Monthly Archives: January 2012

President Obama and the Workforce Skills Gap

There is a notion being batted around these days among the Chattering Class that there are plenty of jobs out there. But there aren’t enough workers available with the skills necessary to perform the work. Prez O stepped into that debate yesterday during a chat on Google.

Here’s from Mediaite, “President Obama Tells Unemployed Engineer’s Wife: Send Me Your Husband’s Resume“:

President Barack Obamahad a virtual intimate talk with a number of Americans this afternoon in a “Google hangout,” where he received questions from an audience over the computer. One guest in the hangout asked about worker visas in engineering, and gave the President the anecdote of her husband’s three years of temporary employment despite being an engineer. “Send me your husband’s resume,” replied the President.

A woman named Jennifer described her husband’s situation to President Obama– that he was an engineer (a semiconductor engineer, she later elaborated), who had not been able to find permanent work in three years. Given his education level and the national demand for engineers, she asked the President why visas were still given to foreigners who have the same skill set when worthy Americans are still unemployed.

The President responded that he thought it interesting given his meetings with industry leaders. “There is a huge demand around the country for engineers,” he told her, though adding that “obviously, there are different kinds of engineers,” so the general category doesn’t apply fully. “What industry tells me is that they don’t have enough highly skilled engineers,” he noted, and continued, “If your husband is in that field, we should get your husband’s resume and I’ll forward it to some of these companies that are telling me they don’t have enough engineers.”

Jennifer responded that she still wanted to know why visa programs were so popular with the companies, and the President replied asking what type of engineer her husband is. “It is interesting to me,” he replied, asserting that he would “follow up on this” because he had been hearing that a specialist engineer was higher in demand than in supply, and that the visas Jennifer inquired about were only available to companies having problems finding said engineers. “And I meant what I said,” the President reminded her, “if your send me your husband’s resume, I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening right there.”

Well, this should be interesting, since the Prez gets plenty of advice about jobs from people like Jeff Immelt, the Head Sled at GE. And Immelt is good at creating jobs. Unfortunately, for American workers and American presidents on the reelection trail, most of the jobs are in China, India or elsewhere.

Anyway, the NYT opined (“Dissent in the Jobs Council“) recently on the issue of jobs and the idea of a skills gap:

At Disney World last week, President Obama announced new executive orders to speed up visas for foreign tourists to the United States. The measure, a priority for the travel industry, was one of several sensible recommendations made in the last year by Mr. Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, a 27-member panel of corporate executives, academics, investors and labor leaders. The White House has carried out 17 others so far.

Increasingly, however, the council’s recommendations have resembled not so much expert advice as a corporate wish list. In a report last October, the council’s sound proposals for job-creating public works projects were overshadowed by its unfounded claim that antifraud provisions put in place in 2002 in response to Enron are an impediment to growth and hiring, and should be ended.

Its latest report, issued last week, went so far in the direction of the Republican political agenda that it was endorsed by House Speaker John Boehner for its emphasis on lower tax rates and less regulation. The report drew the ire of the panel’s two union members, Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Joseph Hansen, chairman of the Change to Win coalition. After the false premises and false fixes that have dominated the job creation debate, the dispute is healthy.

Mr. Trumka wrote a dissent in which he agreed that the United States has fallen behind other countries in investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, education, job skills and alternative energy. What he rightly objected to was the idea that less regulation, lower corporate tax rates and other demands on the business agenda are the key to restoring competitiveness and creating jobs. “Without timely action by government on a large scale,” he wrote, “solutions will continue to elude us as a nation.”

OK. Here’s the point about the notion of a skills gap:

It is also crucially important to recognize that unemployment today is not primarily driven by a skills gap — as the council’s report would lead you to believe — but by lack of jobs. If all of the job openings in America were filled tomorrow, nearly 10 million of the nation’s 13.1 million unemployed workers would still be out of work. That shortage requires more federal aid to bolster demand, not a focus on a less pressing skills gap.

So let’s see how the Recruiter-in-Chief makes out in finding a job for Jennifer’s husband. Skills gap. Or not.

