The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘America’s problems’

BIG BROTHER

There was a time in America, not too long ago, that people believed that if they worked hard and they worked smart, they had a chance of doing well for themselves and for their families.

Some of these people worked for others and realized that self-sacrifice was necessary.  They saved some out of each paycheck and spent less than they earned.  They built a nest egg and many bought small houses in which to raise their families.

Others, resounding with the pioneer spirit that built America were more adventurous than those who accepted a wage for a living.  They were entrepreneurs who took the risk, trusting in their own ideas and in their own abilities to create something where previously there had been nothing.  Some failed, yet many succeeded and in so doing collectively gave employment to millions of their fellow Americans.

I have been a member of both classes of these American workers and am appreciative that I had the opportunity both to find a job when I needed one and to found a company and offer jobs to many others.  Whether it was as an employee or as an employer, I always tried to do my best – putting forth more than the amount of effort my employer expected – and challenging myself as the employer to offer a better product and better service to ensure both my and my employees’ security.

Things didn’t always go exactly as planned – there were recessions which threw us off track – but somehow through sheer determination and a lot of faith I was able to struggle through and at the end of the day things worked out okay.  I must admit that I felt proud of both my accomplishments and my record.  It made up for the many sleepless nights wondering how I was going to meet the payroll during our worst economic times.

I cannot imagine the reaction that people who are entrepreneurs today must have had to the recent declamation by President Obama concerning their businesses that, “You didn’t build that …”  Beyond the insensitivity of the remark is something far worse – pure and blatant stupidity – which seems to run rampant in an Obama speech when he is deprived of a teleprompter.  And this coming from a man who’s career is distinguished by a lackluster stint in the Illinois and U. S. Senates, preceded by a couple of years as a “community organizer.”  When the history books are written, he will probably be remembered as the person who was most responsible for attempting to destroy the “American dream.”

Let’s look, for a moment at how this prescient President began his post-school career.

As a community organizer on Chicago’s Southeast Side, Barrack Obama accomplished several things.  First, he was involved in helping to develop “neighborhood watches” to improve the security of the residents in the high crime rate areas which were within his purview.

Security and personal safety are obviously worthwhile goals and are important to all of us.  But the reason that there was a need to develop neighborhood watches was because the residents of these communities had very limited education resulting in a high rate of unemployment and a consequent large dependence on welfare to sustain their existence.  The thugs who threatened them met the same demographic and found, since they had no useful skills, that it was easier to band together in gangs and either sell drugs or steal from others.

As an adjunct to the neighborhood watch, there were the neighborhood “clean-ups” which Mr. Obama set in motion.  By clean-up I refer to getting volunteer residents to pick up the debris which littered their streets – the refuse that came from irresponsible people tossing the containers that originated in fast food restaurants and which had been discarded wherever the purchaser decided it was most convenient for her.

It is this “business background” and resume which apparently enables the President to have a keen insight into what it takes to run a business.  Frankly, if he applied to my temporary service for a position, I doubt that I would have felt comfortable recommending him to any of my clients – except, perhaps for a low-level job in the mail room.

Given President Obama’s view of things, none of us should be surprised that small businesses, the backbone of economic growth and employment, are not hiring and the economy is stagnant.  But at least one good thing came out of his comments.

Unlike so many other issues on which he has flip-flopped repeatedly to appear in the favorable light of momentary public opinion, I think we do have a good idea of what this man is all about through his statement about small businesses.

Hang in there all you entrepreneurs.  You are a credit to yourselves and to a country that allowed you the opportunity to be all you could and chose to be.  You’ve had to endure tough times before but your faith and diligence carried you through.

And as with all things, even with Big Brother, this too shall pass.

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LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT

There are few of us who will, through some specific action, have the power to change the world in a dramatic way.  Considering the manner in which many of us approach life, that is probably a good thing.

But each of us does change the world every day – either by what we do or fail to do when we interact with other people.  I have written about this in several posts.

We can change the world through exercising courtesy, thoughtfulness and respect for those we meet along the way, lightening their day and their load.  Or we can change the world by interacting with our fellow human beings with rudeness, selfishness and disregard for their needs and add to their burden and to the storm clouds overhead.

Courtesy costs so little yet brings so much both to the donor and the recipient.  Selfishness costs so much, robbing us and those on whom we inflict it of a personal sense of self-worth.  Courtesy is its own reward and selfishness its own punishment.

