The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Hard work’

THE TRUTH ABOUT “INCOME INEQUALITY”

Once upon a time my father received a notice that his tax return was being audited.  At the time he was a salesman and travelled the country extensively being on the road for forty or more weeks per year.  All of this was done by automobile – and one of the deductions which he correctly took was for expenses related to these trips.  Fortunately, my father was also a meticulous record keeper as well as being scrupulously honest.

Notwithstanding that he felt that unless he had made a mathematical error, which he thought was unlikely, he was confident that his return would survive anyone’s scrutiny, he was still nervous when he arrived at the IRS”s office for his audit.  But several hours later the auditor agreed that my father’s return had been honestly and accurately prepared and issued a “no change” determination.

But the next year he got another such audit demand and one the following year.  As was the case with his first experience these two audits resulted in the auditors’ accepting the original returns as filed.  But other than experiencing a nervous stomach and perhaps a little heart burn, my father learned and taught me a valuable lesson which Chief Justice John Marshall stated in writing a majority opinion in a tax case, “The power to tax is the power to destroy”.

There are several threats to achieving financial independence and even wealth.  They are inflation; lack of financial knowledge; bad management; and most importantly, taxes.  With the exception of taxes, the other three can be handled.  There are assets that increase in value even if inflation becomes rampant; a person can educate himself on how to invest his savings; if a manager who has been hired by an investor is not meeting expectations he or she can be replaced.  But no individual can control the amount of taxes that government extracts from his earnings.  That is a matter of policy and law, enacted by the Congress and signed by the President.

The left’s theory – or at least their major talking points – are that income inequality makes it impossible for people to compete on a level playing field and that in particular, women and minorities are disenfranchised from the same level of opportunity that, for example, white males, (and whites in general) enjoy.  Hence they push for a higher minimum Federal hourly wage – as though a person who has no financial knowledge will somehow break into the middle class and realize the American dream by earning a couple of extra dollars an hour.  People do not get wealthy or break the shackles of poverty by making ten, twelve or even fifteen dollars an hour.  People get wealthy because they have a unique talent or because they start their own business which grows and prospers – or, for the lucky few – because they inherited their money.

But one of the lessons that my father taught me is that, “It isn’t what you make – it’s what you keep” that determines a person’s financial situation.  No matter how much you make if you spend more than that amount, the conclusion will be financial disaster.  Just look at the Federal government’s balance sheet if you doubt that.  Or look at Curtis James Jackson III (better known as 50 Cent) who made several hundred million dollars and just declared bankruptcy.

But the left persists in making these arguments that we need to level the playing field so that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed and if they really believed in the hogwash with which they bombard us, it seems only logical that rather than a fifteen dollar per hour minimum wage we should simply decree it to be one hundred or one thousand dollars per hour.  Now that would have an impact.

So why stop at fifteen bucks when a higher number would be better?  The answer is that everyone realizes that having the skill set to be a burger flipper is simply not worth that amount of money in a free and open job marketplace.  And the reason that being a burger flipper makes the current minimum wage is that there are a lot of potential burger flippers out there who will take that job and do it in an equally competent manner as the present employee should he or she decide that his employer is engaged in “oppressing him”.

My first summer job was working for a company that wholesaled shirts.  I earned two dollars fifty cents per hour and worked a forty hour week.  Of my gross income I had to commit one dollar fifty cents for carfare to get to the job and get home.  And even then, Social Security and Federal and New York state taxes were deducted from my check.  (The City of New York had not yet implemented their own additional income tax on its residents).

Since I took my lunches to work with me, (provided courtesy of my parents) I was able to save most of my check for my college tuition.  And when I realized that it was only a three mile walk one way, I started getting up extra early to walk to my job rather than spend the fifteen cents on the subway.  Once a week on Wednesday I would, rather than bring lunch, treat myself to a slice of cheese pizza at the cost of fifty cents (sixty if I really splurged and ordered pepperoni on it).  I admit to feeling a little bit of guilt about indulging in the luxury of that hot and bubbly slice of pie – but, darn it was good.

The theory that those on the left (and those like Ms. Clinton who appear to be on the left to attract primary voters to her cause) espouse is that we can have the money to institute their social programs by merely getting it from those who have either a special talent or ability, have started a small business which might have grown and prospered or those who were fortunate enough to inherit their substantial wealth.

