Monthly Archives: April 2014

HUMANITY STILL EXISTS

My life experience tells me that, despite some evidence to the contrary, there is hope for the human condition. There have been two incidents in my history that have reinforced the faith I have in my fellow man (or woman, as was actually the case).

On one occasion I went to a meeting at a hotel I was familiar with, but the area around it had changed considerably. I parked in a big garage in back of the hotel and went merrily along to attend my meeting.

A few hours later, I went to retrieve my car. When I presented myself to the garage attendant, he informed me that the validation from the hotel was not good in this garage. Okay, so I goofed. Then he told me the parking fee was $35. I gulped and snarled and reluctantly reached in my wallet for a credit card, only to be told, “We don’t accept credit cards.” Is that possible?

Next, I went back to my wallet to find I only had $18. Now I was really in a pickle. Annoyed with the garage for not taking credit cards, and more mad at myself for parking in the wrong garage—as well as not having any cash with me—I was pretty ticked.

With some amount of disgust, I went off to an ATM machine only to discover I didn’t have a pin number for this credit card. My wife is always changing credit cards to take advantage of mileage promotions.

Now what? There was not a bank nearby that I did business with and a nearby bank just shrugged me off. After hearing my tale of woe, a kind security guard suggested I go to the market a block away, buy some stuff and get cash back.

Great idea! I trudged off to the market (Gelsons), scooped up a bunch of groceries and got in line to check out. The cashier tallied up my purchases and asked for the pin number on my credit card. Here we were, back where I started.

I told the cashier I didn’t have a pin number so I couldn’t buy the groceries. As I stood there feeling like a total fool and trying to think what I could do, the store manager came over to show the cashier how to reverse the sale. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I asked to speak to the manager.

I explained to her that I was a frequent shopper at one of their other stores (I really was) and I was in his desperate situation to get cash for the parking garage. Maria, the store manager, listened sympathetically and told me to follow her. She went to the phone on her desk and called the bank on my credit card. After a long conversation, she handed me the phone and said, “She’ll give you a pin number.”

Terrific, I thought. Finally a break. I got on the phone and the bank lady said, “We’ll be happy to give you a pin number. You’ll get it in the mail,” she said, “in five to seven business days.” Back to the depths of despair.

Maria wasn’t discouraged. She said she could make another call. Don’t know who she called, but it didn’t work out any better. Depression mounted.

Then from out of nowhere came the surprise. Maria said, “I’ll personally loan you $50.” I could hardly believe or absorb what she said nor adequately thank her. Finally I stammered, “All I need is $20.”

She gave me the twenty, I got out of the garage, and returned the next day with $25 and a note calling her my saint.

If you think that was terrific, wait till you hear the other story.

Right before the real estate depression hit a few years ago, I sold my condo to move to a larger one where I could have a retirement office and it would be a little more conveniently located.

The people who bought my unit were two of the sweetest, adorable senior lovebirds, who had met at church, recently retired, and had just married. They were the most likable couple who were finding happiness late in life.

They loved my condo and wanted to buy a lot of the furniture I wasn’t taking with me. During escrow, they called me a few times to ask if they could just come and sit in the living room for awhile.

So I moved out and they moved in. A few weeks later, I got a call from Mrs. Pissaro. I thought to myself, “God, what’s wrong”?

Mrs. Pissaro said, “Did you by any chance leave some money in the desk you left”? Now, how do you answer that kind of question? If seems obvious I must have, but I sure didn’t remember.

After a bit of fencing, it finally comes out that she had found $2,000 in the desk and if I could come by she would be happy to give it to me. Now you ask, “What were you going with that much cash in your home”? It’s a long story, but basically I kept it there because, on occasion, I or someone else from the office had to travel on short notice for business or family emergencies.

It was all hard to believe, but I did go by to retrieve the money and thank her as profusely as possible. I insisted she take $500 to give to her church. That gesture got her all teary-eyed. She couldn’t stop hugging me and I wanted to hug her for her unbelievable honesty.

