The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘OWS’

GOING TO THE MOVIES

Well, I did it.  I broke my nearly two year long dry spell and went to see a movie this afternoon.  The last film I saw in a theater was “The King’s Speech.”  That was in November, 2010.  Today I saw, “2016: Obama’s America”.  That is to say that in our theater six other people and I saw it at the “early bird showing”.

The multi-screen theater lobby didn’t seem to be exceptionally crowded.  Well, we’re back to school and it is the day after a holiday.  Or perhaps it was the price of a ticket.  They have gone in less than two years from $5.00 to $7.50 – a fifty percent increase – while we’re told that “real” inflation has crept up by less than four percent in that same time period.  Someone’s making out like bandits.  I’m frankly surprised that we don’t have an OTMT movement (Occupy The Movie Theaters) in full swing.

As I walked to find my theater I passed the concession stand which occupied nearly the size of a small football field.  As I was early I paused to view the bill of fare which was advertised on the large overhead display.  “Hot dog – $6.00;” “Super-sized soda – $4.50;” “Large popcorn – $5.00 (butter $1.00 extra).”  No wonder there was a sign in the lobby, “All food brought in must be consumed before going to your movie theater.”  Junk food elevated to the cost of a gourmet meal.  I’m amazed that even the 1% of the wealthiest Americans can afford this sort of “entertainment.”

I passed on the concession stand and hoped that when I made the turn into the arcade of theaters that the smell of popcorn and hot dogs would dissipate.  They did.

So I found a comfortable space in the theater – being the third of the seven of us to arrive and greeted my two fellow movie-goers who had seated themselves a few rows behind me.  We were already into the announcements (not to be confused with the previews) which were, in essence, mostly advertisements.

However, I was drawn to the fact that there were, in a ten minute period, three separate requests that the patrons should turn off their cell phones.  As I had left mine home, this proved easy for me.  Yes, three separate requests.  Apparently, that is the number necessary to get the attention of those in the audience.

Among our group of seven viewers I am pleased to report that not a single cell phone rang during the course of the movie.  Apparently, repeated requests work – or the fact that we all appeared to be well past our thirties might have had something to do with it.

Then came the previews.  I will admit that one of them about parents trying to wrest control of the public schools from the hands of those in school administration piqued my interest and I may go see it if I can remember it’s name when it is released.  And Hollywood is doing the thirty-sixth remake of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” I presume with more skin evident than in it’s predecessors.  I’ll pass on that.  A few more trailers were shown but I admit that I was able to ignore them.  And then, finally – the lights dimmed and we were treated to the feature which we had paid to see.

There was a reason that I went to see “2016: Obama’s America.”  Every review I read of the film in the Main Stream Media panned it.  Naturally, I thought that sufficient enough reason to take a look.

Writer and director Dinesh D’Souza presented an interesting documentary.  He traces the President’s Marxist-leaning philosophies back to the polygamous, alcoholic father who abandoned him and his mother – almost in an effort to gain paternal recognition and acceptance from a man whom he idealized “in absentia.”

What surprised me was that one of those who had a great deal of influence on President Obama was someone I knew in New York as a child and who is now a Professor of Law at Harvard University, Roberto Mangabeira Unger.  He has also been active in Brazilian politics and ran twice for the Presidency of that country.

Interestingly, Roberto has a background that is not dissimilar to President Obama’s in that his father, who as I recall was a lawyer, died quite young and unexpectedly, leaving him and his sister to be raised by their mother.  It was either in fourth or fifth grade that she decided to return to her native Brazil and pulled her children out of the private schools they attended, leaving New York and their beautiful Park Avenue co-operative behind.  Since then Roberto has been a champion for wealth re-distribution as the only way to achieve an equitable society.  (Does this ring a bell for any of you).

D’Souza makes an interesting case for why it is that Barrack Obama makes the decisions that he makes – based on those with whom he has associated throughout his life.  There is no question – at least based on the evidence that is presented in this documentary – that the President feels comfortable with the philosophies of those with either a socialist or communist approach in their world view.  Frankly, that is more disturbing than if he were merely incompetent which was the view that I held previously.

