The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘jobs’

MY BROTHER’S KEEPER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, that’s okay,” he said.

That response confirmed what I suspected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

GOOD NEWS FOR SENIORS

If you don’t like pizza – well, you’re just un-American.  I’m a good and loyal American so it goes without saying that I not only like, I LOVE pizza.  Hot, cold, thin or thick crust – other than throwing pineapple and ham on it (or peanut butter), it’s almost impossible to ruin this all-American favorite.  (We did invent it didn’t we?)

Well if you’re thinking that under our ever-beneficent radical socialist leaders in Washington, seniors are going to be able to get all the pizza they can eat, I’m sorry to report that you’re wrong.  (At least for the moment – but who knows?)  No, I’m referring to new job opportunities which those who rely on walkers to perambulate may soon have available to them.

You see, there’s this law that passed called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a/k/a/ Obamacare).  And a mighty law it is indeed – as we’re only beginning to discover.  Fortunately, it doesn’t fully kick in for another year so that allows us time to think and pine and fret over its implications as they begin to further unfold.  But there are a few things about it which we do know.

(This includes those Democrats including my own former Congresswoman Shelley Berkley who recently failed to advance her career to the United States Senate and is now out of politics.  The good Congresswoman followed leader Pelosi’s advice and voted to pass the bill without bothering to read it.  Details, details.)  And, by the way there are a lot of details.

One of the details that we do know is that employers will be required to provide health insurance for all employees who earn less than $15 per hour.  If they fail to do so they will be subject to a fine of $2000 per employee.  But the cost of the insurance is likely to be at least five times as expensive as the fine.  So, in essence, the reasonable employer will make the choice between spending $2000 per year or $10,000 per year – and which number do you think she will select?

But, wait – there’s a way around this.  You see this only applies to those employees who are considered “full time” employees – that is to say that they work (or at least show up) for 30 hours or more a week.  (Whatever happened to the 40 hour work week?  I guess I owe myself a lot of back pay at an overtime rate!)

So, as an alternative, an employer can cut back on her full-time staff, reducing them to part-time status and thus skirt this provision of Obamacare.  Apparently when our esteemed Congress passed this bill and the President signed it into law, they overlooked this eventuality and the consequent reduction in income and standard of living that those whom the law is intended to benefit will undergo.  I guess it’s just another example of unintended consequences.

But in my musings, I have arrived at a solution which I would like to share with all those small business owners (and little pizzerias that I love to frequent).

HIRE THE ELEDERLY

You see, if we merely raid the retirement homes to find the able-bodied among our senior citizens, we can recruit them to work in our stores and businesses and avoid this provision of Obamacare since they already have insurance, Medicare.

And this works out well for our seniors.  Not only will it provide them with additional income that they need to compensate for the rising prices of food and gas (the kind you put in your vehicle) which are far outstripping the increase in their Social Security benefits but, since their doctors are now becoming veterinarians, there’s no need for them to worry about missing their appointments – since there won’t be any.

And this works out for the pizza-eating public as well.  I mean really, would you rather see some acne-pimpled teenager tossing the dough for your pizza, or some lovely silver-haired lady who reminds you of your grandmother?

“I’m here to pick up my extra large pepperoni, mushroom, green pepper and onion pizza, Grams.  Oh, wait.  Don’t strain yourself.  Let me help you lift that.”

THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA

There is a wonderful Hans Christian Andersen story entitled, “The Princess and the Pea,” (brought to Broadway starring Carol Burnett with the title, “Once Upon A Mattress.”)  This children’s story was published in 1835.

The story concerns a prince who wants to be sure that he marries a real princess.  He is unsure of the royal background of those who have come forward as his possible consort.  So he devises a test based on physical sensitivity.

One stormy night a young woman comes to the castle and claims to be a princess.  The prince’s mother, suspicious of this dripping wet “pretender” places a pea under twenty mattresses which are then covered with twenty featherbeds.  In the morning the young woman complains that she spent a restless night.  There was something hard in her bed which prevented her from getting a good night’s sleep.

