The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Great Depression’


If there were only one lesson which we could take away from the November, 2012 election it is this.  Unlike most of our movies (which serve “in loco parentis” for many of our young people) or like the fairy tales that were written of old, good does not, at least in the short run, always triumph over evil.

The GOP selected as their candidate a solid, middle of the road sort of fellow in Mitt Romney.  He didn’t have the charisma of a Ronald Regan but he started to come to life as the campaign developed.  And what was not to like about the former governor?

He had a successful track record in both business and in government.  He exhibited strong family values.  He was a person who adhered to his faith.  He was clean, wholesome and didn’t have a lot to hide from public view.  And he factually, (well mostly)  presented to us, an economy which was in the doldrums, a debt that had grown by fifty percent during the incumbent’s term in office and an unemployment rate that was the worst since the Great Depression.

He might as well have been speaking Chinese to his audience – a language which we may all soon need to learn.

One of his major points was that President Obama would go down in history as the person who created the greatest welfare state in this country.  He was correct.  However, he saw this as a reason to ask for our votes rather than to give them to the big “O”.  His thinking couldn’t have been more off the mark.

You see, Romney viewed reliance on a below-poverty level income from the government as something that was evil.  Obama realized that by expanding social (dependence) programs, he was buying votes.  And he bought a lot of them.  And behold, it was very good.

There are a lot of people in this world who are lazy.  I live in a town that was built just for them.  Las Vegas is the Mecca for the indolent.  I see it in those who gamble every time I walk into one of our casinos.

They are sitting at a slot machine or a table game with a glazed stare on their faces, hoping that because they are special, the gods will favor them with abundance.  After all, it is not their fault that they lost their job and soon may lose their house.  They are mere victims of forces they view beyond their control.  They see themselves both as entitled and deserving.  “Come on jackpot.”

I don’t think it will be long before the casinos will have made a deal with the government to redo their in-house ATM machines so that they can accommodate a player’s EBT card as well as American Express and Visa.  That way they can offer a true one stop shopping experience for those players on government subsidies.

Undoubtedly, this will come under the pretense of benefiting these consumers.  They will no longer have to spend the gas money to go to the convenience store to obtain some cash for gambling but will be able to transact all their business in one place.

American politics has a long, if sordid, history of buying the approval of the voters.  FDR and his New Deal was born out of the lessons he learned from his cousin, Teddy with his vision for America, The Square Deal.  Both men, as with the current occupant of the White House enjoyed enormous popularity as they offered programs which were intended to “benefit” your average Joe.

The public couldn’t get to the polls fast enough to vote for and return these demagogues to office.  And so it was once again in 2012.  Another demagogue – another victory for short-sightedness.

But this time, despite the narrow Obama victory as you compare his to his predecessors’ triumphs, the table has been set at the “Come On In Diner Where We’re Happy To Feed You Barely Enough So That You Have The Strength To Vote For Me Again.”  The problem is that there are so many who are eating, there are few left to serve them their meals.  And many of the wait staff are looking for new positions.

Romney’s essential failure as a candidate stemmed from who he was a person.  He was a man with a sense of traditional American values and was so thoroughly committed to them that he assumed they were essential components of belief that most of his countrymen shared.  He couldn’t have been further off the mark.

The genius of those running the Obama campaign was that they realized that there were millions who would listen to rhetoric and ignore substance.  They were the naïve and gullible who lacked the education or the gumption to go out and feed themselves and their families and would be easily swayed to vote for a president who promised them something for nothing.  And they came out or were bused in droves to accomplish their mission.

The campaign was nothing short of brilliant.

But the question remains, what happens when the trough runs dry as it inevitably will?  When you have over-promised and under-delivered, even the most addled of your minions will eventually catch on.

When that next payment on which you depend fails to make its arrival and you see that your overseers are living a life of luxury as you spend your afternoon dumpster diving to find something for dinner, what will be your feelings towards this divine monarchy for which you voted?

The common response from most in this situation will be anger – and they will act on that with violence.  Their “survival mentality” will dominate their deeds and anyone in their path will be in harm’s way.  That might even extend to those who created the programs which got them this far in life.  It’s been known to happen before.

There is a basic tenet in logic that if you being with a faulty premise you will reach a faulty conclusion.  It may not always be apparent at the moment, but like a bridge that is constructed with structural flaws, inevitably the right set of circumstances will come about that causes it to collapse.  It is no different with the structure of human societies.

So bask in your accomplishments, you who voted for the “Great Society.”  You finally did a job.  Like much in your lives, you did the wrong thing – but you did it well.


In a post from January,  I spoke of how my grandmother, mom and aunt survived the Great Depression.  Food was both scarce and sacred.  I will never forget grandma saying at dinner, “Now eat everything because there are children in China who are starving.”   I always took her admonition seriously and my plate was always clean.

It still bothers me today when food is wasted.

When I lived in Chicago, an acquaintance who was a public school teacher told me that in his school, the milk which was provided at luncheon for the students which went unconsumed was dumped at the end of the day.

