The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘capitalism’ Category

LESSONS FROM A CELEBRITY

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor.  Rich is better.”

– Sophie Tucker

 

Sophie Tucker had a tough life.  Born to a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant family she began singing in her parents’ restaurant in Connecticut for tips.  She appeared in The Ziegfeld Follies but her talent threatened some of her co-performers and they got her fired.  She went on to overcome these obstacles and became successful and famous.  And she earned the title, “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas.”

In 1927 when this recording of “Some of These Days” was made, there was no such thing as the minimum wage.  It would be eleven years until Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed that proposal through Congress and it became illegal for any employer to pay an employee less than the magnanimous amount of twenty-five cents per hour.  A person working a full forty hour work week, fifty-two weeks a year could earn $512 per year.  Even by 1938 standards those were wages that insured a life of poverty or at the very best meager subsistence.

In 1964, two years before Tucker’s death, the Congress passed ‘The Civil Rights Act which officially prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  Fortunately, Tucker had found a career in the one industry which had, at least, marginally, followed those principles before they became the law of the land – entertainment.  As prevalent and blatant as discrimination against blacks was in varying states and jurisdictions, Jews were frequently the subject of anti-Semitism – although it might have been more subtle than the hatred preached by the KKK and other groups.

This discrimination took the form of having “unofficial policies” in which Jews were regularly excluded from membership in private clubs and prevented them from living in certain areas which preferred an all-Gentile population, not unlike the redlining phenomenon that precluded blacks from home ownership in many communities.  And as with black Americans, there were any number of pejorative words and phrases coined to describe and demean Jews – although our more sensitive citizens usually waited until the person being so described left the room and then whispered it to his listener “sotto voce.”

Sonya Kalish which was Sophie Tucker’s birth name had obstacles to overcome.  So did everyone else in early 20th century America.  There were no governmentally inspired “safety nets” to which a person could look should they get in financial difficulty.  All that a person had was family, friends and their own drive, ability and ambition.  Fortunately, Tucker had a desire to succeed – and she did – enough to make her a national icon and a person who was well off financially.

I doubt that at any time, Sophie Tucker aspired to do just enough to make it through and get by.  She was someone who saw herself as a person whose aspirations were only as great as she believed them to be.  And perhaps it was exactly because we had no safety nets that she was impelled to succeed.  How much inspiration to do better do we have if we are given a minimal level which is assured if we do little or nothing?

Which brings us to the question of the minimum wage – an invitation to a life filled with need and poverty.

“If you’re against raising the minimum wage you’re a Tea Party Republican who hates people, wants them to starve, abhors the middle class and is only concerned about corporate profits.”  Perhaps you’ve heard that meme.  If not you don’t own a television or a computer which has access to current events.  If you believe that statement, you need to enroll in a remedial class in basic math.

We’ve had a Federal minimum wage law on the books for seventy-six years.  During that time, the percentage of Americans who are officially classified as living in poverty has increased as a percentage of the overall population.  Why should this be if a guaranteed minimum wage is intended to combat this phenomenon effectively and has been raised periodically during that time span?  Is there even the most ardent among those pushing for a forty percent increase who truly believes that should that be enacted it will lift those minimum wage earners out of their dire financial circumstances and suddenly move them into the middle class?  If you accept the government’s definition of what a middle class person earns you will find that the math simply doesn’t work.

Well let’s turn to the issue of greedy corporations looking to maximize their profits, all on the backs of their underpaid workers.  Most business owners would agree with the statement that the reason for going into business is to earn profits and to grow the business in order to increase the size of the profits.  The real disagreement with those on the left who would agree with that statement is that they then add on the final clause, “without regard to the working conditions or financial well-being of their employees.”   That statement can only be made by someone who is inexperienced in running their own business.

We all know that there are costs associated with hiring employees.  Those that are obvious include various taxes which are imposed and include FICA, FUTA, state unemployment contributions, paying state worker’s compensation premiums and providing health insurance.  Those are the legal, mandated additional costs that every employer incurs.  But there are indirect, less obvious costs that also impact an employer’s profitability.  One of the most important of those is productivity.

Most of us would agree that if two mechanics who were equally competent were available to repair our car and one charged twice the amount of the other, we would probably select the less expensive mechanic to do the job.  If we had two employees on our payroll and one was able to produce fifty widgets an hour and the other consistently only made twenty-five in an hour, wouldn’t that second employee only have half the value of his co-worker to our company and wouldn’t he be contributing only fifty percent the amount to our profitability?

This leads us to a simple question.  Is it fair to pay the more productive employee the same amount as his less efficient counterpart?  Or, more to the argument of those who believe everyone should get a guaranteed wage, would it be unfair to the less productive employee to pay him less than our second, more productive worker – even if that lesser amount conformed to the then prevalent minimum wage?

I suspect those with a “fairness” mindset would object to rewarding our more valuable employee because somehow they view that as an employer “demeaning” the other worker by paying him less, irrespective of the fact that he actually is less valuable to the company.  Unfortunately, the mantra, “Equal pay for equal work” disregards the fact that not all workers offer an equivalent amount of productivity for the time they spend in our offices or factories.