The Joys of Winter Vacations

I managed early this a.m. to shuffle upon what I expect is the only hill on Hilton Head Island.  It came without warning at about mile two of my six-mile run, and it was an oxygen-grabber. But hey. Not a trace of snow or chilly breezes.

One joy of a winter vacation in the sunny South. And I’m rather late at coming to the winter-vacation-in-warmer-weather party.

When I was at Goodrich I managed to get locked in a schedule that made it difficult to be out of the office except for a few weeks of the year. We went from quarterly earnings reports to employee meetings to an annual report (printed in February) to an annual meeting (held generally around Easter) and yada yada yada. And like any good corporate soldier, I developed this misguided sense that my presence was required. In fact, even important.

Not true. But that’s a life lesson slowly gained and rarely appreciated until told that your presence really isn’t required. In fact, it’s not even necessary. Woot!

Anyway, now I’m enjoying trips when most others are working. And it’s a whole new world out there.

Hilton Head this time of the year is practically empty. That’s great. No lines. No traffic. But plenty of sunshine and mild temps. Full disclosure: I like the snow and cold of an Ohio winter. I just can’t accept the gray that covers everything from nearly Thanksgiving until Easter.

And admittedly South Carolina is not as warm as Florida. That’s also good, since all the Snow Birds are further south basking in the hot air generated by the Republicans on the stump for the presidential nomination.

So I’ll be keeping my eyes focused on matters big and small as a pajama-clad citizen journalist from this outpost on the edge of the USA.  And I can report that it doesn’t appear as though Newt, Mitt and gang left too much destruction in their wake in South Carolina. Hope the same can be said for Florida.

Since I’m planning on doing even less this week than I normally do, here are links to two thoughtful perspectives on subjects I’ve been opining about.

First, from the NYT, “A Goalkeeper Should Never Dance With a Moose.” (Yes. The USA women’s soccer team is heading to the Olympics.)

Then Michelle Malkin, “For Santorium.” (Republicans will have to nominate someone to run against Prez O. But maybe there is a better choice than either Newt or Mitt.)

OK. Got to go now and check the weather forecast for NE Ohio.

That’s another joy of a winter vacation in the South.

High School Dropouts: A Crisis With Great Cost

OK. I’ll admit it. I’m mostly interested in the outcome of the USA women’s soccer team’s match with Costa Rica today. A win sends the injured and maybe-will-play-maybe-not Hope Solo and teammates to the London Olympics. A loss has them looking for Dancing With The Stars opportunities.

But since the match isn’t until later and I really have nothing else to do, I’ll opine this a.m. on what is a much more serious issue: the crisis involving high school dropouts in this country.

Prez O touched on that during his State of the Union address. That’s good. But words and rhetoric are not enough. Here’s why — as outlined in this NYT article, “The True Costs of High School Dropouts“:

ONLY 21 states require students to attend high school until they graduate or turn 18. The proposal President Obamaannounced on Tuesday night in his State of the Union address — to make such attendance compulsory in every state — is a step in the right direction, but it would not go far enough to reduce a dropout rate that imposes a heavy cost on the entire economy, not just on those who fail to obtain a diploma.

In 1970, the United States had the world’s highest rate of high school and college graduation. Today, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we’ve slipped to No. 21 in high school completion and No. 15 in college completion, as other countries surpassed us in the quality of their primary and secondary education.


Only 7 of 10 ninth graders today will get high school diplomas. A decade after the No Child Left Behind law mandated efforts to reduce the racial gap, about 80 percent of white and Asian students graduate from high school, compared with only 55 percent of blacks and Hispanics.

Like President Obama, many reformers focus their dropout prevention efforts on high schoolers; replacing large high schools with smaller learning communities where poor students can get individualized instruction from dedicated teachers has been shown to be effective. Rigorous evidence gathered over decades suggests that some of the most promising approaches need to start even earlier: preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, who are fed and taught in small groups, followed up with home visits by teachers and with group meetings of parents; reducing class size in the early grades; and increasing teacher salaries from kindergarten through 12th grade.

