Katharine Herrup http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup Wed, 09 Nov 2011 23:26:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.5 Opportunity nation? http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/11/09/opportunity-nation/ http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/11/09/opportunity-nation/#comments Wed, 09 Nov 2011 20:52:19 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/?p=194 America’s biggest race is just beginning. It’s the race to create equal opportunity in our nation once again and to restore the belief that the American Dream can still be achieved.

Disillusionment, despair and unemployment hold court these days in a country that was once thought of as a place where dreams could be turned into reality. But the reality right now, despite unemployment numbers dropping by a statistically insignificant .1% on Friday from 9.1% to 9%, is that job and life opportunities are dismal, even non-existent for many, in what once was thought of as the land of endless opportunity.

So what does opportunity look like these days in a country that’s barely recognizable anymore?

For Luis Ubinas, who came to New York as a child with his parents and lived in alphabet city on the Lower East Side, it is “the unshakable belief that the next day will be better.” Ubinas, who has gone on to become the president of the Ford Foundation, says that “opportunity is synonymous with what brought my family to this country.” In other words, hope. Hope of a better, richer, fuller life.

Watch live streaming video from opportunitynation at livestream.com

But hope has flown out the window for many in America. Which is why Opportunity Nation, an organization dedicated to creating more opportunity, jobs and social mobility in America, put on their first summit in New York last Friday at Columbia University. Under their parent organization, Be the Change, Opportunity Nation is developing a diverse, star-powered coalition from across all sectors that works in unison to help solve what’s ailing this great nation of ours. “Bi-partisanship is our sweet spot,” says Mark Edwards, the executive director of Opportunity Nation.

This comes just in time as Obama recently declared at a private fundraiser in Washington, D.C., that the biggest task for him is to fix the horribly extreme stifling, stagnate, and suffocating bipartisanship in U.S. politics.

It used to be that if you worked hard and played by the rules, anyone could get ahead. But the rules have become so twisted that now only a few benefit and prosper from them. The majority gets left behind. We no longer live in a fair — or democratic — system. As the president of Catholic Charities Reverend Larry Snyder said, “We live in a world of broken promises.” So it’s easy to understand why people feel so hopeless.

“In the 60s and 70s, when I was growing up in India, everyone looked to the States for the answer,” said journalist Fareed Zakaria. “It embodied optimism, energy and dynamism. Today, it’s pessimism and despair.”

“Everyone likes to say ‘this time is different’,” Zakaria noted, “but this time it is different. The challenges the U.S. faces is different from 10, 20, 50 years ago. [Today], it’s a unique constellation of forces that are working for the worst.”

But just because we may be entering the worst of times, doesn’t mean we need to panic.

“Don’t be scared, fearful or anxious; just recognize it’s different this time,” Zakaria said. “We don’t have to run scared, but we do have to run fast.”

Time is certainly of the essence. And, in fact, the worst of times can coincide with the best of times, as Charles Dickens so aptly noted. Although there’s much more to fix this time around than just two cities.

For Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg this is the time to fight against poverty, increase our appetite for innovation and fix the country’s immigration system. If we don’t do this, we won’t be starting the next Google, he says.

“It’s time to show this is still the land of opportunity,” Bloomberg said. “It’s time to show we aren’t giving up on any American. Don’t let anybody tell you this isn’t the right time. This is the right time.”

To see what sort of opportunity exits in your very own neighborhood, Opportunity Nation teamed up with the Human Development Project to build an Opportunity Index for all 50 states and 2,400 counties in America. All you have to do is type in your zip code and you’ll see how your area compares with others. Opportunity in the index was measured in three main ways — the robustness of the local economy, access to a high quality education, and community life and civic help, meaning access to physicians, safety and crime numbers, volunteer opportunities, supermarket choices, Internet connections and social bonds, trust and networks in the neighborhood.

Nevada was ranked the worst state — it scored a 21.3 out of 100 — because of the low level of children in school, the bad access to doctors and food, and the small amount of community participation. Connecticut received the highest overall score of 89 points.

“We look beyond what a person can do,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, the co-director of the American Human Development Project and lead researcher for the Opportunity Index. “Instead, we ask, ‘what are the institutions and conditions that can help people?’”

Ubinas, who spoke at the summit, thinks institutions such as small businesses and public education can help mend and advance this country forward. Hope still exists for him, particularly in the condition and financial savings of the individual. “The only way this country works is the spirit of the individual driving growth,” Ubinas told me. “The solution to this crises sits in this notion of opportunity to create and innovate.” And, how exactly is that done, I asked him? Through a shot at education, access to credit and simple acts of encouragement, Ubinas said.

“The idea that the American spirit of entrepreneurship isn’t thriving is wrong,” Ubinas said. “Nearly 550,000 small business were created in 2010. If 1 out of 10 succeed, that’s half a million jobs.”