We don’t meet or interact with these kinds of people very often, but it warms your soul to know there are some wonderful people in this world with integrity and compassion. Knowing this really keeps your faith up and at the same time challenges you to ask if you’ve been as outgoing to others as you could be.

As we observe the fraying of the value system all around us, as well as the warring factions all around the world, you have to believe there is hope that there are enough good people to win out.

ArtSchwartzSig

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INCOME AND WEALTH DISPARITY – PART VII – SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

Starting back in early December, your co-authors, Gary Wechter and Art Schwartz, sensed a growing churn of concern over the escalating rise in income and wealth disparity.

Joseph Stiglitz wrote an extensive article in Vanity Fair and in the N.Y. Times. President Obama started a series of speeches on the subject. Joining in on the chorus was former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and N.Y. Times columnist Paul Krugman.

To explore the facts on this broad issue, as well as point out the fallacies and inaccuracies in all speechifying, your co-authors have written a series of blog posts on the subject:

  • December 4 – A Conversation With Joseph Stiglitz
  • January 22 – The Uproar Over Executive Pay
  • January 29 – The Facts and Misconceptions About Poverty
  • February 19 – The Shrinking Middle Class – How Bad Is It
  • February 26 – The Effects and Consequences of Disparity
  • March 26 – Opportunity Thrives in America

Now we conclude this series with an attempt to put it all in perspective by summarizing the facts and the fallacies, as well as outline what can be done. Hopefully this will allow you to draw your own conclusions.

Let’s start with some objective facts:

  1. There is a widening disparity of income and wealth in America, as well as the rest of the world.
  2. The wealthy do not gain or profit at the expense of the poor.
  3. Raising the minimum wage or extending unemployment benefits does not in any way lessen the disparity of income and wealth.
  4. If perceptions become facts, then compensation of some CEO’s unrelated to performance or in spite or poor performance borders on the obscene and indicates the lack of oversight by Boards of Directors.
  5. Raising income taxes on the wealthy a few percentage points will have no affect on the disparities.
  6. The same can be said for all the banks and investment houses that got bailed out after the 2008 financial plunge.
  7. The definition of poverty is hard to reconcile when you see all the stuff they have.
  8. Income and wealth disparity are not a new phenomenon. We have had this historically since the early 1900’s.
  9. Attempts to equalize income and wealth has never worked in any communist or socialist country. None—ever!

The disparity advocates like to promote several initiatives which may or may not be valid but, to be perfectly clear, show zero evidence of having any effect on income and wealth disparity.

  1. Raise the minimum wage
  2. Extend unemployment benefits
  3. Increase the safety net by printing or borrowing more money
  4. Promote more unionization
  5. Their advocacy of lax border control, more immigration, as well as continuing to increase our debt will put more pressure on the poor. Their real objective appears to be solely gaining Democratic voters.

They offer very little else as possible means of ameliorating the disparity of income and wealth.

There are, however, a series of programs and initiatives which could have a positive effect on this disparity. It would certainly help the middle class and the people below the poverty line.

  1. Grow the economy – John Kennedy said it best: “A rising tide lifts all boats” – everyone benefits in a growing economy
  2. Provide better education – more school choice – mandatory school uniforms – counter the influence of teachers’ unions
  3. Do more to discourage out-of-wedlock births
  4. Make English the official language of the U.S. – vote only in English, DMV tests, and everything paid for with public money
  5. Shareholders approve management compensation plans based on performance
  6. Reform the tax code to include a flat tax of 20% with no deductions (a sliding scale for charities) and a national sales tax of 3% (to reduce the debt)
  7. Redefine the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) to be 5% over $500,000 per year*
  8. Increase inheritance taxes over estates of $1 million *with some accommodation for family businesses
  9. In a free market capitalistic society, there is no reason to accept the concept of “too big to fail”
  10. Investment (Wall St.) banks should be operated as partnerships (not corporations) as they were before 1993
  11. Commercial and investment banks should be separated and capital requirements should be at least 15-to-1.
  12. Nos. 9-10-11 were some of the underlying causes of the 2008 recession
  13. Expand globalization which has helped more people out of poverty and raised the standard of living for millions.