Those lobbying for an increased minimum wage believe that paying “less than a livable wage” is barbaric.  I would suggest that probably is true – and the individual who is willing to accept that wage and live under those conditions is not exhibiting the best judgment or acting in his own best self-interest.  Why then do people accept those sorts of positions?

The possible answers are that they are lazy and unwilling to work at a better paying, more demanding position; do not have the skills to qualify for a better paying position; or find that the particular minimum wage job satisfies their personal goals.  What other answer can there be to that question?  Despite the acrimonious debate over this subject, I have yet to hear that minimum wage-paying employers go out with shotguns, round up people and force them to work in their businesses, threatening them and their families with bodily harm if they fail to comply.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.”  That statement from no one other than non-Nobel prize winning economist, Hillary Clinton.  If we accept that statement, then it is government which is solely responsible for job creation – or lack of it.  In part I would agree with that concept – particularly the latter part because while insightful regulation is a positive thing, overregulation is a burden and a job destroyer.  If there is a dearth of jobs in this country and it is government who is the job creator, then obviously government is not doing very well in this regard.  Or are they?

We now have more people than in the country’s existence on some form of Federal dole, ranging from food stamps to telephones.  These are people whom the government has created and endowed with a job – to continue to vote for those who concocted these programs with promises that even better, more lucrative programs are in the works.  And people who are naïve and uneducated solidly endorse their own enslavement in election day after election day.  This Tuesday is unlikely to suggest that many of them have yet seen the light.

In 2008, half the country voted for “Hope and Change.”  We’ve gotten more than our fair share of the second part of the slogan.  I’m still optimistic that we will get a peek at the first part.  At least, I hope so.

 

RAPE AND RACISM

There is no secret that the number of black Americans who identify themselves as conservatives is very small.  It’s not surprising that those who do are people who made something of themselves – despite the hurdles and barricades that they had to overcome.  And we have do have a history of making things tough for American blacks.

Now most of us will point point to organizations such as the KKK and their harassment of southern blacks – or point to the American Nazi Party and other white supremacist groups and lay the blame at their feet.  There is no question that their message of hate has resulted in violence and death among our black community members.  They are Neanderthals who need to go to night class so that they can learn how to evolve an opposable thumb.

But as evil as they have been in expressing their racism in acts of violence against individuals – they are not the real problem – at least not today.  No, the real racists are those of whatever color who believe that we should keep our blacks on the plantation.  But rather than have them work in the fields or serve as butler or servants in the main house, we reward them for indolence with our paternalistic continuation of “the white man’s burden” philosophy that was so prevalent in the European colonization of Africa and the Indian subcontinent in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

That paternalism results in one thing – dependency.  And if someone controls another person on the most fundamental levels of providing that person food, shelter and medical care, he holds power over that individual.  Psychologists tell us that the rapist is not fulfilling a sexual fantasy when he defiles a woman.  Rather, he is satisfying a need to demonstrate his superiority and the fact that he has power over that victim.  To my mind rape and racism are terms which are largely interchangeable. Both are evil.

Perhaps the difference between the two is that rape is little more than a specific event – which for the victim has long-term psychological implications.  Whereas racism is an on-going process – which also has long-term psychological implications not only for the victim but for society as well.

There is a reason that when slavery was legal in the United States, every state which allowed the practice had laws on the books which prohibited the education of slaves.  “Keep them dumb and pregnant” – that was the mantra and the business model.  And by and large it worked.

Well, in theory we now educate blacks – but that is more theory than reality.  If you look at the four year high school graduation rate in the black community it is only at a 52% level.  And that only reflects those who have actually gone on to high school.

What can you do with that level of education in today’s technological society?  Work at a fast food restaurant – at a minimum, unlivable wage.  The only hope that offers is that a person will survive for another day.  That isn’t life – and certainly is not the American dream.

When Dr. King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech he had a vision of equal opportunity for all.  Those in the black – and many in the white community – welcomed and embraced his message.  Had he lived, this country might look very different than it does.  I have no doubt that Dr. King would not have endorsed the philosophy or presidency of a Barack Obama.  Because Obama has, at every opportunity, perpetuated the philosophy of the old slave owners.  “Keep them dumb and pregnant.”

For a president who excoriated the colonialists and their paternalism, he has written a playbook of which they would have been proud.  He has increased black dependency in order to get their votes and gain personal power.  He is no different than the rapist who has molested his victim.  But in this case, the victim is the United States of America.

And frankly, most blacks in this country have bought into their own enslavement because they simply haven’t received the cognitive training and education to see through this welfare farce and recognize it for what it really is – enslavement.  If you question that, look at the percentage of blacks who voted for the Chief Enslaver.

But there may be some hope.  Some black Americans slipped through the educational abyss and are armed and dangerous.  They are equipped with a vision of a truly equal America and they are prepared to enter the fight armed with one of the strongest weapons mankind has ever known – the truth.

One of those is a State Senator from the state of Louisiana, the Hon. Elbert Guillory.  This might be the most important statement by a responsible person in the black community since Dr. King’s “Dream Speech.”

There may be those within the lowest economic echelons of the black community who might hear and reject Sen. Guillory’s message.  I understand that while they have and realize that they have little, they view that as better than taking the risk of throwing out the slave masters and having nothing.  But as the message points out, one day the food stamps won’t arrive, the Medicare card won’t work and the welfare check won’t cash.

