The Body Politic USA

April 15, 2012

Ann Romney hasn’t worked a day in her life…at least not in the work-a-day world

World of Work 2012

World of Work 2012

The above title is a fact.  It does not mean that Mrs. Romney hasn’t worked hard to raise a family.  But working hard to raise a family can not be compared to experiencing the work-a-day world up close and personal.  In fact, both Mitt Romney and Mrs. Romney are shockingly inexperienced and tone-deaf to the issues that those who live in the work-a-day world discuss at their kitchen tables.

The Wealthy Perceive the World As Fair & Square - Perception Is Their Reality:

Full confession here:  I was raised in a wealthy family.  Nothing approaching the Romney’s or any of the super-rich that define wealth in the 21st century - but fears about financial security were notably absent. My Grandfather was a CEO, my father was a lawyer and we all lived very, very well.

My mother worked and had a career prior to her marriage, she did so in the freelance world and did not have to take every job that came her way.  After she married, she lived a life not unlike Ann Romney’s. And like Ann Romney, she saw the world of business and work as a decent place where people were reasonable and advancement was based on a meritocracy.  During my teen years, our situation gradually changed but  I didn’t have to face the  work-a-day world until I was almost 20. And I confess that I was totally unprepared for how capricious and unfair it could be.  And my late mother, learned vicariously through me, that her vision of the world of work was flawed.  You have to experience it to “get it”.


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April 11, 2012

We Will Not Be Denied…If We Spread the Word!

The latest round of republican rhetoric regarding contraception has left my head spinning.  Sure, I expect the social conservatives and elements in the tea party to brush off the abortion issue every four years but the out and out open attack on contraception and Planned Parenthood was beyond my wildest imaginings. Its a horrifying thing and proof positive that freedom can not be taken for granted for so much as a minute  These are issues that I thought were  settled either before I was born or shortly thereafter - nearly 50 years ago!


April 4, 2012

Touting the STEM track to today’s youth - More Empty Promises & Dashed Dreams

It doesn’t seem so long ago…the halcyon days of my misspent youth.  The year was 1992 and my mother had just been admitted to the hospital for a potentially fatal case of the flu.  She had inflammatory lung disease of unknown origins - and a case of flu could be a fatal complication.  Indeed - when she arrived at the ER her condition was critical.  Here, in a nutshell, was how my passion for  molecular biology was born.  From my Granfather’s diabetes, to my mother’s life-shortening lung disease, I was consistently exposed to the limits of modern medicine - not its marvels.

Like many - I was fooled by  ”scientist shortage” reports of the 1990’s:

On that day, I said goodnight to my mother and talked briefly to her attending physician.  After assuring me that my mother’s condition was stabilized, the conversation turned to research.  I mentioned briefly what I did for a living (I was a lab manager/technician)  and my plans to get a doctorate. The doctor nodded sagely that it was well known that the U.S. needed more Ph.D.’s in biomedical science.

How many times does a lie have to be repeated for the general public to be hoodwinked into thinking it is true?  In those days, it was quite true that getting a reasonably high-paying job  in biotechnology straight out of graduate school was completely doable.  What no one seemed to grasp was that the flood of graduate students post-docs  coming to the US from abroad, was already sowing the seeds of the  massive glut that I would face upon graduation from a doctoral program.  By the time I was out of the pipeline,  there were no industry jobs for new graduates.  Freshly minted Ph.D.’s were shoved unceremoniously  into the post-doctoral logjam into which most would disappear for 10 years of further “training” at coolie wages before “qualifying” for a real job with a salary and benefits.

Here we go again - the great STEM career shortage rides again:

So it was with a feeling of deja vu that I heard the president’s senior advisor and assistant for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs say that the thing to do was to encourage women and our youth in general to train for those valuable STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and math) - because this was how to secure their future!

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Are you kidding me?  A career in any of these fields involves a long and arduous education generally involving several YEARS of post-graduate study.  A lot can change in those years.  Shortages turn into gluts as people chase the career tracks that are profitable - for the moment.  Once a critical mass of “bodies” is reached, the field becomes commoditized and you can kiss that nice salary and secure future good-bye.

