Monthly Archives: December 2010

Running and New Year’s Resolutions

Well, I never make New Year’s resolutions. Why set yourself up for disappointment so early in the year? But here are two things I’m planning on for 2011.

I’m planning on the new year being every bit as good — maybe better — than 2010. And I sure enjoyed this year, especially the six weeks Mary and I spent during August and September visiting Jessica and Gyorgyi in Budapest and Szeged — and then traveling to Italy, Austria and Slovenia, with a stop in Germany one day for lunch. Hey, maybe quasi-retirement isn’t so bad after all.

And I plan to continue running next year, although I’ve accepted the fact that my long-distance running days are over because of a nagging nerve problem in my left foot that makes it seem like I have a pebble in my shoe that I can’t get rid of. Put a pebble in your shoe and try running — or walking — five miles or so on concrete and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. Sheesh.

I won’t tally up the miles in my log book until New Year’s Day. But I expect I’ll be around 800 for the year — disappointing since it will be only the second year in the last 25 or so when I didn’t run for a thousand or more miles. But not bad considering I didn’t run a inch during the six weeks we were in Europe.

But I learned during those weeks in Europe how much I missed being out on the concrete early a.m. — and it really came home to me while on a flight  from Budapest to Italy when I happened to be sitting next to a young woman athlete who had just competed in an international triathlon in Budapest. Listening to her talk about the experience, her love of training and competing, and her zest for life made me reconsider my decision to trade the running shoes and the concrete for the elliptical trainer.

And it made me think that I may be quasi-retired in the work world, but I have no intention of retiring from the things I really like or want to do these days or in the days to come.

Hey, what is it that Nike says: “Just Do It.”

And I am — pebble and all.

So I am looking forward to 2011.

Happy New Year!

And thank you for taking the time to visit here to read the daily musings of a pajama-clad citizen journalist.

I’ll be back in 2011.

Snow Storms, Football and Wusses

Gee, a little snow on the East Coast and the world as we know it goes topsy-turvy. Fox News and CNN begin their “news” days at 5 a.m. with special live reports. The NFL moves a Sunday game to Tuesday night. And the governor of New Jersey figures it’s a good time to get out of town on vacation. Hey, I’m going to Disney World!

Wusses?

Well, not really. But it’s hard for me to get my shorts in a knot over even 20 or so inches of snow these days. We’ve had that, or close to it, twice already here in Northeast Ohio this winter — and we survived to shovel another day.

And remember last winter? It snowed in DC in early January and the federal government and just about everything else Inside the Beltway shut down for the entire month. For Ron Paul and his Tea Party associates a wet dream come true. Oops. I digress.

So maybe Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has a point.

Here’s from a WaPo article, “Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania Governor chastises nation of wusses“:

After calling the postponement [of the Eagles-Vikings game] “a joke” and saying that “Vince Lombardi would be spinning in his grave,” on Sunday, his [Rendell’s] anger was unabated Monday, when he made frequent use of the “w” word.

“My biggest beef is that this is part of what’s happened in this country,” Rendell said in an interview on 97.5 radio in Philly. “I think we’ve become wussies. … We’ve become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.”

Wow. We’re screwed. Does anyone in the USA do calculus any more — or even know what it means?

Anyway, I have a hard time equating the postponement of a football game with the decline of America and our ability to compete globally. And as with most matters these days I’m most likely in the minority — but at least not completely alone.

Here’s from a NYT Op-Ed by Timothy Egan, “The Can’t Do Nation“:

Rendell’s comments in a radio interview, coming at a time when sloth is the seasonal mode and decline talk is a subtext of ragged economic blues, set off a lot of people.

The most articulate of scolds can warn about how far behind the rest of the world our students are falling, about the frightening implications of a three-fold rise in child obesity, about the importance of a work ethic coupled with American creativity — and the country is barely stirred.

But let someone suggest that a football game can’t be played in the snow, and you’ve got real trouble.