It is always difficult, if not impossible, to make an absolute case about the psyche and motivations of a person – even if that person is us.  To accomplish that for another individual is certainly challenging – if not downright impossible.  If it were not so, psychoanalysis would not need nearly so many practitioners.

But D’Souza does advance some excellent – if rather chilling points.  To be honest, I prefer my own thesis that President Obama is simply incompetent because it is the more sanguine of the two.  If D’Souza is right, who knew that going to see a movie could reveal what a dangerous person we have chosen to seat at the helm of the American ship of state?

THE FIRE

You had a hard week at work.  Everything that could go wrong did and at the worst possible moment.  But that’s done with and you’re driving home, looking forward to spending a pleasant weekend with your family.

A few miles from your home the traffic turns into a jam.  You think to yourself, “Well, that’s kind of typical of the way this week went.”  And then you see the reason for the stall.  There is a dark cloud of smoke ahead – and it’s coming from the neighborhood where your home is located.

“Oh please, God –  please don’t let that be my house that’s on fire,” you exclaim out loud.

Your anxiety builds as the traffic crawls forward in the thirty minutes it takes to move one half way to the billowing smoke.  Even with the air conditioner running at full throttle you can feel the perspiration dripping down the side of your body from your underarms.  In the distance you can see the fire equipment which has been deployed to combat the blaze.

Another half hour passes.  The police and a fireman are directing traffic on the street that feeds into your street.  At that point you breathe a sigh of relief because you can see that the source of the fire is a house that is two blocks away from yours.  Perhaps the week didn’t turn out as badly as it might have.

Most of us who found ourselves in this situation would probably, almost involuntarily, react the same way.  “Oh please, God – please don’t let that be my house that’s on fire.”  But what are we really saying in making that plea?  Simply that we are perfectly content for this tragedy to have befallen one of our friends or neighbors – just as long as we remain unscathed by it.

We have asserted our moral superiority to prosper at the expense of someone else who is not as fortunate, gifted or entitled as we are.  We have passed judgment that our interests are more important than the interests of others.

After the  tragedy of this event we might find it in our hearts to make a small donation to the family who’s lives were affected or perhaps put together a bag of canned goods for them to eat.  And in these ways we assuage our consciences and tell ourselves that we really are “good people.”

I offer this lesson in “situation ethics” as a prelude to a discussion about which there has been much and will be more conversation.  That topic is outsourcing jobs.

As I see it, there are three categories of people who are involved in this conversation.

The first are those people who really don’t want to make the effort to get a job and find this a convenient excuse for their own idleness.  As far as I am concerned, they are a part of the problem and in no way contribute to a solution.

The second are those people who have a job and are breathing a sigh of relief that their employment does not appear to be in jeopardy.  They may have a view on outsourcing and indeed be empathetic to a co-worker who’s position was outsourced – but in their hearts they’re saying, “Oh thank you, God for letting me keep my position.”

The third are those people who are actively seeking work but cannot find it.  They are bitter that a potential job has been shipped overseas.  We hear a lot of this from OWS.  They also have made the moral judgment that they have a greater right to life and prosperity than some other worker who happens to live in another country.

Now the facts are that many of these outsourced positions are low-level and low-paying.  A large contingent of OWS protestors are frustrated people who are college educated and are unable to find work using their degrees.  I suspect that none of them spent four years in college so that they could get a minimum wage job working in a fast food restaurant or in a customer service call center.

In fact, I doubt that if offered that kind of position so that they could support themselves until things got better they would even consider accepting it.  I say this based on several conversations I have had with OWS members.  The people with whom I spoke considered that type of work as being “beneath them.”  Personally, if I were in their position, I would humbly accept the work and be grateful for it while I continued to look for something better.

So is outsourcing immoral?  Let me introduce a fourth group that carries the most weight in this discussion.  That group consists of our President and the Congress.  You see, if they had the sense to understand the nature of the recession and to work proactively at fixing it – rather than spending two years going off on tangents and bickering, we might not be having this discussion at all.

As bad as the June Jobs Report was with an overall unemployment rate continuing at 8.2%, things got worse for the very people whom President Obama counts as his core constituency – blacks and Latinos.  The rate of unemployment for blacks increased to 13.6% from 13.0% and for Latinos to 11.0% from 10.3%.

