The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Geraldine was a friend whom I knew for more than twenty-five years.  We both enjoyed cooking and would have dinner at least once a week at each other’s apartments.  Geraldine was of Irish ancestry, and while she and I were both only children, her mom was the eldest of seven.

Geraldine’s mom, Moira found herself the head of the family at the young age of sixteen.  Her father owned a warehouse and Geraldine and her siblings all began working there after school when they were ten years old.  Her dad passed away when Moira was fourteen and her mother died two years later.  Suddenly, Moira had not only the responsibility of raising six brothers and sisters but had to run the family business.  Without either hesitation or choice she took on this unexpected responsibility.

Moira’s family and warehouse were on the south side of Chicago, an area that was, at that time, filled with first and second generation Irish immigrants.  In the 1920’s there were no large grocery stores but only little neighborhood food shops.  At that time, one of the conveniences that had been invented to help out the housewife was that fruits and vegetables were available in cans which could be stocked in a family’s pantry for use when needed.

This greatly simplified Moira’s life as she could turn to one of her brothers, hand him a grocery list and instruct him to pick up what the family would need for the coming week, thus eliminating her need to go grocery shopping herself and allowing more time to run the warehouse and to cook dinner for the large clan.  Naturally, when she got married, many of the habits which she had acquired as a child followed her and it was in that environment that Geraldine was born and raised.

It was a beautiful early summer Saturday when Geraldine and I decided to take an excursion to Wisconsin.  We were thinking about going to the Wisconsin Dells but there appeared to be quite a few others who had the same idea and we really didn’t want to find ourselves in a large group of people – so instead we just decided to take a drive through the Wisconsin countryside.

On our way back to Chicago we came across a large farm stand, filled with all kinds of in season fruits and vegetables.  They looked far fresher than what we found at our local stores and so we decided to stock up with some fresh from the field produce to enjoy back home.

I was delighted to find fresh peas in the pod.  I hadn’t seen them for years and they brought back one of my favorite childhood memories, helping Grandma shuck these into the large mixing bowl and then chewing on the pods to extract some of their sweetness.  I quickly filled a medium sized brown paper bag with these delectable goodies and put them with my other selections.

When we returned home we decided to make dinner together.  We unloaded our fruits and veggies and I asked Geraldine if she could give me a large bowl so that I could start shucking the peas.  She found one quickly and I emptied my bag of peas into the kitchen sink.  Geraldine looked at this harvest of sweet goodness and asked me, “What are those?”

That statement set me back just a bit.  I thought she was kidding me.  But I answered, “Those are peas.”

She looked at me, put her hands on her hips and with the air of an adult speaking in the tone of one admonishing a child for telling a fib said, “Don’t be ridiculous.  Peas are round and they come in a can.”

As I was turning my compost pile this morning, enjoying the fresh smell which had come into being because of food scraps, shredded paper, coffee grounds and garden waste, I thought of this story.  Geraldine and I grew up at a time when a person still could pick fresh produce from a roadside stand rather than buy it pre-packaged in styrofoam and wrapped with plastic.

We grew up at a time when the hanging scale, inaccurate as it probably was, served the purpose of allowing the grocer to compute the charge for an item and write the amount due on its brown paper bag with a black crayon.  We grew up at a time when there were no stickers applied to each peach or apple which can only be removed by those who have long finger nails.  We grew up at a time when you could tell the difference between a carrot and a stalk of celery by taste rather than appearance.

If, despite the availability of fresh produce when Geraldine grew up, she was surprised to find that peas actually grew in pods before they were processed, just imagine the confusion that younger generations must experience when confronted with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Perhaps that explains why so many think that the height of gourmet eating is a burger and fries.  I would not want to be the first to confront them with reality and dissuade them from their opinions.  And I certainly wouldn’t want to dispel them from their belief, if they have one at all, that “Peas are round and they come in a can.”

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At the IRS there’s a new catch phrase going around.  It is, “That’s my story – and it’s subject to change or revision at a moment’s notice.”

