Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beyond Greed: Overcoming Acquisitiveness as a Measure of Success

I saw this tweet pop up this morning and it really hit me, right between the eyes.  In less than 140 words, the author has summed up what it means to swim in a capitalist sea.

In a capitalist system, we measure people by the size of their wallets.  We pay lip service to other forms of recognition, but in the end, the reality is that success is measured by money and the things that money can buy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How We Got Here: Our Current Retirement Mess

Amazingly honest assessment of our current retirement mess.

Dr. Thomas J. Mackell, Jr. is Chairman of the Board of Directors of United Benefits and Pension Services, Inc., a Partner of Rx Well Card and is President of the Association of Benefit Administrators and Editor of its Newsletter, Insights.
He has had a life-long career in the management, administration and investment management of employee benefit funds.
Dr. Mackell was appointed a Class C Director of the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond on January 1, 2003 where he served as Deputy Chairman since June 2003 and as Chairman from January 1, 2005 until December 31, 2008.
Dr. Mackell is a member of the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank that focuses on social, political and economic issues in Latin America, a Director of the Foundation for Fiduciary Studies, a member of the National Board of Directors of Volunteers of America and the Editorial Advisory Board of Institutional Real Estate, Inc.- Publishers and Consultants, and a member of the Council on American Politics at the George Washington Universitys Graduate School of Political Management. He is also a member of the Advisory Council of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a member of the Board of Overseers of the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations of Seton Hall University and a member of the Advisory Council of Cornell Universitys School of Labor and Management Relations.
He was a White House appointee to the ERISA Advisory Council to the Secretary of Labor from 1997 through 1999.
Dr. Mackell spent 14 years with the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association as Administrator of their jointly-administered trust funds and has worked for over 28 years in the investment management and financial services industry working with Taft-Hartley, public, corporate pension funds and endowments and foundations on asset allocation and corporate governance issues.
In the past, Dr. Mackell was a professor at C.W. Post Center, Long Island Universitys School of Health and Public Affairs, and adjunct professor at the New York Institute of Technology Graduate Center for Labor and Industrial Relations School of Management.
He was a member of the Ethics Committee of the Investment Management Consultants Association, a member of the International Foundation for Employee Benefit Plans, a past member of the board of the American Benefits Council, and a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors. He was a director of the Association of Investment Management Sales Executives and a trustee of the community based New York Foundation. He was a former member of the advisory boards of the Empire State College, St. Thomas University School of Law, and the Corsi Institute of Labor-Management Relations of Pace University.
Dr. Mackell is the author of the book: "When the Good Pensions Go Away, Why America Needs a New Deal for Pension and Health Care Reform." He is a frequent guest and commentator on national radio and TV shows.
He earned a bachelors degree from Seton Hall University, attended St. Johns University School of Law, and earned a masters degree from Long Island University and a doctorate from Rutgers University.

Monday, April 25, 2011

An old poem for our New Galtian Overlords

On the foolishness of Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged.

Questions from A Worker Who Reads

Bertolt Brecht

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the name of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished.
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
Of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song,
Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
The night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Years' War. Who
Else won it?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the bill?

So many reports.
So many questions.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Catastrophic Results of Tea Party Economic "Policies"

In one stark, simple chart.  Monetarist / Supply-side / Reganomics total, epic failure.

Travelling up the feted jungle river snaking like a mainline circuit cable, plugged right into the heart of economic darkness. I'm in search of some kind of GOP rationality, something that tells me these people have some clue as to what they're doing.  Anything to explain the economic catastrophe they are wreaking on the US and the world, these Austrian zombies.  The journey has left me exhausted, weak and unable to continue.  Colonel Kurtz greets me like an old friend.  He motions me into his world.  

"The horror.... The horor..."

Socialist Roots of The Pledge of Allegiance

Is nothing sacred anymore?  Dirty socialists trying to corrupt all that is good in our Godly nation!  How could the Pledge of Allegiance possibly be socialist?  For goodness sake, it says "Under God" just like the Founding Fathers intended!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hypnotically Wonderful!


Nature by Numbers from Cristóbal Vila on Vimeo.

The Very Soul of Our Awful Media

In a world where racism and income disparity of Gilded Age proportions, Newsweek has the nerve to run a cover about the poor oppressed White Male?

The Poor White Man... So Oppressed!