If we lived in a country in which the government, not the citizen, runs programs and determines who should have so much but not more than that, even confiscating all the accumulated wealth of those who have it in their possession currently and redistributing it to those who would like to have it, would “even the playing field” for a second – and then the same inequities would once again start reappearing.

Whether we like it or not, some people are more motivated, more talented, more intelligent and more creative than others.  And like the classic cream rising to the top, those whose wealth had been appropriated by the government would start over and within a short time would again become wealthy whereas those who had been the recipients of their former wealth would again sink back into poverty.

Well, that’s the scenario with a one time confiscation of the assets of the wealthy.  But even proposing that would take more brass than the left has in their admitted operational playbook.  So the reasonable way for them to proceed is to raise taxes on the rich – as a matter of “equity”.  After all, were it not for the government and the tears and sweat of the miserable masses, these people could never have achieved their success.  We all remember Obama’s famous, “You didn’t build that speech”.

According to the economic theories of the left, trickle down economics doesn’t work nor does it improve anyone’s life except for those doing the trickling.  And more importantly, their firm belief is that just because the wealthy worked hard, been creative and took responsibility for their financial future, they have an obligation to those in society who sat back, got fired from a multitude of jobs for performance and who believe the way to wealth is sitting home collecting unemployment while watching the soaps and eating potato chips, taking only a break from this in order to get out with fellow economic failures and picket outside the business du jour demanding a higher minimum wage.

Now it’s an interesting phenomenon that while conservatives believe that lowering taxes increases the number of businesses that are created and because of this may actually result in higher amounts of taxes collected because of higher GDP, they have an interesting ally in the State of New York – headed by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) who comes from the left’s own tradition.

There is an ad being run by the state of New York which begins, “New York is changing the way we’re doing business by lowering corporate and individual tax rates.”:  The ad goes on to say that manufacturers who relocate to the state will receive a ten year exemption from paying any income taxes.  If I didn’t know better this sounds remarkably like a plan that could have been authored by President Reagan’s economic adviser, Arthur Laffer.

But if the conservatives in this country need further validation of their economic policies, perhaps the strongest example may come from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico which is asking that Congress pass a law granting them the same ability to file bankruptcy as Detroit, another Democrat controlled stronghold.  Otherwise they warn us that there will most certainly be default on the debt obligations the commonwealth has issued.  But while waiting for Congress to act on this desperate request, the Governor has, among other proposals, found an interesting way to combat Puerto Rico’s insolvency.  He has proposed lowering the minimum wage for hourly workers on the island.

Talk about mixed (and confusing) messages.  No wonder we’ll be at $20 Trillion in “official” debt by the time Obama leaves office.  Well, he promised “Hope and Change” in his drive that landed him in the White House.  And by the time he leaves office, we may all hope that he’ll leave us with some change – even if it’s small change.

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HOW LOWERING THE MINIMUM WAGE COULD SAVE AMERICA

We’ve been inundated with the events of Ferguson, MO.  It’s gotten more attention than the earlier death of Trayvon Martin.  For whatever reason, apparently Michael Brown’s death evoked more emotion than Martin’s.  There were no riots that accompanied George Zimmerman’s “Not Guilty” verdict.  But we’re more than making up for that, not only in Missouri but nationwide.  There have been “riots” which in some cases have turned violent and in all cases disruptive.

Both of these cases are portrayed in the media as murders resulting from racism.  The facts are that both of the deceased were black males.  In the Zimmerman case, his ethnicity was mixed.  The police officer who killed Brown was white.  In both cases, the behavior and events which led the deceased to their demise has been mostly glossed over by the press.  The liberal media are exceptionally selective in what facts they choose to report – and then only after applying a fair amount of spin to their curve ball reporting.

In Martin’s case, as you may recall, the reason that he was out was that he was on his second or third suspension from school.  I’ve forgotten the exact number.  And he was out getting the ingredients for one of today’s more popular do-it-yourself drugs.  Had he not been suspended and was home cracking the books instead of looking forward to cracking the pipe, he would never have been shot and we would never have heard his name.

