The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘Libertarian’ Category

(NOT YET) FAMOUS QUOTES – XVI

“When a legislator votes to enact a law or a President signs one from which they are exempt, they have broken the most fundamental principle of American justice which is ‘the rule of law’ and have subverted the Constitution into an instrument proclaiming ‘the rule of the lawless’.”

– Juwannadoright

JUST A LITTLE SHORT

I had a friend who was 5′ 6” and weighed about 300 pounds. He died at the age of 52 as a result of the diabetes for which he took insulin for twenty years and the strain he placed on his cardiovascular system. His name was John.

John, obviously aware of his obesity, used to joke with us that, “I’m the right weight. I’m just a little short.” We used to laugh at this – until the day we attended his funeral.

The admonition that we should do, “All things in moderation” has been around for 2500 years since it was uttered by Aristotle. John failed to heed that advice – and paid for it with a shortened life.

Let me re-iterate something that I said early on in this blog. I have always had to be careful about what and how much I ate. I inherited this from mom’s side of the family. It used to amaze me how dad could eat two pieces of apple strudel and lose weight. I would go into the kitchen while it was in the oven and merely sniffing the aroma I could put on a pound. So I understand how people who struggle with weight issues view themselves and the world.

But I took charge and took responsibility for myself – believing that I was the best person capable of taking care of me. (In the absence of anyone else – it was a fairly simple choice).

Over the years that I knew John, it would be fair to say that he not only stressed his own body but he put an equal stress on the healthcare system. It is no exaggeration when I tell you that he averaged twenty to thirty appointments with his various physicians a year. (I have no doubt they gave him advice to lose weight which he either ignored or at which he was unsuccessful). Personally, I think any of us who weren’t medically trained could have offered the same good advice.

By contrast, in the 10 years I knew him I had 12 appointments with my doctor. All but two were for an annual physical – and the others were as a result of slipping on the ice and fracturing my right elbow. I am not one of those who has to see the doctor because I have a small sniffle – and I reject the idea that we have to get an annual shot to immunize ourselves against all the diseases the world is waiting to dump on us.

I have neighbors who are as religious about getting an annual flu shot as they are at attending Sunday services at their church. And almost without exception, they wind up getting flu-like symptoms for a few days. Several have still gotten full-blown cases of the disease against which they were supposedly immunized. By contrast, unprotected as I have been, I have never gotten the flu as an adult. Call me lucky – but I think otherwise.

There’s an adage that people in information technology know intimately, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If our diets are poor – we will experience their effects – perhaps not today or tomorrow but eventually. If our diets are good we will experience their beneficial effects for our lifetime. It seems to me that isn’t so much a matter of medical awareness as it is a matter of common sense.

But is this simply a matter of personal choice – or is there something more profound at stake here? I believe that it is the latter.

Whether Obamacare is ultimately held to be unconstitutional or is repealed by a future Congress is at this point a moot question. Presently it is the law of the land – and it has implications for all of us. In fact, because of its provisions it has implications for more of us than ever before in the nation’s history.

Study after study have shown that when people have health insurance, there is a greater utilization of the services available to them than for those who do not have that coverage. That is something which a reasonable person would expect to happen. If something is available to us at little or no cost we are likely to take advantage of it.

The corollary to this is that we will be putting an even greater strain on a system that is already overburdened. The inevitable conclusion is that the quality of medical care can only decline for those who need it. (If I have to wait an extra week to get my annual checkup that’s no big deal to me. But for those who have a legitimate medical issue and have to wait an extra week to see a physician– it might be significant).

Having said earlier in this post that I view the matter of my health as my primary responsibility (and by extension your health is yours), I view what I do, the foods that I consume, the lifestyle I follow as my business. However, my actions not only affect me but they can have a positive influence on society. Since I am less likely to need the services of the healthcare industry, my space is free for someone else.