These programs sound expensive — some Americans probably think that preventing 1.3 million students from dropping out of high school each year can’t be done — but in fact the costs of inaction are far greater.

High school completion is, of course, the most significant requirement for entering college. While our economic competitors are rapidly increasing graduation rates at both levels, we continue to fall behind. Educated workers are the basis of economic growth — they are especially critical as sources of innovation and productivity given the pace and nature of technological progress.

If we could reduce the current number of dropouts by just half, we would yield almost 700,000 new graduates a year, and it would more than pay for itself. Studies show that the typical high school graduate will obtain higher employment and earnings — an astonishing 50 percent to 100 percent increase in lifetime income — and will be less likely to draw on public money for health care and welfare and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. Further, because of the increased income, the typical graduate will contribute more in tax revenues over his lifetime than if he’d dropped out.

When the costs of investment to produce a new graduate are taken into account, there is a return of $1.45 to $3.55 for every dollar of investment, depending upon the educational intervention strategy. Under this estimate, each new graduate confers a net benefit to taxpayers of about $127,000 over the graduate’s lifetime. This is a benefit to the public of nearly $90 billion for each year of success in reducing the number of high school dropouts by 700,000 — or something close to $1 trillion after 11 years. That’s real money — and a reason both liberals and conservatives should rally behind dropout prevention as an element of economic recovery, leaving aside the ethical dimensions of educating our young people.

Some might argue that these estimates are too large, that the relationships among the time-tested interventions, high school graduation rates and adult outcomes have not been proved yet on a large scale. Those are important considerations, but the evidence cannot be denied: increased education does, indeed, improve skill levels and help individuals to lead healthier and more productive lives. And despite the high unemployment rate today, we have every reason to believe that many of these new graduates would find work — our history is filled with sustained periods of economic growth when increasing numbers of young people obtained more schooling and received large economic benefits as a result.

Of course, there are other strategies for improving educational attainment — researchers learn more every day about which are effective and which are not. But even with what we know, a failure to substantially reduce the numbers of high school dropouts is demonstrably penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Proven educational strategies to increase high school completion, like high-quality preschool, provide returns to the taxpayer that are as much as three and a half times their cost. Investing our public dollars wisely to reduce the number of high school dropouts must be a central part of any strategy to raise long-run economic growth, reduce inequality and return fiscal health to our federal, state and local governments.

Wow. Sounds like fixing the problem involving high school dropouts is something that matters, not just to the young people involved, but to their families and to our communities, businesses and nation’s long-term economic prosperity.

Wonder if Hope Solo could help with this — after getting the USA women’s soccer team to the Olympics?


Apple and American Jobs: The Times They Are A-Changin’

OK. As predicted, I snoozed through Prez O’s State of the Union address the other night. Still, I get the message: fairness in all matters economic and otherwise. So at least from now until November it’s us versus them. I just need someone to tell me whether these days I’m part of us or them.

Extremely confusing. And I guess when I was working I managed to sneak into the them category, if only marginally. But silly me. I kinda worked hard, paid whatever taxes I owed — and never felt as though someone was obligated to give me something.

Yet, in my dotage I recognize, as Dylan crooned, The Times They Are A-Changin':

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Gulp. I don’t want to be last. And I’m just a poor pensioner on a fixed income these days. So no need to interrupt a good nap to listen to that rhetoric. Besides, I’ll need my strength when Buffett’s secretary arrives in Copley and begins chasing me with a pitchfork. Ouch.

Yet the Prez did make an interesting point when he called on the Captains of American Industry to do the right thing and create jobs here in the USA. Here again, the times they are a-changin’ — but not in the favor of the Stars and Stripes.

Here’s a story in the Sunday NYT that you really should take a time to read, “How the US Lost Out on iPhone Work“:

When Barack Obama joined Silicon Valley’s top luminaries for dinner in California last February, each guest was asked to come with a question for the president.

But as Steven P. Jobs of Apple spoke, President Obama interrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?

Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

The president’s question touched upon a central conviction at Apple. It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.

Apple has become one of the best-known, most admired and most imitated companies on earth, in part through an unrelenting mastery of global operations. Last year, it earned over $400,000 in profit per employee, more than Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil or Google.

However, what has vexed Mr. Obama as well as economists and policy makers is that Apple — and many of its high-technology peers — are not nearly as avid in creating American jobs as other famous companies were in their heydays.

Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas, a small fraction of the over 400,000 American workers at General Motors in the 1950s, or the hundreds of thousands at General Electric in the 1980s. Many more people work for Apple’s contractors: an additional 700,000 people engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple’s other products. But almost none of them work in the United States. Instead, they work for foreign companies in Asia, Europe and elsewhere, at factories that almost all electronics designers rely upon to build their wares.

“Apple’s an example of why it’s so hard to create middle-class jobs in the U.S. now,” said Jared Bernstein, who until last year was an economic adviser to the White House.

“If it’s the pinnacle of capitalism, we should be worried.”

Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

Similar stories could be told about almost any electronics company — and outsourcing has also become common in hundreds of industries, including accounting, legal services, banking, auto manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.

But while Apple is far from alone, it offers a window into why the success of some prominent companies has not translated into large numbers of domestic jobs. What’s more, the company’s decisions pose broader questions about what corporate America owes Americans as the global and national economies are increasingly intertwined.

“Companies once felt an obligation to support American workers, even when it wasn’t the best financial choice,” said Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist at the Labor Department until last September. “That’s disappeared. Profits and efficiency have trumped generosity.”

Hey. The times they are a-changin’.

How’s the State of the Union?

Prez O makes the trek to Capitol Hill tonight to give his take on the state of the union. Unfortunately, I’ll most likely be long asleep before he begins to blather about the economy, American values, shared responsibilities and sacrifices and whatever other points he is going to unveil as key to his re-election campaign.

Too bad I’ll miss it. The State of the Union address really is Reality TV at its best: the cheers, the jeers, the standing Os. Or not. It’s pretty much like the Golden Globe Awards without the fashion show. And it is an important opportunity for the Prez to outline his administration’s vision for at least the year ahead.

Here’s a preview via CBS.

Unfortunately, Congress is hopelessly deadlocked — and the members can’t pass gas let alone legislation on any significant issue, particularly in an election year. So it will be good theater.

And I expect the highlight will be the reception given to Gabrielle Giffords as she makes what might be her last official visit to a Congressional event. For those focusing on the Kardashians, Giffords resigned from Congress this week — essentially a year after a lunatic pumped her head full of lead while she was meeting and greeting constituents in Arizona.

We need more people like Gabby Giffords in Congress. Perhaps her appearance tonight will inspire others to enter public service with a commitment to serving those who elected them in the first place.

If so, good.

And for that I’ll even try to stay awake.


Joe Paterno: Staying Too Long

Joe Paterno could have retired 20 years ago as one of the most successful college football coaches ever. Think about that as pundits (including me) pile on this morning with comments about JoePa’s death Sunday and about his career and many accomplishments.

Many of us stay too long: at a job whether you enjoy it or not, in a relationship that is comfortable, with a grocery store just because you know what isle the ketchup is in. Paterno stayed too long — although it’s understandable why. Here’s the statement released by his family yesterday:

“He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community.”

Should Joe Pa have done more than just alert his “superiors” when informed about the allegations of sexual abuse of young boys involving Jerry Sandusky? Yes. The conversation with Penn State’s Prez and Athletic Director should have gone something like this: “Look ass hairs, here’s what I’ve been told. Check it out, right now. Inform the police and others, if true. And get back to me, asap.”

Nobody else at Penn State could have had that conversation. JoePa could have. He had no superiors — right up until the day when the Board of Trustees told him he was out. (See NYT, “Penn State’s Trustees Recount Painful Decision to Fire Paterno.”)

From USA Today:

“This is a tragedy,” he [Paterno] said. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

But the university trustees fired Paterno, effective immediately. Graham Spanier, one of the longest-serving university presidents in the nation, also was fired.

