Friday, December 25, 2009

Ida Berman May 2, 1911 - December 22, 2009

On November 4, 2008 Ida Berman, immobilized by a stroke, was wheeled to the poll site at 210 Riverside Drive in New York City to cast her ballot for Barack Obama for the president of the United States. It was the last political act by a remarkable woman.

Ida Berman, ninety-eight years old, died peacefully in her niece’s arms on Tuesday, December 22nd. Ida was a celebrated photographer, a lover of the English language, a nasty scrabble competitor, an immigrant who took seriously the ideals of her adopted country. She never married, but was a second mother to her siblings' many children. She was my mother’s oldest sister and my aunt.

The oldest of Issac and Sarah Berman’s eight children, she migrated with her Yiddish speaking parents from Denmark when she was two years old. For the first seven years of her life until her parents enrolled her in school, she spoke only Yiddish. But she mastered her new country’s language quickly and graduated as Binghamton Central High School's valedictorian. Since the family was large and poor, Ida had no plans to continue her education. But a teacher encouraged her to apply for scholarships. She earned a full one to NYU, becoming the first in her family to graduate from high school and attend college.

Ida leaves behind a remarkable collection of photographs, mainly portraits of family members and the people and places she encountered in her many travels. Her most renowned is a portrait of Rosa Parks that hangs in the Smithsonian Institute. The Smithsonian’s Curator of Photographs, Mary Panzer who selected it as the Curator’s Choice wrote about the portrait: “This photograph combines all the elements I look for when adding new portraits to the collection. It is a beautiful image of an important person, made at a significant time in her life. It is the product of an important historic moment and the story of an encounter that also tells us much about the photographer and her work.”

Ida took the photograph in the summer of 1955, at the Highlander Folk School, a training ground for labor organizers and community activists. Parks and her husband were already leaders in the Montgomery branch of the NAACP when friends offered her a scholarship to Highlander. Berman, a professional photographer who worked for the Fur and Leather Workers union in New York, visited Highlander that summer at the invitation of the author Myra Page. She, Page and Annette Rubinstein, educator, writer and advisor to New York Congressman Vito Marcantonio, drove from NYC to Tennessee in a large Cadillac that Berman had inherited from her father. According to Berman, “Rosa Parks…wasn’t well known then, the [Montgomery Bus] boycott hadn’t happened. She came [to Highlander] because it was a place that instructed people in community action and I think she learned a lot.”

When Highlander’s director, Myles Horton, noticed that Berman had a camera, he asked her to take photographs for the school. She chose subjects at random, looking for faces that interested her. Later she recalled, “I was just lucky that one of them was Rosa Parks. We were talking and I liked her. Not because she was anybody. I’m sorry I didn’t go the next year because Martin Luther King was there!”

Panzer notes: “Like all good portraits, this photograph came from a rich encounter between a subject and an artist. Ida Berman and Rosa Parks met at the Highlander School because of their shared commitment to social change. Berman’s portrait also shows us a soon-to-be national heroine as she appeared to her friends and family. Such intimate views are unusual, but when they exist, they often take the form of a photograph, made by perceptive (and lucky) men and women, often without a thought to the generations that will later treasure their pictures as a rare and valuable record.”

Myles Horton, and Berman become good friends. At his invitation she visited the Literacy Citizenship School in the South Carolina Sea Islands where she took several noteworthy photos including a famous portrait of Septima Clark, the school's organizer, and Bernice Robinson, its first teacher, and their students. Ida fondly recalled that singing enlivened the evenings, blending with the joy of learning.

Ida Berman studied at the Photo League in New York City, where from the late 1930s through the early 1950s photographers of all levels found classes and exhibitions. The teachers emphasized the use of photography as a documentary medium, and many students went on to careers in journalism. Because classes and exhibitions of photography were relatively rare, the
Photo League attracted some of the most important photographers of the era, including Paul Strand, Aaron Siskind, Berenice Abbott, Lewis Hines, and Ansel Adams.

