Living in Society Social Commentary Writing

Newspapers Are Working – So Subscribe

Solon Economist – 2016

Despite significant decreases in staff and other expenses, many newspapers crank out stories relevant to our daily lives.

For example, Jason Clayworth and Brianne Pfannenstiel published a full-page article about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell’s tenure at Younkers in the Gannett newspapers on Monday. I don’t know how many people will read the article but the fact newspapers crank out copy for Iowans addicted to politics says something positive about the fourth estate, even if having to re-litigate the quotes attributable to the Iowa GOP is somewhat annoying.

Also on Monday, the Cedar Rapids Gazette had front page, above the fold coverage of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney’s completion of a 99-county tour of Iowa. Delaney won’t likely be our next president but having the field to himself gives him name recognition he won’t be able to get once more Democrats jump into the presidential race.

I’m told newspapers run non-political stories as well.

Blog for Iowa encourages people who read newspaper coverage on line to subscribe. Without paid readership advertisers won’t buy ads. Without revenue, newspapers will cease to exist. If newspapers cease to exist… well that would be a much different bag of cats. In fact, I predict cats and dogs is all you will read about. While personal, funny, sad, and sometimes delightful, a story about pets is not news.

There may be no saving larger newspapers. As we’ve seen in our county, large news organizations are consolidating, and local coverage has been stripped from daily ink. Instead of getting the Iowa City Press Citizen, most people here read the Cedar Rapids Gazette because of its breadth and depth of coverage. There isn’t even a Sunday edition of the Press Citizen here, and the opinion page runs only a couple of times a week. Team Gannett produces valuable coverage, but it is not local. It is not enough.

Small, local papers with subscriptions of a thousand readers are doing well in Iowa, so if your community has one, spend the nominal annual fee and subscribe. It’s a great place to start and coverage of city council, school board and community activities is second to none. Even though your large local paper may be on the decline, subscribe. I prefer digital so I don’t have to recycle the newsprint. But either way would be better than the alternative.

Thomas Jefferson is reputed to have said, “Were it left to me to decide if we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Just imagine what our lives would be like with government but no newspapers. Subscribe.

~ First posted at Blog for Iowa

Living in Society Writing

What if the Jobs Don’t Come Back?

guest-columnSince the general election I’ve been laying low, listening to people talk — in person — about the new administration and what President Donald J. Trump means to them.

It was about jobs.

Most supporters found a lot of what the president said and stands for to be objectionable, yet voted for him because of the hope for jobs — a central campaign theme. Manufacturing jobs specifically.

In his inaugural address, Trump gave a name to something with which many are familiar, “the American carnage” of globalization and its impact on U.S. manufacturing jobs.

An issue page of the White House web site the administration laid out his position:

Since the recession of 2008, American workers and businesses have suffered through the slowest economic recovery since World War II. The U.S. lost nearly 300,000 manufacturing jobs during this period, while the share of Americans in the work force plummeted to lows not seen since the 1970s, the national debt doubled, and middle class got smaller. To get the economy back on track, President Trump has outlined a bold plan to create 25 million new American jobs in the next decade and return to 4 percent annual economic growth.

As a deal-maker, the president asserts he knows how to do it. His plan is not yet public so it’s difficult to evaluate.

I’ve worked manufacturing jobs during my life and as a director of a logistics company that evaluated countless others. While living in Indiana I interviewed thousands of people impacted by the exodus of jobs in the rust belt as part of a global restructuring of workforce and business operations. In this sense Trump is right about the carnage: real people were negatively impacted by loss of U.S. jobs. I met many of them.

At the same time, finding cheap labor and developing new technologies enabled companies to be competitive in a global marketplace. However, Trump’s “carnage” launched with intensity because of Ronald Reagan’s policies, not Obama’s. I believe Trump’s assertion about jobs is a bait and switch.