Battling a Zombie Lie: We Have a Spending Problem (Update 1)

A favorite GOP talking point that gets bounced off the walls of the MSM, especially on Fox News (arguably not part of the MSM!), is that "America has a spending problem."  Not everyone agrees. I think a better way to put that is "America also has a spending problem."  But America has a much more serious revenue problem we need to tackle first. (Updated: Added table of Bush/Obama tax cuts showing $1.2 trillion in AMT relief)

A Digression on Capitalism and Capitalists - When is enough enough?

My buddy Heather (aka @ari_WISCslob, you must follow her immediately!!!) asked me the other day (via Twitter)
It's a really good question and I think that people who don't work in business wonder when enough growth is enough?  The simple answer is never.  Basic market forces demand at least some measure of growth in a company.  There will never be enough growth until the entire world is consumed in one form or another.

Why I am Learning Macroeconomics

Tigger Economics

Without a sound foundation in the roots of 21st century capitalism, I can't help make things better.  We all know the failure of unregulated capitalism and I want my voice, small though it may be, to rise above the conservative mendacity with facts, data and a sound theoretical understanding of how the economy of a modern nation-state functions.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thomas Paine and the Radical Foundations of American Democracy

Our Founder, Thomas Paine
Oil painting by Auguste Millière (1880)
Conservatives are professional eliminationists. And if they can't eliminate something then they revise it, warp it and co-opt it to suit their own purposes.  If the right-wing can twist the message of Jesus so thoroughly that you might believe that Jesus was a moneylender, poor old Thomas Paine doesn't stand a chance. But why should we care about Thomas Paine? Wasn't he just another rich, white Founding Father spouting platitude of "Liberty" all the while profiting from the backs of enslaved Africans?  That's certainly what Glenn Beck would have us believe.  So who was Thomas Paine and why do we Progressives have a much stronger claim to his legacy than the Tea Party?

April 21st, 2011: SkyNet began its attack against humanity!

Yes, SkyNet became self-aware on April 19th and begins it's attack today. And Amazon's Cloud Services in Virgina are down and have been down all day.  Coincidence?  I think not...

I, for one, welcome our new terminator overlords!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Do we Still Need the H-1B Visa Program?

While we wail and gnash our teeth about so-called "illegal" immigration and building a wall, another, more heinous employment crime is going unchallenged.  In a nation with ~9% reported (likely ~17% real) unemployment, why do we continue to allow H1-B visas to be issued, renewed and extended? Aren't there enough unemployed or underemployed citizens available to take on these roles? Or are our Galtian overlords unwilling to give up their cheap Indian, Pakistani and Chinese labor?

Large outsourcing companies have used the H-1B visa programm which is riddled with loopholes, to bring in non-specialized workers to fill jobs that unemployed Americans are capable of filling.  As The New York Times reported on March 31st, 2011,

Loopholes in the visa program have made it easy for the outsourcers “to bring in cheaper foreign workers, with ordinary skills, who directly substitute for, rather than complement, workers in America,” the scholar, Ronil Hira, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology who has studied the program, told the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement.

Four of the five biggest users of the program from 2007 to 2009 were Indian outsourcing companies: Infosys, Wipro, Mahindra Satyam and Tata, Mr. Hira said. Microsoft was the only company with headquarters in the United States among the top five users, he said. Among them, the Indian companies sent 22,766 workers to the United States on temporary visas during the two deepest years of the recession.

The hearing marked a new round in a rancorous tug of war over the visas, known as H-1B visas. Granted to foreign workers with at least a bachelor’s degree to work in the United States for up to three years, they have been used by computer companies to bring in technology experts.

The abuse of the program is endemic and American companies are eager to expand this source of low-cost, high-calibre talent to the tune of 65,000 additional H-1B visas for 2011.  This serves to drive down the wages of American employees as well.
Because of low wage requirements in the program, employers were using it to legally hire foreign workers at significantly lower pay than Americans.
It's time to examine this program to determine if it's helping or hindering American workers.  It certainly a disincentive for companies to improve the productivity of their domestic workforce if they can continue to procure fresh workers from India every few years.

One benefit of throttling or eliminating the H-1B program would be to focus us on our flagging education system. Without easy access to this cheap labor, companies would be forced to sink some of their obscene profits back into workforce development.

Someone needs to be looking out for the needs of American workers and not imports from India, China or Pakistan.

Captain Kirk for President!

Not sure I'd vote for him, but compared to the current passengers in the GOP clown car, he's a lot more reasonable.