Paterno was notified by phone, not in person, a decision that board vice chairman John Surma regretted, trustees said. Lanny Davis, the attorney retained by trustees as an adviser, said Surma intended to extend his regrets over the phone before Paterno hung up him.

After weeks of escalating criticism by some former players and alumni about a lack of transparency, trustees last week said they fired Paterno in part because he failed a moral obligation to do more in reporting the 2002 allegation.

An attorney for Paterno on Thursday called the board’s comments self-serving and unsupported by the facts. Paterno fully reported what he knew to the people responsible for campus investigations, lawyer Wick Sollers said.

“He did what he thought was right with the information he had at the time,” Sollers said.

Yet sometimes you can do what is legally required, while still fumbling the ball ethically.

Here’s more from Sally Jenkins, writing in WaPo, “Joe Paterno dies, leaving a record for others to debate“:

Joe Paterno could outtalk anybody in that Brooklyn beat cop’s voice of his. But the lung cancer and the chemo had left him breathless, and what emerged in two days of conversations with him, the last interview he would give, sounded like a series of sighs. Some of them satisfied, some of them regretful, all of them aware that his life was drawing to a close and 85 years were being relentlessly and reductively defined.

Paterno studied his own end, and knew it wasn’t going to be storybook. So much for the old-fashioned narrative he had built, of bookish yet vigorous young men filling a stadium in the Alleghenies, men he had uplifted such as Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell and Brandon Short, autumn leaves swirling softly over their heads.

“There’s the kind of stories I wish we could tell,” Paterno whispered.

But a modern grotesquery intervened, and there were too many other boys who allegedly had been damaged.

For most of his 61 years as a football coach at Penn State, Paterno built a record of thorough decency and good intention. He loved his wife, reared five nice children, taught his students well. He turned down big money for the role of a tenured professor, and strolled every day from his modest home to his unpretentious office. He acquired real power, and generally tried not to abuse it, and if sometimes he did, he covered for it by insisting on paying for his ice cream cones. He set out to prove that staying in one place could be as rewarding as climbing to the next rung. He meant to walk away sooner. He stayed too long.

JoePa stayed too long.

Still, he will be missed.

Newt and the Nattering Nabobs

I wonder what became of Susie Sorority? She being an original member (thanks to Lily Tomlin and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In) of Nixon’s Silent Majority, circa late ’60s. My guess: She married one of the Nattering Nabobs of Negativity and is now one of the Inside the Beltway elites. Wow. I’m way off track here. And this blog train has barely left the station.

OK. A modest restart. From what I’ve read and heard on the morning TV gabfests, the highlight of last night’s Republican debate came at the beginning, when Newt took exception to a question about his ex-wife from CNN moderator John King. Here’s from The Huffington Post:

Newt Gingrich’s fiery response to CNN moderator John King’s question about his ex-wife was the electrifying highlight of Thursday’s Republican debate. After the session was over, King defended his decision to ask the question that had everybody talking.

Gingrich flatly condemned King, along with CNN, for asking a question about Marianne Gingrich, who told ABC News earlier on Thursday that her ex-husband had asked her for an open marriage while he was having an affair with his eventual third wife. Gingrich said he was “appalled” by King’s decision to lead off the debate with a question about his former wife’s allegations, calling it “close to despicable.”

Speaking on a CNN panel, King said he had a friendly conversation with Gingrich after the debate was over. He called it a “damned if do you, damned if you don’t” situation.

“Is it an issue I’m happy came up?” he said. “Of course not.” But he came firmly down on the idea that, since people were talking about Gingrich’s past, the issue was worth raising.

“I understood that if I asked the question he was not going to be happy with it, and he was going to turn on me,” he said of Gingrich. “…It was my judgment, my decision, and mine alone. If we’re going to deal with it, let’s deal with it up front.”

Kinda ho-hum, actually.  And as Rush Limbaugh opined: “Everybody has an angry ex-spouse.” [Or not.]