The prince realizes that only a true princess could possibly possess this sensitivity and so he makes her his wife.

As I watched the Democratic National Convention, somehow this story came to mind.  I hadn’t thought about it for years – since I saw Ms. Burnett give her extraordinary performance on stage.  But the similarity between this story, the financial and social condition of the country and the response by the speakers at the convention was rather startling.

Of course, it would have been a surprise if anyone had anything bad to say about how President Obama has mishandled the economic “recovery.”  Many of those who spoke have been part and parcel of enacting the policies which led to today’s very disappointing August jobs number of 96,000 which is less than half that would have to be created monthly for a three year period if we were to get back to an unemployment rate of 6%.  The following link allows you to do your own job creation calculations, courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta:

http://www.frbatlanta.org/chcs/calculator/index.cfm

In addition to the disappointing news for last month, July’s number was revised down to 141,000 from 163,000 and June’s number was revised down to 45,000 from 64,000.  It is hard to disagree with President Obama’s statement that there “Is a long road to travel” before this country returns to prosperity  – a longer one thanks to the policies he and his fellow party members have implemented.

There was some good news in the jobs report.  Unemployment declined from 8.3% to 8.1%.  That, on the surface, would seem to be encouraging.  But if we look at the facts they tell a different story.

Beginning in the 1970’s the number of participants joining the labor market increased substantially as more women entered the work force.  This trend continued for over 30 years.  Beginning with the start of the Recession in 2007, there has been a dramatic decline in those counted in the unemployment statistics, either because they have retired early or just given up looking for a job.

If we were to measure “true unemployment” based on the percentage of eligible people who could be seeking a job, the actual rate of unemployment would be 11.6% and the number of jobs we would have to create monthly for three years to get to a 6% unemployment rate would be 334,000 which is a number that has never been achieved in the history of the United States.

Notwithstanding these rather dismal statistics, I applaud the sensitivity of the speakers at the DNC in being able to put a positive spin on the President and their record over the last four years.

Our “leaders” have acted as though they are aristocracy for a very long time.  What I didn’t realize is that they could each of them have passed the prince’s test and detected the pea under all those mattresses and featherbeds.  Perhaps they are what they believe they are – the new American royalty – and Prince Obama is leading the charge.

ON CULTS

When all else fails, my good liberal friends seem to have an unending arsenal of epithets and insults they want to thrust into what should be a serious debate about who has the capability of becoming the next President of the United States and leading us out of the morass we currently are experiencing.  The most recent arrow from the quiver is the word, “cult” in reference to Presidential nominee Romney.

When we use “cult” in common parlance, we generally are employing it in a pejorative way to a member of a particular religious group or the group itself.  This is actually one definition of the term as it is defined in “Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary – 2nd Edition.”  However, this is only the sixth definition of the term to be found.

One of my good friends recently went on about the “Cult of Mormonism.”  So I thought I would take a moment to put this in perspective.  Before embarking on this, I want to say that I do not know the entire theology of the LDS and I am not serving as an apologist for that religious body.  There is no need for me to do so as we do have the First Amendment to the Constitution which more than adequately addresses the issue.  (I’ve always found it interesting that my liberal friends hold the Constitution in great veneration – but only when it seems to speak positively to their objectives).

In Judaeo-Christian history, the ancient Egyptians viewed Moses and his band of Hebrews as a cult and did all they could to erase them from the face of the Earth.  Then, along came Jesus and the Jews and Romans viewed him and his followers as members of a cult and attempted the same solution.  Obviously, both of those efforts failed.

Christianity had no better luck attempting the same outcome when Mohammed came along.  The Crusades ultimately were an utter failure.  And then mainstream Christianity, having not learned any historical lessons, made the same attempt to eliminate the Mormons.  They were driven west and ultimately south which is the reason that Governor Romney’s father, George was born in Mexico.  They were attempting to survive religious persecution – their First Amendment rights and protections notwithstanding.