In Brown’s case there appears to be ample evidence that he had just strong armed a store clerk and stolen some cigarillos so that he could roll a nice tight joint.  He had a significant quantity of marijuana on him and his toxicology report indicated that he had the same substance in his system.  He also ignored the orders of Officer Wilson and then assaulted him while he was in his police car.  After that skirmish which Brown initiated, he subsequently again ignored the officer’s order to stop.  Though there is conflicting testimony as to what happened, at least three witnesses confirmed completely Wilson’s statement that Brown charged him and four additional witnesses confirmed the portions of Wilson’s testimony that they saw.  All of these witnesses were black – and if they were concerned about racist police officers and attitudes as has been alleged, it seems strange that they would be so supportive of the officer’s version of events – unless that is what they saw actually happen.

Facts can sometimes be inconvenient things.  Particularly if they don’t blend with a narrative that is woven for self-serving reasons.  No amount of evidence, testimony or anything else will convince those who in the Brown case decided long before the Grand Jury concluded its investigation that he was a victim of the ultimate in police brutality.  If somehow a video recording of the incident suddenly surfaced, confirming Wilson’s testimony it would do little or nothing to change those peoples’ minds.  We would suddenly start hearing that the video was manufactured or edited to exculpate the cop.

The liberal camp takes great pains to point out that only “deniers” reject the “facts” of “climate change.”  They regard people who inveigh against their position as being ignorant.  And, if the “facts” were seen by everyone as being that, I suggest that they would be correct.  While that same theory ought to apply to these two cases as well, they do not.  It is fair to wonder why that is.

Certainly a part of that can be attributed to emotion.  We are all held hostage to our feelings and if we make decisions based solely on them we often not only misinterpret the evidence but draw faulty conclusions based on those rather than empirical evidence.  The other part is ignorance.  An uneducated person is far more likely to rely on his or her emotions than facts because we all are born with emotions but we have to acquire facts whether through schooling, good parenting or personal observation.  And if everyone around is similarly poorly educated, it is likely that the reliance on emotion is further entrenched through the observations of how others around us act and conduct their lives.  This is the fundamental problem with living in a ghetto – of whatever description.

If you live in a community where a high percentage of your fellow residents don’t work and are receiving a monthly stipend and other government benefits, it becomes socially acceptable, perhaps even desirable, to fit in with what everyone else considers a normal way to go through life.  That is particularly true if you have limited skills and would at best be able to find a minimum wage job which offers little hope of advancement or upward social mobility.  And that is further underscored if you realize that the government benefits you are currently receiving are greater in value than that job and require no effort to receive.  The only American dream that you have to hold on to is that the benefits don’t go away and, in fact, increase.

There are fewer jobs that the undereducated can hope to hold.  Technology and automation have left little opportunity for work for residents of our inner cities.  Retail, fast food and cleaning are about the only venues that require unskilled labor.  The ditch diggers of old have been replaced by hydraulic equipment and the family farm with its labor intensive requirements have been replaced with corporate farming and robotics.  That there is little opportunity for those who do not attain at least a high school diploma can be seen in the extremely high unemployment rates among inner city black males – well more than twice the national average.

The riots in Ferguson are not about justice for Michael Brown or anyone else.  They are expressions of frustration over the realization that the participants’ future is bleak.  They are right in that perception.  In an economy in which college graduates are living at home in large numbers for lack of jobs, what hope does the high school dropout have?  Sadly, the answer is none.  Unfortunately, those they blame for their plight are not the responsible parties for it.

With fifty years of trying to socially engineer poverty out of existence under our belt, we are in worse shape as a nation than when we initiated the “War on Poverty.”  There is significantly more evidence to support that statement than there is to support the theory of global “Climate Change.”  Yet those who enthusiastically support the idea that our planet is in grave environmental danger are exactly the people who ignore a half century’s evidence and double down on failed policies by further escalating them.  Among those policies is increasing the minimum wage.

Adding further pressure to this equation is Obama’s recent granting five million illegal aliens the right to stay here, and more importantly, the right to work in the country legally.  These are people who come from countries where there are no social welfare programs and where the residents will take any job, no matter how difficult or physically dangerous at whatever wage is offered.  They have a work ethic which is lacking among those in our inner cities and find no job “beneath them.”