Still, Newt apparently captured the night — and did it by returning, in part, to the golden days of yesteryear when Tricky Dick Nixon and Spiro Agnew pointed to the real problem facing the country as the politicians led the nation into the moral and financial quicksand of Vietnam: a free press. [Or not]

For some historical perspective, here’s an informative article in the New Yorker, “Nattering Nabobs“:

In the fall of 1969, Richard Nixon surveyed his domestic enemies and appointed Spiro T. Agnew, his Vice-President, to the post of White House Torquemada. There would come a day, not far off, when Agnew would have to plead nolo contendere to a charge of tax evasion, which would force his resignation and replacement by Gerald Ford, but this was his moment. Wielding a rhetorical style that might be described as “surrealist-alliterative,” Agnew denounced opponents of the war in Vietnam as “an effete corps of impudent snobs”—as “ideological eunuchs,” “professional anarchists,” and (strangely, wonderfully) “vultures who sit in trees.” Never before or since has a populist attack come swathed in such purple raiment.

Nixon could not fail to be impressed. And so he dispatched Agnew to map out a cultural description of another enemy, the op-ed unfriendlies and the network mandarins of what was beginning to be called the media. The views of “this little group of men” who “live and work in the geographical and intellectual confines of Washington, D.C., or New York City,” Agnew noted darkly, “do not represent the views of America.” He inscribed himself in history, and in famous-quotation anthologies, forever, when he said, “In the United States today, we have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H club—the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”

The exuberant playfulness of Agnew’s language (as scripted by William Safire) seemed to signal that the bluster need not be taken too seriously. But the campaign against the nabobs took fearsome legal shape when, in the summer of 1971, Nixon appealed to the Supreme Court to stop publication of the Pentagon Papers. After the Times started printing excerpts of the secret, internal study of how the United States went to war in Indochina, Nixon told Henry Kissinger, “People have gotta be put to the torch for this sort of thing”—and then demanded an injunction for prior restraint. Further publication of the Papers, the White House argued, would compromise codes, threaten the safety of the nation, and shatter diplomatic relations with foreign countries. None of that happened. Meanwhile, the Court sided with the First Amendment. As Justice Hugo Black wrote, “The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic.”

Given a choice, I would rather have reporters ask the tough — and at times, politically or personally sensitive — questions rather than just being scribblers.

Wonder what Susie Sorority would think?

Costa Concordia: Chicken of the Sea Meets the Peter Principle

You don’t hear or read much about the Peter Principle these days. And I suspect that’s because the notion that “everyone in a hierarchy—from the office intern to the CEO, from the low-level civil servant to a nation’s president—will inevitably rise to his or her level of incompetence” has been proven to be true for decades.

C’mon. If you are at work, take a look around and see if you can argue with the thesis that Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull first advanced in 1969. And thank God Wikipedia is back today. Here’s the skinny:

The principle holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Eventually they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out their duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.” “Managing upward” is the concept of a subordinate finding ways to subtly “manage” superiors in order to limit the damage that they end up doing.

Enter Francesco Schettino, the disgraced skipper of the Costa Concordia which did a belly flop in water off the coast of Italy after apparently ramming a rock while being a little too close to shore. This disaster killed 21 passengers, with 21 still missing. And in coming weeks, watch as thousands of gallons of diesel fuel begin treading water in what is essentially a marine sanctuary.

While this debacle unfolded, Schettino claims he tripped into a lifeboat and sailed away to safety. LOL

And the New York Post, which dubbed the skipper “Chicken of the Sea” in a front-page headline, had this story, “Cowardly captain says he tripped into a lifeboat and then watched ship sink from land“:

The Italian daily La Repubblica reported today that Schettino told investigators he tripped, fell overboard and ended up in a rescue boat.

Schettino was quoted by the newspaper as saying, “The passengers were pouring onto the decks, taking the lifeboats by assault. I didn’t even have a life jacket because I had given it to one of the passengers.

“I was trying to get people to get into the boats in an orderly fashion. Suddenly, since the ship was at a 60 to 70 degree angle, I tripped and I ended up in one of the boats. That’s how I found myself there.”

