The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘equality’

WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE …

If you found the recent post, “How To File Your Taxes” amusing, then you will want to turn your attention to this article from Yahoo News.  By the time I came to White House Spokeswoman Amy Brundage’s comments about “high standards,” I had to reach for a tissue to wipe my eyes.  I’m just not sure if those were tears of laughter or anger. 

But I guess if you think about it long and hard enough, it’s probably President Bush’s fault.

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/thousands-federal-workers-owe-back-taxes-231332510.html

 

ON BUFFETT BALONEY

If you had your choice of accepting a similar position with Eastman Kodak or Apple, Inc., which company would you choose to work for? (To help make your decision easier, after 130 years in business Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy a few days ago).

Eastman Kodak will soon release their remaining employees to join the mass of the unemployed already in the marketplace. The reason is that their management did not have the vision to adapt to the technological changes which have occurred in the world of photography. They were failures.

Apple on the other hand has innovated products that resonate with consumers and has experienced exceptional growth. They will no doubt hire more people from the ranks of the unemployed, thus reducing the stress on the economy. They are successes.

Well, Tuesday was the day we found out how successful one of the Republican presidential aspirants, Mitt Romney has been. According to his tax returns, Mr. Romney has done very well – having reported approximately twenty million dollars in income during each of the last two years. That puts him in an earnings class shared by a very few – including some Hollywood and professional sports celebrities.

Good for Mr. Romney. I love a success story. It leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling that if I only apply myself I too might one day be one of those stories. (Perhaps as a child I read too many books by Horatio Alger, Jr.).

But now the flak begins – and into the fray enters Warren Buffett – stage left. Although his attack was directed at Congress over the inequities in all sixty-two thousand pages of the Internal Revenue Code and not at candidate Romney, the casual observer – with the help of the media – will find this distinction minor.

Let’s be clear – when expressed in terms of the effective fourteen percent of his income that Mr. Romney paid, that number seems low (Mr. Buffett’s point being that millionaires should pay a higher percentage of their income for the common good). When expressed as a payment to the Internal Revenue Service of nearly six million dollars – that number takes on a different meaning.

We have talked about tax reform in this country for decades – the result being that we have merely added pages and chapters to the IRC and reformed or deleted very little. I enjoyed reading “War and Peace” – but it finally came to an end.

As we saw from the confirmation hearings for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, when you have a code that is so complicated that the person who now heads up the Internal Revenue Service cannot understand it and “misfiles” his own return – how are the rest of us supposed to cope with it?

The tragedy is that the Congress will not do anything substantive – this being an election year and all. Which means we will kick the can of tax reform down the road for yet another year. Our elected officials have perfected this technique to the point that it is a science. (I refer you to the last thirty years during which we have failed to enact a real energy policy).

Given that likelihood, I would like to offer Mr. Buffett a suggestion that may, in the short term, help ease his conscience and angst. If he feels that he is being under-taxed – let him “donate” an amount that he believes is appropriate to bring his percentage of payment up to the level that he thinks is equitable. (There is no provision in the tax code to prevent him or anyone else from doing so).

If Mr. Buffett sets that example, I promise to throw in a few extra bucks myself this April 15th.

The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

– Chief Justice John Marshall

 

 

ON INDIVIDUALITY

The Fairly Intelligent Fly”

 

A large spider in an old house built a beautiful web in which to catch flies. Every time a fly landed on the web and was entangled in it the spider devoured him, so that when another fly came along he would think the web was a safe and quiet place in which to rest. One day a fairly intelligent fly buzzed around above the web so long without lighting that the spider appeared and said, “Come on down.” But the fly was too clever for him and said, “I never light where I don’t see other flies and I don’t see any other flies in your house.” So he flew away until he came to a place where there were a great many other flies. He was about to settle down among them when a bee buzzed up and said, “Hold it, stupid, that’s flypaper. All those flies are trapped.” “Don’t be silly,” said the fly, “they’re dancing.” So he settled down and became stuck to the flypaper with all the other flies.

Moral: There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.

-James Thurber

Fables For Our Time”

When I first read this story many years ago, I immediately thought of a lecture that mom would deliver if I wanted to do something that was childishly stupid. (I provided her ample opportunity to pull out her oratory skills and deliver her polemic). The lecture was brief.

If your friends all jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge would you want to do that?”

Point taken – score one for mom. The fact that everyone in my peer group was doing something was not sufficient validation that I should also engage in the activity. As children we have a desire to “fit in” and be a part of the group. To our young minds, there is security in doing something that we know everyone else is doing.

But we grow up, hopefully. We begin understanding that even if the majority of people act in a certain way that doesn’t mean that behavior is right – or at least right for us. If we give up our right to hold on to our individuality, we have given up our life.

When the television show, “The Outer Limits” was in its second incarnation, I remember one episode in particular. (Sorry, I don’t remember the episode’s title).

The story dealt with a young boy and his family who lived in the egalitarian society into which the world had evolved. It was an idyllic place – everyone being equal and all. The young man came to the attention of the state because he really didn’t fit into this utopian world. There were reports that he far outdistanced his schoolmates in his intelligence. This, of course, was disruptive to a world in which everyone was – or were supposed to be – equal.

So the state administered a test to the young man to determine if he was brighter than the norm that the state had established. The test was administered after he had been given a drug so that he had to answer the questions truthfully and to the best of his ability.

Sadly for the young man, the test proved that his level of intelligence far exceeded the level the state had determined was acceptable. As a result, the state did its duty on behalf of all its citizens – and euthanized him.

Imagine a world that had not been touched by the likes of Leonardo daVinci, Emily Dickinson, Galileo, Alfred Hitchcock, Einstein, Mother Teresa, Elias Howe, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs – well the list goes on and on. People who took a different tack, defied the norm and who changed the world. Imagine a world in which their creativity and vision were repressed or destroyed. Imagine the world of George Orwell’s, “1984.”