Marquis Cabrera, an Opportunity Scholar, can be counted as one of those entrepreneurs. He has never given up. Although he was sent to work as a teenager by his drug-addicted mother, brought home his earnings to her and was always told that she would buy groceries with them, she never did. The one day he did buy groceries with his hard earned money because he was so hungry, his mother flew into a rage and went after him with a butcher knife. Cabrera eventually found his way to a nurturing foster home. Today, he has started a non-profit that helps children in foster care.

“We have 14 million unemployed right now,” former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao told me. “We need a quantum jump in jobs. But there’s still a jobs gap — we don’t have workers with the right skills. We need higher skilled workers, which means more education and better job training that is relevant to today’s work and that incorporates employers into the system as well.”

Jobs, job training and education is what Chao thinks will preserve the country she, her mother and two sisters immigrated to from Taiwan when she was 8 years old.

Access to education and credit are certainly important ingredients to helping America move forward, but the missing components for those two items are quality and fairness. A solid public education in this country is, at best, shaky, and equal access to decent credit is an even more slippery slope.

All of the issues raised at the summit are enormous societal issues that need to be attacked from all sides and sectors — education, economy, private, public, left, right. It will require the various groups to acknowledge that we have incredibly serious matters that will quickly become grave ones if we don’t band together to address pressing common needs — and rights.

Personal finance guru to some, Suze Orman, who also spoke at the summit, said, “We cannot ask our nation to pick us up; it takes one person to do that.” But that is exactly the opposite of what the summit was asking us to do. It is clear that we are a nation of Humpty Dumptys. We need to pick ourselves up, but in doing so we also need to help each other put ourselves back together again.

So how is Opportunity Nation going to help us do that? They are in the midst of creating a plan with their bipartisan partners, writing new policy, and, come spring, will go to our presidential candidates to say, “here’s our plan for opportunity. What’s yours?”

The most practical solution I heard all day was when I was in line for the ladies room and one woman said, “Someone should figure out a way to design a woman’s bathroom so that there aren’t always lines for it. Now, that’s an opportunity.”

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Is the world any closer to closing the gender gap? http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2011/11/01/is-the-world-any-closer-to-closing-the-gender-gap/ http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/11/01/is-the-world-any-closer-to-closing-the-gender-gap/#comments Tue, 01 Nov 2011 19:51:54 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/11/01/is-the-world-any-closer-to-closing-the-gender-gap/ The World Economic Forum (WEF) is out with its 6th annual Global Gender Gap report. The report measures how equitably countries are distributing their resources between women and men — regardless of their level of resources.

“By and large, the trends are positive,” one of the authors of the report Saadia Zahidi, who is the senior director at WEF, told correspondent Reuters Michelle Nichols. “85% of the 135 countries listed have made progress.”

Over the last six years, the gaps in health and education between men and women have been closed by 96% and 93%, respectively. However, the gaps in economic participation and political empowerment are much greater — 59% and 18%, respectively, over the last six years.

“While women are as healthy and educated as men, they’re clearly not being channeled into the economy or decision making structures,” Zahidi said.

Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Ireland are ranked as the top five countries while Saudi Arabia, Mali, Pakistan, Chad and Yemen are at the very bottom.

Why so many Nordic countries at the top? Zahidi says they have a long history of equality between women and men and, additionally, have removed the barriers to economic participation of women by making it possible to combine family and work. But gender equality doesn’t have to be a luxury good. In fact, if poor countries make it a part of their development they can actually grow faster, says Zahidi.

“Closing the gender gap is fundamental to country competitiveness and its long-term growth prospects,” Zahidi says. “There’s an objective tool now for countries to track their progress over time.”

Watch (above) what Zahidi told Nichols, who wrote about the the 2011 Global Gender Gap report.

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Are corporations really occupying #OccupyWallStreet? http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/10/19/are-corporations-really-occupying-occupywallstreet/ http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/10/19/are-corporations-really-occupying-occupywallstreet/#comments Wed, 19 Oct 2011 16:11:56 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/?p=180 There are two stories about the corporate hijacking of #OccupyWallStreet on Reuters.com. One piece talks about how U.S. ice cream maker Ben & Jerry is making a laughing stock of the protestors by issuing a statement in support of the protest:

The directors of the board of ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s released a statement saying they were supporting the protest.

But this corporate alignment doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect. Instead of drumming up support for the protestors it has made them something of a laughing stock. Papers, blogs and TV reports are running competitions for the best flavour ice-cream Ben & Jerry’s could create to honour the protests (ocu-pie is gaining some traction). But all of this is distracting from promoting the protestors’ aims and message.

By the way, here is the link to Ben & Jerry’s official statement. I agree with Kathleen that having corporate support would doom the protest if the corporation were, say, Bank of America, for instance, but Ben & Jerry’s is no Bank of America.

All that Ben & Jerry’s board is saying is this: “We, the Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors, compelled by our personal convictions and our Company’s mission and values, wish to express our deepest admiration to all of you who have initiated the non-violent Occupy Wall Street Movement.” Besides, Ben & Jerry’s is not donating money to help fund the protests (at least not yet). So how exactly does a company that’s lobbied for a Constitutional amendment that would limit corporate spending in elections hijack a protest that would fight for that mission as well?