Setting aside whether it disturbs you that the IRS may have targeted a particular group with a particular political viewpoint, which it should irrespective of your own political perspective, all Americans should be troubled that any organization that has the power to seize your bank accounts, your home and your life savings simply hasn’t the ability to maintain its own records which it is required to do by Federal law – but expects all taxpayers to maintain documentation of the statements they make on their tax returns for seven year

Let’s recap the Congressional investigation into whether the IRS targeted conservative groups, denying or holding up a determination on whether they were entitled to tax exempt status for periods of up to two years.

First, when this news broke we were told that this was a “boneheaded decision” (that comment courtesy of President Obama) which originated from and was restricted to the Cincinnati, OH IRS office.

Second, we found that the order to pay “special attention” to conservative groups actually began in Washington, at IRS headquarters and one mid-upper level IRS bureaucrat, Lois Lerner was at the center of this.

Third, Lois Lerner is subpoenaed to testify and pleads her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, not a normal procedure taken by someone who has nothing to hide.

Fourth, Chairman Issa’s committee requests copies of Lois Lerner’s emails from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen who replies that it might take one to two years to get this information together.  That is testimony that he delivers before the committee under oath.

Fifth, Koskinen returns to testify to the committee and testifies that Lois Lerner’s hard drive “crashed” and that many of the requested emails were irretrievably “lost.”  Co-incidentally, a number of other IRS employees’ hard drives similarly “crashed” at the same time – people with whom Ms. Lerner would regularly have communicated.

Sixth, the Director of the National Archives testifies before the committee that under Federal law, the IRS was supposed to have furnished his office with all written communications and failure to do so was a violation of Federal law.

Seventh, Koskinen testifies that Lois Lerner’s hard drive was “destroyed” and there would be no way for him to provide the subpoenaed emails.

Eighth, Koskinen testifies that “backup tapes” which might hold the emails exist and that the hard drive which was “destroyed” actually still exists and merely was “scratched” rather than being destroyed.  It is possible that there might be data on it which could be recovered.

That brings us up to date – for the moment.  Apparently, the IRS’ story is subject to change without notice.

With all the different stories that IRS has told thus far, it is not surprising that nearly three out of four Americans believe that Congress should continue its investigation of this agency.  Perhaps the remaining twenty-five percent of us think this is either a waste of time or money and the IRS plays no part in their lives – so why bother?  Well, they’re not only uninformed but they’re wrong.

As you may know, Obamacare affects everyone in the country and many of its provisions fall under the purview of the IRS.  Yes, they’re the folks who are supposed to determine that you might be entitled to a “subsidy” for your insurance premium and they’re the people who are supposed to penalize you if you don’t comply with the law by buying health insurance.  Given their level of either incompetency or downright dishonesty in discussing the Lerner emails, that doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about them – not that I had one before now.

Several years ago before I began taking Gracie to the dog park I used to walk her in my neighborhood.  Occasionally I would run in to one man on the next block whom I would greet with a friendly, “Hello, how are you today?” never to receive a response from him.  This happened many times and I wondered if there were something that I had inadvertently done to offend him or perhaps he just didn’t like dogs.  So I mentioned this to a neighbor who lived across the street from this man and his family.  She told me, “Don’t take it personally.  He isn’t very friendly.  And he works for the IRS.”

I hadn’t thought about this man for several years – until the “phony IRS scandal” emerged.  I can’t conclude that the agency engaged in any wrongdoing – but there is that smell to that what with all their changing stories and obfuscation.  It’s a little like living next door to a Limburger cheese factory.  You don’t have to go inside to know that it’s there.

So it occurred to me, what if this man’s immediate next door neighbor and he had a minor disagreement which they couldn’t resolve amicably?  And what if he were a petty person who decided to take things in his own hands?  Well, he knows his neighbor’s name and address and it should prove no difficulty to pull up his social security number and, if his position allowed him, what if he decided to “retaliate” by having his neighbor’s returns audited?  Sounds unlikely, right?  Except that’s precisely what has happened to several individuals involved in Tea Party groups who applied for exemption with the IRS.