But as long as people are willing to sell themselves into slavery, they ought not to complain about racism.  And if they continue their silence and refuse to act in their own best interests, their continuing rape is inevitable.

HOW TO SETTLE THE MINIMUM WAGE DEBATE – ONCE AND FOR ALL

In today’s press conference, President Obama said Republican opposition to Obamacare is mean-spirited and stems from the core of the Republican philosophy which willfully tries to deprive thirty million Americans of health insurance.  In other words, they are nasty people who are selfish and have only their own interests at heart.

In contrast, that would lead one to believe that liberals who hold a diametrically opposed opinion are just the opposite – warm, caring, loving people who want the best for all of us.  Well, let’s run with that theory and see how it impacts one discussion that is currently on our radar screen – the Federal minimum wage.

The recent strikes by McDonald’s workers over their wages and the statements that the company itself has made “that they don’t know how people can support a family at the minimum wage rate of pay” have fueled this discussion.  Certain of our concerned liberal friends have suggested raising the Federal minimum wage from the present $7.25 per hour to as much as $12.50.  I believe these people are missing the point entirely.

The Federal guidelines prepared by HHS show that a household of four, (in the old days they described these as a family of four), would need an income of greater than $23,550 per year in order to avoid being classified at poverty level standing.  An increase in the minimum wage to $12.50 would put the bread winner at an income of only $26,000 per year – assuming a forty hour work week.  That is just 11% over the poverty level.

Is this the American dream that our liberal friends have in mind for our minimum wage workers?

If we really want to inspire people to get to work and feel fulfilled in their chosen vocation, I believe we need a greater incentive than barely exceeding the poverty level to get people on board.  Therefore, I suggest that we raise the Federal minimum wage to no less than $50.00 per hour.  And if we really want to make an impact then we should make it retroactive say back to 2009 when the Chump in Charge first took office.

Consider the benefits we would gain by doing this.

First, we would give incentives to people who currently can enjoy unemployment benefits for 99 weeks to get off their duffs and go out and look for work.  The savings in reducing the number of unemployed people might just pay for this program in and of itself.

Second, those pesky foreigners who are willing to work at low pay, taking the jobs that Americans spurn as being beneath them, would be put out of the market and would probably go home.  This will save us countless hours of loud and cacophonous debate over immigration reform which will probably be too confusing to listen to anyway and just might interfere with our schedule of viewing reality television.

Third, (and I admit this is my favorite), there wouldn’t be a single fast food restaurant left open in America which just might cause us all to learn how to cook more nutritious food and, in the end, would save us from the self-inflicted diseases which our poor food choices bring upon us – thus bailing out our healthcare system.

Who says that conservatives don’t have a full supply of largesse running through our veins?

NOSTROVIA (На здоровье)

A long time ago it was grapes.  And then it was lettuce.  Back in the 70’s we consumers knew how to make our voices heard.  So we boycotted those commodities to bring pressure on the growers to improve the wages and conditions of the migrant farm workers.

Whether it was withholding our purchases from these products which ultimately caused the growers to increase the wages they paid their workers or some other factor I’m not sure.  But at least we believed that we had helped make a difference.

if you’ve read this blog for any length of time you certainly realize that I view life through a relatively conservative set of glasses.  So saying that I participated actively in the grape and lettuce boycotts might surprise you.  Let me set the record straight.

No, I did not have some major catharsis which switched me from a liberal view of life to one that was more conservative in nature.  Unfortunately, largely due to an extremely biased media, we have come to equate the terms conservative and uncaring as being interchangeable.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I believe that it is every person’s moral responsibility to help our fellow man out as best we can.  That applies across both sexes and irrespective of race or creed.  I believe and always have that we are supposed to “Do unto others…” and that we are each others’ keepers.  I believe that is the message of true conservatism – however it may have been corrupted in practice or mis-stated on television.

For years I boycotted the products of Canada.  Not that I have anything against our friends to the north.  But I could never in my mind, after seeing several videos and the activity once in person (and that was enough) justify the slaughter of harp seal pups in front of their helpless mothers – all for the sake of human vanity.  That personal encounter left me sleepless for weeks afterward.

As a conservative (and a capitalist) I thoroughly endorse the concept of consumer boycotts.  If the basis of capitalism is making money, then withholding the lifeblood that sustains a company whose products we abjure, for whatever reason, seems a reasonable way to make our demands known and to instigate change on the part of the entity whom we consider an offender.

If you think about it, if we really wanted to force our lawmakers to implement a simplified and equitable tax code instead of spending generations talking about it, there is a simple way to achieve this.  This next April 15, if twenty million people simply refused to file their returns it would make a statement that would awaken even the most hard of hearing in the halls of Congress.  There is something to the concept of strength in numbers.

And that brings us to the topic of a boycott which is currently underway.  The target is Stolichnaya which we all know is a Russian vodka.  Actually, most of it that is produced for export is manufactured in Latvia (Premium Vodka) as opposed to the bottles which are produced in Russia and bear the labels (Russian Vodka).

The boycott began in gay bars in New York but have spread around the world to other such establishments because of the extremely oppressive stance that Vladimir Putin has taken regarding gays in mother Russia.  It is hard for me to comprehend Comrade Putin’s position.

