The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘poverty’ Category


If there is any statement that we can make on America’s fifty year long “War On Poverty” on which all of us might agree it is that we have spent a great deal of money waging this battle.  In fact, we have spent $11 Trillion fighting the war – a war that by virtually every metric has been a failure.  As I write this, the classic cartoon Pogo came to mind:




For those who still see doing math as a worthwhile enterprise, I did a little bit of calculating of the amount of interest that is attributable to that large expenditure.  And adjusting for the various rates of interest that were current during that half century time span, one way of looking at both the War On Poverty and the National Debt is that if we had never engaged in this losing onslaught, there would be virtually no National Debt.  We’ve spent about $3 Trillion in interest to fund this project.  Of our official $17 Trillion National Debt, we can attribute a total of $14 Trillion to the War On Poverty.

It is rather mind boggling, but even at today’s near zero interest rate, the United States (or more exactly the citizens of the United States) accrue interest on this debt at the rate of an astounding one million dollars a second.  Of this, $820,000 is attributable to the money spent and interest accrued funding the War On Poverty.  Put another way, if we had never engaged in this futile effort in social engineering and justice, we could give a cash award of over three quarters of a million dollars to 86,400 Americans a day and in eleven years we would have distributed that to every American, man, woman or child, irrespective of their financial circumstances.  A reasonable person might argue – that would end the War On Poverty by ending poverty – or would it?

Only infrequently is mankind blessed with the birth of a Mozart.  But it is a common happenstance that we give birth to people who are tone deaf – the existence of karaoke being evident proof of that statement.  Seldom do we find people who have the genius and determination of a Thomas Edison or a Henry Ford, possessed of a vision and who worked to create a workable plan to transform the human experience, making a great deal of money in the process.  And seldom do we have people who understand how to make their money multiply many times over in order to assure a secure future for themselves and their posterity.

If the grand plan of distributing this three quarter million “dividend” to every American had in fact been implemented, I suspect we would see the same thing that we have seen repeatedly throughout human history.  Ten years later, a small percentage of those recipients would be incredibly wealthy; a significant portion of people would have a bit more than the original grant or slightly less; and a large portion of those who received this check would be dead broke and demand that they be taken care of by the government, just as is the case today.

Much of the talk about the cause of poverty is that it is a direct outgrowth of ignorance.  I agree with this premise but it is not the only factor.  In the old days, many workers were paid on the basis of “piece work.”  The greater the number of widgets a worker produced, the more he was paid.  If two workers, both illiterate grammar school dropouts, worked side by side and the first of these produced twice as many widgets as the second, his compensation, even though modest, would be twice the amount the second worker was paid.  So we see from this example that while ignorance is an impediment to success there are ways to overcome a lack of school learning or at least to mollify it.  A person’s willingness to work or work harder than his counterpart also plays a role in his success or failure.  And by inference, a refusal to work – to do something to improve a person’s own situation, is a virtual guarantee that person will be doomed, not by society, but by his own actions, to a life of poverty and need.

If there is a cure for poverty it might lie with science.  Perhaps some genius will be able to isolate the gene that contains the “Protestant work ethic” and implant it in all new embryos.  Or, even better, perhaps they can fuse it into nanobots and give us an injection which will, within a short time, instill that philosophy into each recipient.  Even better, perhaps they can lay their hands on the “common sense” gene.  If that were to come to pass, I suggest they begin the injections on Capitol Hill.


Fifty years after the “War On Poverty” had its birth, the nation’s impoverished ghetto residents of our multiple inner cities have not seen their situations improve.  In fact, the truth is quite to the contrary.  That is despite layer after layer of welfare, social program has been enacted and trillions of dollars have been spent, provided by the working taxpayers in this country, all of which were intended to ameliorate these unfortunate people’s conditions.