If there is any possibility of breaking the cycle of welfare dependency which is now generational in nature it is by getting those who are trapped in that system the opportunity to find work.  It is far more important to encourage the unemployed in Ferguson and throughout the country to find that first job than it is what that job will pay.  Sadly, the way our “welfare programs” are structured, finding employment translates into losing benefits.  This obviously discourages recipients from seeking any form of legal employment.  We perhaps could partially solve this by lowering the minimum wage for people who are in the marketplace for five years or less, during which time their welfare benefits would be unaffected by their earnings.

I remember receiving my first paycheck for a summer job.  When I came home with it and opened the envelope with my family at dinner I clearly recall the sense of pride I had looking at that nearly fifty dollar check (after a deduction for Social Security) which covered one week’s worth of work.  (The minimum wage was $1.25 per hour).  And I took a great deal of satisfaction in the fact  that the company had chosen me over the fifteen other kids who had applied for the job.  Perhaps it was the naiveté of adolescence but it helped me feel as though I had some worth as a person – and that was acknowledged both by my employer in hiring me and then further validated by their paying me for my effort.  That paycheck did great things for my self-esteem and it was with some sadness that I let go of it and deposited it in my savings account.

That is an experience that sadly I fear many kids in our inner cities will never share.  And the higher we generically increase the minimum wage, however well intentioned, the more likely we are  permanently to deny them the dignity of working for a living and perpetuate the cycle of hopelessness into which far too many in this country now have fallen  – and is the root cause of why Ferguson happened in the first place – and why the reaction to Michael Brown’s death was completely predictable.

Ferguson is a symptom of a disease – one which has been decades in the making.  Sadly, following our present path of providing “benefits” rather than real opportunity will only worsen the problem.  And one day the right mixture of ingredients will combine to spark an explosion that will make what happened in Missouri look like a Sunday School picnic.

That day may not be far off in coming.

AN EARLY LIFE LESSON–PART II

It was the final Friday of school, the last day I would enjoy the comfortable security of Mrs. Bounds class.  I liked Mrs. Bounds.  She used to tell us about growing up on a small farm in Canada.  It sounded like a good life – but a lot of work.  She and her four siblings were expected to do their part planting and harvesting the crops and collecting the eggs.  I knew I was going to miss her.

When the bell rang, a sense of jubilation ran through the room.  It was electric as my classmates rushed to get out and start their summer, dumping their books in the trash as they left.  Some couldn’t even bother with that formality and merely left them on or by their desks.  I took my books, cleaned out my desk, wondered for a moment who in the next class would sit in my seat the following  year.  But I didn’t have a lot of time to think about that.  I had a mission I needed to start.

During the two weeks from the time I had asked Mr. Tiffany’s permission, I had already set the wheels in motion.  There was a Gristede’s grocery store between my apartment and school and I had gone in several times to ask if they had any cardboard boxes that they would be able to give me.  I already had nine boxes and grandma had picked up another four at some other stores.  Our small apartment was starting to look like a cardboard jungle.

Grandma had allowed me to use the wire grocery cart that she wheeled behind her when she went on her shopping trips to get fresh fruits and vegetables.  It was waiting for me in our foyer when I got home.  I put my books on the desk and immediately returned to school.

I had decided to start on the top floor and work my way down.  The top floor where the older kids had their classrooms was the fourth floor.  I maneuvered the somewhat flimsy cart up the stairs and began by going into the furthest room from the stairwell.  I wanted to be able to track which rooms I had emptied and which might still contain some treasure.

I only completed picking up the books from two rooms and my cart was piled high.  But it was too heavy for me to wheel easily so I had to pull half the books I had accumulated out and put them inside the door of the second room.  I could see this was going to be a bigger project than I anticipated.  With some trepidation I approached the stairwell and the three flights down to the street.

It was pretty difficult getting that first load down the stairs because the cart’s wheels weren’t very thick and it listed from side to side as I gently tried to coax it along.  When I got my load downstairs and started to pull it home, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to collect all the books that I knew were discarded.  I only had three hours until the school would be locked so I revised my plan.  I decided to attack the lower floors first in the interest of saving some time on the stairwells.

Back and forth, load after load.  I was not only getting tired but hungry.  And dinner was going to be ready soon.  I had pretty much resolved that I couldn’t do much more and that I should make this my last load when I encountered Mr. Tiffany.  I hadn’t expected him to be there.

He asked how my project was going.  I explained that I had hoped to clear out the entire school but I hadn’t even finished the first floor classrooms.  I think he sensed that I was both tired and a little disappointed.

