An Apology for Hiroshima is Unnecessary

Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speak May 27 with the Atomic Bomb Dome seen at rear at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan. 

Barack Obama’s recent visit to Hiroshima, Japan has resurfaced one of history’s biggest and most important debates—whether Americans were justified in dropping the first and only atomic bombs used in war on Hiroshima and its sister city Nagasaki—which killed more than 100,000 civilians instantly and many more afterward.

Many believe it was more than justified. It finally brought an end to the most destructive war the world had ever known. It saved an estimated one million American soldiers’ lives and prevented a costly invasion of the Japanese mainland, a nation that had already fallen to its knees long before.

Others will say it was unethical. It murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Some will say it was merciless and unnecessary because they were, as mentioned above, already a beaten nation by that time.

During his speech in Hiroshima, Obama did not offer any sort of apology for the unprecedented act nearly 71 years ago. And there’s no reason why he should.

It appears to me the biggest mistake that current day critics make is comparing war as we know it today to war in August 1945. No blame there. We try to imagine the situation by the standards we know of. However, the closest we come to war in modern times, whether it be the Islamic State or North Korea, cannot even begin to appear on the same scale as Imperial Japan.

Why? In the peaceful period we live in today, it is quite difficult for society to completely comprehend the extent to which Japanese forces fought and defied surrendering during World War II. We throw around the “fight to the death” expression all the time, but the Japanese clearly meant it, on a scale impossible to perceive. The U.S. government recognized this as the island hopping campaign to Japan moved along year after year. In Saipan in 1944, of the 30,000 Japanese forces who defended the island, less than 1,000 remained alive when the battle was over. At Iwo Jima, 21,000 Japanese soldiers were involved and a mere 217 were left alive to be taken prisoner. There were also the infamous, horrendous mass suicides by the Saipan civilians, who leaped from the high cliffs and fell to their deaths by the thousands, rather than be captured by the Americans. Shortly after, the perverted use of kamikaze pilots combined suicidal men with planes as guided missiles.

Then there’s the fascinating story of Hiroo Onoda, who dug himself deep into the Philippines late in the war and continued to fight, refusing to believe messages telling him the war had ended, until he finally emerged in 1974—29 years after Japan surrendered.

That kind of defiance helped beg the question: If the Japanese fought to those measures to defend a small island, how would they respond to an invasion of their homeland?

The author of a December 1946 article in The Atlantic helps answer that question. When he asked a well informed Japanese Army officer what would’ve happened had the Americans stormed the Japanese mainland, he replied, “We would have kept on fighting until all Japanese were killed, but we would not have been defeated,” meaning they would not have been disgraced by surrender.

What do you do with a spent force who won’t admit they’re spent? What do you do when relentless firebombing of Japanese cities, some of which killed more civilians than the atomic bombs themselves, does not break the enemy? The atomic bomb was the alternative.

Alright, so it was a strategic thing. It was still unethical, critics will say. War itself is unethical. There’s no way around that. And if one wants to talk about ethics, they must also examine the extreme atrocities the Japanese Empire presented in Southeast Asia. Perhaps the most known is the Rape of Nanking, in which Japanese forces murdered and raped anywhere from 40,000 to 300,000 estimated Chinese civilians. Whereas the U.S. and Japan became allies 15 years after the war, anger and resentment between Japan and China still continue eight decades later. And if there’s one thing we learned in the 20th century, civilians are no longer given immunity from the enemy. Of the 70 million people who died in World War II, more than half were civilians.

But after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. helped Japan reform its society and helped it become what it is today—the world’s fourth largest economy and the U.S.’s strongest ally in Asia and one of its best trading partners. And Japan has set an example for world peace, vying to never possess nuclear weapons of any kind.

In a way, it’s useless to argue with history. It happened. We can’t alter it now. A president can’t erase the bombings with a speech and two-hour visit.