I’ve said it before and forgive me for repeating myself.  While the 13th Amendment officially outlawed the ownership of one person by another, we have substituted government for the slave owner, keeping its own farm of chattel servants in a permanent condition of ignorance and poverty.  And we euphemistically call this “welfare.”  The reason for perpetuating a system that obviously does not achieve its goal is quite clear.  The purpose of welfare is not to assist people who cannot make it through life on their own.  Its sole purpose is to make sure that the politicians who put it in place can have a reliable group of people on whose votes they can count so that they may live a lifestyle to which none of their constituents may ever aspire.

It is understandable that the black community voted overwhelmingly to elect Barack Obama president.  Logic would suggest that a person whom they saw as one of their own would be a champion, helping them out of their generation long condition of poverty and helplessness.  The sad truth is that Obama has not even focused on the condition of black ghetto dwellers, nor should we have expected that he would.  For the moment that he took the oath of office as President, he joined the ranks of the ruling political oligarchy who are the real threat to this country – not the wealthy one percent of money makers who are the frequent blame for all of America’s ills and perceived inequities.

If you listen to the left, and their voice is very loud, streaming through our television news shows and the vast majority of our newspapers, you will hear the chorus that the white majority in America has as its agenda the mission of oppressing the black minority.  The illogic of that statement is profound.  Because it is the white majority who have jobs and pay taxes that support those who are generationally dependent on government largesse (welfare) and receive no benefit personally for the tax dollars they send to Washington, D. C.  If there were more in our inner city ghettos who had positions, contributed to the tax rolls and did not deplete them through monthly stipend, all Americans, irrespective of color would benefit.

Do you remember the 50,000 shovel ready jobs that Obama promised his constituency and the country?  To my knowledge not one of those jobs ever materialized.  And if we are to listen to the administration, at least as their point of view was expressed recently by Assistant Spokeswoman for the Department of State, Marie Harf, the explanation for the rise and appeal of ISIS (or ISIL to use the government’s preferred terminology) is that militant youth in the Islamic world are turning to it because there is a lack of jobs and opportunity.  If that’s an accurate explanation for the rise of violence in many parts of the world, does it not follow that might be the explanation for the violence that occurred in Ferguson, MO and now in Baltimore, MD?

Following that line of thought, there is an obvious partial solution.  Until 1973, the United States had a military draft.  To this day, 18 year old males are required to register for it even though no one has been called for 42 years.  Perhaps it’s time that we gave the draft another look.

Drafting young people either into the military or a revitalized VISTA program (Volunteers in Service to America) for a two year period would provide them with a “job” and hopefully instill some discipline.  Dropouts who didn’t make it would finish out their original term of service either in the brig or in a juvenile detention facility.  That might seem harsh, but sadly, the curriculum vitae of many, particularly in our inner city ghettos, often contain stints in our more hard core prison facilities.  While we might not be able to redirect everyone into a more productive, focused way of life, we might be able to breathe some life and inspiration into at least some of these young people which hopefully will enable them to free themselves from the chains of dependency which our politicians impose on them through the implementation of our present, failed policies.


“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.



The other day I finished reading Jason Riley’s new book, “Please Stop Helping Us.”  Riley, a black conservative member of the editorial board of “The Wall Street Journal,” makes a compelling case for how liberal policies intended to improve the condition of inner city black Americans have actually resulted in the further deterioration of their condition.

And then along comes Ferguson, MO.  An eighteen year old black man is shot to death by a member of that city’s police department.  We don’t have the details of this death and the incident that led to it, but if Al Sharpton is on the scene, we have a pretty good idea how this will be portrayed – even before all the facts are known.

On Yahoo News today I read a story about the most dangerous cities in America in which to live.

If you read the article, the basis for determining the level of “danger” was based on the number of incidents that involved either personal harm or property damage based on one thousand of population.  There is one thing that jumped out at me as several names appeared in the list.  But there were other communities with which I was less familiar and I wanted to see what percentage of black Americans comprised their population.  Here’s the percentage per community:

10.  Newburgh, NY 35%

9.  Oakland, CA  36%

8.  Chester, PA 75%

7.  Bessemer, AL 71%

6.  Detroit, MI  82%

5.  Saginaw, MI  43%

4.  West Memphis, AR  61%

3.  Camden, NJ  53%

2.  Flint, MI  53%

1.  East St. Louis, IL  98%

Overall, black Americans comprise about 13.2% of the population.