Yes, Ben & Jerry’s sold out to Unilever, a Dutch-British corporation with headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands. But Ben & Jerry’s was founded with a distinct social mission, which they’ve held on to despite the buy-out. And, despite being part of a global conglomerate now, Ben & Jerry’s is a company that’s long been associated with tie-die loving, beard rebelling, free loving Vermont hippies. The difference in their support is that the company isn’t out to rape people of their money.

Meanwhile, this piece claims the protests are shallow because how can the protestors be against corporations when so many of them love and use products by Apple, a huge U.S. corporation?

While the new movement is undoubtedly counter-cultural, corporate leaders and politicians have learned how to co-opt such incoherent anti-establishment sentiments. Apple, for example, has done brilliantly by combining high tech, high prices and a veneer of counter-culture. Occupy participants use more than their share of Apple products.

Indeed, the grief over the death of Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, gives a more accurate cultural reading than Occupy. The college dropout who wandered to Asia looking for enlightenment became a hero for many of the 99 percent. They may feel oppressed by the state of the economy, but they sense they have more to lose than to gain from any substantial change in the system that has provided iPhones and iPads. So what does OWS signify? The shallowness of our discontent.

Yes, Apple’s products are relatively expensive, but their products are meant to make the customer’s life better, not worse. Moreover, like Ben & Jerry’s, Apple stands for something good — “Think Different” is their slogan and the recently deceased Apple CEO Steve Jobs made products with the intention to help people and to simplify their life. You can’t say that all the fine writing on bank statements has ever made anyone’s life easier or better.

For the most part, Occupy Wall Street protestors are protesting against corrupt companies, mainly financial service ones, whose “products” — credit default swaps, mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations — made a few people’s lives richer at the expense of damaging many people’s lives entirely.

To say that “corporate” support of the Occupy Wall Street Protests is actually harming the protests or “co-opt[s] such incoherent anti-establishment sentiments” conflates the issue. The protestors are protesting corporations that knowingly, willingly and deliberately harm people.

The only potential harm from Ben & Jerry’s is that if you constantly eat way too much of their ice cream, it will probably make you gain weight. But the company isn’t out to make people obese. Meanwhile, Apple’s products are used to inform and educate people. So I don’t see how being associated with either of those two companies, particularly one that promotes education, knowledge and thought, can weaken a protest or some other mission for that matter that supports education, equality, general goodness and well-being.

Illustration by Roman Genn.

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Will the next Steve Jobs be a woman? http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/10/10/will-the-next-steve-jobs-be-a-woman/ http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/10/10/will-the-next-steve-jobs-be-a-woman/#comments Mon, 10 Oct 2011 21:53:33 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/?p=146 There seems to be a dearth of leadership these days. Even more so now that Apple CEO Steve Jobs is no longer with us.

Americans aren’t just worried about who might become the next Steve Jobs; there’s a lack of leaders across the board. No political “leader” — in the U.S., Europe and many other places — seems willing to step up to the plate. There’s a lack of leadership for the protest taking place on Wall Street. And there’s a lack of corporate leadership – banks seem unwilling to admit their mistakes, correct their wrongs and start down a fresh path.

It’s men who got us into this economic crisis and it’s been women who’ve been bailing us out of it. Author and columnist Michael Lewis aptly notes: “The Icelandic tycoons were a parody of Americans. The interesting thing is that they were all men.”

So where can we find new and necessary leaders? If you’re author Anne Doyle, you can find them in women.

Despite all the progress women have made there are still too few women leaders – especially in business, politics and technology. Out of the Fortune 500 companies 15 are run by women. Other top positions at corporations are also still dominated by men.

In U.S. politics, there are 93 women in Congress – 76 in the House and 17 in the Senate – out of a total of 535 members. On a more granular level, the National Journal counts 13 women who hold high-level White House positions. Worse, in his new book, “Confidence Men”, Ron Suskind recounts a senior female aid who said that the current White House is a difficult place for women to work. And senior adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett has admitted there is tension between the sexes.

Doyle isn’t on a “woe is woman” type of rant, as can easily be detected with the title of her recent book, “Powering Up! How America’s Women Achievers Become Leaders”. In it, Doyle talks about what it was like to spend her life making her way to the top in the male-dominated corporate worlds of sports media and the auto industry. Eventually, she became a sports broadcaster for CBS and the Director of North America Communications at Ford Motor Company. She relays stories of what it’s like to survive – and thrive – in such testosterone filled worlds, the lessons she has learned from it, and how women can navigate through it. But, Doyle’s main focus is on why there’s still a black hole of female leadership and, more importantly, how to fill it.

The vacuum of female leadership exists in part because the old boys club is very much alive and kicking, Doyle says. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” is quite prevalent among men and not prevalent enough between men and women or women and women.

