Monthly Archives: October 2008

Presidential campaigns and marathons

A perfectly clear morning. I hit the concrete at 5 a.m. surrounded by stars. Just a great fall morning to run. And I was thinking that I would like to be in New York City Sunday to run the marathon. That ain’t going to happen now. Most likely never. But it’s a nice thought. And I was thinking that running in a presidential campaign must resemble in some ways running a marathon: loads of planning and commitment, periods of elation and self-doubt, the constant need for support and motivation, and then either reaching your goal — or not.

Either John McCain or Barack Obama will achieve his goal on Tuesday. And for the one that doesn’t, I can’t imagine that it won’t be a tremendous disappointment. Unlike a marathon, just finishing a presidential campaign I’m sure isn’t accomplishment enough. Both deserve credit for going for it — win or lose.

You can say the same thing about each of the 39,000 or so who will run the New York City Marathon. For example:

  • Maybe Zola Budd is still running at age 42 to put behind her the incident at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Her very appearance at the Olympics at that point was controversial because of the racial politics and policies of her native South Africa. And then running barefoot, Budd became tangled with America’s hope in the 10,000 meters, Mary Decker Slaney, sending Slaney crashing to the track and ending her Olympic dream.
  • Last November Ryan Shay was one of the favorites to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic team this past summer in the marathon. Instead, during the trials in New York City, he collapased about five miles into the race and died of a heart attack. He was 28. Sunday 19 of his former cross-country teammates at Notre Dame will run the marathon as a tribute to him.
  • Matthew Long is a NYC firefighter and a former triathlete and competitive marathoner. In 2005 he was hit by a chartered bus while biking to work. According to an article in the New York Times, Long was injured so badly that he had to learn to walk again and must still use a cane. Before the accident, he ran the marathon in a little over 3 hours and 13 minutes — about seven minutes a mile and change. Last May he ran his first mile since then — in 24 minutes. Sunday he is going to run the marathon and says: “I will finish if it’s physically possible, whether it’s 8 hours or 10.”

Good luck to Long and all the others.

And good luck to McCain and Obama.

Sometimes it takes real courage and commitment just to try.

The Obama campaign and robocalls

I received another nice e-mail message from Barack Obama this morning. He must know that I get up early. The now-regular e-mail I receive from either him or Michelle is generally the first thing I see when I fire up the computer at 4 a.m. Here’s today’s message.

From: Barack Obama

Subject: It’s in your hands, Rob

Rob –

The next 6 days are going to be the toughest we’ve seen, and I need your support to reach as many voters as possible.

Donate $5 or more today to strengthen this movement for the final push.

This campaign is in your hands.

Thank you for everything you’re doing.

Barack

Wow. No pressure there. The campaign is in my hands. I was actually thinking about ordering some frozen food from the company at mccain.com. Maybe I better reconsider and send Barack a five spot.

Actually, I give Obama and his advisers credit for how well they have used online media and communication tactics. They announced the selection of Joe Biden as the VP candidate via e-mail. They have raised millions of dollars online. And they are very effectively using e-mail now to encourage people to vote — and to volunteer with the campaign if only for a few hours next Tuesday. I’ve received those e-mails as well.

I’m impressed. And it will be interesting to see if he uses online media as a way to communicate directly with the nation once he moves into the Oval Office in January. Maybe I can send him an IM every once in a while.

I’m less impressed with the campaign strategy — used by Republicans and Democrats — involving “robocalls.” Here’s how Wikipedia describes a “robocall”:

Robocall is American pejorative jargon for an automated telemarketing phone call that uses both a computerized autodialer and a computer-delivered recorded message. The implication is that a “robocall” resembles a telephone call from a robot.

I’m at home a lot these days, either working or napping. And those calls really are annoying. I had two yesterday from George Voinovich. I imagine he dialed my number by mistake the second time. I expect I’ll hear from Joe Biden, Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama before next Tuesday. Hope I’m home and awake when Sarah calls. And I guess it’s a blessing that where I live in Copley, Ohio, doesn’t appear to have any representation in the U.S. Congress. Otherwise I would be getting those calls as well.