While the liberal media seized on the situation in Ferguson as yet another example of white racism resulting in the death of yet another innocent young black man, which it may turn out to be or not, there is virtually never a story about the almost daily, routine violence which exists in our black inner city neighborhoods – violence that almost always involve a black perpetrator and a black victim.

When we hear the stories about the violence and numbers of shootings and gun deaths in Chicago, there is never a mention of the fact that virtually all of these involve blacks doing the shooting and blacks being those who are shot.  The only way you would know what and where these things happen is if you’re familiar with the city and its neighborhoods or infer who is involved from those who are being interviewed.  Charity would call this poor journalism.  Honesty would call this a deliberate attempt to withhold the truth.

Poverty and violence are twin evil sisters, the latter stemming as a direct result from the former.  Should you disagree with that statement, please advise me of one affluent person who has ever been involved in looting a store, whatever the purported pretext.  What is happening in Ferguson, MO under the guise of “racial justification and retribution,” is little more than an excuse to grab and steal by people who are either unable or unwilling to work and earn.  They are responding in much the same way as the Eloi in H. G. Wells’, “The Time Machine” when the food is put out for them, not realizing that they are merely being fattened for the slaughter.

If the inner city black community read Riley’s book it might be an eye opener for them.  They might then think of those in the liberal white community who have manufactured these socially engineered welfare programs in their nearly one hundred variations and say to themselves, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”


He was sitting on a backpack outside the 7-eleven last Thursday about 7:30 in the morning.  I had stopped by to pick up a cup of coffee.  As I came out with my warm cup of Joe in my hand, he asked me in a soft voice if I could spare any change.

Before I answered, I took a moment to size him up.  He was in his late teens, perhaps his early 20’s, freshly washed and very deferential.  He actually said, “Please” when he made his request – a word that is seldom used by most in society today.  That disposed me to wanting to help him.

I asked the young man, “Why do you need the change?”

He answered that he was trying to get bus fare together.  So I gave him the change I had in my pocket, wished him a good day and drove home.

The following day I stopped by the convenience store again at about the same time.  The young man I met the day before was there once again.  Again he asked me for some change as I exited the store and showed no apparent recognition that he had met me the day before.  Perhaps I’m just one of those highly forgettable people.

As I had done previously, I asked him why he needed the money and got the same response – that it was for bus fare.  It occurred to me that if he had to go to school or a job he would have been certain to make sure he had enough money to get to his destination.  This suggested that he wasn’t looking for bus fare but that he had developed this ploy as part of a panhandling routine.

I felt sorry for this kid, so I asked him where he needed to go by bus.  He gave me his destination which was about eight miles away.  I was curious whether he was just scamming the people who patronized the store or really wanted to go where he said, so I responded, “You know, I have some free time on my hands and if you’d like I’d be happy to drive you there.”

“No, that’s okay,” he said.

That response confirmed what I suspected.

I thought for a moment about starting a conversation as to why a young guy in good health should have descended to panhandling as a way of life.  What a tragedy.  But then I thought better of it.  After all, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Well, in a sense the Federal government has made all of us into our brothers’ keepers by taxing us to subsidize those whom the politicians have determined to be in need.  That number has increased significantly in the last five years.

I have never refused anyone a small handout.  Nor have I generally given much thought to whether the story the panhandler gave as a reason for needing my donation was true or a complete fabrication.  In all honesty, a quarter or a dollar isn’t going to change my life – but it might help out the person who is in sincere need.

What bothers me about my recent encounter is that our culture has changed so much that youngsters like the kid I met find it easier to beg for a living than to go out and try to get a job – even a job doing odd jobs.  I know there’s something that he could do – if only offering to help customers carry their packages to their cars at the large supermarket which shares the parking lot with the convenience store.

