Wednesday, November 18, 2015

We Are a Nation of Immigrants


This nation springs from an idea, unlike any idea before us.  We are copied in only a handful of places elsewhere on the planet.  A nation of free people can govern themselves and provide for the greater good. We are a nation of settlers, refugees, outcasts, persecuted, abandoned and enslaved peoples.  Science shows that even the Native Americans came to this land from Asia.  Our fathers and forefathers came to this country to escape from where they were, or they were brought to his country by slave traders.  We have been improved and the ideals of our nation built on by waves of immigrants.  Some would condemn our past, but as much as they would seek to undo it they can’t.  We can condemn what has been, but that seems to serve only one purpose, to divide society for some larger purpose and place the blame on inequity on things beyond today’s ability to correct.

So now we come to another crossroad in our nation.  A great debate on the acceptance of yet another group of refugees.  We seem to forget that we have this debate every time a new people comes to this idea we call the United States.  We had it when the Irish came, the Germans, the Poles, Scandinavians, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Indians, the Pakistani, the Jews, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and now the Syrians.  In the 1930’s as the Jews fled the Nazi German persecution, this nation went through the same debate, denying immigration to hundreds of thousands, and as a result condemning them to the death camps.

In the past we would assimilate the cultures, taking a bit of theirs and adding a bit our ours to form a melting pot where ideas were spawned, industry created, and commerce flourished as they become a part of the greater whole.  Now we seem determined that each culture will bring their unique customs and maintain them as individual entities within a fractured greater society.  The real question before us then is if we allow in the refugees from Syria and the Middle East will they come with the hope of making for themselves a better life in the model that has been the United States, or will they come with the intent of bringing their existing social structure and imposing it upon those who welcome them?

It must be understood the uncertain answer to that question is what lies in the heart of the public debate.  Despite the rhetoric of the President, despite the inflammatory statements of the far right, for most -- it is the question of assimilation or differentiation that lies at the heart of the concerns.   
Of course, this question is influenced and shaped by the acts of terror that are in the news or past acts of terror from individuals who’ve been welcomed into our society only to turn against it.  For example, the Tsarnaev brothers of the Boston Marathon Bombing, or Major Nidel Hasan who murdered 13 and wounded 30 others in Fort Hood Texas.

A by-product of this debate will undoubtedly be yet another chip from the bedrock freedoms this nation was built on, and now are so willingly sacrificed in the name of safety.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Economic Theory

So, when Bernie is President and directs the states to raise the minimum wage for the unskilled work force of the United States how exactly will that work?  Will he, as the Chief Socialist, mandate the increase through executive order, forcing the states to bend to his will, will he use his populist appeal to persuade the many states to institute social change, or will he persuade the Congress to implement a new national standard?  Regardless of the route, what will be the wonderful social benefit?
Will the number of jobs increase?  Will the overall prosperity of the middle class increase?  Will outsourcing of US manufacturing, returning to our country all those jobs we have sent to the impoverished third world countries end?  Will there be a trickle up windfall, where skilled middle class workers will see proportional wage increases?  Will the poor suddenly collectively rise out of poverty and shed the burden of being poor?  Will the nation embrace the benefits of paying more for day to day commodities like food, energy, transportation, and taxes to reverse the number one threat to national security – and green up America by eliminating our carbon foot print through the more expensive green energy sources?
Forgive me but I am at a loss at how this will do anything more than make Mr. Sanders and his supporters feel good, and briefly provide disposable income from those who have demonstrated an inability look beyond today and progress beyond the poverty level.  Experience with minimum wage legislation shows it provides only a short-term benefit and does nothing to actually improve the quality of life for those who work the jobs that earn only minimum wage.  It will in all likelihood make the overall cost of living go up for both the poor and the middle class.  The rich?  Well they don’t spend most of their money on disposable purchases anyway so they’ll be okay.
I can remember when the Republican candidate for President, was roundly condemned by the left for his “trickle down” theory of wealth creation.  At the time I placed as much credence in candidate Reagan as I do in candidate Sanders.  The difference is Reagan promised to make government smaller.  He broke that promise but did win the cold war without firing a shot.  My fear with candidate Sanders is he promises to make government bigger, that is a pretty easy promise to keep and I’m afraid he will suceed. 
Yet here we are now some 30 years later with the traditional arguments of socialism versus capitalism as if the involvement of the government is somehow not at fault for the the income disparity.  According to the Democrats, and their enlightened spokespeople, it is a single parties fault.  I am sorry, but simple observation proves otherwise.  Each time our government involves itself in social engineering and economic “fine tuning” we see a shift towards greater economic disparity.  It really doesn’t matter if it is the Congress’s fault through legislation, a result Presidential fiat, or the Federal Reserve’s regulation.  It doesn’t matter if the motivation comes from capitalist or socialist influence, in the end the results are the same.  The poor become more dependent on social welfare, the rich find ways to shelter their wealth, and the middle class is caught between the two.
Wouldn’t it be far better to focus on eliminating wage disparity within the specific social groups.  For example, should a tenured university professor have a better life than an inner city kindergarten teacher challenged to instill the fundamentals of language, math and science to children who’ve never see the printed word, or come from a single parent home with no resources?  Who, ultimately, will have the greater influence on our next generation?  Both have college degrees, both have families, both have obligations and expectations yet one earns between $30,000 and (if lucky $60,000) while the other may bring in over $200,000.  This fact alone is one of the reasons college education has become so expensive.  If as Senator Sanders suggests, we are to have free college then the only way to accomplish that is to pay college professors and administers a “living wage” of $15.00 an hour.  I wonder what kind of education system that would provide?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On the Road, Well Kind Of