It’s not as if there aren’t any female leaders though. Christine Lagarde is now the head of the IMF, Arianna Huffington created The Huffington Post, sold it to AOL for $315 million and is now launching Le Huffington Post in France. Hillary Clinton, who has long been a strong advocate for and supporter of the advancement of women in all sectors and countries, is a great role model by showing that women can pave a prominent road for themselves.

Women are also on the rise in the world of technology. Meg Whitman was recently appointed the CEO of Hewlett Packard. Sheryl Sandberg, the former vice president of operations at Google, is now the chief operating officer at Facebook. Ken Auletta recently wrote about her ascension in Silicon Valley’s male-oriented culture. There are plenty of other examples, but, sadly, these women are anomalies, not the norm.

Moreover, women still have to rely on men in order to get ahead. Sandberg had the good fortune of having a powerful male boss, Larry Summers, mentor her career. Hillary Clinton has been quite successful, but would she be as successful if she were not married to Bill Clinton? That’s a harder one to answer, but it’s not as hard to answer for someone like Melinda Gates. Gates has become quite a prominent leader on global health issues, but mainly because of her husband, Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Doyle admits that she never could have made it as a sports broadcaster were it not for her father, who had been a sports broadcaster himself and then the president of the sports broadcaster association in Detroit, where she was eventually hired by CBS in 1987. Doyle’s father was a great mentor to her and helped her open the door to the men’s locker room. But it was Doyle who had to step into the locker room all by herself and prove that she deserved to be in it.

In the tech world, where women are few and far between, Esther Dyson says it’s because there’s a lack of “venture” mentors for men and women alike. It’s hard for women to run, let alone start, a technology company because most angel investors are men and most of them invest in male pitched or run ventures, says Founder and CEO of Honestly Now, Tereza Nemessanyi. But, she adds, there’s no reason the next Apple or Google can’t be started by a woman.

Some men may fear that the rise of women coincides with the exclusion of men, but Doyle is here to reassure us that this certainly is not the case — there’s plenty of room for men to share the space with women. Helping women shouldn’t come at the expense of men, but rather the inclusion of them. Doyle says the new role men need to play is to be part of a supportive environment that not only helps women become leaders but also helps create an environment that isn’t hostile to them once they reach the top. And, once they get there it’s important, arguably imperative, says Doyle, for women not to blend in with the men, but to maintain her “womaninity”, as Doyle calls it.

“Women bring different skills to the workplace that men don’t,” Doyle says. “We know that now with all the research and science. It’s not that one’s better than the other; we complement each other; so when it’s uneven, it’s dysfunctional.”

Men not making room for women is not the only reason for the lack of female leadership. Doyle thinks there’s a complacency among women to make further strides because women have achieved so much already. There’s a feeling that if we maintain, we’ll do just fine, she says. But women are starting to lose ground. For the first time in 30 years we’ve lost women in Congress. And, for the most part, corporate executives are still mostly men.

“In the last four decades we have become a nation of high achieving women – highly educated, aspiring, skilled professional,” Doyle says. “But for all of our numbers and achievements we are leadership underachievers.”

No one – whether male or female – can simply afford to maintain, especially in the current economic environment. No matter how much progress one makes, we have to keep in mind that there will always be more progress to make. You can’t stop even when you get to the top.

Although Doyle breaks down how to become a leader with seven different general guidelines in her book, there aren’t any easy ways or detailed answers for how you become a leader in real life. Every person who’s gotten there has their own story. The concern, then, is how you become successful in that leadership position.

The not-so-secret answer is that the higher up you go in the world of business, the more coaching and mentoring you receive. Some companies have corporate leadership programs for their high-level executives, some have training programs for employees (which, like most things, can be useless or helpful), and some will even pay their highest level executives to meet with a personal development coach. The more individually-tailored coaching you can receive, generally, the more productive it is.

The sad secret is that mentors, coaches, godfathers – whatever you want to call them – are becoming more and more rare for aspiring employees. But companies should not lose sight of their in-house talent – whether it already exists or needs to be developed — says consultant Wes Siegel. You can, of course, hire your very own personal career or life coach out of your own pocket. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of some woman’s, or more likely, man’s benevolence.

In the end, though, there’s no better person to help you than you. You are your own best friend (and worst enemy). If there’s something or someone standing in your way, the first place to look may be the mirror. To be sure, becoming a successful leader often means going through a very discouraging and humbling process, with plenty of failures along the way. Doyle says that if you have not failed big time then you don’t know what your limits are, and leaders should know their limits. But never give up on achieving your dreams, she says. Picking yourself up when you do fail, no matter how many times that may be, is the only known recipe for success.