It’s bad enough that a winter storm can ruin a politician. Witness the hit to his reputation that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey took for leaving his state to misery while he vacationed in Disney World. Or the painful sight of Mayor Michael Bloomberg getting sarcastic — “I regret everything in the world,” he snapped — in response to criticism.

Now, snow is weighing down a game that is already far too-burdened with larger implications. We don’t walk 10 miles to school in a blizzard anymore, but we do put on face paint and display bare torsos while watching appliance-sized men who make more in a week than most Americans earn in a year bash each other. It’s diverting, and — aside from a few atrocious losses by my hometown Seahawks, the Barney Fifes of football — mostly rewarding.

And his point:

Sure, the suits who run the league are killjoys for moving the Sunday night contest. Anyone who’s played pickup football in the snow knows the lasting thrill of catching a pass between snowflakes. And some of the game’s greatest contests — the Ice Bowl in Green Bay, the Snow Bowl in New England — would be nothing without the weather.

But a nation of wusses? Sorry, governor. Talk to the clerk in Queens who walked five miles in the snow to his job at Sears because his bus never came. Or the elderly people, shivering without power, forced to cut pills in half because they couldn’t get out and refill their life-saving prescriptions. Or the hundred or so commuters who endured a night of chill and fear when their subway train was stranded in the blizzard. “No panic, no yelling, just understanding,” one fellow sufferer said of the ordeal.

What the epic winter storm at year’s end showed was the overlooked and the routine: a nation of quiet heroes.

OK. But keep this in the mental queue.

The Super Bowl is set to be played outdoors in New York City in February 2014. (See NYT “Get Set to Do the Super Bowl Shovel.”

If that one gets postponed because of a little snow, then the world will be calling us wusses.

Just sayin’.

Looking for a Job? Go Overseas

I’m convinced that we are in the midst of a jobless economic recovery: the stock market is up, people with money are spending it and corporations are making big bucks. But where are the jobs?

Ah, not in the USA. And this trend started years ago and is now picking up speed in what is a global economy. And we’re not going to turn back the clock. But folks, we’re in deep doo-doo, with unemployment and underemployment at levels way north of 10 percent, with American multinational companies investing in facilities and people just about everywhere but here, and with an education system that is failing to produce the skilled workforce necessary to compete in today’s economy.

Oh, mama.

And this isn’t just the rant of a pajama-clad citizen journalist. Here’s an excerpt from a really interesting and informative article on The Huffington Post, “Job Market Booming Overseas For Many American Companies“:

Corporate profits are up. Stock prices are up. So why isn’t anyone hiring?

Actually, many American companies are – just maybe not in your town. They’re hiring overseas, where sales are surging and the pipeline of orders is fat.

More than half of the 15,000 people that Caterpillar Inc. has hired this year were outside the U.S. UPS is also hiring at a faster clip overseas. For both companies, sales in international markets are growing at least twice as fast as domestically.

The trend helps explain why unemployment remains high in the United States, edging up to 9.8 percent last month, even though companies are performing well: All but 4 percent of the top 500 U.S. corporations reported profits this year, and the stock market is close to its highest point since the 2008 financial meltdown.

But the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S. The additional 1.4 million jobs would have lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, says Robert Scott, the institute’s senior international economist.

“There’s a huge difference between what is good for American companies versus what is good for the American economy,” says Scott.

American jobs have been moving overseas for more than two decades. In recent years, though, those jobs have become more sophisticated – think semiconductors and software, not toys and clothes.

Consider a company like Coca-Cola:

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent often points out that a billion consumers will enter the middle class during the coming decade, mostly in Africa, China and India. He is aggressively targeting those markets. Of Coke’s 93,000 global employees, less than 13 percent were in the U.S. in 2009, down from 19 percent five years ago.