So I give Barack Obama credit for his online strategy. And I know that not everyone is tethered to the computer all day like me. So the calls, I guess, are necessary. Yet here again Obama has a big advantage. Apparently the Obama Girl is making calls on his behalf. As Jimmy Carter said, life isn’t fair.

Hope I’m home when the Obama Girl calls.

Sarah Palin and the horizontal mambo

Journalism pretty much bites these days. Wait, first a disclaimer. I’ve already voted for Obama. And another. While I was watching Dancing With The Stars last night I kept thinking it would be fun to do the horizontal mambo with Sarah Palin. I know. I’m losing it.

But, hey. That’s far from the nastiest thing anyone has said about Palin in the last few weeks. And at least I had the hockey pucks to put it in print where readers would know who said it — namely, me. All too often these days you see something in print or online and you have no idea who is saying it. Or if it is even true. Who is to say that a reporter/writer just doesn’t make something up to support the point he or she wants to make? It happens. And regardless of whether the quote is unattributed or made up, it bites.

Here’s an example. Rachel Weiner, writing in The Huffington Post, Palin a “Whack Job,” Top McCain Adviser Says:

One of John McCain’s advisers recently called his running mate Sarah Palin a “diva” after she went off-script at a rally, and suggested she was looking after her own political future over the current campaign. Now another adviser ups the ante in a conversation with the Politico’s Playbook, labeling Palin a “whack job.”

Wow. Two unnamed McCain advisers in one paragraph. Sweet. And I tried without luck to find the original story on Politico’s Playbook, without success. But Chris Mathews was talking about it on his show, Hardball, so it must be true. Well, maybe not.

At least two problems here. Are the statements even true? And if so, what’s the credibility of the “advisers”? That’s a matter of journalism ethics. It should be important, but I get the sense that it’s not really these days. And it will most likely become even less so as the old media give way to the new.

Second, I think it is fair to criticize Palin — and any other candidate — on her or his record and experience. I think Palin’s resume is way too thin to be a serious candidate for vice president. There, I said it on the record. But I didn’t have to be nasty, or uncivil, about it. And that’s a problem.

We are so polarized as a nation that we can no longer have a thoughtful debate on important issues. That’s a shame because this election should be more than about clothes and associations with people from the 60s. Good grief. And even if Obama and the Democrats in Congress sweep the elections and govern with a real majority, we’ll still be a nation very much divided red state and blue.

The reason: civility. I’ve written about this previously and I believe it is important. We can teach — or at least try to teach — accounting, finance, management, public relations strategy, whatever — but apparently we can’t teach civility or ethics. Maybe we should try.

Oh. I was thinking about this while running in the cold and drizzle this morning. Ted Stevens says he isn’t going to abandon his bid for re-election to the Senate in Alaska despite the annoyance of a criminal conviction. Suppose he wins — and then the Senate forces him to resign?

Could Sarah Palin appoint herself to complete his term?

Then she would be a Washington insider — and ready to go in 2012.

In that case, ah, just kidding about the horizontal mambo reference.

National City Bank — I’m shocked

Well, not really. My bank of nearly 40 years, National City, now sleeps with the fishes. So it goes. I guess that happens when management decides to swim with the mortgage sharks. Unfortunately, thousands of National City employees are now going to be looking for new jobs during what is certain to be a long and devastating recession. Note to W. It’s a recession!

Wonder if Alan Greenspan finds that at all shocking. The “Maestro” is now conducting a new tune — telling members of Congress last week that he was “in a state of shocked disbelief” that the Captains of Industry and Finance couldn’t self-regulate with billions of dollars at stake.

What a hoot. He was the conductor of the nation’s economy for 18 years. And he’s shocked? Oh, well.

Apparently he never watched the great film Casablanca. That might have been more helpful to the Maestro than all the economic and finance textbooks he apparently poured over — without gaining much of any insight into human conduct or ethical behavior.

And the stock markets in Asia tanked again Monday, with indexes in Japan reaching 26-year lows. Wall Street futures are down 4 percent before the opening bell. General Motors and Chrysler are meeting to try to avoid bankruptcy, even though a merger could mean the loss of thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs in Ohio and elsewhere.

