Journey to America

Lit sparkler burning in front of American Flag

At night, you plan.
You count your money,
select durable shoes,
plot paths and snacks,
and are seized with fear.

In bed, you cannot sleep.
So, you quietly go
outside and sit in
silence. Under stars, you
encode a lifetime of mental selfies
and breathe in the unknown.

Before dawn, you wake.
You prepare breakfast,
wake your child,
take their hand
and begin your
journey North.
All so you can sweep
floors or care for
American kids or
sell Big Macs or maybe
become a business
owner and help
that little hand in
yours to reach higher.

To stay or go?
You commit your life
and dreams to theirs,
because without hope
life shrinks down
to a binary choice.

You are not naive.
To enter America means
waiting in cages,
waiting on hard floors,
waiting in close quarters,
cruelty, disregard,
torture, boredom
and more
despair.

Somehow, you arrive.
At the border, you line up,
claim your place, and
try to smile.
Inside a grim room, you
keep your head down,
comply, discover
the patience of
sorrow, the
obsession
of separation.

6 hours a day you dream
of release and entry into
a land of excess. Bewildering
supermarkets, large cars
and large people, late night
TV, sugary drinks, backyards,
playgrounds, and schools.

You only need a few drops
of excess to spill into
your life and run into your child’s life.
The smallest chance is still a chance.
Hope vs. despair.
Binary.


Suffering from Media Malaise? Maybe it is Time for Recovery and Detox.

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Breaking News: Americans Suffering from Media Malaise!

I am coming out as a news junkie. I am also initiating a recovery program.

First a little about my addiction. Since 2016, I have been consuming 2-4 hours a day of news, delivered by these MSNBC news hosts: Joy Ann Reid, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Chuck Todd, Nicole Wallace, Laurence O’Donnell, Mika and Joe, Ali and Stephanie, and Ari Melber. My TV news is augmented by my subscriptions to the NY Times, The Washington Post, and Slate. I receive the New Yorker and the Atlantic Magazines. I dabble in CBS, CNN, PBS, and even give Fox News some of my eyeball time. While doing this, I also scroll through my Twitter feed to see what my favorite pundits are saying. For me, these include: Jill Wine Banks, Clint Watts, Maria Theresa Kumar, and Michele Goldberg. Via Twitter, I follow 1,000 people and organizations. I bought the Mueller Report and The Plot to Hack America. To be honest, when not working, I am often too busy watching news to engage in more meaningful or productive activities.

I think that the top three dangers of living inside the echo chamber are.
1. Acceptance of the hosts’ priorities.
2. Adoption of host and pundit narratives.
3. Loss of time for deeper reflection, action, and cause specific engagement.

1. I think that my favorite hosts’ #1 priority is to ensure that every last piece of dirt about Donald Trump is presented, examined and discussed, largely as a lens to reflect on our divided nation. I have enjoyed the collection process — thinking it would lead to a collective awakening, collective disgust, and citizen actions. I do credit this focus on galvanizing groups and the activism that aided the Democrats to regain the House. I like to think that by sitting in front of my TV, and tuning into MSNBC, that I am part of this movement. If you watch as much as I do, you realize that there are daily repeating stories and and pundits and that only rarely do you learn something new.

The dark shadow of such “narratives of the day” can be symbolized by the recent story of E. Jean Carroll. Credible? Sort of. Interesting? Maybe. Game changing? Doubtful. We all lived through the Kavanaugh hearings, right? Didn’t we already learn that credible allegations made years after the fact are not actionable? Christine Blasey Ford was braver and more compelling to me, and yet the we are stuck with Kavanaugh, the frat-boy supreme court justice.

I think E. Jean Carroll’s story is ONLY on TV because it adds to the narrative dirt pile we have on Trump. Judge your own interest. My own lesson is — watching it once is enough.

2. Adopting the hosts’ narratives comes pretty easily when you watch the same story 6 or more times a day. What else might you think? Ask yourself how many times you think of a different angle that is not being explored? I blame the talking head circuit for this unity of narrative. Most nefarious is the fact that you may no longer notice that you have become your own hybrid of these hosts. Are you a “MikaMaddowMelber” mouthpiece like me? Do you miss old news, with interviews of real people, footage from actual locations, different points of view? Do you miss journalism that forced you to think through the information and form your own opinion? My own diagnosis is that opinions and punditry are the causes for my own acute case of “Media Malaise.”