Years ago there was an expression that was in common use.  That phrase was “workaholic.”  I think the term has been deleted from the dictionary.  Today those who have worked hard, built businesses and provided employment for millions of people whom they have hired for their ventures are vilified.  Success is denigrated.  Achievement is minimized.  So what is the message that our government is offering the nation?  “There’s no need to work – and you should feel good about that because the government is here to take care of you.”

And the government is indeed “taking care” of more and more of us.  In fact, if you look at the economics of it, maybe my young friend at the convenience store has got it right in refusing to find a job and become self-sufficient.

According to a study that Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R – AL) staff compiled based on data from the U. S. Census Bureau, the average hourly rate for being on welfare which includes food subsidies, housing subsidies, medical assistance and cash assistance is $30.60.  The median household income per working American is $25.03  before adjusting downward for income taxes.  After adjustment that number declines to as little as $21.50 per hour, depending on filing status and deductions.  And then there is a further reduction from that amount in jurisdictions in which the worker is subject to state or local income tax.  (The study was conducted using 2012 data and published in 2013).

Whether the present administration likes it or not, the United States was founded based on Judaeo-Christian ethics.  In both those religious traditions there is a strong admonition for believers to offer a helping hand and charity to those who are less fortunate than they.

Should people help their brother when he cries out in need?  I believe that each of us should – but that is a matter of choice and personal conscience.  When the government says, “We are our brother’s keeper” there is neither true charity rendered to the recipients nor is there dignity conferred by the action.  And if the government purposefully attempts to make idleness a life goal and more profitable than contributing to society through personal work and effort, that is nothing short of complete venality.


It is certainly a tribute to my parents that neither Mom nor Dad ever encouraged me to choose, as my life’s goal, finding the lowest paying job that was on the market.  In their view, low-paying jobs were the rightful province of the uneducated.  Mom could speak to this from personal experience as her father was one of those poorly educated men who dug ditches in New York for a dollar a day – that is, when the work was available.

Because my parents recognized that education was the gateway for a child to achieve the American dream, they made sacrifices in order to send me to private schools.  Mom got a job at a time when most mothers stayed at home and ultimately she owned her own business.  Dad was in sales and traveled forty weeks a year.  I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t fully understand what they gave up in order to give me the best opportunity to do something productive with my life.

I grew up at a time in America when people generally understood that opportunity was limited only by a person’s initiative, optimism and perhaps a little bit of extra insight that others might not have discovered in themselves.  It was a time that while each of us worked to get a little bigger piece of the pie, we also knew that there were many pies that had yet to be baked in which all of us could share.  It was a time of personal accountability and a time when we recognized and applauded each other and were recognized and applauded by others for personal achievement.  It was a pre-socialist, pre-Obama America.

Obama and his party of the left will spend much of this year talking about social inequity and financial injustice.  The centerpiece of this conversation will revolve around increasing the minimum wage.  The argument being made is that it is inhumane and certainly un-American to pay people less for their labor than what is necessary for their survival.  It’s hard for me or for anyone with an ounce of compassion to refute that – unless we scratch the veneer of that concept.

Let’s consider a basic principle.  Why would any rational person accept a position at a level which forced him to struggle for mere survival if he could work at a better, higher paying position?  Despite my best efforts I have been unable to come up with an answer to that question other than that the person holding what we used to refer to as an “entry level” position does not have the skills to hold a better paying job.

Let’s look at the person who is, as an adult, trying to survive, holding one of these minimum wage positions.  He or she is in a job that has little or no opportunity for growth either in responsibility or in earnings.  This person’s only prospect for making more is finding a second job, probably at the same low wage, the beneficence of his employer increasing his hourly rate or the intervention of some governmental jurisdiction passing a unilateral increase in the wages of him and all others in his earnings class – in other words, an increase in the minimum wage.

Whether or not we pass an increase in the minimum wage which will do little to alleviate the plight of wage earners who are cheering for such an outcome,  this debate does raise several important issues.

The first is that we are not preparing a significant segment of our population through our educational system to do anything other than the most menial, unskilled work and are consigning them to a life of impoverishment and envy of those who are more successful – which by definition – is everyone who is earning anything more than they are.