If you understand the concept of personal responsibility (and more importantly are willing to implement it in your own life) then the next time you pull into the drive- through perhaps you will think twice before you automatically decide to “Super-size” that order of fries and might consider a juice or water alternative to that extra large soda you normally order.

If you adopt that strategy – it could be the first step toward a life-changing pattern of healthier behavior. You might help unclog the system by reducing the number of times a year you show up in your doctor’s office.

If we fail to take personal responsibility when it comes to our own health – inevitably we will all come up, “Just a little short.”

 

THE 13TH AMMENDMENT

 “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (Ratified by the states on December 6, 1865).

 Thus ended slavery in America – at least on paper.

 Recently, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich got in trouble for making the statement that President Obama was the most successful president in increasing the number of welfare recipients and that he, Gingrich wanted to be the most successful president in creating jobs and providing Americans with paychecks. First to toss their hat into the fray was the NAACP.

 I have difficulty understanding why people confuse facts with emotions – often giving far more credence to their emotions in spite of the obvious facts which are before them. Not only is this an unenlightened attitude – it leads directly to a culture of intolerance and bigotry – the very things against which the participants believe they are fighting.

 In an earlier post (“Grandma Was Right”) I referred to an incident in which I had been mugged. As it happened, my assailants were three African-American thugs. That is not a commentary about our brethren who are African-American. It is merely a statement of who my assailants happened to be – nothing more.  I refer to it only because the question of my assailants’ race was the first one that the Chicago police asked me in their efforts to apprehend them. 

 If I am an African-American, that statement would be accepted as a matter of fact. However, if I am white or oriental – all of a sudden the ugly question of racism rears it’s head.  What is my “real” motivation in levying this charge? 

 There are times when allegations of  racism are founded. But I mourn for those whose minds are so limited (whether they be the accusers or those who deserve to be accused) that they see the world in such a narrow way and use racism as a first line of defense or as a justification for their actions.

 I have a lot of respect for (and a lot of questions about) the former Speaker of the House. I consider him to be one of the most articulate in the Republican beauty contest that is currently playing out. But I will defend him and his statement based on a personal experience.

 When I owned my temporary help business my staff interviewed large numbers of candidates in order to fill the orders our clients placed with us. My firm specialized in more highly skilled workers – the primary emphasis in our Chicago office being on legal secretaries. Occasionally, a client would request someone to assist them who had lesser skills.

 It happened that one of our clients, the largest law firm in the city, asked if we could provide them someone for a project that would last for at least three months. They needed someone to photocopy documents for two large cases which they were trying.  We attempted to oblige – but the number of our employees with marginal skills was limited.

As the project would not begin for several weeks, we had some time to find a new employee who could commit to the assignment. We asked our temporary employees if they knew of anyone who would be interested and offered them a referral bonus.  We also advertised the position extensively in the local newspapers.

One day my staff was involved in dispatching our temps when a woman in her mid-20’s came in to apply for the photocopying job. As it happened she was an African-American woman.  Since my staff was occupied, I interviewed her myself once she had completed the paperwork that we required of new potential employees.

I sat across from her in one of our interview rooms after I had reviewed her application. She had very limited skills and no work background – but our client was willing to provide on-the-job training and she seemed pleasant and eager to find her way into the work force.

As we sat and chatted she asked me, “How much does this job pay?” I considered that an informed and legitimate question, so I responded, “It’s a forty hour work week and we would pay you five dollars an hour for a total of two hundred dollars per week.” (By the way, minimum wage was a little over two dollars an hour).

She looked at me and said, “Hell, I can’t afford to take this job. I get $640 per month from welfare that I would lose if I got hired. Then I’d have to take the bus to get to work – that’s fifteen dollars a week; I have two kids at home that I would have to get a sitter for at ten dollars a day – that’s fifty dollars; and I take care of two kids two times a week that I get paid twenty dollars “cash money” to mind. I’d be making less than if I stayed home and did nothing.”