This is not a matter of gay marriage (that is not anywhere near being on the table in Москва).  No this is simply a matter of human rights – and I would hope that people, whatever their sexual orientation, would come together solidly on the side of supporting those for everyone – including our LGBT brothers and sisters.

Perhaps the most difficult to convince in this struggle are those who self-identify as “conservatives”.  I can imagine what a member of the Westboro Baptist Church might do if they were to hear someone preach a sermon on the subject.  The result might be no different than the fate a gay man would expect in most of the Muslim world – death at the hands of an angry, righteous mob.

In St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Contra Gentiles” he offers the following about God and His creation:

“For the virtue of a being is that by which he operates well. Now every operation of God is an operation of virtue, since His virtue is His essence, as was shown above. Therefore, God cannot will evil.”

If God cannot will evil, then certain other conclusions follow.

“[1] From this it appears that the hatred of something does not befit God.
[2] For as love is to the good, so hatred is to evil; for to those we love we will good, and to those we hate, evil. If, then, the will of God cannot be inclined to evil, as has been shown, it is impossible that He should hate anything.”

Well, the Stoli boycott has uncovered a worm in the Tequila (pardon the mixed metaphor).  The Latvian gay community has appealed to their brothers and sisters to stop it – for fear that their this might upset their tenuous position in their home country.  We always should be cognizant of unintended consequences when we embark on something like this.  Whether their words are heeded by their brothers and sisters in the U.S., UK and Canada remains to be seen.

Let me close with a small consumer tip.  I used to drink Stoli.  It is good vodka.  But if you want to have some excellent vodka at a fraction of the price all you need to do is the following:

Buy a charcoal-based water filter (such as a Brita).  Use this filter solely for the purpose of filtering vodka – unless you want your kids walking around all day half smashed.

Instead of purchasing a premium vodka, (Stoli or Grey Goose or such), buy your vodka in the 1.75 liter size (usually around ten dollars).  Gilbey’s and Gordon’s both offer a good product – among others.  Run it through the filter twice, then store it in glass bottles and put it in your freezer for later consumption.  You’ll be amazed at how this improves the flavor and resembles the taste of the premium vodkas that are on the market.

I know that those of you who are vodka drinkers out there will be thanking me for this advice later.  But until then На здоровье!  (And “chin chin” to boot).

PARADOIXCALLY SPEAKING

There were probably a number of reasons that Mitt Romney lost the election – the most important being that he received fewer votes than President Obama, plain and simple.

Whether that was due to the fact that 6 million voters were so unimpressed with our choices that they “disappeared”; whether it was that Gov. Romney and the Republican party took the mid-road and failed to interest conservatives in his campaign; or whether it was a function of a well-run and well-executed campaign of demonizing the governor for his being financially successful doesn’t really matter.

I wanted to consider the third of those possibilities in this post – that Governor Romney was perceived as being unable to relate to the needs and concerns of the ordinary citizen because he is wealthy.  And therein lies a paradox.

If you look at the roster of those whom we elect to Congress (and continue to re-elect) you will find a Who’s Who of millionaires.  That doesn’t seem to deter the voters in their districts from returning them to office.  Apparently the voters don’t have the same concern when it comes to a Rep. Nancy Pelosi or Sen. Harry Reid to name just two.  But the list of millionaires in Congress includes multitudes of members affiliated with both major political parties.

While Congress boasts the lowest approval rating in U. S. history, for some reason we hate the institution but we love our own representatives and senators in it.  Of course, that line of thinking leads to our re-electing a collective assembly of people, many of whom are incompetent, self-serving, just plain corrupt and, of course, wealthy.

But let’s move to addressing the issue of the anger over Governor Romney’s accumulated wealth.  Those with a liberal agenda cite this as “prima facie” evidence of his lack of concern for the common man and an outgrowth of his lack of compassion.  He and his kind should be stripped of the income that they are receiving through their paying Federal Income Taxes at a  more “equitable” (i.e. higher) rate.  And, of course, these new found funds should be added to the public dole for those unfortunates who have not demonstrated any ability to succeed on their own.

Raising taxes on the rich is a cornerstone of the Obama plan for restoring fiscal order to our very dis-ordered financial house.  It is the major element causing the stall in negotiations as we hang at the edge of the “fiscal cliff”.   Everyone who has looked at this “solution” agrees that if we were to implement the President’s proposal, it would only raise enough revenue to chip away at 7.5% of our annual budgetary deficit.  But let’s ignore the facts and assume that this would actually eliminate the entire deficit.

If that were the case, then the salvation for our economic mess would be due solely to one group – the wealthy whom the President and the voters excoriated in the recent election.  But if we don’t allow people to become wealthy by dis-incenting people from creating successful businesses, then we will have eliminated the possibility of having any saviors whom we can fleece in the future.

We’ve already started to see an exodus of successful entrepreneurs move to other countries where they receive more favorable tax treatment.  There is no reason to expect that those who were clever enough to make fortunes are not smart enough to protect them from government encroachment and will choose to live in a more welcoming environment.

And when the last of those who are creative have gone, what then will become of those who have been trained to be dependent on the revenue they provided so that they could receive their monthly government-issued stipends?  Will they like rats, suddenly deprived of an adequate food supply, turn on their fellows and devour them?