Then he said he had some paperwork to do on Saturday and that he would be at the school from nine to one in the afternoon if I wanted to keep working at my project.  By this time my legs were feeling so wobbly and my back was getting sore from loading books at school and unloading them at home.  But I didn’t want to look like a quitter so I thanked him and said I would be back in the morning.  I wasn’t looking forward to fulfilling that commitment.

While she was cooking, Grandma had filled most of the boxes with the books I had brought home.  Even one of my favorite dinners of liver, bacon, onions and a baked potato with a nice salad wasn’t able to erase the fatigue that overwhelmed me.  And her home made apple strudel merely reinforced my need to sleep.  I went to bed within ten minutes of eating dinner.

The next morning I woke to a nice breakfast and then back to school.  As I pulled my cart, I saw that Mr. Tiffany was walking down the street.  He reached the front door precisely at nine o’clock.  I finished the first floor and a few rooms on the second, making another six round trips.  And then I could see from the clock on the wall of the study hall that it was two minutes to one.

I walked down to Mr. Tiffany’s office, pulling my cart and knocked on his door.  He invited me to come in and I said that I had done all I could and wanted to thank him for letting me work on Saturday and wished him a pleasant summer.  He smiled and wished me the same.

After church on Sunday, dad and I loaded up the car.  That took over an hour and we headed down to Barnes and Noble.  Dad went in while I stayed with the car since we were double parked and dad had turned on the flashers.  He returned with two young employees who helped carry our boxes inside while two other employees began calculating their value.  When the final box was unloaded, dad spotted a parking space, told me to wait on the sidewalk by the front door and hurriedly parked the car.

By the time he and I went into the store, the clerks who had been pulling out the books had only two more boxes to evaluate.  It only took them a few minutes and then they told us the total they would pay me.  When they said, “The value of your books is $1,085.50” I’m sure my mouth widened enough to have put a small cantaloupe in it.  And immediately I thought, “I didn’t even finish two floors.”  I later learned that my old enemy envy had brought with him another vice, greed.

Dad smiled at me and said, “Good job,” and collected the money from the cashier.  I had never seen so much money.  When we got in the car to drive home, he handed the cash to me and asked if I had given thought to what I was going to do with it.  Since I had been hoping perhaps to earn one hundred dollars, this large amount was far beyond my expectations.  I had made no plans for its use.

At dinner that evening my new found wealth was the only subject of conversation.  Grandma who was typically direct had remembered that Mr. Tiffany had suggested a contribution to the school.  She didn’t ask me whether I was going to do that.  She simply asked, “So how much will you be giving to your school?”  Nothing escaped this lady’s attention.  And a question such as that coming from her was less of an inquiry than it was a demand that I behave responsibly.

I thought about it for a minute and asked, “Would three hundred dollars be good?”  I winced a little as I computed that was three years’ allowance – gone in one moment.  She nodded, “That would be good.  And I’ll bake a box of cookies for you to give Mr. Tiffany.  By the time you start school it will be cool enough to bake.”

On my first day of the new school year, mom closed her store early and met me at Mr. Tiffany’s office as the school day was concluding  She carried with her grandma’s cookies and the envelope containing the three hundred dollars and my handwritten note (my mother oversaw its composition) which read:

Dear Mr. Tiffany,

Thank you for giving me the chance to earn some extra money.  Enclosed please find three hundred dollars ($300) which I would like you to accept on behalf of the school.  My grandma baked some cookies to thank you – but they wouldn’t fit in the envelope so they’re in a separate box.

Very truly yours,

 

I thought up the last line myself and when my mother read it she laughed.  But she allowed me to keep it in my thank you note.

Mr. Tiffany thanked mom and me and we went home.  He didn’t open either the envelope or the box of cookies while we were there, but it seemed to me that after that he always had a little extra smile for me when we passed in the hallway and I received the Good Citizenship Award that year.

As to the rest of the money, I made my first stock investments, five shares of Celanese Corporation of America and three shares of Dow Chemical.  The remainder went into my college fund.

My classmates still lived in their fancy co-operative apartments on Park Avenue and they still received distributions from their trust funds.  But I had something that none of them could claim.  With the help of my family and my school, I had taken an idea and turned it into a reality.  That was an accomplishment which no one ever would be able to take from me.

I was ten years old when this happened.   And that was a very good year for me.

