Archive for July, 2011

Anger has made hollow a former hero

Author: Barrett Rainey

To me, one of the benefits of long life is also one of it’s curses. The benefit: watching someone talented – in any field – mature and blossom into a real professional. I don’t care what the work – politics, entertainment, business, charity organization or running a classroom with 30 third graders. Seeing someone achieve full potential over the years is great to watch. And admire.

The curse: watching someone with that same potential misuse it for personal gain, pander for public affection or support and waste what obviously had been great talent for selfish ends.

Case in point: the name of John McCain is near the top in both categories. While I admire his military record and much of his chosen political life, he has become more a caricature than someone with true character. Once considered a reasoned voice who got past the posturing of cheap politicians to get to the meat of an issue, he has – in my mind – become one of those cheap politicians with only his own interests to serve.

I’m not talking about changing one’s mind on any given issue. Nor do I mean adjusting one’s views as age and experience give us all more information and new values on which to base our viewpoints. I’m talking about the too obvious business of altering one’s stands for no other reason than to gain political favorability with some constituency. In the past half dozen years, McCain has become a master of “mobile thinking.”

It would be easy to use the term “flip flopping” which is often applied to people who change their positions to meet an occasion. Our political world is filled with such creatures. But use of that term is not precise for McCain.

After years of conducting himself with a seeming set of strong personal values – something flip-flopper’s don’t usually have – McCain has loudly and repeatedly put himself on both sides of the same issue, saying he has “long held” the position. Abortion is one. For years, an ardent voice for a woman’s right to decide, he now thumps the drums for pro-life. Even he can’t tell you there was some catharsis at work. No, running for president, he tried to appeal to a strong though small GOP voter base. He failed.

For several years, he was a reasoned voice to cut our losses in Iraq and other Mideast hot spots, reduce our presence and redesign our military to deal with different kinds of wars. Now, he blasts the president on Sunday talk shows for drawing down troop levels and trying to get this country out of two losing situations. From reasoned voice to blind hawkishness.

He’s put his name on sponsorship of more than a dozen bills in the Senate only to vote the direct opposite when they came up for a vote. He’s proudly proclaimed the media tagged him a “maverick” but has subverted his own obvious intelligence and previously reasoned positions by gamesmanship and self-serving posturing.

I’ve interviewed McCain a couple of times. He’s shorter than he appears on television and a bit of a fidgeter as you ask a question. He used to look you in the eye and had the knack of making you feel his answer was directed only at you. Now, as I watch him being interviewed in the Halls of Congress, his eyes dart around, his body shifts and he looks from place to place as he answers. Very different.

His willingness to tout the party line and “go along to get along” have cost him his maverick title. He’s no longer an individual voice commanding others to hear a different position on issues. I don’t understand why the Sunday talk shows keep putting him on the air, but you’ll find him on one or another of them seemingly every week. A contrarian. A party liner. A constant and often unreasoned critic of the man who beat him badly at the polls in 2008. McCain is a very angry man. Deeply and personal.

Talented political leaders are hard to find. Just look at the absence of real talent in the current crop of wannabees. So, when someone comes along, exhibiting abilities of strong character, seeming ease and comfort with making large decisions and able to present his thinking with common sense, people naturally gravitate to such a presence.

That used to describe John McCain. But it’s a McCain we see no more. That’s too bad. For the country. And for those of us to whom he represented reason in an often too unreasonable world.

I graduated from Bend High School shortly after the invention of fire. In our senior year, all the talk was about which college we’d be attending. My family didn’t care if it was University of Oregon or Oregon State as long as I went.

Looking back, I think family and peer pressure were major reasons I ducked out and joined the military where I stayed for nine years. In that span, I learned far more useful information than I would have in any college and the experience put me on a career path I’ve really enjoyed.

This isn’t to say higher education is unnecessary or a waste of time. But, like so many others – then and now – I would have gotten far less out of the college experience than I did in the military where there were rules. There was discipline. There was choice. There were excellent schools for almost any vocation from pilot to chaplain’s assistant with fender welding in the middle. Learning was not an option. It was required.