That is the paradox that may soon be resolved.  I wonder if the answer will be one for which we are prepared.

AMERICAN FIRSTS

If you’re anticipating a laundry list of things that Americans were first to achieve, like land on the moon, I am afraid you’re going to be disappointed.  See, I just wanted to suck you in with the title – and hope you’d keep reading.  (I might have a career in politics after all).

The American firsts to which I refer are actually things in which my now adopted state, Nevada are head and shoulders above all other forty-nine states.  (Or is that fifty-six, President Obama)?

Nevada is first in having the highest rate of unemployment of any state in the nation.  Nevada is also first in the percentage of our land area which is owned by the Federal government.  I am not suggesting that the amount of land ownership by the Feds correlates to the amount of unemployment – but now that I said that, I will have to think about it a little bit more.

With the Presidential election only days away and with the worst storm in decades hitting the Eastern seaboard, I don’t know if this story has made it into the national media but it is big news here in Nevada.

WE STRUCK OIL IN THEM THAR HILLS !!!

Or more correctly, an Irish oil exploration company which goes by the curious name of U. S. Oil & Gas has discovered oil.  A lot of oil.

The find is about 230 miles north northwest of Las Vegas in an area known as Hot Creek Valley.  Although U. S. Oil and Gas is being closemouthed about the extent of the discovery pending the drilling of more wells to confirm their geology reports, the claims which are coming out of the valley are mind-boggling.

Several independent geologists have asserted that the reservoir of oil would be bigger than the finds in Texas and bigger than all the proven reserves that are in Saudi Arabia – the world’s mot plentiful source of light sweet crude oil.

If that should be the case, this will mean that Nevada can move away from its near total dependence on casino gaming for revenue and will have a new source of income.  That will also mean that we should be able to lose our ranking as number one in the nation’s unemployed and be able to create good paying jobs for those who need them as happened in South Dakota with the Bakken discovery.

U. S. Oil and Gas leased 25,000 acres of land from the Bureau of Land Management.  That is the agency that is a part of the Department of the Interior and is responsible for overseeing 260 Million acres of land, primarily in twelve western states.  The agency also sells land to individuals and corporations from time to time.

Now what is most interesting, as I hear from a confidential but very reliable source, is that Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), the Majority Leader, recently acquired 2,500 acres of land from the BLM for himself – land which is a part of the oil field that U. S. Oil and Gas is currently working and evaluating.

It’s curious to me that  the good senator would have an interest in this particular acreage.  The landscape is barren, it is remote and other than being a great place to breed rattlesnakes, it’s only other potential is for oil and mineral discoveries.  Eureka!  Perhaps that’s what the senator had in mind with his acquisition.

That may not be totally fair.  With his predisposition toward green energy, having voted for the taxpayers to fund the failed Solyndra, perhaps he had a vision of creating a vast array of solar panels or windmills on the site of his newly acquired property.  Time alone will tell.

However, should the discovery prove to be as substantial as rumored, and should it later come to light that the Senate Majority Leader had “inside information” of which he took advantage and profited, it will be a scandal that will eclipse both Watergate and the Tea Pot Dome scandal of the Harding administration.

For the sake of those Nevadans who are actively seeking employment and are unable to find work and for the sake of all of us Americans so that we might obtain a new source of energy and reduce our dependence on foreign governments, I truly hope that this discovery pans out.

And to Sen. Harry Reid, all I can say at this point is, Mazel Tov.

RICH MAN, POOR MAN

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor.  Rich is better.”

-attributed to Mae West et al.

We may or many not subscribe to the doctrines of Christianity but it would be hard to dispute one statement that Jesus made as anything other than absolute truth…

“The poor you will always have with you…”

Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7

A similar statement appears in the Gospel of John as well.  Are there any who can dispute this as fact as we look around us and see what we have made of our lives and our world?

As we enter the final phase of our Presidential election campaign, the “poor American” looks at the “rich American” with anger.  “Why should he be entitled to all that he has when I have so little?”  That same statement was made by the Bolsheviks as they looked at the lives of the Russian aristocracy and by the Revolutionists as they viewed the court of Louis XVI.

They accuse wealthy Americans as being “out of touch” and insensitive to their situation, hard-hearted and mercilessly grubbing yet more money and power.  There is probably some truth to that statement.  The group of the wealthiest Americans, including Warren Buffett, a staunch Obama supporter, who has pledged to give away half his wealth only contemplates doing so after his death, lending credence to yet another old saw, “You can’t take it with you.”

Czar Nicholas II and Louis XVI presided over a society into which through genetic accident they happened to be born to the right parents.  They had “good genes” and a lot of luck.  They held their positions through an accident of birth.  Of course, considering the untimely end that befell both, once can only wonder whether the luck they enjoyed was good or bad.

The American experiment, proposing that “All men are created equal…” was a drastic departure from the way in which Europeans or for that matter anyone anywhere else in the world viewed life.  Whether it was the African warrior, subject to the tribal chief or the Chinese farmer subject to the Emperor or the Japanese fisherman subject to the Shoguns, the concept of the equality of man was a new concept – and one which threatened the status quo.