The best resolution to this question would be instituting a simple tax code that everyone could understand and with which compliance would be easy – thus eliminating a need for the IRS, or at the least a great reduction in both its size and the scope of its authority.  That’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

The second best option is to find out what really happened at the IRS and, if there is illegality and political profiling, make sure that those who were involved get incarcerated and take steps to make certain  that the agency gets the oversight so that they don’t pursue the same policies in the future.  I have only a moderate hope that happens.

The third best option, and probably the most likely one, is that the agency is truly so internally messed up that they are more than likely to leave us alone through sheer incompetence.  Based on the billions of dollars of bogus refunds IRS pays out, this seems to be the most likely case.

One can only wonder if anyone at the IRS including their commissioner has either a handle on the situation or, if he does, plans to reform the agency.  There doesn’t seem to be much evidence to point to that conclusion.  As for the rest of us, we can amuse ourselves with the classic Abbott and Costello routine and ask ourselves, when it comes to the IRS, “Who’s on first?”

Yesterday President Obama took a break from fund raising (although he will resume his schedule for that purpose later in the week) to offer a statement on the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 over the Ukraine and wag his finger at those who are impeding the effort to provide the 298 victims and their families the dignity of closure.  The “speech” seemed perfunctory, devoid of either passion or real outrage which we all should feel about this act of terrorism. Of course, there wasn’t much outrage when President Putin acquired Crimea.

The president of the United States has not been alone in providing a muted response to what most believe was a tragedy that either was directly attributable to Vladimir Putin or at the least one in which he was a willing partner.  The leaders of Europe have been similarly silent.  It took a former head of state, Tony Blair of the UK to make a statement which accurately reflects the outrage that we all should feel.

It is neither surprising nor difficult to understand why Obama generally avoided facing the issue head on.  That is clearly his method of “non-operation.”  If he doesn’t acknowledge something he must believe either that it doesn’t exist, it’s someone else’s problem to deal with or it simply will go away.  If he doesn’t give much of a hoot about how black children are being murdered regularly in his home town of Chicago, why worry about a few hundred Europeans who were blown out of the sky somewhere in Europe?  But why the silence in Europe?  The simple answer is energy – and much of the European Union’s dependence on gas which flows abundantly from Russia and through Ukraine.

The Maastricht Treaty was signed by the members of the European Union in 1992.  The goal was to reduce dependency on carbon based fuels and to replace them with “green” fuels, purportedly to the benefit of the world’s ecology.  In the twenty-two years since its enactment, some progress has been made by the EU members to replace oil and gas with alternate fuel sources as the following chart shows:

 

The information contained in this chart is for the year ending in 2012.  The total estimated population of EU countries for that same period was approximately 505,000,000 – and the four largest countries by population, Germany, France, UK and Italy housed more than fifty-five percent of those people.  The four countries which achieved the best records of finding alternative sources of energy, Sweden, Latvia, Finland and Austria had approximately 26 million residents, representing a little more than five percent of the total population of EU countries.

Not surprisingly, the four most populated EU countries had average or below average rates of replacing carbon based fuels with alternate energy sources – suggesting that while developing renewable clean energy may be an admirable goal, this technology is still in its infancy and is unable to provide a sufficient replacement for our traditional fuels to large numbers of people.  That lesson is clearly lost on President Obama – but it is abundantly clear to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and the leaders of other countries which are dependent on petroleum products from Russia.  It’s difficult to negotiate with the loan shark who is holding your family hostage, threatening them with death, if you fail to make a payment.

In some respect, the seizure of Crimea and the murders of 298 plane passengers is partly the fault of the Obama administration’s focus on green energy – whatever the price in terms of increased energy costs to be passed along to consumers, the loss of jobs in the coal industry, the failure to enable the creation of new jobs with the Keystone Pipeline, the refusal to permit LNG processing plants by the EPA which could provide at least some replacement for Soviet fuels that could be shipped to Europe to reduce that continent’s dependence on Russian energy – well, the list goes on.