But we debate history not to argue what should’ve or could’ve happened, but to know why it happened the way it did. And when it comes to bombing Japan, it is important we know why. While we can look back today and see it as wrong, we can use the classic “desperate times call for desperate measures,” but also, “different times call for different actions.”

Did it murder innocent people? Yes. Was it immoral? Certainly. Was it the best choice? Of course not. However, it was the only choice possible.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

On Social Media, We’re No Better Than the Politicians

Zabie Mansoory

At times long ago when politicians strongly disagreed with each other, they challenged each other to a duel. Former Vice President Aaron Burr, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and President Andrew Jackson are known well for their historic duels with their political enemies. Nowadays, our politicians use Twitter.

Whether it’s Donald Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren engaged in an endless Twitter war or the Bernie Sanders campaign posting on Facebook that the Democratic primary process is undemocratic and favors Hillary Clinton, it’s clear that social media is a vile modernization of the political duel.

And whenever there’s new drama in this year’s election, there’s the same response. The candidates, the media and everyday people will almost religiously condemn heated personal attacks and say something along the lines of “enough of the drama. The people want to focus on the issues.” Alright, that seems like a pretty fair attitude. Then we go home and turn on our computers. All of a sudden, that civility that we desire so much from our politicians no longer applies to us.

We don’t need to go to a city council meeting or attend a campaign rally to express our political beliefs anymore.  All we have to do is log onto Facebook or Twitter and post our opinions for all to see. And with more opinions comes more debates. With more debates comes more ugliness.

You don’t have to scroll far. Just find any news organization’s page, find the latest posted article or video and read the comments from average people. What you find is incredible.

In a recent visit to NBC News’ Facebook page, I scrolled through their top post’s comments. Within just a few minutes, I had read the following comments from people tearing to pieces those who support our remaining presidential candidates. On Trump, a commentator said “I can’t believe how stupid people can be to support this dipsh*t.” On Clinton, “a person would have to be brain dead to vote for Hillary.” And finally, “Sanders is a cry baby and sore loser. He’s a political carpetbagger and his supporters need to f*** off and get a job!”

And that’s just the beginning. Dozens, if not hundreds, of other people will reply to those kinds of comments and throw relentless insults at complete strangers, saying they must be a “redneck inbred” or “uneducated liberal.” It goes deeper than just political beliefs as well. Making fun of someone featured in a story who has a health problem or disability, or saying someone’s mug shot is ugly or scary is as common in a day as morning coffee.

And it is not just strangers. We probably all know someone who has been defriended or unfollowed on social media because their opinions were so different that the only solution was cutting all ties and possibly ending a friendship or relationship with a family member. It is sad that we have entered into a period where we use the Internet to enhance the principle that those who disagree with us aren’t just wrong—they are evil.

And we don’t hold back. We just type away. When a mass shooting happens, we are suddenly gun violence experts. When the stock market goes down, we suddenly become professional economists. Insult after insult and argument after argument. And no one better disagree with us or else. Who are we when that happens? Well, in essence, we are no better than the politicians we logged on to blame for that shooting or economic crisis. Indeed, we are even worse.

What gives us the right to demand that a candidate be presidential and respectful on what they post, when we can’t even do that as common citizens? Why should they always have to act proper to all of the American people when we can’t do the same with one another?

If Trump wants to tweet that he’s eating a taco bowl and that he loves Hispanics—fine. If Elizabeth Warren wants to respond by calling him a racist—let her. I’d like to believe the American people are above that sort of nonsense.

But if we aren’t, if we get caught up in the incivility that flows through cyber space, there is little dissimilarity between us and Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in their 1804 duel. Instead of revolvers, we use comment threads and news feeds. Instead of bullets, we use exaggerated or factually incorrect Internet memes. But where there is no difference between the two is that they are both dangerous—dangerous to ourselves and to our democracy.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

The Electoral College Battle Is Taking Shape

2012electoralmapresultsfinal110812More often than ever it seems, the 2016 presidential candidates love to reference national polls saying how well they do against the other in head-to-head contests.

