Reject Tyranny

By assigning half of their respective state populations to each of the forty-one Republican Senators, we see that collectively, they represent only 37% of the total US population. Why, in a “representative democracy,” do we accept that politicians representing little more than 1/3 of the total population should control government policy for the remainder?

I thought the original Tea Party was about rejecting tyranny not endorsing it.

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My Christmas Letter

At this time last year, I was three months into what turned out to be ten months of unemployment and recovering from a cardiac stent insertion. As I like to say, it was not a lifestyle that I would recommend very highly. So things are definitely merrier this Christmas. Seeing the turmoil and tough decisions that so many people are still facing makes me realize that I dodged more than a few bullets over the past year.

In July, I moved 100 miles north to Columbus and began work at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) supervising the work of Ohio’s railroad inspectors statewide. I’ve always been an infrastructure geek and railroads have been a particular interest for the past few years. Warren Buffett is buying one of the country’s biggest railroads (BNSF) and he seems to be a pretty smart guy so there must be a future in rail, right? Mostly, I’m glad to have a paycheck, health insurance and meaningful work to do.

Charlie & Claire were both in marching band this fall (drum & tuba, respectively) and are now playing in the school jazz bands and orchestra through the winter. Charlie is in the winter drum line again, continues with his piano studies and is learning to drive (yikes!) Claire is starting to take trombone lessons – I think she plans to boss the boys in the bass brass section when she gets to high school next year. They are smart, happy kids and I love that they both love music.

We’ve all seen tremendous change during the first decade of the 21st Century. I suspect that the pace of change is only going to increase in the coming years. I’m sure we’ll face challenges and opportunities we can barely imagine today.  It’s clear to me that my most important job in the coming decade is to help Charlie & Claire successfully make the leap from bright, happy, talented teens to confident, independent and responsible adults.

Being in a position to do this is the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

Love to you all and happy new year!

Job Searching Using Social Media Tools

A very good friend recently asked me to help her nephew, Steve.  He is a recent college graduate looking for a job in the business operations  field of Supply Chain Management.  This blog post is a copy of a recent email to Steve about the use of social media tools like blogs, FaceBook and LinkedIn in his job search.  I think it’s pretty self explanatory so I just copied it verbatim.

Perhaps you’ll see something helpful in this too. Maybe you’ll think I’m all wet. Either is fine with me but either way, let me know what you think. I want to learn from you.

Steve,

Regarding FaceBook, there is a very broad range of opinion about how open you should be. I have mine set so that my friends and their networks can see my stuff. Not wide open but if we have any connection at all, you can probably get to me. I have found FaceBook to be a great tool to get to know people that are casually in my orbit. This has accelerated personal relationships with several people that I previously only knew through work or as acquaintences through mutual friends or activities.In the end you have to be comfortable with how much of you is out there for others to see. There are no wrong answers.

My search engine comment was really around things like Monster.com and other job search sites. You can set up profiles and custom searches to have job leads emailed to you on a regular basis. I get daily emails from Monster and CareerBuilder that typically have 5 – 8 specific job postings each. I discard most of them but probably have 2 or 3 a week worth pursuing. Also look for professional associations (and groups on LinkedIn) – many have job postings that anyone can get to. Many are for members only but it’s worth looking – organizations are losing members fast because professional dues are often first-cut expenses. Some progressive organizations recognize this and are offering free or deeply discounted services to earn your loyalty for when your budgets return.

Finally look for supply-chain blogs (and other professional topics that interest you) and on-line publications. Subscribe to their RSS feeds through a tool like Google Reader. Yahoo.com has a good reader also. This way you can have info aggregated in a single spot that you can scan quickly on a regular basis for things of interest without having to bang around dozens of sites to find. I believe in turning on the fire hose of information and then drinking what you can. In my view it’s better to see data and discard it than to not see it at all. Just beware that it takes discipline (which I often lack) to not get sucked down into time-wasting rabbit holes chasing cool but irrelevant ideas.

Hope this helps. I’ll let you know if I have any specific comments about your LinkedIn profile.

