On the Tragedy in Newtown

On a chilly morning in sleepy suburb a crazed man unleashed terror on an innocent community. This is not the first time we have faced the horror that results from mixing an unstable individual with a killing machine. A school in Littleton, a college in Virginia, and a grocery store in Arizona are still scarred from the tragedies that unfolded there. As a fearful nation, we have transformed our school palaces into fortresses. Today we learned that even that is not enough to stop a determined killer. We cannot prevent every tragedy. We cannot anticipate every shortcoming of every policy. However we can take pause and learn from this. We can sit down and use information and data to make informed decisions about the best way to reduce the risk of this happening. Then we can come together and meet this moment of tragedy with a moment of courage. It is time for the United States Congress to have a real and serious discussion on gun violence in America. We may not prevent every massacre, but we can fight fear with knowledge and risk with action. As our world has changed, so must our laws.

Here in Connecticut, the General Assembly should convene a commission to investigate policies related to gun violence and in the next session pass a comprehensive gun violence and safety act. This act should address policies related to gun control, crime prevention, and school safety. While our leaders are not gods that can stop every death, they can certainly lead us into a world where fewer people die. As our senators and representatives in Washington remain stuck in gridlock, it is incumbent upon our leaders in Hartford to set an example and push our state forward.

The Connecticut Media Bubble

I recently received a fundraising plea from the CT Mirror claiming they have 60,000 unique visitors a month. I was shocked that the number was so low. This online news entity covers news of importance to the entire state and their monthly readership is less than the population of Hartford. Meanwhile the Hartford Courant claims 651,345 readers with a majority of them reading the paper offline. With Connecticut’s population sitting at 3.58 million people who means the Courant is reaching about 18% of the entire Connecticut population and the Mirror is reaching 1.7%. This is in spite of the fact that in 2010 86.5% of the state had an Internet connection and 47% had a Facebook account.

These statistics matter because it is the job of news people to tell our stories. They document our history. Reporters highlight the challenges we face and their writings can rally people together to tackle them. Yet for the most part this is not happening. The majority of reporting occurring in mainstream outlets like NBC Connecticut or The Courant focuses on crime or minor things like when the Wethersfield Library got self-checkouts. The majority of people are not thinking about the same issues that Connecticut’s leaders are thinking about. This is why it is easy for an insider like Chris Donovan or Jim Amann to believe they have a good chance at winning a major office but then drop with a quick thud. We live in different worlds.

We need to fix this. I do not have all the answers for the journalists that might be reading this post wondering why I am complaining. The journalists probably have a better idea than the owners of their papers. All I know is what I enjoy. Websites like The New York Times, New Yorker, and The Verge produce fantastic longform pieces that dive deep into important issues facing our country. They publish powerful editorials that push their readers to think. Articles are written that create context and force us to reconsider our policies and values. Good journalism makes the reader feel slightly uncomfortable. Discomfort causes people to talk and think. Talking and thinking sells more papers or builds online readership. The community grows; our worlds collide.

Maybe Manufacturing is Our Savior After All

A few counterpoints to the argument I made in my previous post that I thought were interesting:

I received some interesting feedback from my Facebook post on this as well complaining I (or the New York Times article I linked) may have been a bit unfair to McDonald’s. Nobody is saying a McDonald’s job is bad, especially if it pays competitively. The important thing is if we are going to pour public subsidies into job training we should use it to direct people into fields where they will receive higher wages than they can get without job training.

There is also much to be said in regards to the clustering impact of having manufacturing available here. There is a lot of innovation that occurs on the ground from people who are intimately familiar with the process of making things. It may be strategic to target specific sectors in hope of becoming a cluster or center for something (like Connecticut is doing with their stem-cell research funding). The jury might still be out on the effectiveness of that, but look what happened when China dumped tons of resources into solar energy and crushed the American manufacturers.

There is no Skills Gap and Manufacturing is Not Our Savior

Adam Davidson of NPR’s Planet Money basically concludes the same thing as I about these mythical manufacturing jobs:

And yet, even as classes like Goldenberg’s are filled to capacity all over America, hundreds of thousands of U.S. factories are starving for skilled workers. Throughout the campaign, President Obama lamented the so-called skills gap and referenced a study claiming that nearly 80 percent of manufacturers have jobs they can’t fill. Mitt Romney made similar claims. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that there are roughly 600,000 jobs available for whoever has the right set of advanced skills. Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.

via Skills Don’t Pay the Bills - NYTimes.com.

Also powerful is this post from Al Wenger of Union Square Ventures. These both lead to an unfortunate conclusion: until wages go back up I do not see how manufacturing is going to sustain our economy.

Giving Thanks

This year I am thankful to my friends in the fields of medicine and science. Today we live in a world where we can literally bring people back from being dead, cure cancer, and build replacement limbs. In our world a robotic exoskeleton can let a paralyzed person walk again. Immunizations mean that we need not experience the pain of polio or scariness of smallpox. Miracle drugs treat or cure diseases and conditions that would otherwise make life unbearable for many. What the doctors and scientists accomplish never ceases to amaze me, and I can only imagine what they will do next year.

That is why I am also thankful for the re-election of President Obama and the passage of healthcare reform. Our leaders are taking important steps to democratizing access to these treatments and as someone under 26 I have benefitted from the extension of parental health insurance that our leaders signed into law. The cost of healthcare locks people into jobs and makes it harder for entrepreneurs to start companies. There are few investments that I think will yield as many dividends as investing in the health of the American people.

Finally I am thankful to the taxpayers of Connecticut and the United States. They have generously chosen to invest in my future and education by subsidizing my loans and part of my law school tuition. The taxpayers of Connecticut even gave me a job for the rest of the year. It is my hope that I do not turn out to be a junk asset and will yield high returns for everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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