But we all know national polls don’t matter in the slightest. It is the Electoral College and nothing else that determines the president. And while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are still technically fighting for the Democratic nomination, both Clinton and Donald Trump have begun turning the page from the primaries and looking toward that crucial electoral map. But what exactly are they looking at?

The Electoral College has been pretty stationary for some time. In the last 16 years, only ten states have changed from blue to red, and vice versa, at least one time. Essentially, we’ve been in a period where Nevada, Virginia, Ohio and the infamous Florida are the only states we can’t be sure of.

Barack Obama is only the fourth Democrat in the last hundred years to win a second term—winning more than 300 electoral votes both times—far passing the 270 needed to win. Whereas geography has benefited the Republicans the last few decades, lately the Democrats have had the advantage, thanks to demographic changes and reliability on minority votes in largely populated states. Indeed, even without the swing states of Nevada, Virginia, Ohio or Florida, the states Democrats can unmistakably win tally up to 266—only four away from what’s needed. So a Democrat only needs to win one battleground state and they’re in the White House. The good news for the Democrats is that they won all of the swing states, both in 2008 and 2012.

As comforting as that is, Democrats in 2016 are going to be on the defensive, doing what they can to protect those crucial territories. After all, they’ve won Ohio by only a few points in recent contests and Obama won Florida by only two points in 2008 and one point in 2012. Recent polls show Trump and Clinton virtually tied in both those states. The Democrats are also fighting for a third term in the White House—something that history has shown is extremely difficult to do. Obama faltered a little in 2012, where he won all the states he won in 2008 minus Indiana and North Carolina—which are probably firm red states in 2016.

So with those liabilities, the Democrats are looking elsewhere to possibly overturn a traditional Republican state. The Clinton campaign has begun targeting Georgia—hoping to capitalize on her popularity with African Americans to tip the scales. Though a long shot, her husband did pull off a win there in 1992. The only other Democrat who’s won Georgia since 1960 has been Jimmy Carter—who was governor there.

Clinton has also eyed Arizona, hoping that the growing Latino population can turn it blue like they did in neighboring New Mexico. However, it’ll probably be a few more elections before Arizona can be seriously considered in play. Then there’s her old home place—Arkansas—where Bill Clinton was governor. He won the state in 1992 and 1996 and the Clintons remain a popular powerhouse there.

Alright, what about the Republicans? It’s been eight years since they’ve held the White House and George W. Bush would’ve lost in both 2000 and 2004 if any single state he won had voted otherwise. They’ve also lost strongholds in Nevada, Virginia and New Mexico in the last decade. They’re on the offensive now. Trump is going to put a lot of energy into the usual swing states as expected—particularly Ohio, and Florida—which he considers his second home.

But Trump will likely go where no Republican has gone before—or at least not recently—and that’s the Rust Belt. Trump’s focus on trade deals has struck a chord with a lot of blue collar voters in that region who have watched factory jobs leave over the last 30 years, drying up the region’s economy. For years, Republicans have suggested they could put Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin back in their column—which is just plain fantasy. None of those states have voted for a Republican since the Reagan administration. However, Trump is the candidate who can actually make it possible, no matter the odds. Trade could be the item that makes the Democrats come running back to defend their Midwest firewall.

With his New York ties, Trump has also said he could put the Empire State in play, a state that hasn’t voted Republican since 1984. As one of the most liberal states in the nation, it seems nearly impossible, but Trump has been underestimated before. He would have to make quite the case. The billionaire is also looking toward Bush stronghold New Hampshire.