The second is that they have no future and no American dream – at least not one in which they can have a hope of participating through the old principles of self-sacrifice and hard work.  What incredible psychological damage that must cause.  And as a result we should not be surprised that those who have no hope of succeeding through traditional, legal means turn to violence to seize what they envy in others.

Sadly, astute political manipulators – and we have far more than our fair share of them – recognize that an uneducated mob can easily be swayed with small sops and shallow promises.  If we wonder why our educational levels have slipped so dramatically we have only to turn to the lessons we learned from the slave owners in the pre-Civil War South who made it illegal to educate their human chattel.  There really is no incentive for the new slave owners to improve the educational quality they offer their human livestock, their public outcries about the shocking state of education notwithstanding.  Their real goal is to keep their constituents ignorant – and they have done well in achieving that goal.

Many of those minimum wage, uneducated workers live in our inner cities.  That is if they are not part of our vast minority population whose unemployment rate is nearly twice that of the general population.  We have designed massive programs which bleed the productivity of those who work to “assist” these poor souls in their impoverished condition – a status which has now become generational in nature.  Meanwhile those who purportedly champion the underclass that they have created can be assured that they will continue to be re-elected to political office by their barely literate electorate.

So now these good liberals, portraying themselves as the benefactors of the poor and downtrodden are offering up an increase in the minimum wage.  And those who need opportunity and education far more than a few extra dollars which government will ultimately suck out of their pockets by encouraging them to play the lottery as the path to salvation will wave their handwritten signs as they picket the only businesses who will hire them.

Perhaps, if they have even thought about it, they believe that if their employers fire them or they are replaced by automation, their “friends” in high places will develop even newer and better programs to allow them to live at the subsistence level which they and their parents have endured and to which they condemn their children.

What they don’t realize is that what little they have comes from those who have been productive and who are becoming increasingly resistant to contributing even more than they have been conscripted to donate.  And when the tipping point comes, and it is near, even those who are most generous will hold up their banners with the phrase, “Enough Is Enough” inscribed on them, the spigot to the Fountain of Freebies will run dry and all of us will be expected to be productive to survive.  And that will include those who are in the pulpit preaching their dialectic on the Politics of Poverty.


There is no food more comforting to me in the dead of winter than a heaping hot bowl of chili – particularly if it’s accompanied with some nice toasty garlic bread.  Not only is it satisfying but making a pot eliminates the need to cook something for the next few nights.  (I’m one of those people who doesn’t have a problem with leftovers).

One of the nice things about chili is that most people seem to like it.  And one of my pleasures in cooking is to share some of my concoctions with people who also are aficionados.  Several of my friends have raved about my personal version of this all-American food and have encouraged me to enter one of those “chili cook-offs” that happen from time to time.  While I’ve been modestly tempted to do so, for some reason I always find out about ones that are local two days after the competition has ended.  Shame on me for not subscribing to the local newspaper.

Cincinnati claims that it is the chili capital of the country.  And while it may be the city most famous for chili, there is no state that can rival the reputation for chili that Texas has earned.  I don’t know if Texas has a state food, but if it did, no doubt chili would deserve that honor.  Texas has another honor to its credit as well.  To my knowledge it is the first state which has legally ruled that “affluenza” is a disease and is a mitigating reason for giving a young man who killed four people and seriously injured two others, a sentence of probation.

Ethan Couch is a Texan who happens also to be a spoiled rich kid.  On a warm June night, young Mr. Couch, while under the influence of alcohol and valium crashed his pickup truck into a disabled vehicle on the side of the road, not only killing its driver and passenger but two good Samaritans who were trying to assist them.  The sentence meted out to him – ten years’ probation.

Why this light sentence?  Young Mr. Couch’s legal team painted a picture of him as a person who was spoiled and owing to his privileged upbringing was not able to comprehend the difference between right and wrong and therefore should be viewed as a “mentally disabled” person – a mere victim of his unfortunate upbringing in an affluent home – a victim of “affluenza.”  Apparently the judge in this case found that argument compelling.