It is truly difficult for me to understand how these unemployed minorities can support a man who has done so very little to assist them – and, in fact, who has by omission,  done so much to prevent them from entering the work force.

This fourth group, our politicians needs to tend to their knitting – rather than trying to blind each other with their knitting needles.  They need to be honest with themselves and with us – and if they are incapable of that, they need to be replaced with thoughtful people who will work toward finding solutions.  The blame game is not only not productive – it is counter-productive.

We have seen what happens when a people learn to distrust their politicians’ ability or willingness to address problems in a serious manner.  That life study comes to us from a country called Greece.  We saw the fires that raged in the streets of Athens – and those streets are only a few thousand miles and a couple of years away.

If we don’t take the responsibility to elect people of quality and vision this November I predict that it won’t be long before we’re all saying, “Oh my God, our country’s on fire.”

OVERTIME

When I was in grammar school, high school and college I always held part-time jobs.  Of course, these were hourly positions – in other words, I traded my services to my employer in exchange for an agreed upon rate they paid me per hour.  I’m sure everyone is familiar with this arrangement.

What I never understood was the concept of being paid at an “overtime rate”.  Yes, I knew that it was Federal law.  The last time I looked, employers were required to pay overtime (generally one and one half time the normal hourly wage, but it could be as high as twice or three times as much) if an employee worked more than eight hours in one day or forty hours in one week.

I guess the “logic” behind this is that if an employer asked one of his workers to spend that much time on the job, he was penalizing that person from spending time with his family and this was a way of compensating for it.  On one level it does make some sense.

I was never in a position where I worked enough to earn overtime in these part-time jobs so in essence the point was moot to me.  But I do remember a full-time co-worker clucking about the size of her check one week because she had nine hours of overtime pay on it.  Even as a youngster this caused me to think about the concept.

I knew from my experience that when I started work on a given day I was fresh, rested and ready to get the job done.  Generally, I only worked a few hours so nothing really changed for me in terms of my level of energy or focus.  But I also noticed that my full-time counterparts would start yawning as the afternoon progressed.  They had been at work all day and were simply getting tired.  Of course, if they had to work beyond their normal schedule – into “overtime territory” -they would continue to tire further.

I don’t think that it’s an earth shattering statement to say that if you’re tired and less alert the quality of what you do, whether it’s work, sports, driving or any other activity is probably poorer than when you’re awake and more alert.  This was why I never understood the concept of overtime.

What overtime does is reward a person with a premium wage for an inferior work product.

Please understand that I’m not trying to overturn the payment of overtime – merely point out one of its inherent flaws.  But I do know that if I purchased a garment and in the shirt pocket I found one of those little stickers that says “Inspected by No. 4 During Overtime Hours,” I’d probably take it back to the store and exchange it for one that was inspected during that employee’s regular work schedule.

This brings me to a news item that comes from my original home state, New York.  Apparently, PAPD, the Port Authority Police Department is not clear on the value of the services they receive when they pay their employees overtime.

One of the supervising policemen, Edwin Rivera earned in excess of $166,000 in overtime pay in 2011.  This is in addition to his base salary of $108,000 per year.  Not too shabby.  Apparently this gentleman’s services are so invaluable that he has earned over $200,000 per year for each of the last three years.  That’s not too bad for someone who is directing traffic – or more correctly, directing people who are directing traffic.

By contrast, although his base salary is less than theirs, Officer Rivera is reporting more income on his Form 1040 than either New York’s Governor or a member of the New York State Supreme Court.   If you’ve ever been tied up in a traffic jam in New York City you certainly appreciate how annoying that can be.   So I guess directing it is a pretty important job too.

Well, this led me to a thought.  If you accept my premise that overtime pay rewards poorer performance with more money; if you believe the government statistics that our unemployment rate is 8.2% (and who doesn’t believe the government), then there may be a way to get more productivity out of our workforce and at a lower cost, lowering the unemployment rate in the process.