On Friday, Jan. 27, the White House announced a “Manufacturing Jobs Initiative.” Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical Company is convening a panel of business leaders to advise the president. For the most part, it is a who’s who of companies that benefited from globalization. I am doubtful this group can do much besides inform the president what regulations and tax codes need revision to encourage large companies to locate manufacturing plants on U.S. soil. The two token AFL-CIO members represent labor interests on the panel, but even they are part of a gigantic dog and pony show expected to accomplish little in terms of direct results impacting real people.

The metrics to evaluate Trump’s job creation performance already exist in the Labor Department jobs report which shows the millions of jobs created during the Obama administration. Assume the methodology remains constant, fill out the chart as time passes and new results are in, and there is an objective basis on which to evaluate performance. A similar metric holds true for economic growth. We should have a solid couple years in before the 2020 campaign begins. Thumbs up or thumbs down. It should be that simple.

Trump’s discussion of bringing manufacturing jobs “back” is a bait and switch. Globalization of the manufacturing processes and automation that includes robots doing repetitive tasks has eliminated many manufacturing jobs permanently. It will eliminate more.

Like it or not, with Wall Street alumni occupying four key positions in the administration, whatever jobs are created are likely to be similar to those created under Obama.

I am not hopeful for resurgence in manufacturing jobs, nor was this my issue during the 2016 campaign. However, Trump’s assertions about job creation came from the lips of every Trump voter with whom I spoke, no exceptions.

If Democrats hope to win the next presidential election we need to understand why friends, neighbors and work colleagues voted for Trump. In part, it was about jobs that won’t be back the way we knew them, regardless of campaign promises.

~ An edited version of this post first ran in the Cedar Rapids Gazette Feb. 1, 2017

Social Commentary

News from the Lake

East Wall of George's Buffet
East Wall of George’s Buffet – People’s Climate March Advertisements

LAKE MACBRIDE— A steady rain fell and continued through the night, providing respite for the weary and sound sleep. Having thought I would retreat from society on a day mostly off work, it proved to be impossible, beginning with the trip into town to vote.

Two measures were on the ballot yesterday. Voters approved a $25.5 million bond issue to build a new middle school, a performing arts center to replace the one at the current middle school, and a special education classroom in a 698-294 vote. Voters also approved renewal of the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy of $1.34 per $1,000 in assessed value when the current levy expires on June 30, 2017.

To Change EverythingThe City of Solon was platted in 1840 and named for the Athenian statesman and poet. Ironically, the school district mascot is the Spartans, and the rivalry between Athenians and the Spartans has played out in the community ever since we moved here. Relevant to yesterday’s vote, debate has been about improvement of the auditorium facilities for use between the performing arts departments, and sports enthusiasts. Sports boosters defeated performing arts in the first battles and now we have a ginormous sporting complex in the city. Engaged residents of the district have decided it is time to invest in the performing arts. A ground breaking is expected in 2015.

In addition to passing through the city, I visited the county seat to pay property taxes. I also spent some time in the auditor’s office to see where my tax dollars go. My sense was that county government workers aren’t used to a lot of questions, but I received the answers I wanted.

Poster on the Unitarian Church
Poster on the Unitarian Universalist Society Building

Advertisements for the People’s Climate March on Sept. 21 in New York City have appeared in a couple of locations in downtown Iowa City. I have been engaged to speak for five minutes about the humanitarian campaign against nuclear weapons at a supporting rally in the Iowa City pedestrian mall. That is, assuming I can get off early enough from work at the warehouse.

September and the start of school is always prime time for social movement initiatives, and a lot is at stake with regard to mitigating the causes of global warming. As the saying goes, “to change everything, it takes everyone,” and we are a very long way from engaging everyone in addressing the climate crisis.

The other piece of September news is that every freaking politician I know is doing some kind of event. Between the frequent text messages, email invitations, snail mail and telephone calls, it is impossible to miss the fact that an election is coming, and a lot is at stake. My ability to contribute in kind and financially is limited this cycle, but it is good to know politicians are working. That in itself is a form of news.