Monday, September 05, 2011

OREGON: WE'RE NUMBER ONE! (and it's shameful)

I watched some of the Oregon LSU football game the other day (the Ducks lost badly). I enjoy watching sports once in awhile, but I'm increasingly bothered by the high level of hype, and the very big dollars that are associated with college sports (men's).

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about the fact that, according to a recent report released by Feeding America, the national food bank organization, the State of Oregon leads the nation in the percentage of children who are food insecure.  In my state, 29.2 percent of people under the age of 18 years don't get enough to eat, and don't always know where their next meal will come from (based on 2009 data). This is not a "being number one" that we are proud of.

Food insecure kids don't do well in school, and this can harm them for life. It also harms our society and our economy. A number of organizations are helping get food to kids at school that they can eat there, and also take home for the weekend. School staff will tell you (and my wife saw this when she was working in schools) that some kids come to school because they know they'll get a meal there (some parents do, too).

Let's work together to put an end to this problem. Donate money and/or time to organizations that help feed kids. Let your congresspersons know that this isn't right and needs to be fixed.

And when you are cheering for the Ducks, or whatever team you like, as they run onto the field or court, in their shiny new uniforms and shoes and gear, show your team spirit by putting a little more cash in that envelope to the Food Bank.


Something I realized recently is that the on-going discussion in this country about the economy, including the high rate of unemployment, is missing a critically important piece, the role of business in solving the problems.

Where is the voice of American businesses in this discussion? I don't mean the quiet voice of lobbyists whispering in the ears of elected representatives. I don't mean the voice of corporate money slipping into the campaign pockets of politicians. I mean the public voice of businesses, a load voice that is talking about how they are or can help solve this mess we're in. After all, it is in the best interest of corporate America that consumers have the money needed to consume.

We hear a lot about corporations, but not much from them. We hear about how many people they are laying off, and sometimes how many they are hiring. We also hear about the record profits some of the largest firms are racking up, and some analyses that they are hoarding profits by not hiring workers. But what are corporations saying?

I had a discussion with my brother recently about the responsibilities of corporations. Corporations are considered to be "persons" by our legal system; so do these persons have responsibilities to be moral and to be good citizens? My brother says no, the only responsibility a corporation has is to maximize profits for it's shareholders. I spent a bit of time on the internet looking at what legal and economic experts have to say on this topic, and they don't all agree. Some agree with my brother; others say that corporate entities have the same responsibilities as other persons in our society.

This morning, as I read through yesterday's (Sunday) New York Times, I found a full page letter from Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, to "fellow concerned Americans." His letter talks about the failure of our government to provide leadership instead of partisan politics. He and 100 other business leaders sent a letter urging the President and members of Congress to provide the leadership needed to end the downward spiral we're in as a nation, and these business people signed two pledges. The first is "to withhold political campaign contributions until a transparent, comprehensive, bipartisan debt-and-deficit package is reached that honestly, and fairly, sets America on a path to long-term financial health and security." The second is "to do all we can to break the cycle of economic uncertainty that grips our country by committing to accelerate investment in jobs and hiring." 

Now that's the voice of business I've been listening for!!  And I hope to hear this voice loader and more clearly as American business people stand up to take this mess head on.