The president’s recent photo-op (which he has publicly said he hates doing) eating at a local restaurant, somehow brings an image of Wimpy to mind.

wimpy

 

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” —Proverbs 29:18

There is a concept that underlies all the theories that the left promulgates.  It is that the individual is impotent, meaningless and essentially an expendable statistic.  We can see that clearly in the movement behind unionization – but it runs throughout all the currents of the polluted waters that they flush through their philosophy.

There is some truth to the general principle that there is “safety in numbers.”  There are also exceptions to that rule.  Lemmings offer a good example.  As do the six million Jews who live in Israel, surrounded by three hundred million Muslims.  That isn’t working out so well for the mullahs – their best efforts to annihilate the Jewish state notwithstanding.

Recently I commented on a piece regarding “global warming/climate change” that appeared in The Huffington Post.  My response was very simple.  I offered the opinion that I didn’t know whether “climate change” was a reality or a fabrication, but I agreed that mankind does make an impact on our environment – the most obvious being in the form of litter and pollution.  I went on to explain that if one accepted that and disliked either litter on our streets or in our air, he or she should take whatever steps possible to reduce or eliminate taking actions which would result in those conditions.  Personally, I think that is a pretty non-controversial statement.  I went on to offer a simple list of ten things which each of us could do now to work to reduce both litter and pollution – until we wait for science to discover the “ultimate solution.”

Although several people checked the “Like” button, the only written response I received was from someone who apparently had a different world view.  He excoriated my naiveté, thinking that “one person could make a difference.”  Of course, he failed to recognize that I do realize that if only one person out of six billion does something positive, that will indeed be meaningless.  His statement was, of course, an expression of his belief that only through the power of government “enlightenment” would we be able to ameliorate “climate change.”  But he overlooked something far more fundamental which I pointed out in my response.

I answered his comment, “Thank you for your thoughtful response.  In fact I do appreciate that one person alone cannot change the world.  However, I also believe that one person may inspire another and those two might inspire several more.  But irrespective of whether or not that good example causes others to do the same is irrelevant.  Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.”

I received no response to my reply.

Part and parcel of this man’s mindset (and many who think as he does) is an avoidance of taking personal responsibility.  It is part of the “victim mentality” syndrome.  People who hold this philosophy believe that only through the imposition of government rules and regulations can we achieve an orderly society.  And in their absence, they inadvertently feel justified in avoiding taking personal action which, if we all followed a good example, might obviate the need for those government rules and regulations in the first place.

It does seem as though one ordinary person acting alone cannot do much to set the world on a better course.  But if there is no one willing to try, then we must give ourselves up to the hope that somehow fate will benignly accommodate our inherent deficiencies.  And if that is the case, history would suggest that she has been singularly absent from the world stage and the course of human events.

INVITATION TO THE DANCE

 

There was a time when people dressed for dinner, dressed for church and most certainly dressed for balls and for proms.  We still consider a prom something special and so we attire ourselves specially.  Sadly, Maren Sanchez will not be dressing for anything anymore as she will be dead three months on July 16th, murdered by one of her “friends,” Chris Pakson who hacked her to death in their school’s stairwell with a kitchen knife.  The two were sixteen years old.

Pakson apparently had a history of mental illness being described as a “hacker” – a person who inflicted knife wounds on himself.  He also had been diagnosed with ADHD.  The prosecution in Connecticut is planning on charging him as an adult after he undergoes a thorough mental evaluation.  The reason for Maren’s death was that she rejected his invitation to attend their school’s prom.

It seems that even with apparent medical diagnosis and attention, Pakson was given free reign to walk, attend school and murder his long time friend.  Here was a young man whom the medical community recognized as having “issues” yet certainly no one thought that those “issues” would result in such a tragic ending.

On our open southern border we have been seeing a growing influx of “children” who are escaping the horrible conditions in Central America.  Honduras is the murder capital of the world.  Under the guise of humanitarian concerns, the Obama administration effectively is inviting these youngsters.

Now we have a proposal to spend $3.7 Billion, ninety-seven percent of which is designated to the care, housing, feeding and schooling of these children – and three percent to adding more border patrol agents to try to stem the flood of these immigrants.  Estimates are that comes to an approximate expenditure of about $75,000 per new immigrant – a number that dwarfs the amount that we spend on our own children who are recipients of various social benefit programs.