Right now people are flooding into computer science and programming - again.  Efforts to encourage women to enter this field are in full force - again.  The reason I say “again” is because we have heard this all before - back in the 1980s.  One such effort appeared in the New York Timestoday.  (”Giving Women the Access Code” by Katie Hafner.

Ask many of the graduates of higher education in STEM fields how valuable that degree has been and more than half will laugh hysterically.  My computer science counterparts learned the hard way - as I did - that employment opportunities can turn on a dime creating a situation where  long term educational commitments are nothing more than a crap shoot.

We need more than a bandaid for this problem…

Encouraging students to enter STEM fields without first understanding the cyclic dynamics of these industries is the height of irresponsibility.  These types of degrees promote “hard skills” that are not easily transferable to alternate disciplines.

So it should be no big surprise that women and men are shunning these fields in favor of a softer skill set in business where  sliding from field to field is not so difficult.

© 2012 - Ruthmarie G. Hicks - - All rights reserved.

March 28, 2012

Sinking Ayn Rand - Lessons from the Titanic….

Since we are coming up on the 100th anniversary  of the sinking of the Titanic.  I thought this would be an appropriate way to commemorate an event, that no matter how terrible, was one of the defining moments of the 20th century.

Thomas Frank - Pity the Billionaire:

First some true confessions.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the past couple months.  A brief illness had put me off my game for a while and somehow a good read keeps the mind vital without taxing it as much as a steady diet of writing.  (In other words, I have been lazy for the past few weeks - but only for medicinal purposes.)  During that time I worked my way through Thomas Frank’s  “Pity the Billionaire”.

Frank has some very cogent arguments about how the far-right operates and how reality has morphed into an almost alternate universe from the rest of us.  Its a place where grass is blue and the sky is green.  In that topsy-turvy upside-down world  one of the most glaring ironies is the resurgence of Ayn Rand.   After all - corporate corruption and regulatory complacency had almost brought the entire world economy to its knees.  That should have been enough to consign copies of Atlas Shrugged to the paper shredders for the next half century.  But no…quite the contrary.

Ayn Rand For Dummies:

Rand contends that the true heros are the billionaires. The talented and few.  They are the masters of the universe.  They are our betters. They make ships like the Titanic possible.  But they are also the victims.  They are victims of our ingratitude.  Our inability to appreciate how they have made our lives better makes them so. They employ the people who built the ship and lifted them from them from homelessness and an early grave to mere poverty.  The people should be grateful to the likes of these billionaires.  They are the producers.  So they made a few mistakes and almost pushed us in to a second Great Depression that would have made the 1930’s seem like a cake walk - no biggie.  After all,  they are the JOB CREATORS!  And now the job creators are on strike, refusing to hire because we, the ungrateful public have made their lives so “uncertain”.


March 22, 2012

Mitt Romney - An Empty Suit with an Etch a Sketch….

Mitt Romney - empty suit with etch a sketch

Mitt Romney - empty suit with etch a sketch

Thanks to his cadre of talented campaign advisors, Mitt Romney has allowed us to see the man behind the curtain, revealing himself for what he truly is…an empty suit with an etch-a-sketch.  Substance doesn’t matter and words are easily rewritten to  match the sentiments of the constituency of the moment.   The opinions and needs of the electorate certainly don’t matter. Just package your into an attractive, or at least palatable wrapping and the content becomes irrelevant.  ”I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign…its almost like an etch-a-sketch. You can shake it up and start all over.” Sadly, that pretty much sum it up.

In a perverted way, perhaps we owe the Romney campaign a debt of gratitude for being honest enough to tell us the truth.   The needs and priorities  of “we the people” ceased to be of any concern to Washington insiders years ago.  The Romney campaign is simply honest enough to dispense with any pretense.

At the end of the day, the etch-a-sketch with an empty suit is a pathetic metaphor for what our representative government has become.

© 2012 -   Ruthmarie G. Hicks http://the - All rights reserved.