Nothing can be set in stone, however. There is a lot of time between now and November for things to happen that could change the race. But by all counts, the preliminaries are over. The state-by-state tactical battle has begun. The road to 270 is now open and it’s most likely going to be a long and bumpy ride.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Obama’s Criticism Of the Media Is Unjustified

70ee5969853b336ea61abbd55df348c3f72fd4f8Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and their supporters aren’t the only ones pointing their fingers at media coverage. President Obama has taken several swipes himself at the press lately—and they weren’t during the White House Correspondents Dinner.

About a month and a half ago at a journalism awards ceremony, the president said that “a job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It is to probe and to question and to dig deeper and to demand more.”

However, Obama isn’t exactly one to talk when it comes to journalists digging deeper and demanding more. Indeed, it is his administration that has made digging deeper much more difficult. Last year, an Associated Press study found that the administration was the most secret one out of any recent president, saying that it “more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to [journalists] under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.”

The government denied fulfilling a third of FOIA requests sent in one year’s time. Interestingly enough, on his first full day in office, Obama signed an executive order to stimulate the Freedom of Information Act, stating he would set himself and his own records “to a new standard of openness” and that “transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

His Justice Department has also cracked down on journalists and whistle blowers from leaking information. Indeed, The Washington Post vice president Leonard Downie Jr, who worked at the newspaper during its lead of the Watergate investigation, said in 2013 that Obama’s “escalating war on leaks is the most militant I have seen since the Nixon administration.”

Now, flash forward to last week, when the president lashed out at reporters again at a press conference regarding the state of the U.S. economy. Almost all of the questions asked of him were regarding the 2016 election. During his answers, Obama emphasized the seriousness that holding office brings with it and expressed his displeasure with the media’s handling of the contest thus far.

Regarding their reporting, he said, “Every candidate, every nominee needs to be subject to exacting standards and genuine scrutiny. It means you need to make sure their budgets add up. You need to make sure that if they say they have an answer to that problem that it is actually plausible and that they have details on how it would work. If it’s completely implausible and would not work, that needs to be reported on.”

To his point, he is partially correct. Not just in this election, but in past ones as well, candidates have given their stump responses to tough questions and find a way to spin it around where it benefits them. We’ve seen this in a lot in the debates in particular. Rarely do reporters ask them to clarify.

In both speeches however, Obama nudged that the media was partially responsible for the rise of Donald Trump, saying too much focus is placed on what he called the “circus” portion of the contest.

The real estate mogul is the undisputed superstar of this election cycle. You can’t go very far without a new story on something regarding what he said or if his hair is real or not. I saw a headline the other day saying “Escaping 24-Hour Coverage of Trump is Easy Only in North Korea.” Now he’s the presumptive Republican nominee. But is that really by fault of the press?

It is true that some media outlets have saturated the airwaves, newspapers and social media with free airtime for Trump for ratings purposes and clicks. It’s what people are talking about. That said, there can be no dispute that many, if not most, of Trump’s actions and statements, and those regarding him, are worthy of attention. If he makes a controversial statement, should it be kept silent? If a brawl occurs at one of his rallies, is it not unprecedented? If he has a big meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, should it not be reported on? There’s no fundamental argument that the presumptive GOP nominee should not be given sufficient coverage. He knows how to keep himself in the spotlight, and like it or not, it is the duty as journalists to report it.

There’s a reason we keep government out of our free press in this country and they do a pretty good job at taking care of themselves. The president of the United States has no place in scolding journalists and telling them how to conduct their work. Mr. Obama says he is going to spend part of the next six months on making sure the candidates are probed correctly on their words, actions and agendas. Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. President. You stick to your job at answering questions. We’ll stick to ours at asking them.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

New York Ethics Reform Needed More than Ever

Sheldon Silver

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, center, leaves court May 3 in New York.

Susan Powter isn’t the only one screaming “stop the insanity!” The citizens of New York are as well.

The amount of drama that has come out of the state legislature in the last two years has been unprecedented. And just when it looks like it’s as bad as it gets, it gets worse.

Just days before former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on corruption charges, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative is the latest item taken out of Albany’s dirty laundry basket for possible misdeeds. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign fundraising has also been under investigation the last several weeks.