AN EARLY LIFE LESSON–PART I

Having the opportunity to receive a private school education had both its benefits and its drawbacks.  As a child, only the negatives were clear to me and it would be many years before I recognized the advantages I had received because of my parents’ self-sacrifice so that I could attend.  But the most important lesson that I learned was that what I thought of as a disadvantage when I was a schoolchild was actually a great character builder and provided one of my most important early life lessons.

That big negative to my young mind was that I was the poorest kid in my class.  No one had to point this out.  I figured it out on my own.  I knew where my classmates lived and I knew where I lived.  I knew the amount of my allowance and I knew my classmates got three or four times as much.  I knew that my classmates’ dads were doctors and stock brokers and my dad was in sales.  And I knew that I was the only child in my class whose mother worked.  And with all that knowing I came to know envy.  And it ate at me quietly, stealthily, continuously.  I didn’t like my new guest – but I didn’t know how to rid myself of him.

It was mid-May and the school year was drawing to a close.  Because part of our tuition paid for our schoolbooks we were free to take those home and keep them if we wanted to review their contents.  But most of my classmates couldn’t wait to dump them in our class wastebaskets when our last class was finished – as if to say they had been given a reprieve from the oppression of having to learn – at least during their summer vacation.  I had seen that behavior play out the previous two years.

I happened to be looking through the newspaper one night and saw an ad that Barnes and Noble had placed.  The ad said that they bought used school texts.  And an idea came to me.  Maybe they would buy all those thrown out textbooks that my schoolmates couldn’t wait to consign to the trash.  So I called and asked if they would buy fourth and fifth grade textbooks.  The young woman who answered my call said, “Barnes and Noble will buy all school texts.”  After I thanked her I got very excited and couldn’t wait to discuss my idea with my parents – to collect all the textbooks that were thrown out and sell them to this bookseller.

Over a baked chicken dinner that night I told my father what I wanted to do and asked if he would help me.  Before he answered, he took a moment, tilted his head and his always kindly eyes seemed to moisten a little bit.  He said, “If that’s alright with your school, I’ll be happy to help you.  But you need to ask the principal for permission.”

The following day I was at school a little earlier than usual.  I went to my homeroom and Mrs. Bounds was writing on the chalk board when I walked in.  I asked her if I could have permission to see Mr. Tiffany.  I had something to ask him.  She agreed and I left the room and walked quickly down the stairs to his office.

When Mr. Tiffany’s secretary showed me in, my heart skipped a beat.  My interaction with him was limited to watching him on the stage during assembly leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance and to three days when he taught my English class when our teacher was out with the flu.  Most of us kids did not voluntarily seek out an audience with him.  And those who were sent there by their teacher always appeared a bit shaken by the experience.  He was a tough cookie.  Tough – but fair.

I was relying on that rumor of fairness to get me through and I hoped that I would be able to spill out the words in a sensible way to make my case.

Mr. Tiffany sat behind his desk as I explained why I had sought an audience with him.  He listened attentively as he placed his hands on the blotter in front of him.  His hands and fingers never moved once he had properly placed them and he never took his eyes off mine.  Finally, I had presented my request as best I could.  I remember feeling nervous to be in front of him as a penitent, begging that he would grant me this small sop.

Perhaps a minute after I had concluded he finally spoke.  Here it was.  The pronouncement.  The verdict.  The final judgment from which there could be no appeal.  As he began to speak I could feel my pulse pounding.

“How did you like your school year,?” he asked.  I had no idea why he would ask me that.  That wasn’t the reason for my visit.  But if it came from our principal there had to be a reason – unfathomable to a mere student.

“I liked school very much this year – especially math and history,” I answered.  I wanted him to get to the point of my request.  But he kept on talking about my experience and what I had learned.  And the more he talked about academics, the surer I was that he was going to deny my request.

But he finally paused, leaned back a bit in his chair and said, “The fact that you’re trying to be enterprising shows initiative.  We hope to encourage that in our students and I’m happy to allow you to engage in your project.  There is only one thing I would like you to consider.”

I had no idea what it was he wanted me to consider since I already had a plan for how I was going to pull off this money making venture.

“It would be thoughtful, when you sell the textbooks, if you would consider making a donation of part of your earnings to the school.  Whether you do or not is up to you.  And if there isn’t anything else with which I can help you today, it’s time for you to return to your classes.”  And with that I was dismissed.