If you remember, “The Mikado,” perhaps you will recall the way in which that supreme ruler viewed justice:

Fortunately for Mr. Couch he lives in modern America rather than feudal Japan.  Otherwise he might find himself missing his head – rather than just being unable to use it in the responsible manner which is expected of the rest of us.

One can only wonder if this novel defense gains a footing whether we should not go to the other end of the spectrum and excuse those who are victims of poverty who hold up convenience stores at gun point because “they need the money”  and are merely victims of “lackitenza.”

Meanwhile, four innocent people died needlessly.  Two others were injured, one possibly crippled for life – all because one spoiled brat was irresponsible.  That is something that Mr. Couch will have to live with for the rest of his life – if he is capable of thinking about the consequences of his actions.  That remains an open question.

Unlike our Mikado, I do not take glee in punishing offenders.  Would that we lived in a world where there were none.  But as a concerned member of society, we realize that some of us take our responsibility as human beings more seriously than others – and when those who act willfully in defiance of the rules of conduct to which most of us subscribe cross the line, for the good of society we need to take steps to protect ourselves from those who would do us harm.

The Texas sentence meted out to Mr. Couch does not make that statement.  And that gives me a bad case of indigestion.





The final assembly at school before the Thanksgiving Holiday had concluded.  As in previous years, we students put on a presentation about the Pilgrims and that first day they recognized for solemn Thanksgiving.  And they had much for which to be thankful – mostly at the hands of their neighbors the Native Americans who had rescued them from likely starvation.  This program, which our parents attended, always concluded with the following hymn:

It never occurred to me that Thanksgiving day had not been celebrated continuously since the Pilgrims arrived in 1620.  I also was unaware that the Pilgrims when they had first arrived on these shores were primarily responsible for their own dire situation.

When they first arrived in the New World, the Pilgrims adopted a communal way of governance – “To each according to his needs.”  Sadly, even five centuries ago, there were some who did the work and others who benefited from the labor of their fellows.  It was only when the “communal land” was divided up and allocated to each family that the young colony began to prosper – as people took responsibility for themselves.  That is a lesson that does not fit well into the present political, statist mindset.  Nor does the fact that it is to a loving God that we are addressing ourselves with our songs of thankfulness.

Since George Washington first proclaimed his statement of thanksgiving and President Lincoln designated a day of National Thanksgiving as an official holiday, the fact that it was to a Divine provenance that we as a people were to offer our thanks was a clear and constant theme.  That was recognized in our school program and no one whether Christian or Jew, agnostic or atheist seemed to object.  At least I never heard from those who might have.

My family also recognized this in our small Thanksgiving ritual dinner by inviting those who had no families of their own to share our meal and be a part of our family.  Before Dad would begin carving the turkey, he would express his gratitude for the blessings he had received and would invite everyone around the table to do the same if they chose to do so.  Only when the last person had spoken would we begin to eat.

In my own way I tried to carry on some variation of this tradition.  For many years a number of us from the church in Chicago where I was a parishioner would wake up early and by four o’clock in the morning we would be working to prepare a complete traditional Thanksgiving meal that we would would serve to almost two hundred homeless people at a local shelter.  When the last person had been served her or his plate, we would sit down with them and join them for this special meal.

But it was a sad realization that while we had fed these people for one day, we had done very little to change their lives.  And it was difficult to hold on to a sense of Thanksgiving as we looked out over this ragtag, unwashed group of people, many of whom were recovering from their evening sedative of cheap whiskey or bad wine.

If there were any sense of hope it came from the few who turned to us and with sad but grateful eyes said, “Thank you,” as they left to return to their cardboard shelters – insufficient protection against the biting, blowing cold winds.  But in the back of our minds we knew the fate that they had chosen, willingly or not, and knew that there was a warm apartment and a comfortable bed waiting for each of us.