There are at least six former state officials currently serving time in prison. Former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who will be sentenced later this month, is the fifth straight majority leader to be indicted. The Senate’s No. 2 person, Thomas Libous, was convicted last year of lying to the FBI. And that’s just recently. To polish it off, more than 30 state politicians have either been convicted, sanctioned or accused of wrongdoing in the last decade.

They say the first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one. In the case of Albany, recognizing there is a problem is the problem. Like a carrot dangling in front of a donkey, Cuomo and legislators keep feeding the public their broad and halfhearted promises for ethics reform and then time and again fail to deliver. They said ethics would be included in the budget. It wasn’t. Now they say they will adapt measures before the end of the legislative session—which is only a month away. A recent Siena College poll finds that 97 percent of the public want lawmakers to take steps to remove corruption before they adjourn in June.

Alas, there are still many lawmakers that either refuse to see reform as a priority or are just now realizing corruption is a problem. Silver himself, in an apology letter to the court, said “because of my actions, New York’s ethics rules were and continue to be analyzed, evaluated and criticized, everywhere…Because of me, the government has been ridiculed.”

Silver has been so sunk in Albany he is convinced that his conviction made the corruption crisis surface. Sorry, Mr. Silver. As monumental as your sentencing was, a new corrupt New York politician is as common in the news as a weather report.

So what must reform entail? For starters, enact pension exclusions for convicted public officials. It is simply ludicrous that while in prison, Silver will still receive an $80,000 yearly pension. Skelos will get $95,000 annually—all provided by New York taxpayers—many of whom will never see half that amount as a working citizen—while, you know, not breaking the law. Speaking of income, politicians shouldn’t earn an average salary of $90,000 for only six months of work and should be limited on outside income. Many scandals have come about due to jobs outside of the Capitol.

The state must also close the LLC loophole, which allows big donors and special interests to circumvent the state’s campaign finance limits and funnel millions of dollars to the candidates of their choice. Then, create an independent ethics panel to find and remove the dirty weeds from government. And actually make it independent—not a panel whose members are appointed by chamber leaders or the governor, like the current Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

It’s more than just keeping the money out of politics, however. It’s also about sending a message—a message to those who have committed these crimes and to those who might still.

While in court, both Sheldon and Skelos maintained they had done nothing wrong—their defense literally being that their illegal acts were business as usual in Albany.

The New York Times recently published a piece on former state politicians behind bars. Efraín González Jr., an ex-senator who was convicted in 2009 of using funds donated to a non-profit to pay for over $37,000 in personal expenses, said this about Silver and Skelos.“I wouldn’t say they were crooks. Everybody does all that. It’s, ‘I help you, you help me.’ So what is that? Politics.”

That kind of thinking is exactly why ethics reform is needed. Corruption can no longer be defended by “well, he’s doing it, so why can’t I?” That’s a pitiful defense for any crime, let alone someone of this merit.

It’s time to put a stop to that kind of normal. Because it’s not just about the legislation. It’s about reminding our elected officials that illegal acts have consequences and that they are required to use their office to benefit their constituents, not themselves. That, Mr. González, is what “politics” is supposed to be and that’s the politics that New Yorkers want and deserve.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Election 2016—The Lesser of Two Evils?

donald-trump-hillary-clinton-impossible-choiceWell, here we are. Ten months after he announced his candidacy for the highest office in the land, a candidacy that so many either rolled their eyes or rolled on the floor laughing at, Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee.

Even though she lost the Indiana primary, Hillary Clinton will likely clinch her party’s nomination, as  we set ourselves up for the Clinton and Trump contest that seemed inevitable for some time now.