OK. In an attempt to be fair and balanced here, let’s give the dude the benefit of the doubt. It was dark. He tripped and fell into a lifeboat while the passengers were trying out for their nation’s Olympic team in the combined high-diving and freestyle swimming events.
But once on terra firma, the skipper didn’t appear overly enthusiastic about heading back to the luxury liner. Here’s from USA Today, “Recording suggests captain tried to abandon ship“:
ROME – The captain of a cruise ship that capsized off the coast of Italy was heaped with scorn Tuesday by the media and Italians as damning details came out about his abandoning of frantic passengers so he could escape in a lifeboat.

Italian newspapers reported that Capt. Francesco Schettino had steered the vessel too close to the island of Giglio to give a thrill to the islanders and had once told a magazine he enjoyed diverting from standard procedures.

But the revelation that generated the most contempt was the recording released Tuesday of a conversation between Schettino and a coast guard officer who demanded the captain return to his ship to oversee the rescue.

“What are you doing? Are you abandoning the rescue?” shouted Capt. Gregorio De Falco of the Italian coast guard in Livorno. “Get back on board now for (expletive) sake! That’s an order! Don’t make any more excuses!”

Wow. Note to Captain Schettino: Wouldn’t advise asking De Falco for a recommendation for your next gig. Just sayin’.

And here’s the point. Again from the USA Today article:

“This is a typical case of an incompetent person in an important position, and now the consequences are clear for everyone to see,” said Lorenzo Piermatteo, 36, a restaurant and bar manager. “It’s a typical Italian tragedy.”

Chicken of the Sea meets the Peter Principle.
And if you doubt the veracity of the Peter Principle, watch the Republican presidential candidates debate tonight on CNN.
Too bad David Gregory won’t be there asking questions.

Writers and Rejection: Game On

Mark Twain, at least according to a website that lists quotes from writers and others, opined: “All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.”

Well, we’ll see.

As I posted here last week, I wrote a novel last year, Then We Ran. Now I’m in the early stages of trying to find an agent who will help me get it to a so-called traditional publisher. Or not.

I’m a novice in all this. Although there appears to be some similarity to “pitching” book proposals to agents and “pitching” story ideas to journalists and other miscreants. And in both situations, you better be able to handle rejection.

First lesson learned: writing a book ain’t easy. Finding an agent and then getting it published may be even more difficult and time-consuming.

Yesterday I received the first of what I expect will be more e-mail rejections from agents. Here’s the missive in its entirety:  “Not for me. Good luck — “

OK. My ego can handle that.

I’ve also learned that there is a huge industry providing advice to writers on everything from how to write compelling dialogue to crafting the perfect query letter. In fact, it looks like many people prosper more by writing about how to write a book than actually writing one.

If interested, check out the websites for Writers Digest and The Writer. Note: if you visit one or both of these sites and provide your e-mail, be prepared for an almost constant barrage of offers for books for sale about writing, webinars, conferences and so on. Kinda like the Public Relations Society of America. I digress.

While looking for helpful advice, I discovered Rachelle Gardner’s blog. She is a literary agent with Books and Such Literary Agency. Here’s from a recent post, “Is Your Book Good, Great, or HOT?”:

If you’re querying agents, you may sometimes hear that they’ve taken on new clients, while your own query or a partial sits in their inbox, seemingly ignored. You’re probably wondering… what gives?

Why do some projects sit in the inbox and take longer to get an answer, while others seem like they get jumped on right away?

Well, the  truth is that your project may be good. It might even be very good or even great. But the projects agents jump on quickly are the ones that are hot.

What’s a hot project?

It’s a project the agent not only believes in, but they’re also confident they can sell it relatively quickly.

  • If it’s non-fiction: it’s a fresh new idea (or a fresh angle on a common idea), has a super high felt-need and the author has a strong platform and/or an obvious media hook.
  • If it’s fiction: the agent absolutely loves both the story and the writing; it has a strong hook, and is a genre that’s selling well.