This concept was so attractive to the poor and down-trodden that they made a pilgrimage to this new land in wave after wave, emigrating from their native countries to have a shot at the opportunity for a better life.  And by and large their lives were better in America than they would have been had they stayed in the land in which they were born.  But there were no free passes issued at our borders – no guarantees of success handed out to these immigrants.

They were given the opportunity but not the assurance to make something of themselves.   Many were successful – others were not.  And therein lies the problem of “equality,”  which might have been better phrased “equality of opportunity.”  And therein lies the rancor which rattles the chains of those in America who consider themselves poor and threatens the bastions of those Americans whom they consider rich.

So now we have embarked on a new plan – “wealth redistribution.”  In order to have true equality – we must all have equal resources.  There is only one minor problem with this program.  It doesn’t work.  If you question the truth of that statement you have only to look at people who became very wealthy, lottery winners, hip hop and rap stars, movie celebrities, sports icons, to see how so many of them have ended their lives tragically and no better off financially than before they acquired their money.

You see money doesn’t guarantee you happiness.  It merely guarantees you the opportunity to spend it foolishly or to do something constructive with it.  How you use it once it is in your possession is solely your choice.  And if you have made bad choices in life before you acquired wealth, it is likely you will continue to make the same bad choices, but will now have the ability to do so at a level which may well result in personal destruction.  The “Nouveau Riches” often become the “Nouveau Dead.”

It is interesting that our view on “equality” is selective in its focus.  Those who are being held up as the poster children for incarnate evil, people who have built businesses and acquired wealth as a result of their efforts, seem to enjoy that abusive distinction within a vacuum that many of us have created.  That view of equality doesn’t, for example, extend itself to our view of professional athletes.  In the interest of fairness, let’s consider MLB if teams were forced to be equal so that the playing field was even between each team.

With the World Series just over the horizon, I wonder how much interest it would hold for us given a revised sense of the “equality of all baseball players.”  So I have created a newer and far more equal scenario for the way in which professional baseball should be played.

First, there is the selection of members of the team.  We must ensure that there are no teams who have “star” athletes on them.  They, of course, are an aberration – far richer in talent than your average Joe, and they have a tendency to make the game much too exciting and provide an unfair advantage to the team who has him on their roster to the disadvantage of their opponents.  So we will not allow anyone who carries a higher batting average than .100 to play the game.

Second, should one of those equal and average players start getting too good, raising his batting average to .150, we will require that the team remove him from their roster and send him down to the minors for re-training.

Third, it seems unfair that there are pitchers who are better than others and as we know that this is an imperfect world, we must insure that we do not allow anyone to pitch a perfect game.  Therefore, the minimum requirement for our pitching staff will be that everyone must carry an ERA of at least 10.0.  Lower than that, back to the minors for re-training.

Fourth, we must eliminate private vendors from hawking their wares at the games.  They simply charge far too much for a “dawg” or a beer or peanuts.  Let the government be put in charge of concessions and subsidize them for those fans who want to come out and spend an afternoon enjoying a game.  After all, the fans are entitled, aren’t they?

Fifth, the high price of tickets to watch a game is outrageous and the profits go in the pockets of those “fat cat” owners who already have too much money.  Fortunately, this problem will soon resolve itself.  Since we’re now only employing mediocre players, we will only have to pay them (equal) but mediocre salaries.  And since the game will become extremely boring fan attendance will diminish.  Fewer people will stop watching MLB on television as well, thus reducing teams’ revenues (and owners’ profits).  Thus, based on the law of supply and demand, ticket prices will naturally decrease in an effort to fill as many seats as possible for what promises to be yet another “ho-hum” game.

This scenario has many benefits to it for those Americans who consider themselves oppressed by the current capitalist system.  It will make them feel good that now everyone has a shot at becoming a professional baseball player – including them.  It will have the effect of reducing the profits of those who are already wealthy, the team owners, thus making them feel good that they have struck out against the fat cats.  It will strike a blow at those rich companies which provide the junk food that we so eagerly consume at a ball game – reducing their profits as well.  While the game will become far less interesting, certainly it can’t be any worse than the reality television shows that the fans would  alternatively have viewed.

Truly, this will deliver to the world an updated version of that earth-changing American statement that “All men are created equal…”.   America will once again change thinking on planet earth with our new mantra, “All people are created mediocre .. and the more mediocre you are the better.”  (Just don’t get too much better).

WHY JIMMY DURANTE COULD NEVER HAVE BEEN PRESIDENT

Some of my younger readers may be unfamiliar with Jimmy Durante.  That is unfortunate as he was one of the more important comics and radio personalities of his era.  But beyond his professional career he was much more – a truly charitable and loving human being.

Durante was born in New York in 1893 and passed away in 1980.  He was the youngest of four children born to immigrant Italian parents and dropped out of school in the eighth grade to become a full-time ragtime pianist.

He was active in vaudeville and wrote a song which became his theme song, “Inka Dinka Doo.”  That, together with the nickname, “The Schnozolla” because of his oversized proboscis and his television signoff “Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are,” (as he admitted years later, a tribute to his first wife who had passed away), were his signature trademarks.  As were his gravelly voice and unique punctuation of speech.  He was, during his time, an American icon.