As the only noncommercial photography school in America and having trained over 1,500 photographers during the years it was open, the Photo League was poised, by 1947, to realize an ambitious plan to become the Center for American Photography. That plan was cut short after the League appeared on the attorney general's list of subversive organizations in December 1947.

In January 1948, the photographer Walter Rosenblum published the article "Where Do We Go From Here?" in response to the blacklisting of the Photo League by Attorney General Tom Clark. Disregarding the actual photographs produced by the League's members, the FBI emphasized the organization's commitment to social causes in order to allege subversive activities and social alliances. Despite the fact that the claims were never substantiated, the Photo League was forced to disband in 1951 after an informant testified that it was a front organization for the Communist Party.

Ida was a member of the League until it disbanded. She fondly recalled telling the FBI to go to hell when they visited her during the height of the Red Scare. Quite an image since Ida was all of 4’10” tall and tipped the scales at less than 100 lbs soaking wet.

For Ida it was always about the size of your heart, not your height. When union members made fun of this tiny woman lugging large, heavy camera equipment to their meetings, she would let them know in no uncertain terms she was a working professional who would be respected. After doing her shoot, Ida would pack her stuff up, go home and work through the night to deliver the prints the next day. She remained a night owl for the rest of her life.

Ida was a devoted aunt. Every one of her nieces and nephews was beautiful, exceptional and smart. She would regal us with Leo the Lion stories, taking us to world’s unknown. It was most certainly under Ida’s and Leo’s influence that as a kindergartner, I reported in show and tell that my family has visited Africa over the weekend. When questioned how that was possible by my not too sympathetic teacher I replied we had driven there. When Ida learned of my teacher’s incredulity at this rather tall tale, she shook her head, angered that a teacher would fail to appreciate such a creative and worldly child.

Ida was particularly devoted to siblings’ youngest offspring. But her affection and interest continued no matter your age. This woman who had befriended Rosa Parks and W.E. B Dubois, who had danced with Marlon Brando and been immersed in New York’s left wing intellectual and artistic circles always wanted to know what you were doing and thinking. She always made you feel important.

Ida was a lover of language. A committed and even nasty scrabble player, a lover of Shakespeare and dirty, sardonic limericks like this one:

There once was a man from Havana
Screwed a girl on a player piano
At the height of their fever
Her ass hit the lever
And Yes he has no banana

Ida hated injustice and inequality. The photographs she leaves behind reflect that commitment. While she was often exasperated by the neo-conservative politics of both political parties, she never wavered in her belief that a better, more just world was possible. She had seen it during the union drives in the 1930’s and at the Highlander School.

Ida’s apartment on the upper west side, adorned with interesting paintings and books, was an exciting and warm place to visit. Because it was rent controlled Ida lived there from 1948 til she died. For many of her nieces and nephews it was a home away from home. It was also known to thousands of my econ students since I used it to illustrate price ceilings..

Ida was many things, but to her nieces and nephews Ida Berman was mainly an adoring and feisty aunt. She lived a good, long and decent life.

Good night Leo. Good night Ida.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Congresswoman Moore calls for pre-apprenticeship training program

Demise of printing cluster's technology center is a warning to policy makers

The final nail in the coffin of the printing industry's advanced technology center was driven last week when Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) ended its relationship with the Institute on Graphics and Imaging just 2 ½ years after it began. The $4 million publicly funded building will no longer be a printing industry research and technology center. It will now house regular WCTC classes and services.

The failure of this taxpayer funded facility to generate economic growth, research and development, job creation or training should be a warning to those who have uncritically supported the M7 Water Council's water cluster initiative.

The rhetoric and promises of printing and water cluster advocates are startling similar. Wisconsin is alleged to house a vibrant cluster of printing and water technology companies. Industry success requires public investments in R and D to support these firms. The result: Southeastern Wisconsin will become another Silicon Valley.

In both cases, the drive for public investment has been championed by industry CEOs, justified by industry financed studies and uncritically supported by the local media.