Let’s take a mid-sized company that runs 1000 hours of overtime per week among its clerical staff.  I’m using a figure of $10 per hour as an average in this example.  I think if anything that’s probably low since I just met a young man the other day who was hired by a Strip property to switch out their one and one half million light bulbs for LED’s at a wage of $16.50 per hour.

Since we know that overtime is paid at a minimum rate of one and one half times the base wage, that employer is spending five dollars per hour times 1000 hours per week – a total for the year of nearly $300,000 when you include FICA and Medicare, etc.  Assuming a 40 hour work week, those overtime hours would allow that employer to add 12 full time people – or 25 part time people each working 20 hours per week – and get a better work product.

One of the frustrations that the OWS movement’s members have expressed is that they can’t find a job – despite having spent years getting an education.  I understand that sense of frustration.  And while doing clerical work may not be their life’s ambition, at least it would provide them with some income until things improve and a position opens up in their chosen field of endeavor.

The employer benefits by getting an improved work product at no additional cost.  Any training of the new staff should be minimal since I suspect anyone with a college degree knows how to type and file.

The new employees obviously benefit because they are now earning an income and paying their own way.

The country benefits because we would reduce the rate of unemployment thus alleviating the strain placed on the Unemployment Insurance system at both the Federal and State level.

Of course, this idea is intended solely for use in the private sector.  I suspect that if government tried to implement it, by the time all the supernumeraries were added to oversee the project, we would be further in the hole.

I wrote this post late last night after a long day taking care of things that needed to be done.  In addition, the temperature got up to 106 degrees – and I wilt rather quickly at those levels.  Heat seems to wreak havoc on the few remaining brain cells I have left.

I try in these posts to be creative and thoughtful.  Sometimes I succeed more than at other times.  So if this post is less than up to the standards I try to set for myself, I apologize to my readers.

Please understand, I wrote it on overtime.

IF YOU ‘AFSCME’ I’LL TELL YOU

After 30 years at the helm of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), President Gerald McEntee is retiring.  He has overseen this, the largest of the unions representing government workers for an entire generation.  Apparently, there’s job security in being the head of a union – unless you’re Jimmy Hoffa.

Not only is there job security, the pay isn’t bad either.  Mr. McEntee is earning just shy of $400,000 per year.  There are a lot of CEO’s of corporations who would drool at that salary.  But, I guess, since it’s a union and not a for profit corporation that’s okay with those in OWS and among people with similar mindsets.

Mr. McEntee has endorsed one of the two candidates, the union’s Secretary-Treasurer, Lee Saunders who undoubtedly aspires to equaling his bud McEntee’s record of generational leadership.  No doubt he will continue to accept the same salary and continue Mr. McEntee’s practice of taking private jets here and there on matters of union business.  (Did someone say, “Isn’t that former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s preferred method of travel?”)

Pitted against Mr. Saunders in this contest for union supremacy is Mr. Danny Donohue, the head of AFSCME’s New York branch.  Mr. Donohue is campaigning as a reformer – offering to accept a reduction in salary and promising to take commercial plane flights.  As a person who’s tax contributions indirectly pay for those items, I am hoping that Mr. Donohue can carry it off.

Perhaps that last statement confuses you – so allow me to explain.

Unions have one (legal) source of funds.  (Disregard that last sentence if you’ve seen the movie, “On The Waterfront”).  It’s called the dues their members pay in to be a unionist.  Now in the case of a union representing workers in the private sector, these come out of the pockets of the members.  But the case is different when we are talking about government employees.  We the people are the ones who are paying these because it is we who ultimately share the burden of providing both for the income and welfare of these individuals.

Mr. McEntee and his cohorts in the other public unions have done their job quite well on behalf of their members (and all of us who pay any kind of federal, state or municipal tax should be given credit for this achievement).  The current average benefits package for these employees now exceeds $44,000 per year – and you and I, my fellow American taxpayers are footing the bill.

Of course, what AFSCME does is more or less up to its members – in theory.  I hope that no external influence is brought to bear over this election.  But it does give me pause when I think that the union is supposedly going to “donate” to the re-election campaign of President Obama and other Democratic worthies to the tune of approximately $100 million.  So those of you who were thinking about sending President BHO a check for $3 or so to get him re-elected needn’t bother.  It’s being done for you.