It should be apparent that given enough time, today’s “cult” can evolve into a respected mainstream religion.

Returning to Webster’s definition of “cult” let’s turn our attention to the second definition which is given:

“An instance of great veneration, of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers.”

I would argue that definition very accurately describes the attitude that the President enjoys among his supporters.  Yes, I realize that there are those holding overpaid government positions or who are charter members of the welfare wagon who feel threatened that a responsible economic policy might threaten their way of life.  I appreciate their concern.

To me they are making a rational selection in their choice for President – although it is a short term one as we simply cannot continue on this path for much longer before the whole system will collapse, making the banking crisis look like a Sunday school picnic.

It is not to them I speak as they haven’t ears or the desire to listen.  It is to those who are willing to look honestly at the history of the four years of the Obama White House and who ask themselves, did the President deliver on his election promises; did he cut the deficit in half as he promised; did he bring about the full employment he told us he would put in effect; did he improve the lot of minorities throughout this country as he said he would; did he do anything that he promised which was why we voted for him in the first place – hoping not just for a change but a change for the better?

If you can honestly answer yes to those questions then I can certainly understand why you would continue to support him in office.  I would also like the name of your local drug pusher so that I can get a supply of whatever you’re on.  I would like to live in a euphoric Never-Never Land too.

If not, I wonder if this qualifies you as a member of a cult.  The final meeting may be convened on November 6, 2012.

MONEY AND TAXES

I believe it is a fair statement that none of us likes to pay taxes – whatever form they take.  If you’re lucky enough in this economy to have a job, you find that when your paycheck is handed over to you it is significantly lower than the amount that you grossed that pay period.  That’s part of the problem with making money.  In fact there are four problems with money, all of which relate to the imposition of paying taxes.

1) You make it and they tax it (Income Tax, FICA Tax, Medicare Tax, State Income Tax).

2) You spend it and they tax it (Sales & Use Taxes).

3) You save it and they tax it (Income Tax, Dividend Tax {already taxed once to the company in which you hold a few shares of stock}).

4) You die and they tax it (Inheritance Tax).

Now while in the world of Presidential ads the focus is on who is paying income taxes and at what rate, we ignore one very important fact.  That conversation is lost on almost fifty percent of the population who pay nothing in Federal Income Tax.

But there is another form of taxation which affects virtually all of us – whether we are working for a living, retired and spending our savings or are on welfare.  That is the issue of state and local Sales and Use Taxes.

Just for purposes of definition a sales tax is imposed in forty-six states on purchases of goods and in some case services which are purchased within and delivered in that state.  Use tax is a tax that the state looks to collect  for goods, which if they were purchased in the state, would be subject to the sales tax.  But in the case of a use tax, the vendor operates outside the state and delivers its product to a purchaser within the state.

Even though the vendor does not collect a sales tax, a use tax in the equivalent amount is supposed to be paid by the purchaser.  The system of collection depends on the honesty of the purchaser to report his purchases and pay the appropriate tax.  Probably ninety-nine percent of this tax goes uncollected from individual purchasers.

So those of us who have ever purchased anything from Amazon or any other vendor who have not charged our state’s sales tax should examine our conscience before we cast aspersions on those who we feel are not paying their fair share.  Did we comply with the law and report these purchases to our state’s governing tax authorities?

We generally refer to our Federal Income Tax Code as a “progressive” tax system – in that higher income is taxed at a higher rate.  By contrast, the imposition of a sales tax is, by its nature a regressive tax system because it uniformly charges the same rate to all purchasers irrespective of income level or ability to pay.

We know that the proportion of their income that the poor pay in sales tax is significantly higher than the amount the well-to-do pay.  And the worst form of this discriminatory tax is that it is borne by the poor who live in states where food intended to be used at home is taxed.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia either have never imposed a sales tax on food purchased for home consumption or have abandoned it.  Interestingly, two states closely associated with President Obama, Hawaii and Illinois both tax food.  This tax on food is the most regressive and discriminatory tax on the books because it most adversely affects the poor which includes a significant portion of the black and Hispanic communities.