Shocking.

Obama and education — part two

Gee. I went to Obama’s campaign website yesterday to see what he was saying about education. And already I’ve received two urgent e-mails asking for a campaign contribution. It appears that Obama’s advisors are huddling this weekend to decide where and how to allocate staff and other resources during the final days of the campaign. My $10 would make the difference. I guess.

I also received a nice note from Michelle Obama inviting me to visit with her during a campaign stop at Buchtel High School this afternoon. Tempting. But I’ve found of late that a mid-afternoon nap on Fridays is a nice start to the weekend.

Haven’t received anything as yet from John McCain for President. Or from mccain.com — the home of the Canadian producer or frozen food products. So it goes.

Maybe Michelle will talk to the students about how our education system is failing them — and the implications that has for their future and for the future of our economy and democracy.

Barack Obama has it right on this issue. And again the disclaimer: I’ve already voted for him. And his position on education is a major reason why.

He points to the problems with No Child Left Behind — and the soaring college costs that present a real barrier these days to students and their families.

But mostly he focues on teachers. Obama points out that teacher retention is a problem: 30 percent of new teachers leave within their first five years in the profession.

Well, yeah. Aside from when you were a student, when was the last time you spent any time in a classroom anywhere in the United States? Folks, teaching is hard work, without tremendous financial reward. And the fact is that as a nation we have devalued teaching as a profession to the point where it is difficult to hire and retain excellent teachers.

That’s not just my view. I had a long conversation recently about this problem involving teachers with Tony Wagner, the Harvard education professor, consultant and guru and writer of the insightful book, “The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need — And What We Can Do About It.

On this issue, Obama gets it. Here’s what he says:

Recruit, Prepare, Retain, and Reward America’s Teachers

  • Recruit Teachers: Obama and Biden will create new Teacher Service Scholarships that will cover four years of undergraduate or two years of graduate teacher education, including high-quality alternative programs for mid-career recruits in exchange for teaching for at least four years in a high-need field or location.
  • Prepare Teachers: Obama and Biden will require all schools of education to be accredited. Obama and Biden will also create a voluntary national performance assessment so we can be sure that every new educator is trained and ready to walk into the classroom and start teaching effectively. Obama and Biden will also create Teacher Residency Programs that will supply 30,000 exceptionally well-prepared recruits to high-need schools.
  • Retain Teachers: To support our teachers, the Obama-Biden plan will expand mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new recruits. They will also provide incentives to give teachers paid common planning time so they can collaborate to share best practices.
  • Reward Teachers: Obama and Biden will promote new and innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. Districts will be able to design programs that reward accomplished educators who serve as a mentor to new teachers with a salary increase. Districts can reward teachers who work in underserved places like rural areas and inner cities. And if teachers consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well.

Fixing education in a way that benefits students, the business community and our nation as a whole is a huge problem. It involves a host of social, economic, political and emotional issues. Maybe that’s why we have been working on it for more than 25 years without great success.

So why don’t we start where we could really make a difference: in the classroom. Let’s educate, hire, train, mentor, pay, reward and support teachers. Let’s make teaching a valued profession again.

Obama and education

I’m convinced that improving education is the key to our strengthening our economy. And keeping America competitive in what really is a global economy these days. Yeah, reforming K-12 education, and making higher education more accessible and affordable, won’t come easily or quickly. We’ve been a nation at risk now for 25 years or more. Still, why isn’t education — and helping our young people succeed in school and on the job — more of a concern during this presidential campaign?

OK. We’re in a recession; I guess even W. has to agree with that at this point. Companies are aggressively cutting jobs. Our savings — for retirement, college expenses, houses, etc. — are evaporating. The free-market Republican capitalists have now nationalized the banking industry — with the auto industry in the queue. And we’re debating about socialism — and redistribution of wealth? OMG.

Let’s talk about education. Here’s from a speech I helped write for Donna Klein in Vancouver, Washington, at a conference of School’s Out Washington. If you are interested, the entire speech is available on the Corporate Voices for Working Families website.