It seems to me that over the years we have done everything within our power to secularize, anesthetize and sterilize Thanksgiving.  It might better be described as a “Day of Carbohydrates and Gluttony, enhanced by a thorough immersion in football and concluded with a bout of  mindless midnight spending at the mall.”  Although I would be remiss not to note that in their attempt to suck the lucre out of the consumer’s purses and wallets, stores are opening even earlier than usual.

Given our abandonment of principle and our attempt to turn the sacred into the profane, it does not surprise me that a group of atheists, unmindful of the basis on which America was founded, have selected the Friday following Thanksgiving to launch a billboard campaign, boasting their credo, “Good without God.”  I should suggest that for the sake of consistency, they should have spelled God with a lower case “g.”

The great thing about living in America is that everyone is entitled to his opinion – and I am delighted that this atheist contingent have the ability to offer theirs.  I take no offense at their ministrations.  But, in the spirit of American fairness, I do expect the same courtesy that they receive from me and others who have a religious mindset when it comes to expressing ourselves and our beliefs.

Now if that were to come to pass, that would truly be a reason for Thanksgiving.


If you remember the movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” perhaps you will recall the scene where Marion Ravenswood has been captured by the Nazis and is being entertained in Dr. Belloq’s tent.  He requests that she change into a beautiful dress that he has brought with him.  After she dons the dress, the Nazi investigator enters the tent to interrogate her.  His opening line is, “So like you Americans, always dressing for the wrong occasion.”

Perhaps President Obama has seen this movie.  But rather than dressing for the wrong occasion he has a habit of speaking at precisely the wrong time.  I am not referring to his off the cuff comment about his “red line.”  It relates to his choice of conversation on Monday as the scene at the Navy Yard was unfolding.

Rather than defer his comments to a more appropriate moment, he chose the time to take the opportunity to lambast Republicans for their “obstructionism” regarding the debt ceiling and, at the same time, he also lauded himself and his great success in turning around the economy.  The only thing that was missing was his inheritance of a dreadful economy, courtesy of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

We heard the usual litany of achievements which, of course, included “Saving the American auto industry,” (effectively made uncompetitive through years of fat union contracts); Creating 7.5 million jobs (ignoring the fact that during that same period, 4.9 million jobs were lost); well, you’ve heard the list ad nauseam ad infinitum.

The message was a warning to the GOP that they better raise the debt ceiling – or else.  The second part of the message was, “Look what a great job I’ve done turning around the economy.”  I don’t know if marijuana is legal in D. C. but anyone who can make that statement and believe it must have a substantial stash of Mary Jane on hand.  We do know that the Prez has a history of past use.

It is this writer’s opinion that the speech the president delivered on Monday could well have been deferred for a day – out of respect for those whom we already knew were victims.  He defended himself both in giving the speech and in the way events turned out thus far with regard to Syria by saying, “People in this town tend to grade more based on style than on substance.”  He should be grateful for that.  If we graded as we should on substance, he would have been a one term president.  Actually, he would never have been elected in the first place.

With respect to his claim that the economy is doing better – there is some small amount of truth in that.  The official rate of unemployment has declined – but the real rate of unemployment if we include those who have simply given up trying to find work is at an all time high – nearly 17%.  The unemployment rate for black Americans, his most loyal constituents is at all time highs.  And the middle class whom  he repeatedly claims to champion, has seen a regular erosion in both their earnings and purchasing power.

Today the House of Representatives is debating reducing the Food Assistance Program (SNAP) by $39 Billion over a ten year period.  The program is so fraught with fraud that if it weren’t tragic it would be laughable.  Sadly, those who truly need assistance are deprived of monies that are diverted to freeloaders who have figured out how to work the system.  I’m surprised there isn’t a book out called “Welfare Fraud for Dummies,” published by HHS.

As an example of this fraud, while not part of this specific program, the effort to provide a “safety line” to those without communication services (best known as the Obamaphone Program) for which all other cell and land line phones users pay, has already demonstrated that it has no oversight of those who are recipients.  Over 6 million people, that’s 42% of participants, have not proven that they meet the standards to receive these phones.  Of course, they continue to receive the benefits of phone service for which you and I pay.