For those who are ready and can profit from a college experience, that next step is both logical and recommended. I wasn’t ready.

Now, it seems, my long-held opinion college is not for a lot of kids who’ve finished 12 years of public school is becoming the new “conventional wisdom” of professional educators and leaders of business.

Jeff Immelt is CEO of General Electric and chairs the President’s Commission on Jobs. His view: government at all levels needs to undertake a major priority to train American workers for today’s labor force, not yesterday’s. To make his point, Immelt says there are more than two million open jobs in the country right now – right in the middle of our recession and high unemployment – because employers can’t find workers with the advanced manufacturing skills they need. Two million!

And there’s more. Many small companies have “help wanted” signs in their windows but can’t find the trained workers. New Jersey, for example, has 11 percent unemployment but, for nearly a year, a company called Ultra Scientific Analytical Solutions hasn’t found qualified people to fill 20 empty positions. CEO John Russo says “I honestly think there’s a large swath of the unemployable with no skills at all.”

Harvard University has a new report out on the “forgotten half” of young adults without skills to get a job beyond the nearest hamburger joint. That report says the “college for all” mentality is not realistic.

This “skills gap” seems to me the absolute right place for states like Oregon and Washington to splurge a bit by placing a higher priority on increasing support to community colleges. They’re in business solely for the purpose of conducting career and technical education programs.

Here’s just one example. Our little Oregon community of 21,000 has an excellent community college which has recently added training for workers in the wine industry. The first year teaches not only how to raise and care for grape vines but also teaches English if students need it. And some do. After only that one year, local vintners can hire someone who doesn’t need training to be productive on the first day on the job plus the old communication problem with some migrant workers is gone. That worker, knowing how to plant and prune vines, will start at about $11-13 an hour rather than $8.50. And we’ve got more than 90 vinyards just in our county.

The community college second year deals with wine making and, again with minimal time, a new worker comes to the job trained and ready to go. If someone wants to learn more, the local program feeds the Oregon university system where you can go all the way to a doctorate degree.

Reducing unemployment. Filling an ongoing local need. A source of trained workers. Improving wages for new hires who are job-ready. Solving an old communications problem among many farm workers. How many win-wins do you want?

Federal and state governments have dropped the ball for years by not putting a high enough priority on training the non-collegiate worker. A very high priority. I can’t think of many other ways to deal so effectively – and so quickly – with today’s high unemployment and the problems of an unskilled work force.

Even if we have to minimize some other government programs, this is one that needs a really BIG boost. Now!

Being something of a wonk, I subscribe to U.S. Census Bureau information. Word of warning: don’t do the same unless you have a very efficient “delete” key on your old computer. Once in their system, you’ll discover folks there are publishing so much statistical data they must be killing a tree or two a day. Maybe three.

But, once in awhile, there are some chestnuts among the coals. Here are some for your 4th of July consideration.

On July 4th, 1776, when the old Continental Congress created this nation, we had a population of about 2.5 million. Today, as you burn a wiener in the barbecue, you will be in the company of an estimated 311.7 million others looking forward to tonight’s fireworks.

Speaking of fireworks, China sent us $190.7 million worth in 2010. By comparison, we exported about $37 million. Know which country bought most of ours? Japan ($6.3 million). They could have shopped in their own neighborhood to save on shipping costs but there’s that bad history thing. You know.

And how about your old American flag? Well, that’s an interesting bit, too. In 2010, we imported $3.2 million worth of our own flags. $3.2 million! And you know what? We paid China $2.8 million to make most of ‘em.

And who bought most of the American flags we made? Why Mexico, of course. More than half our total output of the old red, white and blue.

Well, there you are. Some tidbits of Americana for your 4th of July enjoyment. Keep an eye on this space. We’ll talk about Christmas decorations when the season comes around. And you won’t believe where most of ours come from.

Aw, you peeked.