Best,
John

Lamentation for Detroit

The March issue of Atlantic Magazine on-line includes a very thoughtful and comprehensive article titled, “How the Crash Will Reshape America,” by urban theorist, Richard Florida. It is an vital analysis for anyone who cares about American cities and essential reading for those of us in planning, real estate, urban policy and economic development who will be dealing with the enormous changes this economy will bring over the next several years.  Wrenching change will not be limited to the Rust Belt but not surprisingly, one section of the article is subtitled “The Last Crises of the Factory Towns” which begins with this:

Sadly and unjustly, the places likely to suffer most from the crash – especially in the long run- are the ones least associated with high finance. While the crises may have begun in New York, it will likely find its fullest bloom in the interior of the country – in older, manufacturing regions whose heydays are long past . . .

Not surprising to even the casual student of American cities and our industrial economy.  Narrowing in to where the damage is greatest and most apparent, a later paragraph reads:

Perhaps no major city in the U.S. today looks more beleaguered than Detroit, where in October the average home price was $18,513, and some 45,000 properties were in some form of foreclosure. A recent listing of tax foreclosures in Wayne County, which encompasses Detroit, ran to 137 pages in the Detoit Free Press . . . and in December the city’s jobless rate was 21 percent.

Bleak.

Today, I happened to be looking at a new copy of The Bible that I brought home from church yesterday. I happened to open it randomly to the Book of Lamentations, an Old Testament book that I am not very familiar with. With Florida’s article (and likely my own unemployment) on my mind, I turned to the beginning of Lamentations and read the three verses below. I was shaken by how relevant the text is to today. With no intention to imply cause or blame, I have changed only one word in the text to create a sad modern prayer for the people and institutions of this once great American city:

A Lamentation for Detroit.

1 [a]How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.

2 Bitterly she weeps at night,
tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
there is none to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her;
they have become her enemies.

3 After affliction and harsh labor,
Detroit has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations;
she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

(TNIV©)

9 Weeks, 2010, Place Your Bets

$3,987.oo ÷ $443.oo/week = 9 weeks

That’s when my last unemployment check will show up. In 9 weeks.

I think I know why the House Republicans voted unanimously against the Stimulus Bill last week. It’s because they believe President Obama is right when he says that the economy is going to get worse before it gets better. They believe the President when he says that it’s going to take a very long time to get things back on track. They know President Obama is right about the economic conditions he inherited from failed Republican leadership and they are betting they can twist his honesty with the American people to their political advantage.

The House Republicans unanimously placed the bet last week that the economy is not going to be better, and potentially will be worse, in 2010 when mid-term elections will be in full swing. They are betting that American voters will have forgotten President Obama’s honest prediction of a long recovery. House Republicans are betting that even if the stimulus package is the right thing for our country in the long term, it’s positive effects won’t be showing by election time in 2010. They are betting that if they vote against it now, they will be able to wag their fingers at the President, saying “I told you so,” and recapture their lost political majority in the House of Representatives.

It’s their political bet that the American people are impatient, fearful and ignorant. It’s a variation of the same bet Republican leaders made when they defended the $1 trillion wasted in Iraq by labeling the opposition “unpatriotic.” It’s the same bet they made in manipulating the tax code to create benefits for the wealthy by promising the benefit would “trickle down” to the rest of us. House Republicans are placing the same old bet because they are willing to put their selfish political ambition ahead of the public good.  They are betting that we’re fools.

My unemployment benefits run out in 9 weeks. If necessary, I’ll put my engineering degree and 25 years of experience to good use cleaning floors or pushing patients through hospital corridors or working in a rail yard as I try to support my family. In 2010, long after my unemployment checks have been spent, I will remember the bet House Republicans placed against me last week.

Atlas Shrugged – revisited

I read Ayn Rand’s 1957 masterpiece, “Atlas Shrugged,” in high school. I remember the appeal of her story describing the power of an individual making the choice to act counter to the crowd and the system. It was a welcome message to me then and I have kept the yellowing paperback with me over the past thirty years. I now wonder if what I took from the book then was simply what I wanted – teenage validation of a naive self-image of independence and self-sufficiency.

As I worked yesterday with the radio playing in the other room, I heard the words, “Atlas Shrugged.” The words cut through the white noise of the news of failing economy, betrayed trust and political change like the sound of your own name overheard in a crowded room. I immediately stopped and turned my attention to the radio but the story was done. I don’t know the context but somehow I understood that the it’s time to reread the book. This time to discover the depth and power of Rand’s intended message and not to be satisfied with wading in the shallows.