In 2004 the Milwaukee Business Journal, for example, enthusiastically proclaimed:"Wisconsin's printing cluster leaders continue to support a move to make the area the 'Silicon Valley of printing.' The centerpiece of that plan calls for a 27,000-square-foot applied technology center at WCTC...The proposed center...would serve as the hub for a printing industry cluster...."

The printing technology center was first proposed in language that parallels the rhetoric of today's water cluster advocates in the Wisconsin Printing Industry Cluster report to the state's Economic Summit III in 2002:

With high-pay jobs, several market- leading companies, significant private sector R&D, and a steady supply of skilled workers from technical and baccalaureate colleges, the Printing Cluster is well positioned to continue as a major driver of the Wisconsin economy.”

The Council’s recommendation mirrored the M7 Water Council's push for UWM's fresh water research to be industry focused: "“Since the presence of R&D units is critical for the success of any knowledge-based industry, one of the colleges or universities should establish an R&D capability."

"...The Printing and Graphic Design Center, which is staffed by WCTC and UW-Stout, is one logical site for an applied R&D center."

The Printing Industry Cluster like water cluster advocates also argued that establishing a publicly funded research and development technology center would help attract additional R and D activity to the state. “PIW (Printing Industries of Wisconsin) and its members should lure the R&D operations of printing trade associations to Wisconsin...These R&D operations could obtain critical mass if combined with a college technical capability and support from private companies in R&D consortiums."

One of the printing industry cheerleaders was Milwaukee Journal Sentinel weekly business columnist John Torinus who also owns Serigraph, a West Bend printing company. He championed the center as "infrastructure …established to support the (printing) cluster.” Torinus, in a column that sounds errily similar to current promises by water cluster advocate and Badger Meter CEO, Rich Meeusen, even promoted the notion “that our growing muscle in the industry cluster could result in Wisconsin becoming ‘the Silicon Valley of printing.’"

The failure of the printing clusters' advanced technology center is a warning that policy makers should not rely on industry financed research and CEO anecdotes to develop economic development policy.

CEOs and business association spokesman have good reasons to try to externalize the costs of their firms' and sector's technology development, research and training. Most importantly it reduces their costs and increases profits. But it violates the fundamentals of market economics. Without significant skin in the game, business leaders have no incentive to minimize risky investments.

Industry financed research is unreliable. For generations the tobacco industry funded studies that denied any link between smoking, cancer and heart disease. Oil companies have financed climate change denial research in order to defeat legislation designed to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Industry financed research promoting sectoral strategies raises similar conflict of interest issues. Before public dollars are invested in a particular industry, citizens should insist the analysis and strategies be validated by independent research.

None of this means that UWM's efforts to establish a School of Fresh Water Sciences is misguided. Given the college's proximity to Lake Michigan, the importance of the Great Lakes, UWM's leadership in fresh water science and the wide range of fresh water scientific and policy issues, the School of Fresh Water is an important initiative. Nor is it an argument against developing a coherent and strategic industrial policy.

The demise of the printing industry's advanced technology center is a warning that policy makers should not allow private firms or the corporate community to define the School of Fresh Water Sciences' research agenda and scope of inquiry. That is the responsibility of the Fresh Water school's faculty and staff. And it is a warning to all of us to examine any industry spokeman's claim that taxpayer assistance is all that is needed to create another Silicon Valley.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wisconsin Jobs Initiative is crucial for economic recovery

Wisconsin’s unemployed workers are enrolling in the state’s 16 technical colleges in record numbers, stretching the Wisconsin Technical College System's (WTCS) capacity to the breaking point.

Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), the WTCS's largest institution, is currently experiencing a 27% increase in enrollment.

The states other 15 technical colleges have experienced similar record enrollment increases, led by Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville, home of the a closed GM manufacturing plant, which led all tech colleges last year with a 21.5% increase and an astounding 42% over the last two years.

Record enrollments are being driven by dislocated workers and veterans seeking retraining and because the relatively low cost of technical colleges is attractive to all students.