Sigh. I knew I should have had the main character in my book be a vampire.

But I’ll press on.



Another “Sully” Moment: Well, Not Quite

Wonder if “Sully” Sullenberger considered parachuting out of the US Airways plane that was heading back for an unscheduled crash landing after taking off from LaGuardia Jan. 15, 2009. Nah. He put the big bird down on the water in what was called “The Miracle on the Hudson.”

And he along with the other crew members made sure all the passengers were safe until leaving the plane.

That’s not quite the situation involving the luxury cruise ship that did a belly flop off the coast of Italy this weekend. And this is a tragedy — with deaths and injuries. So it’s really no laughing matter.

Still, consider this situation in contrast to what Sully and the US Airways crew did.

Here’s from the Daily Mail, “Italy’s most hated man: Facebook anger at skipper of doomed cruise liner who abandoned ship hours before passengers“:

The captain of the doomed Costa Concordia cruise ship is quickly becoming Italy’s ‘most hated man’ – with hundreds turning to Facebook to vent their anger against him.

Francesco Schettino, in charge of the liner that ran aground with 4,000 passengers, has already been blamed by his bosses for the disaster.

Chairman of operator Costa Cruises, Pier Luigi Foschi, said the ship deviated from the correct route when it hit rocks near the coast, tearing a large hole in the hull, and that the captain had contravened company’s safety procedures.

He said today: ‘The company disavows such behaviour, which caused the accident.’

Mr Foschi added: ‘Personally and on behalf of the Costa Crociere (Cruises) I want to say we are very sorry for this tragic accident that’s happened.’

Now, almost 1,000 people have ‘liked’ the Facebook group ‘Francesco Schettino ‘comandante’ Costa Crociere’ to berate him – with many saying he ‘played with people’s lives’.

It comes as, also on Facebook, it emerged that the head of the ship’s restaurant’s sister had posted a comment, before the disaster, saying: ‘In a short period of time the Concordia ship will pass very close. A big greeting to my brother who finally get to have a holiday on landing in Savona.’

Patrizia Tivoli, sister of restaurant boss Antonello, posted the message at 9.08pm on Friday. A few minutes later, the boat ran aground.

Today rescue attempts were suspended ‘indefinitely’ after the ship slipped 9cm from its resting place – prompting fears it will plummet 100 metres down to the bottom of the Mediterranean.

Six people are confirmed dead and 16 are still unaccounted for.

The revelations follow claims that Schettino, from Meta di Sorrento near Naples, had been drinking ‘with a beautiful woman’ at the ship’s bar before he sailed into disaster.

Schettino, 52, was arrested on suspicion of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship when the cruise liner ran aground after sustaining a 160ft gash in the port-side hull.

Six people are now confirmed dead and 16 are still missing. The sixth person – a male passenger – was found dead wearing a life vest on the second deck of the ship. That area of the boat was not submerged.

And this doesn’t appear to be one of the proud moments in any rescue on sea or on land. Again from the Daily Mail, “Forget women and children first. Burly men led the race for the life boats“:

It was every man – and crew member – for himself.

Survivors from the Costa Concordia spoke angrily yesterday of the nightmare evacuation from the stricken ship as women and children were left behind.

In the terrifying moments after the giant vessel began to list, fights even broke out to get into the lifeboats.

Men refused to prioritise women, expectant mothers and children as they pushed themselves forward to escape. Crew ignored their passengers – leaving ‘chefs and waiters’ to help out.

In heart-rending footage, recorded on mobile phones, British children could be heard shouting ‘Daddy’ and ‘Mummy’ in the melee.

As she waited for a flight home from Rome, grandmother Sandra Rogers, 62, told the Daily Mail: ‘There was no “women and children first” policy. There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats. It was disgusting.’

OK. Full disclosure. I have absolutely no intention of ever setting foot on a cruise ship. Hey, I saw Titantic just like everyone else.

But in case I do get tricked into a cruise someday, I’m not taking off my life jacket unless I know Sully is at the helm.