"That which does no earthly good cannot be heavenly minded." R. Rivera

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"America, America," by Delmore Schwartz

Edmund Kish to his mother: "You have just seen a genius."

Mrs. Kish: "How much money does he make?"
Delmore Schwartz, "The World is a Wedding"


I am a poet of the Hudson River and the heights above it,
the lights, the stars, and the bridges
I am also by self-appointment the laureate of the Atlantic
-of the peoples' hearts, crossing it
to new America.

I am burdened with the truck and chimera, hope,
acquired in the sweating sick-excited passage
in steerage, strange and estranged
Hence I must descry and describe the kingdom of emotion.

For I am a poet of the kindergarten (in the city)
and the cemetery (in the city)
And rapture and ragtime and also the secret city in the
heart and mind
This is the song of the natural city self in the 20th century.

It is true but only partly true that a city is a "tyranny of
(This is the chant of the urban metropolitan and
metaphysical self
After the first two World Wars of the 20th century)

--- This is the city self, looking from window to lighted
When the squares and checks of faintly yellow light
Shine at night, upon a huge dim board and slab-like tombs,
Hiding many lives. It is the city consciousness
Which sees and says: more: more and more: always more.

Delmore Schwartz

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Gyroscope," by Ted Kooser

I place this within the first order
of wonders: a ten-year-old girl
alone on a sunny, glassed-in porch
in February, the world beyond
the windows slowly tipping forward
into spring, her thin arms held out
in the sleepwalker pose, and pinched
and stretched between her fingers,
a length of common grocery twine
upon which smoothly spins and leans
one of the smaller worlds we each
at one time learn to master, the last
to balance so lightly in our hands.

Ted Kooser, American Poet Laureate (2004-2006). 
This poem appeared in his collection "Delights
and Shawdows," for which he won the Pulitzer
Prize for poetry in 2005.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Heavenly Minded & Earthly Good Dictionary: Job

Extinct job: telephone operator.
From SaskTel Historical Photos, 1960.
Job (noun):
1. Any occupation, work, task, or assignment done as part of one's employment for an agreed monetary wage, salary and/or other compensation.

Such as in the statement: I had a job at XYZ Corp and before I was laid off, I was doing more work, for less money than I was 10 years ago.   

Or: I'm 55 years old. Now nobody wants to give me a job. So I'm on unemployment and Medicare, but these politicians keep talking about people like me as if I deserve to be poor because I'm lazy and just want to push socialism of the highest order. What's socialism?

2. Any such employment done on a "full-time, "part-time," "one-time" or independently contractual basis for an agreed compensation.

Such as in the statement: I have two part-time jobs, neither of which will give me any benefits like health care. So I'm hoping to get Medicare, which some people call socialism of the highest order. What's socialism?

3. Anything that is considered to be one's responsibility, obligation, call, or duty.

Such as in the statement:  It is the legally constrained duty of the worker to work, and when there are no jobs, to find a job anyway and not depend on any government help or subsidies, as that is just socialism of the highest order.   

Or: It is not the legally constrained duty of profitable businesses that receive government help or subsidies to guarantee that they will create jobs with that windfall in taxpayer money. It would be ideal if they did, but we must leave that up to the free market that will work perfectly on its own if only we can stop government from trying to institute socialism of the highest order. 

Or: It is the duty of the government to continue to give tax breaks even to the über wealthy because they are the "jobs creators," though government should not compel them to create jobs in return for the windfall in taxpayer money, as that would just be socialism of the highest order. 

4. Any such employment no longer available or extant.

Such as in the statement: Sorry, that Bachelors degree is now worthless. There are no longer any jobs available in that field. We had to send them to Irian Jaya, otherwise our CEO could never have bought the state of Montana so he could plink vermin in the wide open spaces he loves so much. May I suggest you get a Bachelors degree in Plinking Vermin. I'm sure that job won't be shipped overseas for at least a year. But I'm making no guarantees, as that would just be socialism of the highest order. And don't ask me what socialism is. That you were born after the end of Cold War is no excuse.
The above writing (clearly some of it done with tongue planted firmly in cheek) is intended to show how confusing is the current debates about the financial crisis, its causes, and the best way to create jobs in America. It is also intended to show how labels like "socialism" or "socialist" are hurled about in these debates in ways and for reasons that actually have little to do with the concerns and intentions of normal Americans who (studies show, are good capitalist consumers) just trying to find consistent, livable employment, and many of whom have paid all their lives into social security and Medicare only to be called social parasites, socialists, or even anti-Christs for expecting that those benefits will be there upon retirement.