“Dumped,” I asked.  “You mean thrown out?”

“Yes,” he replied.

This bothered me immensely on several levels.

First, of course, was the sheer waste.  Second, why couldn’t the unopened cartons be gathered up and distributed to children who were poor?  I’ve bought a few gallons of milk in my time and I know that they usually come with a ten day to two week expiration before the milk sours.  Third, the National School Lunch Program has been an ongoing Federal program since 1940.  This program subsidizes the distribution of milk to school children and that subsidy is paid for by the taxpayers.  What an incredible waste of taxpayer money.

I asked my acquaintance if he knew why the milk was thrown out rather than given at no cost to children who needed it.  He responded that he thought that it had something to do with liability should the milk turn out to be bad.

Of course, the illogic of that statement stunned me.  We apparently didn’t worry about the liability of selling it to our school children at a low price but were afraid that children who received it for free might wind up suing the Federal government.

Well, I took this as merely another sign of bureaucratic bungling – and surely, if we are looking for ways to trim fat and waste from government, this is, to use a metaphor in keeping with our subject, really “small potatoes.”

And then today I read a story about a woman near Philadelphia who is being threatened with fines of $600 per day because she is distributing food for free that is provided by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to needy children in her neighborhood.

This is the link to that story:

I don’t care if you’re a union worker, an entrepreneur, a secretary, between jobs, a temporary worker; I don’t care if you’re a Libertarian, Democrat, Republican or an Independent; I don’t care if you’re an Anglican, a Jain, a Muslim, an agnostic, an atheist or a Shinto; if you have an ounce of reason I hope you will agree that this is merely another example of “Government Gone Wild.”

At a time when many of us are struggling; when we have three and one half years of the worst levels of unemployment since the Great Depression; when an increasing number of our citizens are dependent on subsidies for their mere existence and the numbers sinking below the poverty level are escalating; it is hard to describe the position of the Pennsylvania Township’s council as being anything other than, “Beyond Stupidity.”


I remember coming home from school one day and, as usual, grandma met me at the door with a hug and kiss. I could see that she had been crying.

I went into the living room to sit in the big reclining chair and began to consider which part of my homework I would start on first. This was my daily ritual. As I sat there, grandma would come in to ask me what I would like for dinner the following evening. I was the family’s menu planner.

But that day I saw the source of her tears. On the table in front of the couch was the picture of grandma and grandpa that had been taken on their wedding day. To my knowledge, it was the only picture of them together that had ever been taken. Here was my grandfather – the only image of him I would ever see – and the only man that my grandmother ever loved.

As I said in an earlier post, grandpa was a common laborer. He earned one dollar a day for his work – and even in the early 20th century that wasn’t a lot. Although he was only in his early 30’s he developed what we would today call a brain tumor. This caused him to have dreadful headaches.

While the doctors of that time didn’t have a specific name for his condition they had a prescription to alleviate the pain – that being morphine. But the problem was that one dose cost him a day’s wages – and when he took the drug he couldn’t perform his job – thus he risked being fired. Such was the state of healthcare at the time. I don’t think that health insurance had been invented – but had it been, there’s no doubt he would not have been able to afford it.

One day grandma came home from work to find the police at their building. My grandfather, Frank had jumped to his death from the roof of their building. He left a note to my grandmother, mom and aunt. He explained that he couldn’t go on with his pain – and he couldn’t face his family without the ability to support them. He felt worthless as a provider and he hoped that they would forgive him.

Despite the official position that the Roman Catholic church held regarding the disposition of suicides, grandma who attended church regularly, was able to convince one of the priests at the church of St. Jean Baptiste that she attended to allow him burial in consecrated ground. She was an indomitable woman and would go to the mat for something or someone in whom she believed.

So grandma, my mother and aunt moved on with their lives. And then came the Great Depression.

By that time, grandma had moved from her position at the restaurant which began her career and had become the cook for a wealthy woman who lived on Park Avenue. Her employer, Mrs. Henderson had avoided the stock market and was well enough off to survive the financial disaster that befell most people in this country. Grandma had a secure position and was able to provide for her family as a single parent.

Mrs. Henderson was very generous to grandma. She would tell her to buy more meat than was necessary and instruct her to take some home for herself and her two girls. Grandma, although proud, was practical and she never turned down one of these hand-outs her employer provided.

Though there was seldom enough extra meat to make a main meal, there was enough to use in soup. That’s where this “extra meat” went. From both grandma’s and mom’s telling of the tale, soup was how they were able to survive the Depression.

Whether it was because of her humble status, her innately generous nature or both, if grandma saw someone who was unable to get work and needed a good meal, she would invite that person home for a “soup dinner.” Mom told me that there were strangers who showed up at their little apartment three or four times a week – people whom grandma had met on her way home. Total strangers.

When mom asked grandma if there would be enough for all of them, grandma replied, “Just add a little water to the soup.”

And that’s what they would do.

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