I couldn’t argue with this lady’s math or logic. She was exactly right. She could sit home and make more than by becoming a contributing member of the workforce. If I were in her place I would have made exactly the same decision. And that’s the real American tragedy.

We have created a system of dis-incenting people from contributing to our economy.  Instead of being contributors they are takers – although what they take is at sub-subsistence levels which most of us would reject as insufficient.

There is a rational way to address this problem – one that is not based on emotion but on fact. Instead of cutting off a person’s welfare benefits because they have found employment, what if we merely reduced those benefits?

As a suggestion, for each four dollars that a person earned, their welfare check would be reduced by one dollar. In this example, this lady’s welfare check would be cut by $200 per month – but she would have earned an additional $800. Even with the cost of carfare, paying for child care and losing the “cash money” she earned from overseeing other children, she would be substantially ahead.

This is a common sense and economically-efficient solution to leading us out of the welfare mentality Washington has created.  This is the sort of program we need to implement to start fixing our economy – and more importantly restoring the American mind-set of rewarding contribution rather than indolence. It is an idea that I believe Speaker Gingrich would support and the NAACP could endorse.

Otherwise, while we have theoretically abolished slavery – the truth is that the Federal Government has merely institutionalized it in an only slightly different form.

 

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE STUPID

 A salesman was returning from a long car trip and was driving on a mountainous two-lane road when he had a flat tire. He got out of his car, opened his trunk and pulled out the jack and the spare. As he looked up he saw a man standing at a tall fence. At the top of the fence was barbed wire and the sign, “Sunnyvale Sanitarium for the Insane.”

 The man began to change his tire, feeling a little eerie that this individual at the fence was watching him. He appeared to be one of the patients in the facility. He jacked up the car, removed the hubcap and loosened the four lug nuts holding his defective tire to the vehicle. He then put the lug nuts in the hubcap and began pulling the bad tire from the axle.

 In the process he accidentally knocked the hubcap and the lug nuts over the side of the mountain. He could see them falling perhaps two hundred feet or so – and because the descent was so steep – he realized that there was no way he would be able to retrieve them.

 He began cursing, wondering what he was going to do in order to get his car operational and get home.

 As he was going on about his situation, the man inside the fence spoke up.

You know there’s an auto repair company about six miles down the road,” he said. “If you take one nut off each of the other three tires you can use them to secure the fourth tire. Then if you drive slowly, you can go there and get four lug nuts and be on your way.”

 The salesman was struck by the fact that this solution had come from a man who was committed to a mental institution. He warmed up to this fellow and said,  “You know – maybe I’m the one who should be in there and you should be out here. How did you ever think of that?”

 To this the patient replied, “Just because you’re crazy doesn’t mean you have to be stupid.”

 In the late ’90’s I began a new career as a stock day-trader. The first year or so was torture. I had succeeded in finding a way to lose money on a consistent daily basis – and it was my money that I was losing. Had it not been for the fact that other traders in the office were making a healthy living, I would have quit. These successful people were an inspiration to me and the reason that I kept at it. I knew there was a way to becoming one of those success stories. I merely had to find it.

 Well about this time, a day-trader in the Atlanta office of another firm obviously had a worse day than I had ever experienced. He finished his day, went home and returned to the office with a gun and shot several of his fellow traders  dead. This horrible tragedy was immediately seized on by the media.

Any number of television stations began running special reports on the evils of day-trading. These reports featured people who had tried it and had failed. Story after story emerged about this person who had put up their life’s savings and had lost it or that person who just didn’t get it and complained that the firm through which they were trading didn’t provide enough training.

 I never saw any of the successful traders in my office in any of these interviews – but as we all know, bad new sells.

 Well the SEC took action. They decided to make sure that there was never a repeat of the Atlanta tragedy. They determined that all day-traders take the Series 7 exam. (It’s the one your stockbroker has to pass to allow him to deal with you as a client). So the firm I was with told us that we would have three months to pass the exam or we could no longer continue trading.