3. So, if you, like me, have been a willing accomplice to the crime of giving your time away, of allowing the media to co-opt your thoughts and reinforce your rage, I think you might want to consider a “detox.” To detox requires a Weight Watchers (WW) style media diet. You need not stop watching all TV — but think of each show as “15 points.” In WW speak this means about half your daily calories. I know this is shocking but take a minute to think about it: 1 show – 15 points! That’s a medium dipped DQ soft-serve ice cream. Not much nutritional value. Short-lived pleasure. Addictive and hard to give up. If you were having 6 of these a day — you would be in a health crisis! If you recalibrate your schedule you can devote more time to more nourishing choices. You can make time for learning, exploring, engaging with the world. Think of these activities as veggies, fruit and lean protein. Oh, and maybe read the Mueller report…so we can find out why Donald Trump was not exonerated. 400 pages of dirt for the Trump pile. Who can resist?

America Shaken: Land That I Love & The Compass of Nostalgia

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By: Reed MacMillan

America Shaken 

Shattered. Shaken. Shifting.
Revealed divides
Divided realities
Blue
Red
Adjacent, divisible

Salaries. Smokes. Six-packs.
Ephemera of solace
Souls erased
Sustenance
Addiction
Daily breath and demons

Left. Left-out. No one’s Right.
Middle ground
Now ground zero
Freedom
To pursue
Happiness in waves

Standing. Stirring. Stepping.
Up together
Two if by land
One if I see
As under
The same flag

Like you, I am not sure where we are headed. Like you, I am struggling to find the bonds and the lifelines that we share as a nation. Our destiny is shared and our honor is at stake. It is no longer about Trump. Like all great entertainers he is continuing to provide weekly if not daily episodes that invoke our rage, our outrage, and our fear. We live in an era of “Edge of Our Seats TV” that has made reality TV a quaint concept. We always knew reality TV was not real. It may have had moments that touched on the real, or occasional real moments, but we always understood that if you put a camera in front of real people, they become a little fake.

So now, we cling to that hope, that our Commander-in-Chief is a little fake. Don’t laugh! We know he is made-up. He scowls to look mean, he lies to keep all eyes on him, he fabricates, prevaricates, and maybe negotiates. I am not sure any of us actually want to know who the real guy is anymore. It is quite possible that it could actually be more terrifying than the fake one.

To those who say “Give him a chance,”  I say, “Let’s talk infrastructure, by damn it!”

Why, oh why, didn’t he just start there? It would have made so much sense. Building is his business, financing these buildings with other folks’ money — his comfort zone. At the end of the day, we have lived through enough Republican administrations to know that they like debt just as much as the Democrats. Reagan, Bush and deficits. Remember? Clinton was the last guy who ran a surplus. Democrat.

Have you found yourself drifting towards thoughts of your past lately? Perhaps, you are in the middle of your daily life, trying to work, to concentrate, to get something done, and instead you pause. In that pause, find yourself a bit terrified, a bit distracted, a bit discombobulated. Bobbing about on a little life-raft of hope and nostalgia, you may wonder if the ideals that mattered yesterday still matter today?

More than ever they do! This mixture of fear and nostalgia is your compass. What is your North Star today? Science? Social justice? Healthcare reform? Living wages for all? Better roads? Disruptive innovation? Artistic expression? Stronger abs? So much work to do and so little time! While you do it, do not forget that we are still in this together. We have to heal our nation and we must stare down the bully!

Forever may she wave!

The Whole Human: You are Going to Love It

You're Going To Love It
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You're Going To Love It
By Reed MacMillan

The topic of “jobs” was addressed by President Trump, in his February 21st CPAC speech. He said, “It’s time for all Americans to get off of welfare and get back to work. You’re going to love it. You’re going to love it. You are going to love it.” Many people on welfare are already working, which highlights the fact that what American workers need is the ability to earn a living wage. This blog briefly considers the idea of a living wage, and who earns one.

In a 2015 Washington Post article, by Emily Badger,  titled “When work isn’t enough to keep you off welfare and food stamps”  the author cuts to the chase about many people’s assumption that poor people have not bothered to find work. She disproves this assumption by citing research from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, which has found that 73 percent of people who benefit from major public assistance programs in the U.S., live in a working family where at least one adult earns the household some money.

Below, is a graphic from the UC Berkley Center for Labor Research, that shows the percentage of workers who work, but who also receive some form of public assistance in several key categories.