November 24, 2011

Buy American - or at LEAST shop local merchants this holiday season

Ed Schultz (see video below) had a segment about buying American during the holiday season.  I have to say, that sadly that is a lot harder than it would seem to be. Precious little is actually made in the old USA. We’ve become a service industry nation.  Sooooo, if you can’t find enough items made in America - the second best alternative is to support small local brick and mortar businesses over the holidays.


November 6, 2011

STEM Careers - The New York Times misses the point - yet again…

The Nov. 4, 2011  New York Times article on STEM (science - technology -  engineering - math) career paths shows clearly and succinctly that NO ONE is engaging in true investigative journalism anymore.  The article by Christopher Drew, Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard) shows an appalling lack of insight into the issues facing flocks of interested and engaged science majors. Did this author spend five minutes in a laboratory talking to scientists working in the trenches?  No.

Yes, science and engineering are HARD.   OF COURSE ITS HARD...Science is fascinating in the abstract - but “doing science” is never easy.  If it were easy we would have cures for cancer, heart disease, obesity and all infectious disease coming out of our ears. We’d have a shuttle to Mars where people would take vacations and someone would be working on a Warp engine to go faster than the speed of light by now.  I know its hard because I have a Ph.D. from a highly regarded medical school  and was a molecular biologist by trade for over 15 years.


November 2, 2011

Third-World America - It’s Here…

I live in the northeast.   Unless you are living in a bunker on the moon - you know where this is going.   A “freak” storm headed up the east coast last Saturday.  That storm left 3 million without out power.

Ok - it was a crazy storm - but 3 million is about 2.5 million too many.  Our infrastructure should not be so problematic in the 21st century.  Secondly - as of yesterday it was being reported that over 2 million were still without power.  After 3 days they were just 1/3 of the way back to mormal?

Luckily, I have power.  I spent the better part of the last four days clearing downed limbs from my property  - That’s part of the new normal that can not be avoided.  But many people I know are still without power.  That should NOT be part of the new normal.  Nor should the fact that I reported a massive tree limb  from county trees on high tension wires blocking my ability to exit my driveway.  I called the authorities and still no action…4 days later????  A high wind could take down those lines taking power away from thousands of people - Let’s not even discuss the danger to me and drivers on the highly trafficed street my driveway sits on.   But I guess I’m being trivial.

Having the power grid down for millions of people would have 100%  unacceptable 20 years ago….

Back in the dark ages of the late 1970s I experienced my first grid failure.  Nothing special was planned, it was a hot summer night and my parents were in the city.  I had a friend over and we were working on a jigsaw puzzle.  Suddenly…all the lights went out.  Totally unprepared, we stumbled around in the dark  because - as we found out - flashlights are a hard thing to find in the dark.  Once we had a working flashlight,  I was able to secure a couple of antique oil lamps from the basement. Fortunately, we had oil.  After a bit of digging around, we found matches.  Over the next hour we set ourselves up with oil lamps and candles.  The whole time it never dawned on us that the whole power grid had gone down.

Why?  For the same reason we weren’t at all prepared for the lights to go out.  Today a heat wave and lightening storm would be a signal to prepare for a blackout.  Back then, our grid actually WORKED.  Stuff like that just didn’t happen in the modern rockin’ world of the 70s.  I had a battery operated radio - so we finally turned that on and heard that all of NYC was in the dark.  We were STUNNED!

In the aftermath, there were investigations - the event was not taken lightly. I was pretty young at the time, certainly there must have been some political grandstanding that I was unaware of. But in the end….Government cooperated with the utilities.  They pulled themselves together and went about insuring that this would not happen again!

Let the finger-pointing begin…..

Those were the good old days…..Now the entire process has degenerated into a finger-pointing contest.  Our local utility  (ConEd) points rightly at local and county governments…Why didn’t they trim county, and city-owned trees that run alongside many of the major power lines?  With the highest property taxes in the nation - that’s the least they can do.  The county and city points to ConEd stating truthfully that they are woefully understaffed and the grid is antiquated.  They also point out that this is the case  even though ConEd customers enjoy the second highest gas and electric rates in the nation.