Photos, top to bottom: U.S. entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari gestures in her space suit at Baikonur cosmodrome September 4, 2006. Ansari, a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin, will become the world’s first female space tourist when she blasts off aboard a Russian rocket on September 14. REUTERS/Sergei Remezov; Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, speaks at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Half Moon Bay, California, July 22, 2008. REUTERS/Kimberly White; The opening ceremony of the CeBIT computer fair, the world’s largest IT fair, in Hanover March 1, 2010. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

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Boatlifters: The unknown story of 9/11 http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/09/09/boatlifters-the-unknown-story-of-911/ http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/09/09/boatlifters-the-unknown-story-of-911/#comments Fri, 09 Sep 2011 15:31:32 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/?p=121 By Katharine Herrup
The opinions expressed are her own.

Much has been written and said about September 11, 2001, on the occasion of its 10th anniversary, but one story much less known is the one about the band of boats that came together to rescue nearly 500,000 New Yorkers from the World Trade Center site on the day the towers collapsed.

It was the largest boatlift ever to have happened – greater than the one at Dunkirk during World War II. Yet somehow a story of such large scale became lost in all the rubble. But a new 10-minute documentary called Boatlift by Eddie Rosenstein captures the boat evacuations that happened on 9/11. The film is part of four new short documentaries that were created for the 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Summit in Washington, D.C.

“Boats, usually an afterthought in most New Yorkers minds, were, for the first time in over a century, the only way in or out of lower Manhattan,” says Tom Hanks, the narrator of the film.

New Yorkers don’t really think of Manhattan as an island since everything from the basics to beyond your wildest imagination is so accessible — not typically a feature associated with island life. But on September 11, 2001, those trapped below the World Trade Center site who could not escape without swimming or being rescued by a boat were acutely reminded of that fact.

“People were actually jumping into the river and swimming  out of Manhattan. Boats were very nearly running them over,” says NY Waterway Captain Rick Thornton in the film.

The captains and crew of the fleet of boats who rescued so many on 9/11 came together with no idea what they would be getting into and no idea whether Manhattan would be attacked again let alone their very own boats. All they knew were that desperate people were in need of help and they couldn’t turn their backs on them, even if that meant putting their own lives at risk.

“If it floated, and it could get there, it got there,” engineer of the Mary Gellatly Robin Jones recalls.

“I never want to say the word ‘I should have’,” says Vincent Ardolino, captain of the Amberjack V. “I tell my children the same thing, never go through life saying you should have. If you want to do something, you do it.”

The New York Waterway, the Coast Guard, ferries, tug boats, private boats, party boats, small professional diving boats, and more ferried hundreds of thousands of people to Staten Island, Brooklyn, upper Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens in less than nine hours. Their crews are typical (in every best sense of the word) New Yorkers and ordinary civilians who came together after a distress call came in from the U.S. Coast Guard in New York.

“I’ve never seen so many tug boats all at once,” captain of the Staten Island Ferry James Parese says. “I worked on the water for 28 years, I’ve never seen that many boats come together at one time that fast. One radio call and they just all came together,” Jones said.

Perhaps one of the most amazing aspects of this mass-scale operation was that were no evacuation plans for such a rescue. “You couldn’t have planned nothing to happen that fast that quick,” Jones said.

It was the ethic code of the seas that made the boat rescues such a success. If a boat needed refueling, another one would pull up alongside it and give it 10,000 gallons of fuel with no questions asked or no one asking for payment. If a woman in a wheelchair needed to be lifted over the fence on the water’s edge to get into one of the boats, there were more than enough hands to help lift her. If people were stranded on a ledge by the water, they would get picked up by a boat. No one was left behind.

One of the arresting images in the film was of a massive throng of people pressed up against and even hanging over the rails along the water waving their hands, hoping someone would come to their rescue. They were at land’s end in downtown Manhattan, no easy place to conduct any sort of boat rescue since there aren’t many docking places or spots to put a boat ramp.

It was a day that lots of local, ordinary people become heroes. It was a day that was supposed to tear America apart, but instead brought Americans together. It was a day that brought out the best in many people.

“We wanted to tell a story that reminds Americans that this is a country that bounces back from adversity,” the President of the Center for National Policy Stephen Flynn, who had been a U.S. Coast Guard officer, told me. “Our national DNA is resilience. The key for us is to move forward with some key lessons and one of the lessons missing is the strength of civil society and how it responded when 9/11 happened.”

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What we can learn from Canadians http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2011/08/24/what-we-can-learn-from-canadians/ http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/08/24/what-we-can-learn-from-canadians/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2011 21:19:05 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/08/24/what-we-can-learn-from-canadians/ By Katharine Herrup
The opinions expressed are her own.


This piece is part of a great debate we are having on Reuters around Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. Here are pieces by Diane Ravitch, Joel Klein, Deborah Meier among many others.

There is a debate, if that’s what you can even call it, raging in America about how to improve our public education system. While disparate groups rip each other apart, it would seem wise to look to our neighbors to the north. Americans love to casually pick on Canadians, but we should be seriously analyzing their public school system, which has emerged as one of the most successful school systems in the world.

Why? Because all constituents – teachers, teacher unions, school boards, the government — work together. At least, that is the explanation given by Canadian Teachers’ Federation President Paul Taillefer. It’s also because there is required rigorous training for teachers — not just before you can become a teacher, but throughout their entire career.