A simple warm glance;  a touch extended in consolation or encouragement; a kind word.  These are little things.  But they truly do mean a lot.

THE PENN STATE SCANDAL

As the alleged cover-up of sexually inappropriate behavior on the part  of Penn State’s football coaching staff deepens and widens, one can only ask how could something like this happen at one of America’s premier public universities.

The answer comes to us from this song from the film version of the musical, “Cabaret” released in 1972.

THE RIGHT PERSON FOR THE JOB

John got home a little later from work than usual and when he walked in the door he could smell the wonderful dinner that Mary was getting ready to serve the family that evening.  He thought to himself, “How lucky the kids and I are that I found such a wonderful woman to be my wife and their mother.”

As the family sat at the table, John asked Mary, as he usually did, how her day had gone.

She said that it had gone fine – other than the fact that she had experienced the worst tooth cleaning of her life.  John asked her what had happened.

Mary said, “Well, it’s probably my own fault.  I should never have gone to Al’s Auto Repair to get it done.”

Mary would occasionally cross over into the slightly-warped dark side of humor and John thought that statement was one such foray.  He put down his fork and he and the kids began laughing at the joke Mary had made.

Mary looked annoyed – which was unusual for her.  So she said, “You think that’s funny?”  Then she retracted her lips and to the shock of her family they could see that her once pearly-white teeth were streaked with grease.

Of course you realize I fabricated this story, my point being that it is important to try to select the right person for any particular job.  Perhaps even more frightening than Mary’s selecting someone totally incapable of doing what she needed done was that they actually attempted to do it knowing full well that they didn’t have the expertise.

I have hired a great many people over many years of owning my own business.  I always put a great deal of thought into the individuals who were interested in joining us because I felt that we had to be mutually-comfortable in the commitment we would make to each other.

I viewed our relationship not so much as one between employer/employee but as a marriage.  We had to be compatible and we had to share a basic philosophy and work ethic.  Lacking those elements, our relationship was ultimately doomed to failure.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I always viewed the failure of any employee as my failure – not his.  Either I had made a poor hiring decision based on what I perceived to be the nature and character and potential of the person whom I had hired; or I had failed to inculcate our corporate philosophy in that individual or they were unwilling to accept it.  Whatever the case, it necessarily meant that we would part ways – sometimes through my choice and at other times through theirs.

Letting an employee go was the part of my job that I hated the most.  It was difficult for me emotionally because I knew that my decision would have a major impact on the employee’s life – at least in the short term.  But I also had to consider that by getting rid of some dead wood the whole tree had a greater chance to survive and flourish.

Admitting that I had made a mistake was as difficult for me as it is for most of us.  But when you see the handwriting on the wall, an intelligent person should not fail to read and act on the message.

Have we hired the right person to lead this country?  To what can our employee, the President point as being justification for keeping his job?  Are things better or worse than they were when we voted for him based on what he said his nature and character and potential were?  If not, it’s time to prune the tree of the dead wood so that it has a greater chance of surviving and flourishing.

Admitting that we have made a mistake is always embarrassing.  Choosing to pretend that we haven’t is simply ignorant and is likely to lead to disaster.  Given those two options, I’ll select a moderate case of dealing with egg on my face.  Because I know, it’s always important to try to find the right person for the job.

One of the most articulate men of our time on economics, race relations and childhood development speaks on the matter of nationalized healthcare.

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IF THEY GIVE IT – WILL YOU COME?

Although I’m not a big baseball fan, I have to admit that I loved the movie, “Field of Dreams” and it’s message – “If you build it they will come.”  It was one of the most inspirational films I have seen – a man holding on to his dreams despite the perception by everyone around that he was out of his mind.  I watched it again recently and thought I would borrow from it to entitle this post.

Well, as you have probably guessed this post is not about baseball.  Rather it is about the Democratic National Convention this September to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The Dems couldn’t have picked a lovelier site for their big get together as the city is one of those which still retains a great deal of old world charm and history.

With today’s announcement today by Missouri Sen. Clair McCaskill that she finds herself “unable to attend” there are now apparently more seats available at the shindig.  Several weeks ago the three top Democrats in West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Rep. Nick Rahall all found that the convention conflicted with their schedules.  And in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional district, Rep. Mark Critz finds himself similarly pre-occupied.

I should note that these five elected officials happen to be involved in trying to get themselves re-elected.  Some more insightful political commentators than I have suggested that they view “distancing” themselves from President Obama can only improve their chances in that effort.