Jimmy Durante never had children of his own, which was unfortunate since he loved kids so much.  But he found an outlet for this love by raising money for children who needed medical help or were abused.

A devout Roman Catholic, in 1958 on the Feast of the Assumption, he was presented with a three foot tall cup by the Al Bahr Shriners Temple.  The inscription read, “JIMMY DURANTE THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS COMEDIAN.  It’s bigger than your nose, but smaller than your heart.”

Durante was actively involved in raising money through the Fraternal Order of Eagles for “his kids”.  He regularly appeared at Eagles’ conventions and fundraisers, performing for free and refusing reimbursement for travel expenses.  When he made a plea for contributions, he would say, “It’s for da kids.”

So why would Jimmy Durante never had made it as a candidate for President of the United States?  If the current climate and thinking prevailed during his lifetime, his very acts of charity might have undermined his election to the White House.  Or so it appears to this writer based on the unfortunately irrelevant buzz over candidate Romney’s tax returns.

Let me be honest, I had hoped but didn’t expect, that this campaign would be about substance.  Well, my hopes might have been dashed but my expectations are intact.

So, since so many of the (very, very many) ads which camp Obama has been airing point to Mitt Romney’s tax returns as a reason that people should not vote for him, I thought it might be interesting to put this whole income tax business in perspective.

Implicit in the ads is the suggestion that by paying 14% of his income, there is something nefarious going on with Mr. Romney’s responsibility as a taxpaying citizen.  Of course, that is never said in the ads – but that is certainly the clear implication – at least to this viewer.

There is something definitely wrong with our tax code.  We’ve discussed this in numerous posts.  The President thinks we can “fix” it by raising the amount we charge upper income tax payers.  This is roughly the equivalent of trying to stem the catastrophe that befell New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina by having a few thousand people stand outside in the downpour, each of them holding a thimble to collect the waters.

The system is convoluted and unfair in many ways to many taxpayers.  It should be scrapped and something that is equitable and understandable should replace it.  Just think of the supernumeraries at the IRS whose jobs could be eliminated and the consequent reduction we would experience in bloated bureaucratic salaries – a great first step toward balancing a budget.  But that may be then and this is now.

As long as we have to deal with the framework of tax payments under the current law, let’s look at the reason that Mitt Romney pays at such a comparatively low rate.  Most of the discussions I’ve heard on this subject deal with his paying at lower capital gains rates, a form of income which holds a preferred status under the current law.  That is in part true.  And the reason that capital gains are so treated is that they represent a return on investment, a return on risk capital, the risk capital that catapulted America into the greatest economic dynamo on planet Earth.

But setting aside that economic argument, there is one other thing that “distorts” Mitt Romney’s income tax rate.  That is the amount of his charitable contributions.  By my math, if Romney chose not to give away a penny each year rather than the $3 Million or so that appears on his returns, his effective income tax rate would just about double to 28%.  But that would still leave him and his wife with well more than $2 Million in their pockets – even after paying taxes on this money.

When Jimmy Durante appeared without accepting any fees for entertaining during his fundraising events, he “Did it for da kids.”

While I don’t have any special insight into Mitt Romney’s mind, perhaps the reason that he and his wife are so generous is that it is for the pure and wholesome virtue of giving for the sake of giving.  Would that we had more citizens who were like-minded.

ON STYLE AND SUBSTANCE

It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I realize how fortunate I was to be born in America.  No, we haven’t always gotten things right in this country.  We tolerated slavery and we brutally took lands and the dignity of the indigenous people who were here before us.  But when the history books are written, America will still stand as the greatest beacon of freedom and opportunity that has yet emerged on planet Earth.

As a child I realized I was different from my classmates.  My dad was just a working stiff with a high school diploma.  My  classmates’ fathers were doctors with lucrative practices.  Mom got a job so that I could have a private school education and piano lessons.  My classmates’ moms were busy organizing the color co-ordination for the next cotillion.  The dining room in our rent-controlled apartment alternated as my bedroom when the Castro convertible sofa on which I slept was pulled out.  My classmates had their own bedrooms in their Park and Fifth Avenue cooperatives.  My grandmother was our cook and cleaning lady – but she had also worked for people in that capacity who had the wealth and status that my classmates’ families enjoyed.

If there was one thing that I learned from my parents and grandmother it was to believe that in America anyone could make as much or as little of herself or himself as they chose.  I have clung to that belief through many years because I have seen that it is true.  My faith in that idea has never waivered – until the last few years.

I have never been a fan of hoopla whether that takes the form of the introduction of a new fantastic product or a political convention.  It was for that reason that I only reluctantly tuned into the Republican National Convention this week.  I am glad that I did.

Listening to Condoleezza Rice describe her experience as a child in Birmingham, AL, being refused food service because she was a black child and looking at what this remarkable woman has accomplished despite her disadvantages and the prejudice with which she grew up helped restore my faith in my childhood American dream.

Listening to Sen. Marco Rubio describe how he could hear the clanking of his father’s keys as he came home late at night after working as a banquet bartender so that he could provide for his family and give them an education and the opportunity that he knew they would never have had in his native Cuba inspired me to believe that there is still hope for this great land.