The company would not say how many new U.S. hires it has made in 2010. But its latest new investments are overseas, including $240 million for three bottling plants in Inner Mongolia as part of a three-year, $2 billion investment in China. The three plants will create 2,000 new jobs in the area. In September, Coca-Cola pledged $1 billion to the Philippines over five years.

When I started working for BFGoodrich in 1970, one of the first articles I wrote for one of the company publications was titled “The Myth of the Multinational Corporation.” The point, as best I can recall, was that strong and profitable American companies regardless of where they were doing business would be good for the American economy, American workers and American stockholders and investors.

Well, it hasn’t turned out that way — especially from the standpoint of jobs, those high-quality, good paying ones that you used to find in Akron and elsewhere. And about the time I was typing — remember typewriters? — my article the CEO of Firestone, John Nevin, was warning that we were pissing away our manufacturing base and that the USA would not prosper as a nation of burger flippers.

Go figure.

This is a crisis facing all of us in the USA — and part of the problem is tied directly to our failed educational system. Here’s from The Huffington Post article:

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria worries that the trend could be dangerous. In an article in the November issue of the Harvard Business Review, he says that if U.S. businesses keep prospering while Americans are struggling, business leaders will lose legitimacy in society. He exhorted business leaders to find a way to link growth with job creation at home.

Other economists, like Columbia University’s Sachs, say multinational corporations have no choice, especially now that the quality of the global work force has improved. Sachs points out that the U.S. is falling in most global rankings for higher education while others are rising.

“We are not fulfilling the educational needs of our young people,” says Sachs. “In a globalized world, there are serious consequences to that.”

Yep, serious consequences — and deep doo-doo.

Cougars and Playboys

Like most things these days, I’m sure I’m looking at this all wrong. But here goes. At my age, a cougar interested in me would be a woman well into her 80s. Woot.

And I’ve done some strange things over the course of 63 years. Hey, I was an undergrad at Kent State during the ’60s.

But that age dynamic seems a bit, well, creepy.

Maybe not. And maybe it’s like Obamacare. You know that kind of relationship is going to be a disaster. You just don’t know how big of one until you try it. Oops. I digress.

So a tip of the asshat to Hef, who at 84 announced his engagement to 24-year-old former Playboy Playmate Chrystal Harris.

Good luck — best wishes — and here’s hoping that the coming cuts in Medicare dictated by Obamacare don’t touch Viagra.

 

 

Baby Boomers, Fairness and Our Nation’s Economy

I enjoy going to Pittsburgh the day after Christmas. And I’ve been doing that to visit my Mom and Dad and my three brothers and their families for better than 35 years now.

It’s fun to be in the City of Champions where pro football is still played this time of year — and where the games actually mean something. I’ve opined before that  one of the virtues — perhaps the only one — of professional sports is that it tends to unite people on a mission: celebrating success and rallying around common goals. When was the last time residents of a city sat glued to a TV to watch the performance of City Council members or the local school board? LOL

I hope I live long enough for the long-suffering residents of Northeast Ohio to experience a championship season — and in the case of football — the exhilarating effect it can have on a city and region during the holiday season. Saying that, in my case the actuarial tables are starting to tip in the wrong direction. Mike Holgrem: Come on down! Just sayin’.

It’s also fun for me to visit with my nieces and nephews, having watched them grow and mature year-by-year from babies to wonderful teenagers and young adults.  And I hope for them — and for my son and daughter and millions of others at the same age and place in life — that they have the opportunity to build a good life in a country that until now offered each generation the prospect of doing better than the ones that came before it.

Those days may be over — and that’s something we should be concerned about.

That brings us to the issue of fairness — and what is going to be a huge and significant policy debate in this country in the next few years. And it is going to happen — like it or not. We can’t support measures to create and maintain high-quality jobs, education that will allow our young people to succeed in today’s global economy, an outrageously expensive presence as the world’s policeman and so on while paying all of the bills that are coming due as the Baby Boomers — and yeah, I’m one of them — move into the golden years.