On Saturday the Milwaukee Journal Journal highlighted MATC's work retraining laid off Midwest Airline pilots.

With unemployment projected to remain stubbornly high into 2012 and a record number of long-term unemployed, tech colleges anticipate that enrollment increases will continue. This year, 14 of the 16 colleges are estimating increases of over 10 percent and half of the colleges are estimating increases of 15 percent or more in FTE enrollment.

In an effort to accommodate the influx of students, technical colleges have added increased sections, expanded evening, weekend and on-line courses, increased student pupil ratios, relaxed enrollment deadlines and waived application and other fees for dislocated workers

Many programs at MATC and other tech colleges are now at capacity, despite running day and night and on weekends. Waiting lists are growing.

The Obama administration recognized the key role tech colleges play in helping the economy and the nation's workers recover when it appropriated $12 billion for two -year college education and training.

But there is a catch. Federal training dollars in the America's Graduation Initiative require a local match. Once the bill passes the United States Senate early next year, it will be up to Governor Doyle and the democratically controlled Wisconsin Legislature to appropriate additional funds so that Wisconsin qualifies for these federal training dollars.

State Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) has authored legislation, the Wisconsin Jobs Initiative, that would appropriate $145 million and generate a $135 million federal match. The bill provides enough funds to train an additional 40,000 Wisconsin workers. Milwaukee's Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) is the second lead on the bill which has been endorsed by 18 additional legislators and the Wisconsin Technical College Boards Association.

When the Legislature reconvenes after the holidays it is critical that it pass this legislation. Otherwise, the doors of opportunity will begin to close on Wisconsin's dislocated workers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Losing 11,000 jobs is nothing to cheer about!

Last week the Bureau Labor Statistics reported that the nation lost 11,000 jobs in November.

Most of the coverage was like the of the over the top Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headine which declared: "Optimism returns as unemployment rate dips to 10%."

Not so quick.

As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman points out:

I don’t think many people grasp just how much job creation we need to climb out of the hole we’re in. You can’t just look at the eight million jobs that America has lost since the recession began, because the nation needs to keep adding jobs — more than 100,000 a month — to keep up with a growing population. And that means that we need really big job gains, month after month, if we want to see America return to anything that feels like full employment.

...we need to add around 18 million jobs over the next five years, or 300,000 jobs a month. This puts last week’s employment report, which showed job losses of “only” 11,000 in November, in perspective. It was basically a terrible report, which was reported as good news only because we’ve been down so long that it looks like up to the financial press.

So if we’re going to have any real good news, someone has to take responsibility for creating a lot of additional jobs. And at this point, that someone almost has to be the Federal Reserve.

I don’t mean to absolve the Obama administration of all responsibility. Clearly, the administration proposed a stimulus package that was too small to begin with and was whittled down further by “centrists” in the Senate. And the measures President Obama proposed earlier this week, while they would create a significant number of additional jobs, fall far short of what the economy needs.

But while economic analysis says that we should have a large second stimulus, the political reality is that the president — faced with total obstruction from Republicans, while receiving only lukewarm support from some in his own party — probably can’t get enough votes in Congress to do more than tinker at the edges of the employment problem.

The Fed, however, can do more.

The entire column is linked.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

U.S.troops out of sight and out of mind

We are sending another 30,000 troops into combat, young men and women who are our husbands, wives, sons and daughters.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert notes:

The air is filled with obsessive self-satisfied rhetoric about supporting the troops, giving them everything they need and not letting them down. But that rhetoric is as hollow as a jazzman’s drum because the overwhelming majority of Americans have no desire at all to share in the sacrifices that the service members and their families are making. Most Americans do not want to serve in the wars, do not want to give up their precious time to do volunteer work that would aid the nation’s warriors and their families, do not even want to fork over the taxes that are needed to pay for the wars.

To say that this is a national disgrace is to wallow in the shallowest understatement. The nation will always give lip-service to support for the troops, but for the most part Americans do not really care about the men and women we so blithely ship off to war, and the families they leave behind. ..