Sen. McCaskill has some ethics issues of her own to deal with in that she billed the taxpayers for the private jets she hired to go here and there on official business.  To her credit – she did repay the Treasury for these flights – after they were made public.

So my question is are these isolated instances or the beginning of a trend?  Who knows?

Because of the exceptionally complicated formula that the Democratic Party has in determining the number of delegates a state will be awarded (this comes as no surprise to me) the actual number of people who will be seated is unknown at this time – but it might approach as many as 6,000.  Surely, there will be more people checking the “Unable To Attend” box when they receive their invitation – and it would be a shame to let those seats go to waste.

So as a suggestion, I think the DNC should auction those seats off on eBay as a fundraiser.  From friends and acquaintances who have been delegates to past conventions, I understand the food and booze is definitely over the top.  And there is perhaps no nicer time of year in Charlotte than early September.

I would like to open the bidding at – well, let’s say three dollars.

ON PRESIDENT’S DAY

This being February 21st I realize that many of you will feel this post is ill-timed.  After all, President’s Day is supposed to be celebrated on the third Monday of February.  In actuality the day is a commemoration of the birthday of the first President of the United States, George Washington.  The official name for the day is still Washington’s Birthday.  President’s Day is a gratuitous addition.

Until 1971 we used to commemorate the day by observing it on our first President’s actual birthday – which is February 22nd.  Falling between the cusp of the official observation and the actual date of the event may make me politically incorrect.  I hope so.  In fact, that is my essential reason for offering this post on this particular day.

I was thinking about how George Washington led us to victory to become an independent nation.  But that led me to think on other matters – prompted by the fact that I was following the important debate on “illegal aliens” and the effect they were having on our less than robust economy.  I couldn’t help but bring my historical training into this matter as I considered this very divisive issue.

Every so often I like to put myself in another person’s shoes.  That’s what I’m going to attempt in this post.  After all, the problem of “illegal aliens” isn’t a new one.  It is something that the indigenous American populations must have worried about as well.

Picture this – the year is 1626.  The Lenape Indians decide to accept an offer of twenty-four dollars’ worth of trinkets  and sell Manhattan Island to the Dutch.  Bad deal you may say.  Well it set off a chain of events whose consequences would be compounded over the next four hundred years.

You see, the fact is that the native Americans weren’t all that bright.  They signed treaty after treaty with the Palefaces – expecting us to honor our word.  We ignored most of the agreements we made in these treaties and did what we found more expedient for us.  (Did you know that we are still officially at war with the Seminoles in Florida).

Whether our ancestors were Irish or English or Dutch or Italian or whatever, we are all intruders in the land that belonged to those who were here before us.   We are usurpers who have legitimized our dominance through the promulgation of “The Monroe Doctrine” which granted us the right to expand as fast and as far as we could as the masters of the continent.

The fact that there were indigenous people in our way proved to be only a minor inconvenience.  We were successful in eradicating this stumbling block which barred our expansionary lust by killing a large percentage of them and confining most of the rest to reservations where they could live in sub-standard conditions. 

Of course, we were not alone in our treatment of native populations.  The Spanish did an even more effective job in dealing with the Incas in South America.  I guess that no matter where you are or who your are if you stand in the way of “progress” you’re going to get steam-rolled.

But isn’t it ironic?  The descendants of those Spanish conquistadors represent a large percentage of the “illegal aliens” about whom we are concerned today.  Some call this issue a “problem.”  Or is it perhaps just  karma.

Happy Birthday, President Washington.

THE 2012 BUDGET

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THE NATIVE AMERICAN’S TEAR

 Once upon a time in America we had a simpler way of looking at the world. Our concerns were focused on things like keeping America’s environment clean and the country beautiful.

 One of the ads that was designed to raise our individual commitment to this goal featured a Native American. The man had a tear running down his elderly face as he surveyed the landscape, looking at the debris that had been tossed carelessly along a highway by passing motorists. The caption on the ads read, “Please Don’t Litter.” 

Growing up in New York City I had gotten accustomed to seeing litter flow freely down the streets and on the sidewalks. Despite the plentiful supply of garbage cans which the city placed on the streets, I regularly saw people toss candy bar wrappers and other refuse on the sidewalk, ten feet before they could have placed them in the appropriate receptacle. This always bothered me as a child – and it still bothers me as an adult.  