Returning to the SNAP program, let’s put the president’s comments on the economy in context.  Let’s look at the substance rather than the style.  That should be something Obama would applaud.

Since he has taken office, the number of households receiving benefits has increased by 52% to 21 Million.  At the same time, 95% of all increases in personal income have gone to those who are the top 5% in earnings.  In other words, the middle class is shrinking and those at the bottom of this tier are slipping into poverty levels of income.  Of course, the poor are staying poor.  Some things never change.

There are now 46.5 million Americans who are officially defined as living in poverty.  That’s 15% of the population.  Here in the richest nation on earth.  If this is what the president is proud of accomplishing in his tenure, one can only speculate what he might have in mind for the future.  But with all that is going on I suspect that Obama has more important fish to fry.  And speaking of food, I wonder what he’s planning on wearing to dinner tonight.



There was once a common gray squirrel who made the acquaintance of a beautiful Angora cat.  They lived in the same area, although the squirrel made his home in a very old elm tree and the cat lived in a ritzy garden apartment.

Come rain or shine the squirrel could be seen scurrying about the neighborhood, looking for acorns or anything else that looked nutritious.  The cat had no such concerns as his mistress put out his meals on a regular schedule and provided all that he wanted to eat.

The cat found the squirrel’s constant comings and goings to be not only dizzying but quite inexplicable.

“My friend,” he said.  “Why do you go about in such a constant frenzy?  Your continuous scurrying is causing me to have a headache.  Settle down for a bit and let’s have a nice chat.”

“I would love to,” said the squirrel.  “But if I did, I would not have enough rations to make it through the day.  So I need to keep foraging to stave off starvation.”

The cat thought this was very peculiar.  He had never known a moment when his food was not provided for him and so, naturally, assumed that was the way it was for all creatures.  In his heart of hearts he thought that the squirrel was making a joke at his expense.  But being a polite sort of creature, he did not mention his suspicions to the squirrel.

The cat sauntered outside one day after his mistress had just finished brushing him.  He always enjoyed a good brushing and looked absolutely glamorous.  So when he saw the squirrel hastening by, he couldn’t help comparing his appearance to that of his friend’s.

“My goodness,” the cat thought to himself.  “My poor friend is looking rather shabby.  His coat has got little parts of plants stuck to it.  He really should take better care of himself.”

Well the squirrel, pre-occupied with the necessities of gathering food, had little time to try to look chic.  In fact, the concept never even crossed his mind.  He was totally focused on his mission of surviving.

Things went along in this way for quite some time until something unexpected happened.  One morning when the cat went into the kitchen to get his breakfast there was nothing in his dish.

He went into his mistress’ room to find out why there was a delay but when he jumped up on her bed he found only her lifeless body.  He began meowing as loudly as he could, hoping this would revive her.  But nothing he did could bring her back to this world.

So the cat jumped through the open window of the garden apartment and happened to see his friend the squirrel engaged, as usual, in looking for his own breakfast.  The cat couldn’t help but notice that the squirrel, while still sporting the vestiges of plant parts all over his fur, was quite plump and seemed to be doing an excellent job of providing his own food.  By contrast, the cat’s stomach began to growl and he was feeling a little faint.

The squirrel greeted the cat as he raced by.  He had just spotted what appeared to be a very choice acorn.  And the cat began to wonder what he would do for food since his mistress was no longer there to set out his meals.

Suddenly, it occurred to the cat that his pampered life was over and he would need to fend for himself.  The thought of that sent a terrible shiver down his spine.  And he began to think how fortunate the squirrel was that he had enough to eat.

When the squirrel came back with his acorn and began to munch on it, the cat, in a moment of self pity said to him, “My friend.  All the time I’ve known you, I have always thought how fortunate I was that I didn’t have to do anything and yet my food magically appeared.  In honesty, I looked down on your abject need to have to provide for yourself.  But now things have changed, and I must admit that I envy you.  You are, indeed a lucky creature.”

To this, the squirrel made a reply which is the moral of our story:

“There’s something I’ve noticed in going through life.  It seems as though the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

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