Although it is currently the “politically correct” view to proclaim everyone’s equality, there is something important that we should remember.

The individuality that is lost may be your own.

 

THE GREEN KIDS

 It was the 1970’s in a mid-sized southern city.

The courts had ordered that children be bused in order to comply more-fully with the Supreme Court which had ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

 The third day of the program’s implementation, the school bus driver pulled his vehicle to the side of the road. He had heard nothing but arguments from his passengers as he drove his route.

The white kids wanted to keep their seats in the front of the bus and the black kids felt that they didn’t have to sit in the back any longer. Not only were there verbal arguments – a few fights had broken out among the children. The driver was tired of it.  When the vehicle was halted he ordered all the children off the bus and delivered a stern lecture.

 “I’ve had more than enough of all this. All you kids fussing and arguing.  I don’t want to hear any more of these silly petty arguments.  So, from now on there are no more white kids – no more black kids .  Did you hear me?  No more white, no more black – all you kids are green. Do you get it? You’re all green! Now all you dark green kids get on the back of the bus.”

 The moral of this story is that you can’t successfully legislate morality – no matter how sincere your intent or noble your goal. Were it possible, God would be getting a far higher degree of compliance with the 10 Commandments than He seems to be receiving. 

 Passing yet another statute may make us feel that we’re virtuous and are doing the right thing.   But it will not change the hearts and minds of those who have spent a lifetime believing differently. 

Though true change and enlightenment will not come through the passage of laws, there is hope for a greater understanding among people.

 It will come when serious people, wanting a better tomorrow for their children and themselves, take the time and make the effort to listen to their fellow man.

It will come when we realize that although we have differences our similarities far outweigh them.

It will come when we decide to converse openly and honestly with each other, humbly accepting the fact that we do not have all the answers and realizing that perhaps this stranger is asking some of the right questions. 

It will come – but it can only come – when each of us accepts his responsibility to engage in this conversation.

Then one day we can board the bus together and we will indeed all be green. 

 

EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER THE LAW

The focus of the Occupy Wall Street movement is about inequality. Without saying whether they are right in their assessment of current day America, this is a critical matter and would be a fundamental shift from the way our Founding Fathers envisioned this country’s functioning.

 In the 19th Century, the Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville published his monumental analysis of the new American society in his book, “Democracy in America”. One of his statements, which most resonated with me was, “The great thing about America is that the laws apply equally to all people.” This was obviously a tremendous departure from the way things worked in Europe where there were three classes of people: The Aristocracy – who were above the law; The Class of Merchants, Tradesmen and Farmers – who were subject to the law; and the large group of the Impoverished – who ignored the law.

 What must have been most frustrating to those in the bottom two classes was that there was no possibility of ever moving into the Aristocratic class since membership was determined by birth. They could, no matter how gifted or how hard they worked, ever hope to attain top status. And that was one of the main reasons that so many emigrated from Europe and came to America. At least here – with equality for all – they had the opportunity to allow their talents and hard work reward them in due measure.

 Well, who is it that makes our laws? Congress. They have the responsibility to uphold the Constitution as part of their Oath of Office – and to ensure that the laws apply to all equally. Do they? Well, let’s look at the record – including some rather startling information that has come to media attention in the last few days.

 Something that the OWS contingent might take heart in is that a man by the name of Raj Rajaratnam was convicted recently of making illegal profits through “insider trading”. In other words, he profited from information which he – unlike the general public had – owing to his connections and the people he knew within various corporations. He profited to the extent – according to the allegations – to the tune of many millions by acting on this information and taking positions in stocks. This is a clear violation of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1933 and 1934 – and it was for these infractions that he was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison. This sort of behavior strongly supports the OWS belief that the Wall Street “fat cats” have an advantage that is denied the general population.

 The startling media attention recently that Members of Congress (and their staffs) regularly trade on “inside information” to their own profit makes me wonder. If Rajaratnam was guilty and should go to jail for breaking the law – why should Members of Congress not face the same fate? The answer is simple. They should. But they have “exempted” themselves from the same penalties that all the rest of us Americans face if we do the same thing. Sounds a lot like the old European system where Congress is “the New Aristocracy”.

 Well, this may not sound like a big deal to most of us. After all, very few Americans actively trade stocks on a regular basis. But let’s look at something more fundamental and to which we can all relate. That is the subject of retirement benefits.

 We, the average person, pay into the Social Security System from the time we start working. The average person who graduates High School at 18 works about 50 years and (based on the proposals to raise the retirement age) will be able to collect a monthly benefit at age 68. That benefit will be between 10% – 40% of her previous salary. (The higher their salary – the lower the percentage benefit they will receive). For most of us – the actual payout will be about 20% of what we earned while we worked.

 Now let’s contrast that with the Retirement Plan that Congress has voted for themselves. 

An individual who serves for 20 years in Congress is entitled to a retirement benefit of up to 80% of their highest salary! And they don’t have to wait until they’re 68. They can start collecting as soon as they have completed those 20 years of “service” – if they are at least 50 years old. (By the way, the current salary which Congress voted themselves for this year is $174,000). Members in Congress in “leadership” positions earn even more.

 So let’s see how this works. You work 50 years and collect 20% of salary. Congress works 20 years and collects 80% of salary. What happened to equality under the law?

 Just a thought. If the people who are Occupying Wall Street really wanted to make a change in the basic fabric of today’s America and level the playing field – maybe they should be Occupying Capitol Hill. Even better, they should be out looking for individuals to replace our current Congress with people who truly believe that all Americans are “Equal Under The Law”.

  

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