Tag Archives: second district

On Lessons from a Stimulated Economy

We can’t get temporary help these days. It’s not that the help isn’t any good, it’s just that they disappear to competitive job offers before we can even get them to interview. It is quite a job market- in Singapore.

I find myself in Singapore this week and the flagging world economy is not in evidence here. The unemployment rate is a mere 1.7%. The malls are full and the lines for taxis are long. The real estate market is robust. Everywhere I turn I see an optimistic outlook. As the saying goes, the national bird is the building crane.

Would that this optimism find its’ way to Massachusetts: to Palmer or Ludlow or Milford. It has not but it could be so. To think otherwise is to abandon hope that the dynamo of the world economy is out of gas. There is no better asset to a community than a true manufacturing base. Manufacturing returns two dollars to the community for each dollar spent. That is four times better than the return from retail. The US economy is still the 800 lb. gorilla on the world stage but it is under attack mostly from within.
Here is the rub. Our institutions are failing us. Our high schools are not providing competent graduates to feed the thirst created by manufacturing. Yes, I said manufacturing. You can not be a successful assembly line worker in this country if you cannot add value in the form of reading blueprints or interpreting work instructions. Those are openers. By the way, the workforces in other countries have those skill sets without remediation. Corporations should not have to provide the education that secondary schools have failed to provide. It is far easier and more cost effective to look towards other places to get these simple tasks done. They look abroad to places like Singapore where nearly every able bodied person who wants to work does so. It is an insurance policy on stable productive output.

Take machining, for example. Our aging manufacturing workforce has no replacements in the pipeline. In our region, everyone is fishing from the same pond when it comes to filling vacancies as the demographic of the workforce ages. Expansion becomes a moot point if you struggle to hire qualified replacements. The vocational schools are not producing skilled graduates because there are simply no entrants. A career in machining can be a lucrative one and one that is creative. You can earn a solid living and support a family on its wages. Over the next 5-10 years, machine shops in Massachusetts will face difficult decisions about remaining in business. Their communities will absorb yet another blow. Death by a thousand cuts.

We can talk about the other factors that the government should consider when tinkering with the economy but what can be more important to building the employment numbers than having qualified people to participate in the growth? Not everyone needs to or should go to college. What they need is an education that is appropriate for their ambition. And that ambition should be nurtured without prejudice through exposure to all sorts of career opportunities as they proceed through school.

The good news is that we have a pipeline already established through the vocational-technical schools. The infrastructure is in place but the pipeline is not fully primed. We can jumpstart that process by opening the programs to adults interested in job enhancement or retraining. We can do that in the evening or we can do that side-by-side with daytime students. There is a frequent outcry from our citizenry to expand the footprints of community colleges into the suburban landscape. This is well and good but let us not forget the vital role that our vo-techs can immediately play in providing assets right now to our fragile manufacturing capability.

So I spend another day in a country that has found a way to provide the proper educational mix to support its industry and national objectives. We in Massachusetts have the tools at hand to mimic this successful model. We should do it now before the erosion of our manufacturing base becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

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

http://www.ustream.tv/embed/recorded/17604515

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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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