In tomorrow’s installment, I’ll tell you how this ended.

COLOR BLIND

It was cold when I woke up and I was confused.  Why had my roommate left the window wide open in the dead of a Chicago winter?  But I was too tired to get up and close it and tried to pull the covers over myself – except there were no covers.  So I lay back down, shivering and hoped the sun would soon come through our dorm window to warm up the room.

A little while later I again woke up and looked around.  I was not in my dorm room.  I was lying on the tile floor of an apartment building and I began remembering what had happened.

Dr. Gerhard Meyer was my college advisor.  He was a charming man with a terrible stutter which he had probably acquired as a result of spending some time in one of Hitler’s death camps.  He looked out for his students and truly took an interest in our progress at the University of Chicago and had invited several of us to join him and his family for dinner.  I was walking there when it happened.

Suddenly I was ambushed by three young men wielding knives.  I remembered their pulling me into the apartment vestibule and ordering me to lie down.  That was the last thing I remembered until I woke up shivering.

I didn’t know what else to do so I rang several of the doorbells to the apartments in the building.  A couple came down, opened the door and helped me inside.  The wife ran up the stairs to call the police and some time later an ambulance took me to Billings Hospital.

When I woke up I was lying on a gurney.  The unpleasant antiseptic smell of an emergency room engulfed me, almost gagging me with its sterility.  I was in a corridor and medical personnel were scurrying by, tending to their patients.

Some time passed as I lay there when two of Chicago’s finest were directed to me by a member of the hospital staff.  The police were efficient, asked all the questions that one might expect, “How many people attacked you?”  “Were they male or female?”    “How old were they?”  “What color were they?”  “What were they wearing?”

The questions were perfunctory and flowed easily from the black cop who took the lead in the interrogation.  I had the sense that he had done this a hundred times before and this was very routine.  I also had the sense that the end result would be that my assailants would probably not be apprehended.  To my knowledge they never were – at least not for their attack on me.

From what the doctors could surmise, apparently once I lay on the floor one of them kicked me on the left side of my head.  This caused me to lose consciousness.  Other than a five day stint in the hospital where they could monitor the concussion that resulted from the kick and a very bad bruise by my left eye which took more than three months to heal completely, I didn’t sustain any permanent injury.

The doctors said, “I was lucky.”  Had the kick been an inch further to the left, they told me I might have lost the sight in my eye or the eye itself.  While there were no permanent scars I didn’t realize that this attack left a psychological scar which it took me several years to overcome.

At the time I was the organist for the local Roman Catholic church.  We held choir rehearsals on Thursday nights and I generally walked to the church and back home after our practice.  It was nearly a year after the attack when I was returning from one of these when across the street I saw three young men walking in the opposite direction that I was headed.

Suddenly my attack came to mind and almost involuntarily I began running as fast as I could.  I kept running despite the cold air biting my lungs until I got to my apartment, a distance of about a mile.

I remember my knees being weak as I climbed the three flights to my apartment – not from my run but because I realized that I had become a victim not only of a physical assault but those three thugs had instilled in me a sense of fear – something I had never felt before our encounter.

It took me several years until I was able to put this experience completely behind me.  I made the decision that I would not allow muggers to shape and control my life and my actions.  But before I completely overcame this mental scar I had several episodes where again my attack leapt into my mind and I had to catch myself to prevent fear from overwhelming me.

The neighborhood in which this happened was and still is one of the most highly integrated in the country.  It was a nice place to live with a large number of middle class families and individuals, surrounded on one side by Lake Michigan and bordered on the other three by neighborhoods that were examples of urban blight.

According to the local police blotter, ninety to ninety-five percent of all crime committed in the neighborhood was perpetrated by young black men between the ages of 16 to 40.  They generally lived in the surrounding poor neighborhoods and it was convenient and apparently profitable for them to ply their trade in our higher income level community.  As it happened, the three men who mugged me fit that demographic.

In 1967, the year of my attack, few would have questioned a victim’s “motivation” if he or she reported being attacked by three black men.  It would have made no difference if the victim were white, black or Asian.  We did not attribute ulterior motives or racism to these reports.