In Canada, there is a concurrent teacher training program for undergraduates who know that they want to be a teacher once they graduate or there are teacher colleges where you go for either a year or two of training, depending upon which Canadian province you live in, that Canadians must attend before they become a teacher.

“Good teacher development and ongoing development while you are a teacher is one of the key components in making our education system successful,” Taillefer said. “Making sure that teachers are well-prepared to face the challenges is very important.”

But it’s not just training teachers that makes the Canadian school system arguably better than America’s; it’s also because of how they train them. Taillefer believes his country’s system is so successful because they have been able to reduce the impact of socioeconomic status in their students’ education and they tailor their teaching to meet the needs of their diverse student population and communities:

Even though we have a large immigrant population, teachers are trained to meet the needs of the people that come into the country and the particular students in the classes. There are different learning needs and styles that have to be addressed.

While Americans may shy away from comparing our system to Finland’s, Andy Hargreaves at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College (in the U.S.) does not do so when it comes to Canada. What makes Finland and Canada’s school systems more successful, he argues, is that both countries value teachers and professional training for them. Moreover, Hargreaves says their pay is acceptable, working conditions are favorable, facilities are good and there are all kinds of opportunities for teachers to improve their practice. Most importantly, perhaps, there is discretion for teachers to make their own judgments.

Why that is perhaps the most important aspect of those two education systems is because teacher autonomy, or, at least, teachers’ voices, are crucial to education reform. Education reform has failed in countries where the teacher voice is absent – and also where teacher unions are absent. “When teacher morale is good, a lot more gets done,” Taillefer says.

He notes that Steven Brill, in his piece for Reuters.com on education reform, ultimately makes the same point – that teachers are the classroom experts and we have to keep them involved if we want to positively move things forward.

Where Brill’s argument falls down for Taillefer is his point about teacher unions being the main stumbling block of moving education reform forward. Quality teaching, which involves attracting and retaining strong teachers, and which Brill talks about in his piece and new book “Class Warfare” is a crucial aspect of any school system, and unions are critical to doing just that – attracting and retaining good teachers.

An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report states the importance of teacher engagement in school reform. “School reform will not work unless it comes from the bottom up,” says Taillefer, “which means working with the people on the ground and those people are the teachers.”

But there are a number of points that Brill brings up in his piece that don’t make his case or fit his conclusion says Taillefer. While Brill does mention the importance of collaborative work, Taillefer does not agree with the way Brill suggests getting teachers, teacher unions and ministries of education to work together.

“Unions are definitely not the enemy,” says Taillefer, who was an English high school teacher for 20-plus years in Timmins, Canada. He says teacher unions definitely have a role to play and have a number of different hats to wear – not just a labor one:

Here in Canada, unions are additional qualification providers as well so teachers can take professional development courses through their union. We work on the labor side of things, but also in teacher upgrade and preparedness. We give teachers the tools to succeed in the classroom when it comes to facing the different challenges. When engaged positively, teacher unions will have a salutary effect on classroom and teacher experience.

What also makes the teacher experience different in Canada is that they are in a supportive environment says Taillefer. Part of where the contention comes in for teachers in America are teacher evaluations, which Brill talks about, and which can be tied to their pay. In Canada, it is not. Their teacher salaries there are not tied into student test scores. Instead, teacher evaluations are meant to help the teacher; not to intimidate or provoke fear. Taillefer explains:

What teacher evaluations are meant to do here in Canada is improve a teacher’s progress – it’s meant to support the teacher. The idea is that we want to make teachers have all the right support for what they were hired to do. There is even a teacher induction program for a teacher’s first year in some provinces that provide additional support for them and assign them mentors. It’s a very supportive process. It’s a process that’s meant to make them better teachers – not a system that’s meant to threaten or intimidate them.

That doesn’t mean teachers can’t be fired though, which is another area where Brill has a bone to pick in the U.S. system. If teachers in Canada don’t improve after help and training, they will get fired Taillefer says:

As a previous local union leader I’m aware of teachers that were let go by a school board after a teacher evaluation process. People who do not have the right stuff do not remain in the profession, but those that can be helped receive it.

What makes Canada’s teacher unions different from America’s, Taillefer says, is that they listen to all the rest of the organizations that make up the school system because the end goal – for everyone – is the education of the student.

In fact, that’s where most educators can – and do – agree. No matter what side of the debate they are on, education is (or should be) all about the students. Teachers are just one part of making sure children receive the education they deserve. Community involvement is another piece of the puzzle.

Schools are community schools. You need to make sure you have a connection to your community, especially when we have such a diverse one.

Where the U.S. school system falls down is that there’s no collegiality and communication among the community, the teachers, teacher unions, school boards and state legislatures.

One of the biggest challenges facing the American system is making sure all the stakeholders and partners show some good faith and deal with these problems head on in a less confrontational way. If we can’t collaborate, what’s our hope for the future? We’re all in it for the same reason – it’s for the benefit of the student.