Let me end with some questions.
A. How did it become un-American and un-Christian to ask if millionaires, billionaires and wildly profitable corporations can pay a little more in taxes, even though in the last 30 or so years they have enjoyed the greatest wealth accumulation in human history while at the same time having their income taxes decreased by over 10% since 1980, including a tax cut during war time under President G. W. Bush (see 1)? Tax rates for capital investments (that most Americans do not have) have also greatly declined. I don't believe the rich are to blame for every problem in our world. I do believe that government spending and the ballooning of the deficit have gotten out of control.  But both parties are to blame for that, indeed the American people in general, who in poll after poll say they want things like good education, safe bridges, clean water, social security and Medicare, and those things cost money, lots of it. I just think that if people at the bottom have to sacrifice, why not people at the top? They can certainly afford it. Even if all we did was allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, the rich would still enjoy an overall significant tax decrease since 1980, and one of the lowest tax rates among the developed countries of the world.

B. On tax cuts and job creation. In light of all of this wealth accumulation and tax reduction enjoyed by the rich, justified by the argument that this is how the private sector creates jobs, then why has America, as a whole, been steadily losing private sector jobs not just since the Great Recession began in 2007/2008, but for over ten years (see 2)? In fact, if it were not for jobs created by the government, the overall jobs picture would look even more bleak. This begs two related questions: (a) Why do some people so hate one of the net job creators in America: namely, government? (b) Can it be that focusing only on tax breaks for the rich is missing many other factors to explain why jobs disappear and why the middle class is declining? Note this statement in a recent article in "Seeking Alpha":
Corporations and small business alike are hiring temps and part-timers to push for more productivity, while boosting the bottom line. That's why you see record gains in productivity far outpacing the unit labor cost, or the cost of workers per units produced, in the past two years.

Now that companies are used to those nice profits, hiring most likely is not a priority in meeting their quarters.(3)
C. Has anyone noticed that while some politicians try to convince the masses that (in addition to spending cuts) we can tax cut our way back to a prosperous middle class, Madison Avenue advertisers and investment firms are banking on the assumption that this will not happen? Instead, they openly admit that: (a) the undeniable trend in America and other nations (Great Britain and Canada) is toward plutocracy (Citigroup's global strategist Ajay Kapur coined the term "Plutonomy"): i.e., that wealth is accumulating in fewer hands; (b) that there is no such thing as "mass wealth" (i.e., a middle class) in America any more that is the primary driver of wealth creation and consumption as it once was; and (c) that the best bet for savvy investors is to invest in the new primary drivers of wealth creation and consumption: the über rich and the things they luxuriate in (see 4). Thus, there is no concern by Wall Street to do anything about poor, diminishing Main Street. It's simply time to adjust investments.

D. Finally, have we now come to a point where to try to be heavenly minded AND earthly good is seen as being un-American and un-Christian?
(1) Jeffery Sachs, "How the Wall Street Journal Distorts the Truth About Taxes", Huffpost Business (April 19, 2011)  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-sachs/how-the-wall-street-journ_b_851285.html

(2) Michael Mandel, "A Lost Decade for Jobs," Bloomberg Businessweek (June 23, 2009) http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/economicsunbound/archives/2009/06/a_lost_decade_f.html.  See also, Harold Meyerson, "Corporate America's Chokehold on Wages," Washington Post, Opinions (July 19, 2011) http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/corporate-americas-chokehold-on-wages/2011/07/19/gIQAL2ieOI_story.html

(3) "U.S. Economy: 12 Years to Fill the 12.4 Million Job Gap?" (Feb 6, 2011) http://seekingalpha.com/article/251018-u-s-economy-12-years-to-fill-the-12-4-million-job-gap

(4) Robert Frank, "Plutonomics," Wall Street Journal (Jan 8, 2007) http://blogs.wsj.com/wealth/2007/01/08/plutonomics/