But it’s also the contest that many have feared. Part of what makes this election different is that both presumptive nominees of both major parties are extremely well-known—a former first lady and presidential contender, and a real estate mogul and television celebrity. So they’re probably two of the most famous people to run, but they’re also two of the most unpopular people to run. An April 7 Associated Press poll shows that 55 percent of Americans have a negative opinion of Hillary Clinton and 69 percent of Donald Trump. The two who got the most votes are the two that most voters don’t want. So how did we get here?

Well, both candidates have left a lot in their wake. Trump may have barnstormed his way to the nomination, but he burned a lot of bridges getting there. His various actions, rhetoric and policy proposals, or lack there of, has caused him to be dismissed by the two previous GOP nominees, GOP Washington insiders, GOP state lawmakers and of course, many voters. Indeed, a former John McCain aide said Tuesday that he will be supporting Clinton. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday he isn’t quite ready to get behind Trump. For most of the primary calendar, the front-runner had to fend off the “never Trump” movement—just from members of his own party. Now he’ll be forced to battle the same objective with a general electorate.

While the Republicans look fractured, the Democrats aren’t exactly all holding hands. Clinton may more-or-less have the nomination, but Bernie Sanders still has the money and the momentum. He’s also favored to win several coming primaries—West Virginia and Oregon. It’s going to be a tad awkward for Clinton to be preparing for November when her opponent is still out there in May winning states. Clinton has also not put much effort into coalescing Sanders supporters to her cause. She expects them to simply fall in line. Political pundits say the same resilience occurred against Barack Obama among Clinton supporters after he beat her for the nomination in 2008, but eventually they rallied behind him. But this isn’t 2008. Clinton and Sanders are extremely different candidates with different ideals. And if Sanders goes all the way to the convention like he says he is, she’ll have a big wound to heal.

Stabilizing followers is one thing, but their biggest obstacle among the public is, of course, themselves. They are their own worst enemy. As stated, they are two of the most famous people ever to run. They aren’t a one-term senator like Obama or a former governor like Mitt Romney who essentially climbed out of the woodwork. Clinton and Trump have humongous negatives stacked against them, some of which have been known for a very long time.

For the better part of a year, the former secretary of state has faced backlash from the private server email situation. While her Democratic counterpart hasn’t made it an issue during the campaign, it is sure to be the first bullet in Trump’s ammunition against her. Trump doesn’t have a Justice Department green light either. He still has the Trump University civil lawsuit hanging over him. Either one of these cases could blow up any day of the week and change the race.

Going back further, Clinton faces criticism from legislation passed during her husband’s administration—everything from NAFTA, to deregulating the big banks to the 1994 crime bill. Then there’s the various scandals during and before that era—Whitewater, Travelgate and several extramarital affair allegations.

Trump has his financial and business past to haunt him. Trump Airlines, Trump Vodka, Trump Magazine, Trump Steaks and the aforementioned Trump University have questionable successes and approval ratings by the Better Business Bureau. In his March anti-Trump speech, Mitt Romney said “A business genius he is not.” Mr. Trump has also still not released any of his tax returns and has been slammed for employing illegal immigrants while publicly threatening to deport them.

Then there’s perhaps but matters most to voters in this election—authenticity. Both are vulnerable as vulnerable can get in this category. Trump will dismiss any criticism as a lie. Clinton finds herself constantly apologizing for her actions or words. I myself have lost count how many times Trump “didn’t hear the question too well” and how many times Clinton has “misspoken.”

Despite all of that, these two started at the top and are still there, beating many odds against them. America now has a choice. And many don’t like the options. Do we pick the crook or the cuckoo? The liar or the lunatic? Let’s face it. Many voters will have to pick the lesser of two evils. And as they say, choosing the lesser of two evils is still a choice for evil.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

N.Y. Manufacturing Should Look Forward, Not Back

YST_Campbell070472sDespite the polarization and divisive policies that we see day to day between the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, there is one common ground they have found throughout the campaign—especially in New York. They have promised to bring manufacturing jobs back.