Here’s from Robert J. Samuelson, writing in the WaPo, “On Medicare and Social Security, be unfair to the boomers“:

I received my Medicare card the other day, recognizing my 65th birthday and making me part of one of America’s biggest problems. By this, I mean the burden that the massive baby-boom generation will impose on its children and the nation’s future. There has been much brave talk recently, from Republicans and Democrats alike, about reducing budget deficits and controlling government spending. The trouble is that hardly anyone admits that accomplishing these goals must include making significant cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits for baby boomers.

If we don’t, we will be condemned to some combination of inferior policies. We can raise taxes sharply over the next 15 or 20 years, roughly 50 percent from recent levels, to cover expanding old-age subsidies and existing government programs. Or we can accept permanently huge budget deficits. Even if that doesn’t trigger a financial crisis, it would probably stunt economic growth and living standards. So would dramatically higher taxes. There’s a final choice: deep cuts in other programs, from defense to roads to higher education.

Yet, neither political party seems interested in reducing benefits for baby boomers. Doing so, it’s argued, would be “unfair” to people who had planned retirements based on existing programs. Well, yes, it would be unfair. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a worse time for cuts. Unemployment is horrendous; eroding home values and retirement accounts have depleted the elderly’s wealth. Only 19 percent of present retirees are “very confident” of having enough money to live “comfortably,” down from 41 percent in 2007, reports the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

But not making cuts would also be unfair to younger generations and the nation’s future. We have a fairness dilemma: Having avoided these problems for decades, we must now be unfair to someone. To admit this is to demolish the moral case for leaving baby boomers alone. Baby boomers – I’m on the leading edge – and their promised benefits are the problem. If they’re off-limits, the problem is being evaded. Together, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid represent two-fifths of federal spending, double defense’s share.

Ah, gulp.

It is a matter of fairness — and political will.

Clearly something is going to have to be done — and I’m OK personally with that as long as it is thoughtful, part of an overall plan, and, yes, fair. I’m not much int0 redistributing wealth these days just for the sake of political expediency or correctness.

And the coming policy and legislative fights on these and other issues involving the future of our nation’s economy and our way of life are going to be difficult, without easy solutions.

But it’s important that we get something done. And let’s hope it doesn’t take as long as it may take the Cleveland Browns to experience the joy of a championship season.

 

 

Festivus: The Best Holiday of the Year

OK. I’ll admit it. I’m pretty much of an asshat when it comes to most things these days.  But when it comes to political correctness, I’m indifferent about the controversy that engulfs the nation this time of year. Is it Merry Christmas? Or Happy Holidays?

Hard for me to get my shorts in a knot over all that. Why? Because the best holiday of the year is celebrated on December 23: Festivus.

For the thousands one or two of you who read these posts regularly, you may recall that I opined on this celebration a year ago: “Happy Festivus: Grievances Anyone?” An excerpt:

Ah, “A Festivus for the Rest of Us” — a day set aside to “air our grievances.” Gotta love it. But for those not yet into the spirit of Festivus, here’s the back-story:

“Happy Festivus” is the traditional greeting of Festivus a holiday featured in “The Strike” episode of Seinfeld. The episode first aired on December 18, 1997. Since then many people have been inspired by the goodness of the Seinfeld holiday and they now celebrate Festivus as any other holiday.

According to the Seinfeld model, Festivus is celebrated each year on December 23rd. However many people celebrate it other times in December and even at other times throughout the year.

The original slogan of Festivus is “A Festivus for the rest of us!” Instead of a tree an unadorned aluminum pole is used, in contrast to normal holiday materialism. Those attending Festivus may also participate in the “Airing of Grievances” which is an opportunity to tell others how they have disappointed you in the past year, followed by a Festivus dinner, and then completed by the “Feats of Strength” where the head of the household must be pinned. All of these traditions are based upon the events in the Seinfeld episode.

And then, of course, there was last year’s Festivus miracle at the Jewell household.