With all the talk about “tax equity” on a Federal level, I cannot help but wonder why the President, during his tenure as an Illinois State Senator never addressed this question, never proposed a repeal of this tax, never did anything that would have benefited his constituents.  Is this the caring, understanding President that former President Clinton is now championing – the “man with a plan,” as the ad states?

I happen to like former President Clinton.  How could you not like a man who during his impeachment trial based his defense on the definition of the word “is”?  I mean that shows chutzpah to the nth degree.

I only wish the current resident of the White House had as much moxie.  He didn’t when he represented my Chicago district while in the Illinois Senate.  We never heard so much as a peep from him when he represented the people of the State of Illinois in the U. S. Senate.  And as President – if what we’ve seen over the last four years is a plan, I would suggest that based on all the economic evidence, it is a plan to fail.

THE CONSUMER

Have you ever played chess?  If you have then you realize the most important value of your eight “pawns” is that they serve as sacrificial lambs in your effort to checkmate your opponent.  American consumers are little more than pawns in the game of chess that our banking system including the Federal Reserve and  our politicians are perpetrating on the nation.

In 1988, John Carpenter made one of my favorite films, “They Live.”  It is a combination of science fiction and film-noire.  As it is probably a movie that most of my readers have not seen, here is a synopsis of the plot.

The film is set in Los Angeles.  Aliens have come to earth and they have allied themselves with the rich and powerful – titans of industry and those who are in political power – promising these people untold wealth and riches as they engage in their ultimate strategy which is to rape the planet of its resources before they move on to another planet to do the same.

The aliens have installed broadcast towers around the world which serve two purposes.  The first is to cloak the aliens from identification (Carpenter portrays their real form as Halloween ghouls) and the second is to allow them to put subliminal messages on advertising billboards which humans absorb but don’t actually see.  Those messages direct us to “Buy,” “Spend,” “Use,” “Replace”, “Throw Out.”  These are the ultimate consumerist messages.

The reason that the aliens want us to do this is that, even as they use us to help in their mission of despoiling Earth’s resources, they want us to work faster and harder and if we are perpetually nearly broke, we will have to continue on our unwitting assistance of their agenda.

A drifter, Roddy Piper gets work in construction and discovers a box of sunglasses which, when worn, reveal the aliens’ true form.  The sunglasses are later replaced with an updated version in the form of contact lenses.  Piper, who’s character is named “Nada” joins a movement of other humans who realize the truth of the plight of earth’s people.  Their goal is to tear down the broadcast tower which cloaks the aliens’ true appearance and emits the signal for their subliminal messages so that all people will see them for who and what they really are.

At the conclusion of the movie, the tower and signal are destroyed – but Nada gives his life in the process.  Presumably, humans learn the truth and the aliens will be routed, but that is a conclusion left to the viewer to reach.

The American consumer is responsible for  two-thirds of our Gross Domestic Product.  It is our buying, replacing, using and throwing out things that keeps our economy fueled.  We make purchases based on the latest fad and fashion and for many of those, the products are nearly obsolete as soon as they have been released.  These spending habits are why we have amassed the incredible amount of consumer debt that is on the books.

While we are cautioned about being in all this debt, it is really the only way that we can finance our need to buy and spend and use and throw out.  And the banks love it.  Lending money to the consumer at 18% – 24% while they borrow from the Federal Reserve at  0.25% is very profitable business.

And our politicians hope that we will continue on our present path – and accelerate our journey on the way since they depend on us to fuel the economy and their own re-election efforts.  A happy consumer is more likely to be a voter who will once again return the establishment to their places of privilege at the top of the food chain.

The motto of The Science Fiction Book Club is, “Today’s fiction is tomorrow’s fact.”    Some of Carpenter’s views in 1988 might have been fiction.  But if you look around you will see that a lot of that has indeed evolved into fact.

Is that because of alien intervention or is it because of our own foolishness and consumerism?  Does it really matter?  The results are the same.

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.

Tag Cloud