Mr. Saunders, if he is successful, would also be the first African-American president of AFSCME – but I hope that we have laid the issue of race to rest as a BFOQ. (That’s government-speak for Bona Fide Occupational Qualification).  At least the intelligent voters I know have done so.

I shall watch the election with interest to see whether AFSCME subscribes to the philosophy espoused by the late 43rd Ward Alderman, Paddy Bauler when he said, “Chicago ain’t ready for reform,” or whether they follow a more inspired path.  I’m sure you will be watching too.

After all, it’s our tax dollars “at work”.

YOUR TAX PESOS AT WORK

Between J. P. Morgan Chase’s $2 Billion trading loss and the video below which I have linked for your viewing enjoyment – I guess this is a weekend to write about financial matters.

The video is from an Indianapolis news station and details their investigation into how the IRS is sending our tax dollars to illegal immigrants based on fraudulent returns in which they are claiming credits for children who live in Mexico.

This is not meant to be an indictment or statement about illegal aliens, but rather, a statement about the people who run our tax collection system – all one hundred thousand of them.

As you will see, this fraud costs the Treasury approximately $4.2 Billion per year.  But that is not the most disheartening aspect of the problem.  What is discouraging is that the IRS has been aware of the problem for years – and has done nothing to stop it.

For those who think that the solution to all our problems is enacting even more regulations, perhaps you may reconsider your position after you see how those who run the government turn your tax dollars into pesos.

Incidentally, when you click on the link you will see a popup asking whether you would like to subscribe to the site that provided the video.  You do not need to do so in order to view this piece – merely “X” out of the box.

http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=d09acbc15543c8083c507e85c&id=6bf9a2273b&e=6661d79a70

IS A PUZZLEMENT

In 1951 the play, “The King And I” premiered on Broadway, the third collaboration between Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II.  The play had a three year run and in 1956 was made into a movie starring Yul Brynner as the King of Siam.  The play has some wonderful songs and has been staged repeatedly in community theaters and in revivals almost non-stop since it’s first performance.

One of the songs that the king sings is entitled, “Is A Puzzlement”.  He has hired an English school teacher to help modernize his view of the world which is, at the play’s beginning, very Siam-centric and to bring him into the modern world of the 1860’s in which the play is set.  But the new ideas which Anna, the teacher brings to him are, in many cases, in conflict with what he has learned and believes.  Yet, he sees some of the truth in what she tells him and he expresses his confusion in “Is A Puzzlement.”

This week Facebook began what Wall Street commonly calls its “Road Show” as it begins to gauge investor sentiment before it becomes  a public company next week.  The purpose of this “Road Show” is to determine how many shares will be issued and what the offering price will be.  Current estimates are that the company will come to market with a value between $75 – $100 Billion, turning founder Mark Zuckerberg who  will retain a 51% controlling interest into another member of the elite 1%.

As I thought about this remarkable public offering, the largest in history, I wondered how the OWS movement might respond to this and to the events which led up to it.  For some reason, the king’s song from the “King and I” came to mind.

In speaking with a number of people who are part of that movement I realize that there is a lot of frustration about the fact that many are mad because they made the effort to earn a college degree, now have the expense of that education hanging over their heads and are unable to find a job using that education.  I can understand that frustration.  Three of the members of the elite 1%, Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp.; the late Steve Jobs of Apple, Inc.; and now Mr. Zuckerberg of Facebook were all college dropouts.   It doesn’t seem fair and truly, “Is A Puzzlement.”

But there is something that the members of OWS can do to express their sense of unfairness.  They can turn off their computers, whether Windows or Apple-based; refuse to buy or use any I-Phones or other Apple products and resign their membership in Facebook.  Since by their own admission they are the 99% and since these companies all depend on large numbers of users for their continued success that should have a profound effect on all these companies’ bottom lines.  Otherwise, OWS members are supporting some of the various entities that they so abhor.

Will this happen?  Will the members of OWS honestly live up to their rhetoric?

Is a puzzlement.

THE GREAT SHAM-WOW!