And the blame game continues into the recovery phase.  ConEd blames the county for not clearing the downed trees quickly enough for them to work and the county blames ConEd for not getting the grid back on line and nothing changes except that the burden of this mess is passed on to the consumer.   I  personally  have spent $2000 of MY MONEY trimming back county trees that lie near my property over the last two years. I will also have to invest in a generator because losing power for days on end is now an integral part of my life.   So what the #$%! am I paying such a premium for in terms of taxes and utility bills?

The New York Times has an article today that sums it up nicely…When each bad storm means more dark days..

A pox on BOTH of your houses - both ConEd and and Westchester County are equally blameworthy, but the bickering and finger-pointing gets us nowhere…

Neither our government or the utilities are functioning…which  I admit has become a common theme of mine.   But the essential culprit here is the lack of government oversight and REGULATION.  Anyone who thinks lack of oversight and regulation have nothing to do with need to think again.

Look what happened to the grid in California when Enron got its grubby hands on it because of deregulation by the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) ?  Does anyone remember what a mess that was?  Rolling blackouts, soaring prices, shortages contrived by unregulated utilities taking power stations off the grid during peak usage just to jack up prices.

Deregulating public utilities  is a mistake of monumental proportions.  They are natural monopolies and the consumer is therefore at their mercy.  Such industries require rigorous oversight or we will rapidly devolve into a society that relies on oil lamps, candles and fires to keep us warm.

When did we become completely incapable of investing in our own country?

The tea party wanted to get government out of their lives….well careful what you wish, you just might get it.  Government out of your lives means an uncontrolled, grid, bad roads, crumbling bridges, poor railroad transportation, an air traffic grid woefully out of date…and eventually - a third world nation.

What about the cost to the “job creators” the tea party keeps howling about?  The small businesses they claim to champion can be devastated such frequent interruptions.   But the tea party just keeps screaming that higher taxes would bring small business to its knees - so the obvious impact of major power grid interruptions get swept under the rug.

But think on this -  why would a business - large or small be  interested in setting up shop in  areas where the power grid can collapse like a sand castle when the tide rolls in?   Further, if you think the businesses that are still here will stay when they find they are doing business by candlelight every time it rains - think again.

October 24, 2011

Commodities Speculation - Trading Run Amok

Recently I wrote a blog about how trading stocks for the sake of doing so damaged the economy because it was a non-productive way to make money. The same is true for commodities trading - only in this case the consequences for the general population are worse - far worse….

A couple of weeks ago I was in running my dogs in the park and an acquaintance  of mine came in with her two dogs.  I mentioned the stock market and  she started asking  about commodities prices.  For about half a second I wondered why this was a concern.   Then it hit me - she is the owner of  a coffee shop which is also a roasting establishment.   Commodities prices have a massive impact on her life and profit margins - and coffee has gone crazy over the past year.  Admittedly some of this was due to weather issues - but much of it was sheer speculation.
The same holds true from the oil speculation that was one extra nail in our fiscal coffin in 2008.   High oil prices drove the cost of living sky high in the middle of recession in 2008 and helped lead the country off a financial cliff.  But the impact goes even further than  that.  People die from commodities speculation. When food products are involved - such as wheat death and malnurishment  result.  In poor countries such speculation driving prices sky high can mean the difference of eating or not.  Indeed, the high price of wheat was a big factor in rebellion in Tunisia and in Egypt.

More at The Real News

© 2011 - RMGHicks - - All rights reserved.

October 21, 2011

Jim Cramer of Mad Money Fame & the #occupy Wall Street Movement

Sometimes you find a supportive voice where you don’t expect to find one.  I have to admit that I have a soft-spot for Jim Cramer….Beyond the fact that he autographed a book for my Dad shortly before his death….he does try to make Wall Street explicable to those of us who have not spent quality time on the floor of the stock exchange.   He had words of wisdom about the #occupy Wall Street movement and highlighted the concerns of many about “direction.”  Cramer has a unique opportunity to shape that focus the movement…by reaching out to them He certainly had enough to say about justice not being done…

Bravo Mr. Cramer!

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