 By the way – the exam had absolutely no relevance whatever to day-trading (or psychiatric competency).

 I began investigating educational programs that were designed to help people pass this test – which I was told was extremely tough. Supposedly, only about 40% of the people achieved the passing grade of 70 on their first try.

 All of these programs cost between $500 – $1000 – money which I didn’t have. So I went to Barnes & Noble and found a volume in their reference section which was cleverly entitled, “The Series 7 Exam.” I purchased it for $20 and went home to start learning the material.

 I went through the book in a week, took all of the tests at the end of each chapter as well as the three “Sample Exams” which the book contained to prepare its readers for the six hour SEC exam. I was scoring in the mid-80’s but wasn’t sure that this exam accurately reflected the actual test with which I would be faced. So I went through the book again and scheduled myself for the test a week later.

 I arrived at the test site about 20 minutes before my appointment and signed in. There were four or five other people in the waiting room who were scheduled to take their tests. One of these was a young lady – probably in her mid-20’s – who was taking it for the third time. This did not instill a lot of confidence in me as I sat there.

 The young man with whom she was talking asked her, “What will you do if you don’t pass the test this time?”

She answered, “I’ll probably enroll in a cosmetology school. You can make really good money giving manicures.”

 I couldn’t help thinking that, for the sake of the investing public on whom she might be unleashed, cosmetology school might be the way to go.

 The receptionist called my name and took me to the cubicle where I was to start the first part of the test. She explained how to mark my answers on the computer screen, how to review my answers and how to record my answers. And so I began.

 I found myself at the last question of the first part of the test and realized I must have messed up – perhaps skipped some questions or something. Only an hour and ten minutes had gone by out of the three hours that had been allotted. So I looked at the bottom of the screen and found out that I had answered all 90 questions. And I hit the record button.

 I left, picked up my study book (which had been confiscated on my arrival) and went to lunch. Since I had over two hours to dine, I went to a nearby restaurant and pulled out my manual.

 Returning to the test center after my grilled cheese sandwich (one of my favorite comfort foods), I hunkered down for part two. I completed this in just about an hour.

At that point I was done. I now had a momentous decision to make. Should I review the answers I had entered or just push the finish button? I pushed the button.

 I scored a 94 on the exam.

 So I had now earned the right to continue what I was doing before – and to pay the Federal Government (the SEC) about $1000 a year in fees for the privilege of doing that.

 That’s okay. I believe that in a free economy there will always be people who try to take advantage of others.  I support the concept of  having informed and effective regulations and regulators to keep the public from harm. 

 But let’s look for a moment at the SEC as an example of the way government often operates. (I would have chosen the word “works” – but I believe that is inappropriate).

 Founded by the Securities & Exchange Acts of 1933 and 1934 – the SEC was designed to protect investors from unscrupulous manipulation of the movement in the prices of stocks.

 It’s first chairman was Joseph Kennedy (father of President John, and Senators Robert and Teddy). He was selected because he was one of the most egregious stock manipulators in the history of America. I presume that FDR’s theory in choosing him was that since Kennedy had figured out how to manipulate the system to his own advantage – he would easily be able to ferret out other crooks. 

Kennedy had a distinguished pedigree in skulduggery – having made his fortune as a “rum runner” during prohibition. How could you ask for a better candidate to oversee the regulation of America’s securities markets?

 Most of the SEC’s funding comes from the people whom they supervise – those “fat cats” on Wall Street. Fat cats like me who risked their own money on an every day basis to make a living.  And I didn’t have a problem donating my thousand bucks a year toward helping them achieve their goals of keeping the public safe from the unscrupulous.

 But I wonder, when you hear about a Bernie Maduff – who was reported to the SEC by an informant three years before the truth of his ponzi scheme was finally brought to light – and then only by self-admission not because of the SEC – I can’t help but wonder…

 Are the people at the SEC crazy – or just stupid?

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