Capt Kirk for President from Rowdy Wickstrom on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Walt Whitman and the America I Love

Walt Whitman in 1887
I've always loved poetry. I've even written some.  I have my personal favorites, mostly Americans.  Perhaps it is because poetry is so intimate, so dense, so tied to the cultural milieu of the poet that I find a closer affinity to American poets than I do to poets from other nations, other cultures.  Whatever the reason, most of my favorites are Americans.

Before Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Alan Ginsberg, Frank Bidart, or Charles Bukowski, there was "Uncle Walt," Walt Whitman. My favorite description of him comes from the film Dead Poets Society.  The teacher, played by Robin Williams, is trying to get one of the boys, Todd, to open up his creativity and his feelings.  Taking inspiration from a picture of Whitman hanging in the front of the classroom, he asks the boy to describe the picture.
Whitman was the "sweaty-toothed madman" of our dreams.  His poetry evoked a sense of place for Americans.  A sense of democracy to which we, as Americans, are the inheritors of.  An abolitionist before being an abolitionist was cool, he was there at the founding of the modern Republican party, a party built by radicals, followers of Marx and the French socialists, who sought to remake America as a just and righteous nation, free of the stain of slavery.  But Whitman was never a joiner, and he did not join any political party but his poetry and his writing closely associated him with the forces of reform and change in the America of the 1840s and 1850s.  While not officially a socialist, towards the end of his life, he did say that he felt that his own personal beliefs coincided well with the objectives of socialism.  His poetry was especially influential among the British socialists (pdf) of the 1880s and 1890s.

Whitman loved America.  More than that, he loved the idea of America.  Growing up in the shadow of the Revolutionary War, he was keenly aware of our nation's potential for good as well as her potential to do great harm to her people.  In his poem Song of the Broad Axe, originally part of his monumental Leaves of Grass,  the 5th stanza stands out (apologies for the formatting, HTML does not lend itself to poetry),
The place where a great city stands is not the place of stretch'd wharves, docks, manufactures, deposits of produce merely,
Nor the place of ceaseless salutes of new-comers or the anchor-lifters of the departing,
Nor the place of the tallest and costliest buildings or shops selling goods from the rest of the earth,
Nor the place of the best libraries and schools, nor the place where money is plentiest,
Nor the place of the most numerous population.
Where the city stands with the brawniest breed of orators and bards,
Where the city stands that is belov'd by these, and loves them in return and understands them,
Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the common words and deeds,
Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its place,
Where the men and women think lightly of the laws,
Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases,
Where the populace rise at once against the never-ending audacity of elected persons,Where fierce men and women pour forth as the sea to the whistle of death pours its sweeping and unript waves,
Where outside authority enters always after the precedence of inside authority,
Where the citizen is always the head and ideal, and President, Mayor, Governor and what not, are agents for pay,
Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and to depend on themselves,Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs,
Where speculations on the soul are encouraged,
Where women walk in public processions in the streets the same as the men,
Where they enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men;
Where the city of the faithfulest friends stands,
Where the city of the cleanliness of the sexes stands,
Where the city of the healthiest fathers stands,
Where the city of the best-bodied mothers stands,
There the great city stands.
Whitman knew what made America great.  It isn't her guns and her ships or her captains of industry.  It isn't the elected officials who take advantage of the largess of the people. But it is the people who make America great.  Where "children are taught to be laws to themselves."  A place "Where women walk in the public processions in the streets the same as men / Where they enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men." These were revolutionary ideas in 1855. Women would not get the vote in America until 1920, and here was Whitman advocating for it in 1855.

Whitman describes an America I love. An America where intolerance, prejudice, hatred and violence are not acceptable. A place where equality reigns and opportunities abound for everyone.  A nation founded on human decency and not laissez-faire capitalism.  That Whitman saw in socialism the ideals of his own writing,  reinforces my own belief that, today, America is on the wrong track.  We are enthralled to all manner of base consumerist ideals, to corporations that thrive while we, the people, suffer.  A nation where the unjust rule and the just are silenced.  What has become of Whitman's America?

I plan to go back and re-read my Whitman, to draw inspiration from our "sweaty-toothed madman."  How about you?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Towards an Athenian Democracy in America

Author's Note: When I was in graduate school (yes, hard to believe, I know; in anthropology, thank you very much!), whenever I read a paper that began with the word "toward," I knew full well that we were never, ever going to get there. The final destination so tantalizingly described in the title would continue to exist, just over the horizon. But we were going to head that way anyway, damn it.  Warp speed, Mr. Sulu! With that in mind, I lay at your feet this humble proposal and welcome your discussion of what I hope could be an exciting journey. Enjoy!