With the national attention the Zimmerman trial received and the reaction to that verdict as well as extensive reports on “The Knockout Game,” it appears that issues of color are alive and well, newsworthy and profitable to those who regularly engage in finding racism as the underlying cause for every act of violence.

The real issue is not racism.  It is a  matter of whether or not a person is raised in a family environment in which values to which most of us would subscribe are taught and whether they absorb and apply that training.  It is a matter of whether a person gets an education which enables him or her to make a decent living.  It is a matter of having an environment in which government through its policies encourages and promotes policies which enable people to do better and rise through the economic system.  Ultimately, it is a matter of how each of us chooses to conduct ourselves and live our lives.

That is the essence of America and the American dream.  And as we can see throughout our society, for those who are willing to take the chance and make the effort, that dream is alive and it is color blind.

THE POLITICS OF POVERTY

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.

MERRY CHRISTMAS (AGAIN)

For those of you who are Orthodox followers of the Old Calendar (Julian), today is Christmas.  So MERRY CHRISTMAS.  Would that the spirit of Gregorian Christmas had been extended yet another thirteen days in Washington.  But then there’s hope and then there’s reality.  Politics, with the return of Obama from his Hawaiian vacation, have returned apace.

Today El Presidente gave an interesting speech kicking off what we have in store for 2014.  He began his crusade to eliminate “income inequality” and make us all happier and poorer.  First at the top of the list was the “Emergency” extension of unemployment benefits which have been in this “Emergency” status for five years now.  Incidentally, that is the exact period of time that we have been under the guidance of the Obama administration.  Coincidence?  I think not.

It is fairly difficult for all but the mentally dyslexic to understand much of anything that comes out of this administration.  On the one hand we hear how Obama has “reduced unemployment, cut the deficit in half and helped the housing market.”  So if all that is true, it is unclear why there is a need to extend unemployment benefits further.  Realistically, all those who are unemployed should be able to find positions in this brave new economy.

But logic and reason have never been long suits for the Obama administration which claims a wonderful victory that 2.1 Million have enrolled in Obamacare which is 50% less than they projected and omitted the fact that 5.6 Million Americans and their families had policies that were cancelled leaving fewer of us with health insurance than before the enrollment began on 10/01/13.

Returning to the issue of extending unemployment benefits further for those who have lost their jobs “through no fault of their own,” to quote the President – well if they lost their jobs through no fault of their own – whose fault is it that they are now unemployed?  Could we lay the blame at the feet of the President who spent the first two years of his time in office getting Obamacare passed instead of addressing the serious problems in the economy?  Surely his economic stimulus (spending billions of taxpayer dollars) should have done the trick.

But, as the President correctly pointed out in his speech, this is not merely a matter of statistics.  There are real people involved who have probably become dependent on this new entitlement program after so long out of work – despite their diligent efforts at finding gainful employment.  And as the administration has done nothing to get the economy going again – in fact, one could argue that all the new regulations and Obamacare itself have done just the opposite – we should have the compassion to extend these benefits for a short three additional months.

I accept the fact that most of those who are unemployed would much prefer working than sitting home waiting for the next check to arrive from the unemployment office – essentially being the recipients of public charity.  So what if we could merge both their desire to work and receive something in return for the tax dollars we are willing to use to help them out?  Well, we can – and my liberal friends with their environmental agenda will, I think, embrace my suggestion.

Given the Arctic freeze that is sweeping much of the nation I don’t want to throw any stones at Al Gore or his prediction that the polar ice caps were supposed to have melted by the end of last year.  But I will accept the idea that humans do have an impact on the planet, whether or not it results in the now favored phrase “climate change” rather than global warning.  But setting aside that conversation, there is no doubt that we people do have a negative impact on our environment and I know this because I have seen its manifestation countless times.  It’s something with which we are all familiar – litter.

Consider the fact that the government now has fifty years of the War on Poverty under its belt since LBJ first got that passed.  And then we had Lady Bird’s “Beautify America” program.  And don’t forget VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America).

So what if we asked those who are recipients of further emergency unemployment benefits to go forth and attack the litter which soils the sidewalks and the parks in our cities?  In that way they would have the pride of working until their better job comes along, the taxpayers would receive a return on the money that we are spending and we would beautify our country?  That’s a win/win/win solution to an unfortunate problem.

Heck, if we aren’t careful, we could turn America into a country that looked as spotless as Singapore.

 

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