The reason it is so easy for the U.S. to declare wars, and to continue fighting year after year after year, is because so few Americans feel the actual pain of those wars. We’ve been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than we fought in World Wars I and II combined. If voters had to choose right now between instituting a draft or exiting Afghanistan and Iraq, the troops would be out of those two countries in a heartbeat.

I don’t think our current way of waging war, which is pretty easy-breezy for most citizens, is what the architects of America had in mind. Here’s George Washington’s view, for example: “It must be laid down as a primary position and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government owes not only a proportion of his property, but even his personal service to the defense of it.”

What we are doing is indefensible and will ultimately exact a fearful price, and there will be absolutely no way for the U.S. to avoid paying it.

The column is linked.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Fugees: soccer, hope,redemption and the immigrant experience

Two years ago, Warren St John of the New York Times, wrote an article about a soccer club composed of refugees from some of the most violent nations in the world and their volunteer coach, a young woman, Luma Mufleh.

It is an inspiring story about how Ms Mufleh, an immigrant herself, used soccer as a vehicle to help her players adapt to their new lives in the United States.

While the experiences of these athletes are unique and in many cases horrifying, generations of immigrants have built soccer clubs in the US and used them as a supportive community to understand and adapt to their new circumstances.

Long before the soccer had established a foothold in Milwaukee's suburbs, immigrants had organized ethnic clubs like Verdi, the Bavarians, the Serbs, the Croatian Eagles, and Polonia. Many of Milwaukee's soccer legends like Bob Gansler and Mario Carini played for these clubs that were firmly rooted in the city's immigrant neighborhoods. One of the largest clubs in Milwaukee today, Club Latino, continues this tradition.

St John has now written a book, "Outcasts United," about the Fugees soccer club which is shorthand for Refugees. It's a great read. To learn more about the Fugees and how soccer serves as an effective vehicle for self expression and acculturation read the book or watch attached video.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wave district proposal is bad economics

Badger Meter CEO Richard Meeusen recently proposed that the city offer water free to firms that relocate to the area. The concept has been endorsed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. According to the Wall Street Journal the city is preparing an application for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission that would offer reduced water rates for up to five years to businesses that bring in at least 25 jobs.

This is very bad idea based on a fundamental misunderstanding of economic principles.

Proponents of “wave districts” are right that Milwaukee has a competitive advantage in reliable water. It’s the result of the city’s location and years of public investment. Climate change is making Milwaukee’s water even more valuable as UWM economics professor and department chair, William L. Holahan, has documented in his paper, "Reliable Water Supply: Milwaukee's Comparative Advantage."

Milwaukee’s competitive advantage in water makes it attractive to businesses that need reliable sources of water such as bottling plants that are relocating from cities in the southeast and southwest that are plagued by water shortages.

But if Milwaukee truly has a competitive advantage in water reliability, there is no reason to reduce its price or give it away. No business firm would cut its price in response to increased competitive advantage. In fact, it is standard for business firms to raise their prices, not reduce them, when their competition is "drying up." Badger Meter certainly wouldn’t cut its prices if a major competitor went under. So why should the city of Milwaukee?

Rather than providing water hungry-firms with windfall profits by cutting the city’s nationally low water rates to zero, Milwaukee should use its competitive advantage in reliable water to attract water hungry-firms and invest the revenue generated through increased sales of water in other public goods that benefit all of the city’s citizens and businesses, like our schools, employment and training programs, parks, transportation and communications infrastructure, or in property tax relief.

The economic attractiveness of the city depends on its quality of life, its schools, parks, streets, public health, safety and tax rates among other things. Milwaukee badly needs revenue to invest in these attractors in no small part because shared revenue from the state has declined by almost 25% over the past decade.

The Milwaukee Water Works is an asset of the city, paid for by rate-payers, and its value must be maximized for the benefit of the city, its residents and employers. Proper pricing and investment of water revenue is a key to maximizing the value of the city’s competitive advantage in water reliability. Establishing “wave districts” will not contribute to this objective or enhance the city’s competitiveness.