If people wanted to litter their apartments from floor to ceiling I considered that to be their business. But when they inflicted that same behavior on their fellow citizens – then they had gotten me involved in the conversation.

 I never quite understood why we needed an ad campaign sponsored by the Federal Government on this subject. It seemed intuitively obvious to me that putting trash in garbage cans was the right thing to do. That understanding came from the fact that my parents taught me to do that from the earliest moments that “potential trash” came into my little hands and possession.

 I remember being in Central Park with dad one Saturday. I had a runny nose and dad was holding a tissue so that I could blow it. After I had finished, dad wadded up the used tissue and gave it to me. We got up from our park bench, dad took my little hand and asked, “Now what do we have to do?” I knew because I had seen my parents do the same thing many times.

 “We have to put this in the garbage can.” Dad nodded his assent and we walked to the nearest receptacle where I was allowed to throw the soiled tissue away. I think I was six or seven years old. This scene was repeated many times – to the point where I realized that putting trash in a garbage can wasn’t a choice – it was the only choice.

 Although dad lived his entire life in an urban setting, he had an innate sense of the sanctity of the world which provided us what we received to sustain our lives. He had a respect for the fragility of our environment and understood that it was our responsibility to protect it from harm or mis-use.

 If he ever met that elderly Native American along the highway, I know that they would have formed a deep bond – and they both would have shed a tear.

 

WHAT THE ANTS TAUGHT ME

One day Mom came home with a present. I think I was about 10. It was a book called, “All About Dinosaurs”. It was part of a series which I eagerly devoured as I received each new one. I probably read about 20 of them – but my favorite was “All About the Social Insects.” To this day, it amazes me how these little creatures flourish as they do.

 Unlike humans, there are no internal wars within a colony – whether that colony is ants, wasps or bees. They will defend their colonies to the death against intruders – but there is no warfare amongst themselves.  It’s no wonder they have been around as long as they have.

 But the lesson that I learned recently spoke deeply to what is happening in America and is at the root of our problems. It is the story of co-operation – or more correctly – lack of it.

 My normal routine is to take my two dogs out around 5 o’clock in the morning for their first walk of the day. When we get home, we sit in the back yard and I give them their morning treats. The last of these is always a large size Milk-Bone biscuit – commensurate with their 75 and 100 pound size. Spenser, my golden retriever and Gracie, who is a mix who looks like a small Irish Wolfhound seldom leave crumbs behind them – but the other morning they did.

 The “crumb” was about one-half inch in diameter – and it happened to fall on a piece of serrated stripping that is installed in the patio deck to allow for water runoff. This strip lies directly over a colony of ants who come and go as they please and have for the 10 years I have lived here. We co-exist quite peacefully.

 I am not sure exactly what species of ants these are but they are black and I doubt that they measure 1/32nd of an inch in length. They are the smallest ants I have ever seen – but their size in no way diminishes their enthusiasm and vigor.

 As I sat on my chair drinking my morning coffee, I saw one of the ants come out of the colony and take a “peek” at the Milk Bone morsel. She returned to the colony. Within a minute, several other ants came out and took a look at the dogs’ leftover. Or at least, I thought they were just inspecting it. In fact, each one was taking a teeny bite out of the Milk Bone and taking it back to the colony. More and more of the ants came up to this little morsel and within an hour it had disappeared completely. Hundreds of teensy little ants made this possible – all working in co-operation and with a common goal in mind.

 And here we are in America with the President arguing with Congress and both sides of the aisle arguing with each other. We had a crisis over raising the National Debt Limit and now the “Super Committee” which was to provide a serious plan for reducing our financial mess is apparently deadlocked and will come up with little if anything. Apparently, our political leaders don’t have even the same amount of common sense and purpose that I found in my backyard ant colony. With direction like that, it’s no wonder that the American ship of state is heading inexorably into a wreck against the rocks of arrogance and self-interest.

 Is this the kind of America you want for yourself , your children or grandchildren? I certainly hope not – and I believe most of you would agree. There are only three people who can change the way things are going. Those people are you, me and us. 

They say that people get “exactly what they deserve in their elected officials.” Well, if we continue with our apathetic “status quo” way of viewing things, we will continue to get what we have always gotten – and I guess we will deserve it. 

Or we can make an effort to find people to serve us in Congress and the White House who truly have the country’s interests at heart.

The choice is up to us.

 

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