Let’s hope history repeats itself this year.

Or not.

So to get you into the mood for your own Festivus celebration, here’s from Seinfeld:

Happy Festivus!

 

Alfred E. Neuman, Baby Boomers, Jobs and Education

OK. I tend to fret these days about a whole host of matters — none of which I can control. I worry about jobs. I have big concerns about the future of a country where a third of those working are living in poverty, or close to it. And I get a knot in my shorts about the sorry state of education — where we are failing the future generation of workers, consumers and voters.

Oh my. Quite a funk.

And as one of the older of the Baby Boomers I’m apparently not alone.

A report just released by the Pew Research Center opines: “Baby Boomers Approach Age 65 — Glumly.”

Here’s from the report:

The iconic image of the Baby Boom generation is a 1960s-era snapshot of an exuberant, long-haired, rebellious young adult. That portrait wasn’t entirely accurate even then, but it’s hopelessly out of date now. This famously huge cohort of Americans finds itself in a funk as it approaches old age.

On Jan. 1, 2011, the oldest Baby Boomers will turn 65. Every day for the next 19 years, about 10,000 more will cross that threshold. By 2030, when all Baby Boomers will have turned 65, fully 18% of the nation’s population will be at least that age, according to Pew Research Center population projections. Today, just 13% of Americans are ages 65 and older.

Perched on the front stoop of old age, Baby Boomers are more downbeat than other age groups about the trajectory of their own lives and about the direction of the nation as a whole.

Good grief.

Probably not exactly what the poet Dylan Thomas had in mind:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Appears the Baby Boomers are going out weeping — with a glass of Jameson in one hand and a tissue in the other.

C’mon, gang. Let’s Man Up!

Sheesh.

I actually had something thoughtful to say today about education and jobs. But that got lost in the musings above. Go figure.

So here’s a letter printed in the NYT that really speaks to the problem facing college grads — and others — during this jobless economic recovery:

Re “College, Jobs and Inequality” (editorial, Dec. 14):

Your editorial hints at the real elephant in the room for today’s college-educated young people: it’s not being unemployed, but being locked into working at low-wage jobs.

As a college professor, I vividly see this jobs/education mismatch when I run into former students still waiting tables at local restaurants years after getting their B.A. or master’s degrees.

How can we tell young people that getting more education is the key to financial success amid rapidly shrinking chances of actually finding a middle-class job?

Do we really have a “new knowledge economy” when three of the fastest growing United States occupations — home health aide, warehouse clerk and medical assistant — pay on average less than $14 an hour?

Janet Belsky
Murfreesboro, Tenn., Dec. 15, 2010

Absolutely correct. We’re in deep doo-doo.

And to understand why, consider this article by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, “The Year Washington Became Business Friendly.” An excerpt:

History will record 2010 as the year Washington became “business friendly.”

Not that it was all that unfriendly before. Some would say the bailouts of Wall Street, AIG, GM, and Chrysler were about as friendly as it can get. In addition, Washington gave windfalls to drug companies and health insurers in the new health bill, subsidies to energy companies in the stimulus package, and billions to domestic and military contractors.

But for corporate America it still wasn’t friendly enough. Before the midterm elections, Verizon CEO and Business Roundtable chair Ivan Seidenberg accused the president of creating a hostile environment for investment and job-creation. In the midterms, business leaders overwhelmingly threw their support to Republicans.

So the White House caved in on the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and is telling CEOs it will be on their side from now on. As the president recently told a group of CEOs, the choice “is not between Democrats and Republicans. It’s between America and our competitors around the world. We can win the competition.”

There’s only one problem. America’s big businesses are less and less American. They’re going abroad for sales and employees. That’s one reason they’ve showed record-breaking profits in 2010 while creating almost no American jobs.

Wonder if the great American philosopher Alfred E. Neuman is a Boomer?

After all, he coined the slogan for our generation:

“What, me worry?”