I've been thinking about Athenian Democracy for quite awhile, ever since the expansion of the Internet to a broad spectrum of citizens in The United States.  What is fundamentally broken in our political system in the United States is the failure of our elected representatives to follow the true will of the People.  A great difficulty, as I see it, is the time it takes to replace elected officials (2 years for Representatives, 4 years for Presidents and 6(!) years for Senators). These times are far too long for this modern world.  Our problem isn't term limits, but term lengths!

Back in 1800, when information traveled at the speed of horseback, longer terms were necessary. The deliberative process took longer, access to accurate and timely information was restricted by time and distance.  But today, this simply breeds an institutional contempt for the People whose only recourse in a non-parliamentary system, is a recall.  And the corruption of money from business, concentrated on a few hundred, mostly rich, white men, means that the People's work isn't getting done.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Andrew Breitbart is shrill

Submitted without comment. Breitbart and Palin, together again!

The Sanctimony of the Right and the Left

I must admit a certain battle fatigue from my time in Twitter.  There is so much time wasted on both sides, right and left, with the moral equivalent of,
A long running back and forth of who did what to whom and when.

  • Some Union protester had a sign that said Walker = Hitler!
  • Some Tea Party protester had a sign that had Obama as a witch doctor!
  • Some Union proteser said called me a "fascist!"
  • Some Tea Party protester called me a "dirty hippy!"
  • Some Union protester go chocolate in my peanut butter!
  • Some Tea Party protester got peanut butter on my chocolate!
You get the idea. These childish antics serve nothing more than to distract us from the important policy debates that we are not having. The debate as to whether we are going to live in a country that provides for the sick and needy or a Galtian dystopia where only those lucky enough to wield the reins of capital will prosper.  I know which one I vote for.

On The Value of Rowdy Democracy (Update 1)

Tea Party Rally in Madison, April 15th, 2011

In a recent exchange on Twitter, I was asked to comment on the fact that at the recent rally in Madison where Tea Party and Union forces faced off, there was a lot of shouting, yelling, cowbell and whistles from the Union side while the Tea Party speakers were attempting to present.  Andrew Breitbart was heard to yell "Go to Hell!" to the rowdy Union forces several times during his speech.  Was this, I was asked, acceptable?  My response was a swift and unequivocal YES.  But not for the reasons you might think.

Upside down and backwards

As I think more about the concept of "Atlas Shrugged," thanks in part to the release of what appears to be a thoroughly awful film adaptation of the book, it occurs to me that the Rand's adherents (thralls?) really believe that it is the fleeting possessors of capital who are supporting the universe.  I mean think about that for a minute. The "philosophy" at work here says that these few capitalists are somehow supporting the masses. Seriously.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lady Liberty

With the recent kerfluffle over the USPS inadvertent use of an image of the Statue of Liberty not from the actual statue in New York Harbor but rather from the replica at the New York New York Hotel, it got me thinking about the statue's history and about the origins of the famous verse inscribed inside the base of the statue.

The New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus, 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Who was Emma Lazarus? By what path did she end up penning one of the most famous pieces of American verse, known by millions of people the world over?

Emma Lazarus was an interesting woman.  A Sephardic Jew of Portugese descent, her family had lived in America since colonial times.  Born in 1849, she was a well-known poet, activist and socialist. She worked to improve the lives of immigrants, especially women.  Following her death, many radical women's societies would spring up in order to study and evangelize her writing.
Emma Lazarus
Her poem was offered up to the committee seeking to raise funds for the construction of the pedestal upon which La Liberté éclairant le monde (Liberty Enlightening the World, aka The Statue of Liberty) a colossal work by French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi.  Although not conceived as a symbol of the immigration movement, it became one as millions of European immigrants passed beneath Lady Liberty on their way to Ellis Island.

Emma Lazarus' poem was read at the dedication ceremony and then promptly forgotten until, in 1903, a close friend Georgina Schuyler succeeded in commemorating the poem and the dedication event with a bronze plaque. 
Commemorative Plaque from 1903
What people may not know is that the inspiration for the statue came from another progressive political thinker, Édouard René Lefèbvre de Laboulaye.  Laboulaye was a participant in the Paris commune of 1870 and the one who conceived of the idea of a gift to the United States on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This gift would be in the form of a giant statue depicting Liberty. He convinced his friend, Frédéric Bartholdi to take the commission and create this New Colossus

So there you have it. One of the most iconic pieces of Americana, conceived by a French communist and commemorated by an American socialist.  America is a land of delightfully diverse thoughts and ideas, though you wouldn't know it by watching TV.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why I won't be in Madison on Saturday

Former partial term Governor of Alaska and failed Vice-Presidential candidate
Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin is coming to town. Her Tea Party thralls will make their pilgrimage from all across the region to worship at her Altar of Nonsense.  They will decry the calls from the left for a living wage for all Americans.  They will carry signs with dire warnings about our Kenyan President, the New World Order and "Death Panels." They will be glibly unaware of the irony that their cherished, faith-based adherence to failed economic policies designed to extract from them as much wealth as humanly (or inhumanly) possible. They will wear their badges of ignorance without irony, without understanding and without a concern for working American families.