But neither of these eloquent speakers is running for President of the United States.  Mitt Romney is – and while there are many things to be said for his candidacy – his ability to rouse a crowd through a stirring speech is not one of them.  He is not a Demosthenes nor is he a Ronald Reagan.

But perhaps Governor Romney has something that is even more valuable than a great ability to make speeches – and that is a basic caring about other people – a deep sense of compassion and humanity.  That was my takeaway from the testimonials that were presented by people who had known him and whom he had helped.

To me that is the most endearing and genuine quality that we need in someone who is a true leader.  That is what gives me hope – that there are still caring people in this world who practice what they preach and do so without self-adulation.  To me that is what has been lacking in America for the last four years.

In the history of humanity we have always had false prophets who eloquently made false promises.  Ultimately we have found that the rainmakers and the snake oil salesmen are peddling a worthless product.

This November we have a very clear cut choice to make.

Do we want to allow our decision for whom we vote to be determined by eloquence or by accomplishment?  It seems a very obvious choice to me – but that’s only because I will always go with substance over style.

YOU DIDN’T BUILD THAT – (BUT YOU PAID FOR IT)

First we had nature – she gave us cowslips;

Then we had President Obama’s election – he gave us pink slips;

And now the President has created his very own special brand of gaffes which I have named in his honor, Obamaslips.

“You didn’t build that,” has now become a household phrase in the vocabulary of everyone who believes the President’s greatest achievement after nearly four years in office has been to make former President Jimmy Carter look good.

But let’s take the man at his word (great leap of faith required here) and say that this comment was taken completely out of context.  I can almost buy into that since I’ve been listening to the President’s attack ads and I believe his staff has mastered this technique and knows what “out of context” is all about.

Okay, what the President was really saying was, “Small business people didn’t build the infrastructure which enables them to engage in their livelihoods.”  By the way, it also enables all the rest of us who expect to see water when we turn on the faucet or flush the toilet; expect that when we drive we are going to be able to cross bridges that are safe and roads that don’t have pot holes; and when we flip on the magic light switch, we expect to find our rooms and our lives lighting up.  We didn’t build those either.

Well, by building the infrastructure I mean we didn’t (or most of us didn’t) go out and pick up an axe or a shovel and start the process that once represented the greatest achievement seen on earth since the Romans.  No, we didn’t physically build it – but we paid for it to be built.  That is true of the person who works for someone as well as for the owner of a small business.

When I bought the house in Las Vegas in 2001 it came with a separate special present.  That was a bill for the infrastructure that had to be built as the city spread out further and further from the Strip.  The City advanced the money in order for this to be completed.  But the ultimate cost of funding it was borne by the individual homeowner or rental apartment building or the person who took the chance to construct a small shopping mall so that your favorite fast food restaurant was only a short drive away.

As I recall, this originally amounted to about $8,000 for my house, but I don’t know the exact number as I wasn’t the original owner.  By the time I inherited this bill it was down to a little over $6,000 – and while the City had floated a revenue bond and was paying interest of 4.5%, the homeowner was being charged 8% on the outstanding balance.  (It’s kind of like big bank borrowing/lending – but not as profitable).

Well I paid off the balance since it was hard to get a guaranteed return of 8%, but I always wondered, how much competitive bidding went into this infrastructure build out?  After all, if you’re going to pass the costs along to a third party who has no say in the matter, does it really concern you whether you’re getting the best workmanship at the best price since someone else is paying for it?  But that’s a conversation for another time.

Let’s get back to the fantastic highway system that President Eisenhower constructed, connecting us from east to west and north to south.  This was a project that was admittedly undertaken by the Federal government and not by small businessmen (or any of the rest of us).  It was one of the great American achievements of the 20th century.  But where did the money for this project come from – and how was it paid for?

Well, the part of the equation that President Obama doesn’t understand and I suspect never will is that the American taxpayer may not have been out digging ditches or operating heavy equipment to move boulders and mountains, but we, each of us paid for it with our tax dollars.  And more than anyone, small businesses contributed the most to this enterprise.

The decades of the 1950’s through the 1980’s saw an explosion in the number of small mom and pop, entrepreneurial business come into being.  They couldn’t have existed before the interstate highway system was developed.  But they could exist and thrive once that system was in place.

As they grew, they paid more and more taxes because they earned more and more income.  And their numbers grew and they hired more people to work in their roadside fruit and vegetable stand or at the little gas station that they had opened.  And the economy exploded into one of the greatest periods of prosperity in the history of our country.

That highway system paid great dividends – and people realized the benefit that they had received and were happy to pay taxes for something which had given them an opportunity for a new and better way of life.  Respect for those in Washington was probably at the highest level since George Washington was in office.

Today we find ourselves with a group of political Aristocrats who exhibit, with few exceptions, none of the greatness and little of the pride that was widespread and commonplace among our legislators and presidents of fifty years ago.  We find small-minded people, bickering over who is most deserving of the best and biggest piece of meat to be carved from the still barely breathing wounded animal.  So absorbed in their petty fighting, they do not see that the buzzards are circling overhead what soon will be merely a carcass.  And the buzzards will strip it to the bone.

I guess what President Obama said is in fact true – “We didn’t build that.”  But if we continue to elect men and women to public office with miniscule mindsets and self-serving petty agendas, “We will all pay for it.”  And the price will be dear.

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