I miss 1973.  I had graduated from college and was home in Hyde Park awaiting orders into the Air Force.  I found a job with Command Airways where I started early in the morning and drove all over Dutchess, Ulster and Orange County picking up small packages for Emory Freight that Command Airways would fly from Dutchess County Airport to JFK for transfer into the Emory system.
My boss, Mr. Kingsley, gave me a 1973 Vega to carry the packages in and didn’t seem too concerned about the number of hours I worked a day as long as I made all the pickups that we were notified of.
I hit the road from the Dutchess County Airport about 8 am and headed north to Kingston to pick up stuff from the IBM plant there.  I think that ride was about an hour  and it took me up 9G to 9 and over the Kingston-Rhinebeck bridge, or if I was bored over the FDR to 9W and up.  I think I started the job in late September or early October and did the run everyday until I quit in February.  I probably put in 10 hours a day five days a week rolling around the valley.  I really loved watching the valley change colors as I cranked up the AM radio to be heard over the wind, and listened to the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce, Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Bad Finger and countless other early 70's groups.

When I wasn’t headed to Kingston I was going the opposite direction to Newburgh and Orange County. I know that everyone thinks where they grew up is the nicest place to be, but in the fall few places compare to the rolling hills of the Hudson Valley.
Now we travel in air conditioned comfort with the windows tightly sealed along interstates.  When driving for extended periods it seems we always have destinations and a desire to arrive.  I miss that brief time when I was relatively carefree and making time and a half for everything over 8 hours a day. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Through Time and Space

    Two hundred years ago man traveled at almost the same exact speed they had traveled since the invention of the wheel.  Families had children who grew up, married, and had their own families within a short distance of where they were born.  True – there were those who altered the expectations of the larger society.  The adventurous would set sail, or just set out to discover places they had never seen, but they were certainly the few.
    Then we invented mechanical power and used it to cut through time and space at unheard of speeds.  Trains would cover in an hour distances that someone riding a fast horse would take a day or more to do.  Steam powered ships would cross the oceans regardless of the winds or currents and do so in weeks, rather than months.
    In the time it took the average man or woman to cross the United States in the 1920’s we went to the moon in the 60’s.  In the span of fifty years we went from speeds measured in tens of miles per hour to distances measured in thousands of miles per hour.
    Information and communication have also seen that growth in transport speed.  In the past two hundred years we have gone from town criers sharing the news of the day on a street corner to instant global sharing of raw events.  Now when a catastrophe happens not only do the locals affected by the event know, but anyone on the globe with an internet connection can see the images broadcast.
    We are a society in motion, so interested in going, doing, and telling that it seems we too often forget to stop, observe and listen.  I have friends who are hunters, I believe one of the great appeals of a hunt is the absolute need to calm yourself and observe so you can approach without spooking the pray.

As I approach my upcoming retirement I am faced with the need to reorient and define my voyage through time and space.  I believe my speeds will be measured one again in single digits.  I look forward to that time, and that space.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Evolution of Evolution

In the beginning there was nothing, and this led to really sketchy record keeping.  So when there was something and those who cared about such things thought about it they figured there must be some higher power at work.  This does not seem to be an un reasonable assumption for those who believe there is more to the universe than what little they understand.
Then came those who, like Copernicus and Galileo, questioned the the writings of the ancients and proposed a new theory of how species have reached the state we have.  At the time those radical new ideas did not reject the concept of a higher power, but attempted to explain how things were set into motion.
Finally, there are those who reject the concept of God, and find in the writings of the past the justification for their non-belief, choosing to worship the gods of science.  This group for all their claims of independence appear little different from all the other religions mankind has developed.
We need only to look back at to our earliest writings to find that an organized set of beliefs are what binds society.  Whether a set of gods, including the deceased ancestors like China, or god on earth like the Egyptians, or a monotheistic one like the Hebrews, the belief system was fundamental to the stability of a society.   

As new belief systems gained popular acceptance they must, for it is the nature of man, denigrate and condemn the systems they would replace.  Isn’t that what we see in the world today, where the powerful beliefs of the current religions are attacked by the public voices of the new?
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