Despite the picture which is generally conveyed that these kids are “toddlers” who have on their own made a fifteen hundred mile trek to emancipation, it appears that many of these children are in fact young juveniles in their mid to late teens.  Perhaps that is the reason that the administration is essentially barring not only the press but members of Congress from taking a first eye view of the holding centers where they are temporarily being housed – before being shipped off throughout the country to places unknown.

Recent estimates are that the “coyotes” who specialize in assisting those who are seeking a new home in the United States are collecting $5,000 per person for those in this latest wave crossing the Rio Grande.  That is a phenomenal amount when you consider that the average person in Honduras earns less than $2,000 per year.  Where are these indigent people obtaining such a relatively large amount of money to make the journey?  Could it be that some of our foreign aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador is being used by those countries’ governments to encourage the export of their own citizens?

In one respect, until the Congress changes a 2008 law which granted special protection to illegal immigrants who come from anywhere but Mexico and Canada, our border crisis will continue.  It is surprising that the president has not taken out his pen and written an executive order to alter that law.  He has shown no hesitancy doing so with respect to other laws.  Nor has he picked up the phone and called the presidents of the three Central American countries who are losing their citizens and threatened them with a reduction in the aid that we supply unless they co-operate in helping to stem the flow.  For that matter, a call to President Nieto of Mexico would be in order as well – encouraging him to apprehend these migrants before they reach our border.

There is no one who does not have empathy for these kids and their plight.  But at the same time, we ought to have empathy for our own children and our adult population as well.  Allowing youngsters whose backgrounds are uncertain, who may or may not be gang members and who almost certainly have the potential to bring infectious diseases into the country where they can spread these among the general population does not seem like a well-reasoned policy, humanitarianism or not.

At the least, we should treat those who are in their mid-teens as adults, as the Connecticut prosecutors are treating Chris Pakson for murdering his schoolmate.  That would at least moderately ease the backlog of illegal Central American youngsters who are awaiting deportation hearings – a process that will take many years to accomplish.  The ultimate answer is to have an administration in power that recognizes the absolute sovereignty of our nation’s borders and comes to the table with a sincere proposal both to secure those borders and negotiate a workable, reasonable and compassionate path to citizenship for those who want to resettle in America.

We may have to wait several years if not longer before that happens.  In the meanwhile, there will be no Central American wallflowers at our “Open Border Dance.”  You can’t blame them for wanting to escape the deplorable conditions in their native countries.  Nor can you blame them for wanting to come here.  After all, Obama and his administration have sent them an engraved invitation for them to attend.

 

When my parents took me to see “The Wizard of Oz” my mother shushed me for speaking out after the above scene was shown on the screen.  I didn’t understand why Dorothy went around the road at its circular beginning instead of just starting at the part of the road where it straightened out.  I think Mom believed she had released a hellion on the world.  Maybe so.

This, of course, brings me to she of our time who is the queen and diva of convoluted thinking , Nancy Pelosi.  Possibly of all time – although I haven’t reached that conclusion quite yet.

Leader Pelosi has categorized the recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court, granting that company an exemption from the Obamacare mandate on providing abortifacients as just one more bomb in the war on women.  Furthermore, she categorized the five male Justices as being participants in that war, if for no other reason, because of their gender.  Well, everyone is entitled to her opinion – however warped it might be.  But let’s see where this kind of thinking on the part of the liberal left, of whom Ms. Pelosi is an outstanding example, logically leads us.

For purposes of this conversation, let’s assume that Ms. Pelosi is correct.  A man simply cannot properly adjudicate an issue that is related to women simply because of a difference in our sexual apparatus .  But the “logic” of this argument would suggest that having a different experience de facto disqualifies a person from making judgments about others whose experience is different from their own.

Certainly if it’s true that a man should have no involvement in questions regarding women, it should be equally true that women should have no involvement in questions regarding men.  While I have never heard anyone on the left make that statement it does seem logical enough to me.  But should we stop there?