New York lost 294,500 manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010. While there’s been some recovery since then, it’s not a new problem. The state has seen a 75 percent decline in manufacturing jobs since 1979. Small cities like Syracuse, Rochester, and Binghamton that once gave birth to company giants like Kodak, IBM, and Xerox have become crumbling cities of the Rust Belt. Bustling factories that once employed thousands have turned into empty lots.

Yet the presidential hopefuls believe they can wave a magic wand and bring manufacturing jobs back and then think it will stimulate the economy. Hillary Clinton has been piggy-backing on her Senate job creation promise with her “Make it in America” initiative. Donald Trump has criticized trade deals for the job loss, saying “Don’t leave Rochester! I’m telling you, I will bring it back so fast.”

It’s no mistake. Manufacturing made New York stand out once upon a time. Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 called it “Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley.” But that was a different time. Just as Kodak failed to grasp digital camera technology and held onto its film-based business model, New York held on too long to what it was good at instead of what it needed.

It would seem the quick fix is to bring the manufacturers back. It isn’t that simple.

First of all, factories aren’t hiring the numbers they used to. In 1980, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average manufacturing factory had 61 employees. By 2014, the average had dropped to 36. There are still places that employ thousands of workers, but a lot of those jobs have been outsourced to foreign shores due to globalization.

But the jobs that are still here don’t reflect the nostalgic images we picture when thinking of the industry in the 20th century. While the factories of the past spurred a large middle class with a more than livable wage, the average job in the industry, adjusted for inflation, now pays less than it did in the mid-1970s. Revitalizing manufacturing would boost employment levels, but not to the extent it did before.

Not only are the jobs not there, but those who would take the jobs if whisked back to New York aren’t there either. At the industry’s peak in the early 1980s, nearly half of manufacturing workers were Baby Boomers — about the same percentage that generation represented in the overall labor force. Now that the very youngest of the Baby Boomers are 50 years old or older, younger generations are accounting for more.

Nowadays, it is much harder to get by without a college degree. Thirty-five years ago, nearly three-quarters of manufacturing workers had only a high school degree and almost a third hadn’t graduated from high school. By 2014, more than half the employees in factory jobs had some amount of post-secondary schooling. This means manufacturing can’t be a strong provider for entry-level jobs like it once was.

Furthermore, young workers are less likely to go into the manufacturing circuit. More of them are attending college than any other previous generation before and only 22 percent of millennials currently hold jobs in manufacturing. And many of them aren’t sticking around New York either. About 20 percent of those who moved out of the state in 2015 were between the ages of 18 and 34.

Add in the fact that a lot of the brute human labor that used to cover factory floors has been replaced with automation and computers—which has created a manufacuturing decline worldwide. The results from forcing it back to the state would hardly match the efforts.

So what made New York a manufacturing metropolis in the first place? Its ability to look ahead. The state took advantage of its location and resources and used them to create products people needed and would need for a long time. That innovation led to IBM, Kodak and Xerox. And it can again. And it already is.

Solar power is in its youth, but will likely grow into a massive generator of energy in the coming decades. It’s why North America’s biggest solar panel factory for the SolarCity company is being built in Buffalo. Why there? Location. Buffalo ranked fourth among U.S. cities with the highest potential to meet its electricity demand with rooftop solar systems.

It’s why Rochester will soon be home to a Photonics Manufacturing Institute, laying groundwork for how light can be used to produce energy. It’s why Utica is getting a computer chip plant and a power electronics research facility. It’s why some are eyeing the state’s water supply and the possibility that the state could become a primary provider of fresh water that businesses everywhere require.

Essentially, it isn’t manufacturing itself that’s changing, but what’s being made and how. It’s easy to look back and see what worked before. But that doesn’t mean it still does.

New York is at a cross roads between what it has been and what it will be. If the wrong one is picked, it will continue to suffocate an already dying economy. If the right one is picked, the state has a chance to reinvent itself and remind its citizens of what a leader and opportune place it can be.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88