Canada makes it well-known that education is a priority. After healthcare, education is where Canadian provinces spend most of their money.

Although the financing of education has come into question in every country now that there is a full-blown global economic crisis. What helps shield Canada from having to make drastic cuts in education spending is progressive taxation, an important part of their system. Taillefer elaborates:

We believe in strong public services and we are willing to pay for them such as health care and education. The couple of thousand dollars that I can keep in my pocket buys me nothing compared to what that money can do pooled together with everyone else’s. The Canadian school system teaches their students to be a part of a caring society, and the way to teach that is to model it.

Whereas the U.S. seems to be trying to solve the economic crises on the backs of students. Deciding where to spend and how much will be an ongoing challenge for a number of years, perhaps even decades, but there are too many good and critical reasons not to cut corners in education spending. So long as we can get past short-term thinking and start stressing long-term outcomes, this should be achievable.

“We live in a knowledge based economy so it’s imperative to keep financing education,” Taillefer explains. “We’ve managed to avoid that and it’s nowhere near what’s happening south of the border.”

Canada’s school system has not always been so hunky dory though. Between 1995 and 2003 many teachers retired because they were unhappy with the system. The reason for that Taillefer says was because the government wasn’t as progressive as it is now and teachers did not feel valued and appreciated – or as they say in French Canadian valorisation:

A lot of cuts were made to education during that time period and there was no communication between the government, teachers and teacher unions. Reform was imposed rather than done through collaboration and consultation. Which is why it is so important to make sure that everyone is part of the discussion and that all concerns are taken seriously.

This is quite disparate from how the U.S. system currently, and quite sadly, seems to be functioning:

Positions in the U.S. are so radically different there doesn’t seem to be an ability to work toward common ground right now. Everyone seems to be digging in their own heals and not dialoguing – and by that I mean not just the ability to verbalize and listen, but also the ability to change based on information. Things can change and new ideas can come out.

It happened in Canada. And it can happen in the U.S., too. Perhaps it will be America’s next lesson plan.

Photos, top to bottom: Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R) and Industry Minister Tony Clement attend a roundtable meeting at the Spencer Leadership Center, part of the Richard Ivey School of Business, in London, Ontario March 25, 2010. REUTERS/Geoff Robins; Jon Montgomery walks through past the students of Olympic Heights School after he was announced to the 2010 Winter Olympic skeleton team in Calgary, Alberta, January 27, 2009. REUTERS/Todd Korol; Custodian Doug Des Brisay cleans door handles as an extra precaution against the H1N1 virus in one of Lester B. Pearson School Board’s elementary schools in Montreal, October 29, 2009. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi; Students from Lord Roberts Elementary School visit the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia April17, 2008. REUTERS/Andy Clark

 

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Market musings with David Rosenberg: we’re in a depression http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2011/08/08/market-musings-with-david-rosenberg-were-in-a-depression/ http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/08/08/market-musings-with-david-rosenberg-were-in-a-depression/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2011 19:13:43 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/08/08/market-musings-with-david-rosenberg-were-in-a-depression/ I spoke with David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff, today to get his take on what’s happening in the markets after Friday’s US credit rating downgrade by the S&P. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

What’s the biggest surprise of the S&P downgrade of the US’s credit rating?
The timing of it. They already had stated their intention, but the timing of it was early.

Why did it come early?
The budget agreement to get the debt ceiling raised is light.

What are the consequences of this?
In a real economic sense, the impact is fairly small. We have to remember it’s a split rating. Moody’s and Fitch have not downgraded the U.S.

What are the global consequences of the US downgrade?
If the U.S. isn’t AAA, it begs the question who is? The real consequences run a lot deeper than the U.S.

What will be more consequential is if France loses their AAA rating. If the U.S. isn’t AAA then I can’t see France having a AAA rating. And if France isn’t AAA you can kiss the European Stability Fund good-bye. Because the ball will then be in Germany’s court and I’m not so sure that the country will be able to bail out the entire euro zone.

So you’re more concerned about the economic situation in Europe than the U.S.?
The crisis of confidence is stemming from the eurozone – not the U.S.

Did bond indices in the U.S. get changed? No. Did banks have to go out and raise capital against bond indices? No. So what is the big deal? It’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot. The U.S. has a split rating. Full stop.

Sounds like the downgrade is not as bad as everyone thinks.
It’s like when Canada got downgraded in 1994. It lit a fire under the seats of the policymakers.

I take it you’re one of many who think policy makers in the U.S. are failing?
The whole point of QE2 was to inflate assets. But QE’s are a bit of a band-aid solution. At best, QE buys you a little bit of time. Once the policy stimulus wears off, the economy sputters. The Bush tax cuts did a better job of stimulating the economy than the tax rebates did from last year.

What can be done now?
On the fiscal side, it’s too late. Nothing on the fiscal side will help the economy.

What should have been done?
What would have helped is a real energy policy combined with a jobs policy.

