askew. The longer this downturn persists, the lower starting salaries will become and the slower will be the accumulation of wealth. It will take longer for couples to scrape together the down payment for their first home. Families will be smaller. Worse yet, expectations will be forever diminished.

In short, those of Generation Y will likely have a better chance of living the American Dream by daydreaming about it in the comfy confines of their parents’ home than by seeking to make their own way in the world.

There is another twist to the equation. The number of immigrants- legal immigrants- in this country continues to increase. So does the number of illegals. In any case, the majority are unskilled. Let’s put aside the debate of whether or not their presence takes jobs away from Americans. The fact is that a bad economy is an equal opportunity squelcher of unrealized expectation. If our native born population cannot find work, those who cross the border in any manner will only add to the misery of those struggling to find meaningful work.

The true irony is that there exist in this country more than 2 million job openings that cannot be filled because of a growing mismatch of skill-sets versus opportunities as our educational system is not producing the correct mix of graduates for the workforce and our immigration policies favor the unskilled over the skilled.

There is work to be done in Washington. Just this week there is news about unscrupulous government spending: $600 million in Social Security paid to dead people; $500 million paid to SOLYDRA even though the Obama administration knew the company was hemorrhaging cash; $107 million in tax credits to a leading Missouri Obama fundraiser; and surely others too heinous to mention.

It is not about Left vs. Right. It is about right vs. wrong. Government can be the solution to our problem only if government stands aside. Please, you’ve done enough to help. In one respect, President Obama was correct in pointing out that many of the proposed remedies in his jobs program have been supported at one time or another by each party but throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks is not a solution.

Here is your solution: reform the tax code, focus regulatory burdens on safety and shared national interest, cut the growth in government spending and borrow less money. The economy will rebound and the revenues will increase to fund whatever society we wish to create.
In the meantime, there is a Lost Generation of Americans depending upon action in Washington, my children included. They are looking for leadership in Washington. Does anybody have the courage to lead?

Press on.

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