Now that both Western and Eastern Orthodox Easter have been celebrated, it is time to come back from my sabbatical and turn my attention from the sacred to the profane.  Fortunately, this two week hiatus has provided ample material to consider – the most obvious being yesterday’s Senate vote on “the Buffett Rule”.

Of course, this tidbit of proposed legislation had no chance of passage but provides the President, always the consummate campaigner, an opportunity to point to how the GOP is the party that protects the rich – while he as a Dem is on the side of the little guy.  President Obama made this point in a speech in Florida in which he descried the fact that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary and that raising the tax rate on the rich will put our budget in balance and we will finally all again start living the “American Dream.”

Sadly, the facts suggest something quite different  – so either the President is simply very poor at math or is just misinformed.  In either case, it makes the thoughtful person wonder why they would vote for him this November – at least if that person has an IQ that is higher than your average kumquat.  So, for your review and consideration here are the facts about this proposal – and a brief review of how tax equity really works.  Since this is “Tax Return Filing” day I thought this would be an appropriate subject.

First, “the rule” is intended to get the super wealthy (those individuals earning one million or more a year) to pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes.  This should have broad appeal since most of us who are reading this (or for that matter writing it) don’t fall into that category.  Most of us probably don’t even know anyone who fits into that income level – except perhaps for our tightwad Uncle Percival who has terrible halitosis and won’t even leave an honorable mention of us in his will.  So what could be better than to have these wealthy people balance our budget – rather than taking the money out of our own pockets?

Well, according to all reliable sources, including the independent CBO, implementing this rule will actually raise approximately $47 Billion – over a period of ten years.  According to President Obama, during that same time period, the national debt will increase by $600 Billion.  Assuming that the President’s rosy projection is correct, that leaves a shortfall in revenue of a little over $550 Billion.  (I say rosy because during President Obama’s short three year reign, the deficit has increased by nearly $5 Trillion).

So while implementing “the Buffett rule” might be a step in the right direction, it obviously will not resolve our budget and deficit problems.  The only way that can happen is through a reduction in spending (something the Dems bitterly oppose) or increase taxes on a broader base (something the GOP abhors).  Throughout the history of the world, governments have always taken the path of least resistance – and rather than make hard choices like curbing perks for lawmakers and their supporters – have always chosen to heap additional and inventive new forms of taxation on the rest of us.  Let’s take a quick peek back into tax history in the United States.

This is not the first time that the question of tax inequity has surfaced.  In 1969 the Congress was outraged that certain high net worth individuals were paying little or no taxes.  They had primarily invested their assets in tax free municipal bonds issued by the states and various municipalities – the interest on those investments being exempt from Federal Income Tax.

The hue and cry of “tax equity and fairness” was heard in he halls of the Capitol Building and the Congress passed a change in the tax code so that these people had to pay something into the coffers of the Treasury to benefit the common good.  This change in the tax code was known as the AMT (the Alternative Minimum Tax) – and you may be startled to learn that the number of taxpayers who were actually affected by this was a mere one hundred fifteen people in the entire country.  Compare that to the number covered by “the Buffett rule” – estimated to affect over a million taxpayers initially.

Now here’s the tax history lesson.  The AMT which initially was applied to a mere handful of people now affects over thirty-two million taxpayers.  You see, once government gets a hold on a bad idea, there is no limit to how far they can and will extend it.

The GOP has “trickle-down economics”.  This is a theory which may or may not work.  But the history of taxation in this country is clear.  The Dems have “trickle-down taxation” which, using the AMT as an example, clearly does work.  So before you get on the “soak the rich” bandwagon, consider that you may well be the next in line for tax increases.

Until we get true leadership and honesty both in the White House and in the Congress we will continue to stumble along – putting a bandage here and tying a tourniquet there to try to staunch a gaping wound and a gushing flow of budgetary blood.  But until that happens, perhaps both Mr. Buffett and President Obama can show us real integrity by voluntarily sending the IRS a check for the difference in the amount of their effective tax rates and those of their secretaries.  If they were to do that I would take off my hat and say, “Wow!”

Otherwise, it’s hard for me to look at their statements as little more than a sham.

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