Here’s an overview of the problem facing our young people, our businesses and our nation.

•    First, jobs are changing. The United States is continuing the transition from an industrial- to a knowledge-based economy.

•    Second, our demographics as a nation are changing. Baby boomers are beginning to retire and exit the workplace – taking with them years of experience and expertise. And most estimates indicate that there will be far fewer young people entering the workforce to replace retirees.  The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that between 2010 and 2025 up to 95 million baby boomers will leave the U.S. workforce – but only 40 million members of Generations X and Y will be available to replace them. Simply stated, we’re facing a shortage of workers in the not too distant future.

•    Third, as a nation, we experience unacceptably high dropout rates. Almost one-third of ninth graders do not complete high school in four years – and in many urban areas the number increases to one-half.  That’s more than 1.2 million students a year – and according to the National Commission on Adult Literacy, the United States is the only nation among 30 free-market democracies where a lower percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds have received high school diplomas than 45- to 54-year-olds. And high school dropout rates are particularly alarming for African American, Hispanic and Native American young people – with only 50 percent of 9th graders graduating on time.

•    Fourth, new entrants to the workplace are not prepared. Corporate Voices and three partner organizations in 2006 surveyed more than 400 employers on a broad range of workforce readiness issues involving young people. And we issued a report, “Are The Really Ready To Work?” The answer, quite simply, is no. Employers tell us that 42 percent of high school graduates lack the skills they need to make a successful transition to the workplace of the 21st century. And even among recent college graduates, employers said only 24 percent had an excellent grasp of basic knowledge and applied skills. And while a college degree is not a requirement for successful entry into the workforce, employers do project that they will hire more new employees with a college degree and fewer with only a high school diploma.

Folks, we are going to have to do better. Otherwise, we put at risk the ability of young people to improve their standard of living over the course of a working lifetime — and we put at risk the competitiveness of American businesses and the very future of our democracy.

So what are the candidates — Obama and McCain — saying about education? Well, not much — at least publicly. So I went to their campaign websites.

Here’s the link to the Obama site.

Here’s the link to the McCain site. Oops, that’s mccain.com — apparently a Canadian company that manufactures frozen food products. (No wonder John McCain is behind in the polls.)

Here’s the link to the John McCain for president website.

Full disclosure: I’ve already voted for Barack Obama. But this is the first time I have gone to either his website or John McCain’s.

I’m convinced Obama has a more specific and better plan to strengthen our country by strengthening education.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you why.

Kent State and the Golden Buckeye

When you write like I do about really serious issues — the financial meltdown, the lack of integrity of many business and political leaders, the pathetic early season performance of the Cleveland Indians, etc. — it’s difficult not to become a little cynical about things. You know. It’s not just that the glass is always half-empty. It’s that some asshole is drinking out of your glass while you’re not looking.

Well, my faith in the greatness of this nation was restored yesterday during a visit to Kent State.

I’m helping the Wick Poetry Center with its celebration plans and communications during this its 25th anniversary year. And I’m even posting regularly on another blog — one designed to spotlight the Wick Poetry Center and serve as a resource for poets and other writers.

After finishing our noontime meeting, I headed back to get my car at the Student Center. When you are no longer a member of the faculty, you quickly learn that the most important benefit of teaching is not tenure, but a parking pass. So I headed to the exit with my parking ticket and folding green in hand.

But wait. A sign below the window on the toll booth (or whatever it is called) proudly proclaimed: We honor Golden Buckeye Cards.

Say what? OK. Another life-defining moment. Do I or don’t I? I caved — and handed my Golden Buckeye Card to the parking attendant.

The gate magically swung up. I was free to go. No charge. All I could do was wave at the attendant — and snicker at the guy in the car next to me who was calmly giving up several of his hard-earned dollars.

Jimmy Carter’s right. Life isn’t fair.

And clearly this is a great country where someone like me can park free on a college campus. While students who are for the most part working or borrowing money to attend classes have to pay.

Note to Obama. Don’t even think about putting pressure on Strickland and his pals in Columbus to get rid of the Golden Buckeye. You can only take this notion of redistributing wealth so far.