UC Berkley Center for Labor Research Workers who Receive Assistance Data
Fast food workers, child care workers, home care workers, and part-time faculty often receive some form of public assistance.

These data reveal the difficulty of getting people into work that allows them to make a living wage vs. simply getting “back to work.”  When workers cannot make a living wage, should we try and encourage them to exit these professions and find other professions that allow them to survive without public assistance? Who would replace them? Are there enough teenagers or part-time workers to take these jobs if the current labor force progresses to new professions? Or, should we expect people who eat McMuffins, place their children in daycare, or who have home care assistance, to pay more for these services? Or, should the owners of these small businesses give more of their own profits to their workers and live more modestly? All of these are very difficult questions to answer because they ask us to look at our own values and what we think is important.

I believe that most Americans are in favor of all workers earning a “living wage.” In this blog, I provide a look at a living wage calculator built by an MIT Professor and some data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. In subsequent blogs, I will try and consider some of the potential consequences of aspiring to a living wage for all workers.

Living Wage

A living wage provides sufficient income to cover the minimum necessary costs to live including: shelter, food, clothing, medical expenses, child care, personal necessities, and also should include transportation to and from work, and a way to go to the grocery store or to medical appointments. Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier at MIT first developed a living wage calculator in 2004. The MIT calculator takes into account parameters including whether the family has one or two workers, and how many children are in the family.  All calculations use geographically specific data, and the data sources and assumptions are clearly documented. You need two formulas to calculate the living wage. The first is to calculate the basic needs budget. Once you have that, you need to calculate the tax burden on this budget. Both formulas follow:

Basic needs budget
Food cost + child care cost + (insurance premiums + health care costs) + housing cost + transportation cost + other necessities cost

Living wage calculation
Basic needs budget + (basic needs budget * (taxes))

To get a sense of how this works, let’s look at some of the data from Hartford, CT.  If you click on the Hartford, CT link in the prior sentence, you can observe that: The more members in a family, the higher the wage needs required to achieve a living wage. Whereas, in Hartford, a single adult can survive on $11.00 per hour, a single adult with one child needs to earn $25.55 per hour,  and a two adult household with one child, and only one adult working, needs slightly less at $22.59 per hour. Logically, we can assume the single parent household with a child has more child care requirements than the one with a parent who stays home. Now, look at the bottom row of the same table, and you can see that the minimum wage in Connecticut is $9.15 per hour. Not even a single person with no dependents can achieve a living wage on $9.15 an hour. 

It is also useful to look at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By looking at the May 2015 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates,  you can get a quick idea of which professions could make a living wage in Hartford, CT..  Scroll down past the major occupational groups by category number to the table that lets you sort by any header category.  If you click on the header row titled Median hourly wage, you can sort the professions in ascending or descending order according to their median wage.

The MIT calculator told us that a family of three with one stay at home parent need to earn $22.59 per hour to make a living wage. You might be surprised to learn how few occupational categories satisfy this requirement.  Starting with our lowest earning category 35-201, which is for food preparation and serving workers, including fast food, who earn an average hourly wage is $9.09, you will have to scroll all the way down to category 13-1121 to approach this hourly wage, arriving at the meeting, convention, and event planners who earn $22.52 per hour. You will have passed by many many people in your community.

Some of the occupations which do not earn a living wage include: librarians ($22.10), brick masons ($22.32),  real estate brokers and sales agents ($21.93), precision instrument repairers ($21.94), rail yard engineers ($22.01), and healthcare support workers ($17.20).  I think we might agree that these categories of work are important to all of us and that we need people to do this work. Don’t they deserve a living wage? Also, can we really blame the fact that they do not earn a living wage on outsourced work or the global economy? How does renegotiating trade deals help these workers? Our current unemployment rate is 4.8% yet approximately 73% of those on public assistance are already working.

So, to put a finer point on it — for the remaining 4.8% unemployed workers in our economy, hopefully the new Republican policies will help them roll off of welfare onto a job that provides them a living wage. Having good skills and no children, may make it easier for them to survive and thrive.

Those who like the sound of  “workers getting off of welfare,” will also need to like the sound of “Paying more for products and services.” This is likely the easiest way to reduce worker’s reliance on the public assistance that helps them achieve a living wage.

We’re all going to love it, I’m sure!

(One final note for data geeks: The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a vast variety of detailed data that are worth studying, even briefly, to gain a clearer picture about the pain points within the American workforce.)