Let’s take the case of a man who is accused of rape.  Obviously, a woman should not serve on a jury adjudicating this case as her lifelong experience has been different from that of the male rapist and therefore it is impossible for her to come to an objective determination because she lacks the mindset to do so as a simple result of her gender.

But if that is true, then might we not go further?  Should we not restrict the jury pool not only just to men, but to men who have themselves also been accused of committing rape?  Would they not be the best  equipped to understand the mind of the accused rapist – far better than the general population – and therefore be better able than others to cut through all the legal jargon and actually penetrate to  the crux of the matter?

It disturbs me that someone who holds a position of “leadership” in our government and at one time was third in line of succession to the presidency does not understand that it is not the role of the Congress to critique the Supreme Court but it is the role of the Court to critique the laws which Congress enacts.  More disturbing is that Pelosi will win re-election by overwhelming margins until she dies or retires.

But perhaps there is hope.  I have dropped her an email explaining that the Yellow Brick Road on the way to Oz begins just off of San Francisco near Fisherman’s Wharf and submerged only about thirty feet under the Pacific’s surface.  Perhaps she will lead a brigade of her supporters on a journey to Oz, thereby making the country and the world safer for the rest of us.  Bon voyage!

BLISSFUL IGNORANCE

Although the truck trip hadn’t been that long, Eloise was glad it was over.  The back of the truck was crowded, and she had to stand next to Bessie who was one of her least favorite companions.   Bessie always bragged about how she was so much better than the rest.

It was hot as they started to move in to the building.  They came to the fence and Bessie naturally pushed to the head of the line since she was more important than the rest.  She sneeringly turned to look at her companions as she walked ahead of them, a slight  swagger in her step.  She was the first to feel the weight of the sledge hammer which ended her consciousness before the knife took her life.

When the wind came from the west as it usually did, the smell of fear and blood and death filled the air in my neighborhood, then travelled to the waters of Lake Michigan where they were dissipated before reaching the borders of Michigan or Indiana.  The Chicago Stockyards were open for business and would remain so for seven years after I moved to the city, finally closing in 1971.

There had been a movement toward relocating slaughterhouses in urban areas and putting them closer to the source of the livestock which were their clientele.  Chicago relinquished it’s title, “The Hog slaughter capital of the world,” with some equanimity.  Improved and reliable transportation made it less important to have the finished product close to the source of consumption.  But this change had its impact on the neighborhood where the slaughterhouses had operated.

 

Drovers Bank which had been chartered in 1883 to serve the cowboys who moved the cattle to their final destination closed seven years after the stockyards in 1978.  The saloons and houses where women of questionable virtue held court near the yards were long gone.  While we still wanted to consume that steak or slab of ribs, we no longer wanted to be close to the process that produced them for us.  We wanted to pretend blissful ignorance – and we still do.

“Out of sight – out of mind.”  I don’t know if this was originally a German proverb but as with the Union Stockyards in Chicago, Hitler employed the same strategy in his location of the death camps.  If photos of the inner workings or the slaughterhouses or the showers in Auschwitz were released to the public, more of us might be vegans and the Second World War might have ended sooner.

 

Today we have what is described by some as “a humanitarian challenge and responsibility” to take care of the children from Central America who are crossing our southern border.  Others describe this as a well-orchestrated, planned invasion.  Perhaps it is some mixture of both.  But if it is the former, then wouldn’t it make sense to sell the idea by photographing the waifs who have made the hazardous journey thus dispelling the arguments of the doubters?  After all, unlike “global warming/climate change” it is not difficult to take a snapshot of the subject matter.

Surprisingly, not only are reporters and even Congressmen not being allowed into the facilities where these newcomers to America are being housed, those who are expected to tend to them are not receiving advanced notice that they are on their way.  Why?  If we are trying to fulfill a presumed responsibility to take care of them, wouldn’t it make sense to allow those who will receive them to make appropriate preparations?

While this administration might not be the most transparent in history, it may prove to be the most prescient.  Perhaps it has looked across the country and found that apathy is one of our citizenry’s greatest attainments.  And within that context it realizes that most of us would prefer to remain in a constant stupor of blissful ignorance.

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