But I'm not going to be there to see it.  You see, I made a pact with myself some time ago that, going forward, I am simply going to ignore Her Royal Irrelevance.  Please make no mistake. I do not wish her ill. I do not with her to contract some horribly disfiguring disease. I hope she lives a long, long life if only to see the return of fact-based policy analysis and the continued awakening of the American middle-class.  And to see the ultimate collapse of the Tea Party in a fury of their own cognitive dissonance.

Sarah Palin does not deserve my contempt.
Sarah Palin does not deserve my ire.
Sarah Palin does not deserve my spite.

And Sarah Palin certainly does not deserve my attention.

I'm not asking anyone to follow me, but when Sarah Palin comes to town, I'm plan to be somewhere else, undistracted by the Sturm und Drung of her Tea Party in a Teacup.

I will be working to build a more just and sane world.

And that's the last you'll hear on the subject of Sarah Palin.

Monday, April 4, 2011

April 4, 1968 @ 6:01 PM Eastern

Our house in Swarthmore, PA
The Big Back Porch
It was April 4th, 1968 in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. I was 5 years old. I remember playing with my friends on that warm, spring afternoon.  We lived in a big, old Victorian home on a big lot and our world was safe and calm.

I had been playing outside with friends that afternoon after school. We would run around the neighborhood, things seemed safer then, neighbors were friendly and caring. Nobody had put razor blades in apples yet (urban myth, BTW) and the news wasn't filled with Amber Alerts.  But there was tension.

The nation was embroiled in a foreign war that became the very definition of quagmire. I remember my parents discussing how Johnson hadn't done what he promised and gotten America out of Vietnam. We were still sending troops by the thousands to fight a war that it seemed that nobody wanted.  At least nobody in my parent's circle of friends which consisted of mostly smart academics from Swarthmore and the University of Pennsylvania.

My mom was pregnant at the time with what would eventually be my sister Rebecca.  My sister Karen had been born the previous summer and, my mom being a working mom, we had a wonderful housekeeper named Mrs. Boydston. She was a large African-American woman who in the house, up on the 3rd floor of that old house.  She was a constant presence in my childhood.  Housekeeper, nanny, and cook. She used to tell us stories about growing up in the deep south and how she had moved to Philadelphia with her parents back in the 1940s to escape the racism and discrimination of the Jim Crow south.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Tea Party and Stockholm Syndrome

The house slaves think they're free men.

It's my contention that the Teabillies are slaves to their corporate masters.  House slaves, but slaves nonetheless.  How else can you explain the adherence to the principles of greed and capitalism from a group of people who will never, ever be allowed into the capitalist club?  They will never be Donald Trump, David Koch, or John D. Rockafeller.  Never ever ever.

Reclaiming our Words: Language as a Weapon (updated)

Update 1: The Irony Faceplant - in my zeal to get this out, I forgot to go back and substitute Tea Partier for Teabilly. Whoops!

The Teabillies Tea Partiers like to hurl epithets at their opponents and intellectual superiors in an effort to lay claim to these words as insults or negative in connotation.  They intentionally mis-identify political parties in a childish attempt to enrage and enflame passions in their opponents (classic widespread one is the intentional use of the term "Democrat Party").  As noted in Wikipedia, the term "Democrat Party"goes back quite a long time, but it's more recent incarnation is at the hands of the ever-immature GOP.
Following his inauguration in 2001, President George W. Bush often used the noun-as-adjective when referring to the opposition party. Likewise, it has been used by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senator Charles Grassley, Congressman Steve Buyer, and other Republicans. In 2006, Ruth Marcus, a columnist for The Washington Post, noted that "[t]he derisive use of 'Democrat' in this way was a Bush staple during the recent campaign", and she chastised Bush, alleging he was being intentionally offensive. Marcus went on to say the argument about the term was "trivial, sticks-and-stones [...] linguistic bickering".