What happened to real energy policy? If we had a permanent shift to shale gas, that would have helped the economy. We thought we weren’t going to see gas prices go back up into the $100s, but they did. Gas prices and oil prices have gone back up. A permanent decrease in energy costs would be really beneficial and help the bottom line in Washington.

You mentioned a jobs policy as well.
We have a youth unemployment rate of over 20% and a general unemployment rate at 9%. What happened to the war on unemployment from two years ago?

So nothing more can be done in terms of fiscal policy?
The U.S. is a fiscal basket case. We have fiscal deficits that would have made FDR blush.

It’s very limited what can be done in terms of fiscal policy now. We now have double the inventory of unsold homes on the market. How does the Fed address that? The Fed has limited policy capabilities.

What should be done with all the foreclosed homes?
The U.S. should find a way to absorb the huge backlog of foreclosed homes — buy them up and give them to investors to rent.

What would help in the meantime?
What would help is a bipartisan move to eliminate tax expenditures and loopholes. The U.S. has a tax system that doesn’t produce revenues efficiently. It should not have mortgage deductions. Canada did it; the U.S. can do it. The U.S. should also cut its top marginal rates.

When do you think any sort of meaningful reform will happen?
Any real meaningful structural shift won’t happen until after 2012. 2012 is going to be the most critical election of the past three or four decades in terms of fiscal policy.

We have deflation, a credit collapse, an ongoing decline in assets and real estate prices. Along with a global debt crisis. It’s like musical chairs. The debt keeps getting transferred; not expunged.

So what if we had a 12-24 months rally in the equity markets? The same thing happened in the 1930s, when there was a recovery from 1933 to 1936. This is not Japan all over again. What we are in now is probably a modern day depression. The great recession is a polite way of saying a depression – economists are polite people.

So the markets are saying we’re in a depression?
That’s why you have gold at $1700 an ounce. That’s why 10-year Treasury bond yields are lower now. The bond market is saying we are in for weak growth. Gold is saying the government is going to try to reinflate their way out of it.

What can we expect to further happen while riding out the recession/depression?
Growth rates are going to be much weaker globally. There is going to be a prolonged period of very weak activity. Consumer confidence is lower today than after the 1987 crash and after 9/11.

How do we get back to a sustainable bull market and expansion?
In the end, you print money.

When do you think we will come out of this depression?
We are still experiencing aftershocks from the bubble. This is not a plain vanilla recession; this is a balance sheet recession. Balance sheet recessions typically last 5-7 years on average so if this recession started in 2007 then we have until 2012 or 2014 before the recession starts to turnaround. Compound that with rest of the world facing economic downturns as well and it could last even longer.

How are your portfolios fairing?
Things are turning out how we expected them to — we are positioned for this. We’ve been patient all year long. We never bought into the sustainability of QE2. Preserving capital and minimizing our risk on portfolios paid off well.

Lots of portfolio managers are going to have forced selling because they bought at rock bottom. We’re going to be buying what they’re selling. We took advantage of the mispricing in the market. There’s tremendous opportunity when the baby is being thrown out with the bath water. When the markets are at their highs, you can capitalize on that excess supply. When they are at their lows, there’s an excess of worry so there are attractive buying opportunities. We are licking our chops and sharpening our pencils.

 

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A live Q&A with Mohamed El-Erian http://blogs.reuters.com/mohamed-el-erian/2011/07/01/a-live-qa-with-mohamed-el-erian/ http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/07/01/a-live-qa-with-mohamed-el-erian/#comments Fri, 01 Jul 2011 16:40:15 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/07/01/a-live-qa-with-mohamed-el-erian/

On Thursday, July 7 at 9am ET, CEO of PIMCO Mohamed El-Erian will be taking your questions live and answering them here. Please join us and leave your comments and questions for him below.

El-Erian’s previous columns have talked about the European debt crisis, how to make Egypt’s revolution successful, the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Christine Lagarde and what he learned from his recent visit to Tokyo, Japan.

You can also post your questions on the Reuters Facebook page or send them over Twitter using the hashtag #askmohamed or @kherrup.

 

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Video: A critical piece in jumpstarting Japan’s recovery http://blogs.reuters.com/trnewsmaker/2011/06/20/a-critical-piece-in-jumpstarting-japans-recovery/ http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/06/20/video-a-critical-piece-in-jumpstarting-japans-recovery/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2011 20:20:44 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/06/20/video-a-critical-piece-in-jumpstarting-japans-recovery/ http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/06/20/video-a-critical-piece-in-jumpstarting-japans-recovery/feed/ 0 Africa Newsmaker: Live Event http://blogs.reuters.com/trnewsmaker/2011/05/23/africa-newsmaker-live-event/ http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/05/23/africa-newsmaker-live-event/#comments Mon, 23 May 2011 20:27:50 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/katharine-herrup/2011/05/23/africa-newsmaker-live-event/ WATCH OUR LIVE COVERAGE STARTING AT 9 A.M. BST ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 25.

Live Event: Is Africa Open for Busness?

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