I’ve just begun but have already found in the first few pages validation that this book promises to speak to our times. I reread these three paragraphs several times as the awareness of institutional and leadership betrayals of the past several months colored the white spaces between the words. I expect this book to be full of new insight and nuance written in a voice that we haven’t heard over the din of the crowd for a long, long time.

The great oak tree had stood on a hill over the Hudson, in a lonely spot on the Taggert estate. Eddie Willers, aged seven, liked to come and look at that tree. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought it would always stand there. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk deep into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to seize it by the top, he would not be able to uproot it, but would swing the hill and whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string. He felt safe in the oak tree’s presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.

One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside – just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.

Years later, he heard it said that children should be protected from shock, from their first knowledge of death, pain or fear. But these had never scarred him; his shock came when he stood very quietly, looking into the black hole of the trunk. It was an immense betrayal – the more terrible because he could not grasp what it was that had been betrayed. It was not himself, he knew, nor his trust; it was something else. He stood there for a while, making no sound, then he walked back to the house. He never spoke about it to anyone, then or since.

John’s PUCO Commissioner Application Letter

Tomorrow, I am driving to Columbus, the state capital of Ohio, to submit my application to be appointed by Governor Strickland as a Commissioner of the Public Utilites Commission of Ohio (PUCO).  The mission of the PUCO is “to assure all residential and business consumers [have] access to adequate, safe and reliable utilty services at fair prices, while facilitating an environment that provides competitive choices.” As readers of this blog know, I am a passionate believer in the importance of infrastructure for the economic growth of a community, state or nation. I hope my passion is expressed in a compelling way in my application letter below.

Officially, my chances of being appointed are pretty slim but would be exactly “zero” if I didn’t apply. The process will be very political (partisan and otherwise) and many, many diverse voices will be appropriately considered in the selection process. However, I read an important quote a few days ago, “The only things that we should doubt are the limits we place on ourselves.”  I don’t know who to attribute it to but thanks for the encouragement to reach high.

I’ll let you know how this goes. Call or write to your Ohio Representatives and Senators or the Governor if you have an opinion about my qualifications for the job, pro or con. Your government leaders probably haven’t heard from you in a while and they need to know what you think about a lot of things.

My resume is on my LinkedIn profile. You can find a link to that over there on the right.

January 8, 2009

Public Utilities Commission Nominating Council
C/o Public Utilities Commission of Ohio
180 East Broad Street, 13th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215-3793

Dear Members of the Nominating Council:

The availability of efficient, safe, properly priced, well-maintained and technologically advanced infrastructure is an essential prerequisite for the creation of wealth, prosperity and a high quality of life. Ohio’s public and private investments in railroads in the mid-1800’s enabled the growth of the steel, rubber and automotive industries in northeast Ohio just as the construction of the Miami-Erie canal proceeded the chemical and paper industries in the southwest. Twentieth century investments in energy systems, telecommunications and highways enabled Ohio to become one of the world’s great manufacturing economies and brought the prosperity necessary to build and support our state’s great cultural institutions and education systems. We must honor this legacy by ensuring that Ohio continues to invest in and guide the proper development of its utilities and infrastructure. Ohio can only remain globally relevant if our infrastructure is technologically advanced, sustainably designed, properly maintained and made available to its customers and citizens in a socially equitable manner. Infrastructure is the foundation of economic development.

Since 1985, I have lived in southwest Ohio, in Hamilton and Warren Counties, and I am a Democrat. My understanding and appreciation of our infrastructure has grown through a public and private sector career of planning, building, buying and promoting local and regional infrastructure and utilities.  In my roles of transportation planner, real estate developer, infrastructure builder and economic developer, I have earned a reputation for strategic thinking, creative and insightful analysis, high integrity, fiscal responsibility and a collaborative style of leadership. My professional networks and associations extend throughout the state and the country. I have acquired a deep understanding of the breadth of Ohio’s industry and culture, the complexities of its governance, its unfulfilled promises and its incredible potential.

I believe that as the newest Commissioner of the PUCO, I will add a vitally fresh perspective to the Commission as a licensed professional engineer, economic developer and experienced community builder. I appreciate your consideration of me as a candidate for this important position. If appointed Commissioner, I promise to be an uncompromising advocate for the State of Ohio and for all who look to the state’s infrastructure to enable, not entitle, their future prosperity.

Respectfully,

John E. Fonner, P.E.