*adjusted for inflation

We don’t think there is a real solution to income inequality as we believe incomes always were and always will be unequal for a variety of reasons. In fact, we think it’s a false argument that’s designed to divide and create resentment and discord. There’s always been someone who lives in a bigger house on a higher hill driving a more expensive car, and that won’t ever change.

What can change is perception. If folks believe that their lot in life can and will improve; that their children will live a better life; that the culture and community will give them a fair shot at a safe and worthwhile life, then what someone else earns or how much better they live won’t matter. That’s the dialogue and spirit that’s missing from the messages coming from the disparity advocates and our current leaders.

A leader who inspires, rather than one who divides, could go a long way to helping each person make the most of their lives.

Free market capitalism here in America offers more opportunity than any other system, past or present, for those who want to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  It has raised the standard of living for more people than any other economic system.

**********

We hope you have enjoyed or found our seven blogs on income and wealth disparity interesting. We enjoyed digging into this complex subject with many subtexts.

ArtSchwartzSig

 

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THE PLIGHT OF OUR NATIVE AMERICANS

A Proud History Cut Short

Centuries before the first European settlers reached North America, American Indian communities were thriving. Indian communities built highly advanced systems of tribal government, developed sophisticated methods of engineering and farming, and nurtured cultures of astonishing depth and beauty. American Indians revered the natural world around them, treasured their elders, cherished their children, and passed their values from generation to generation.

But when the white man arrived, the lives of American Indians were changed forever. Whole nations vanished, decimated by disease, warfare, and environmental destruction. Millions upon millions of acres of tribal land were taken away. Treaty upon treaty was broken. Centuries of language, culture, and learning disappeared.

It is estimated that there are approximately five million Native Americans in our country today, only about 1.7% of the U.S. population. About 23% of that number lives on one of the 310 Indian reservations; some 48% of the Native American population live in four states—Alaska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

3-Minute American History Quiz

Question 1:  Why did the United States government establish Indian reservations?

Answer:       The government’s objective was to rid the country of its “Indian problem” and open land for white settlers.

Beginning in 1830 with the Indian Removal Act, the official policy of the United States was to forcibly remove Native Americans from their ancestral lands and relocate them to far-away regions “reserved” for Indians.

Question 2:  How did the government decide where to locate the reservations?

Answer:       Typically, the government put reservations in areas it regarded as being unfit for white settlers—isolated and arid places unsuitable for agriculture and far from towns, transportation and the growing economy.

As the nation’s population expanded westward, the government took back most of the lands and forced Native Americans to relocate again—this time to even less-desirable lands. Today, the land reserved for Native Americans has shrunk to just 2.3% of the land originally promised.

Question 3:  It I were to visit, what should I expect to see on an Indian reservation today?

Answer:       You would see a proud people—strong in tradition and values—living in near third-world conditions. Poverty is extreme. Drive around the reservation and you’ll see many people living in dilapidated houses and trailers, many of which are without electricity, telephone, running water or a sewage system.

Today, Native Americans are the poorest population in the entire Northern Hemisphere.

Question 4:  How can these conditions exist in the richest and most powerful country in the world?

Answer:       Most reservations are so isolated that the added costs of transporting supplies and products into and out of the reservation make local production impractical.

Nearly half of the Native Americans who live on the reservations are unemployed. To find work, many must move away from the reservation and leave their families behind. (Nearly half of the children living on reservations are being raised by their grandparents.)

Even the most basic services—healthcare, stores and schools—are often an hour or more away and families are forced to choose between using the little money they have to buy gasoline for the car or food for the children.

Question 5:  Haven’t Native Americans benefitted from the growth of Indian casinos?

Answer:       Yes, to some extent, but not as much as you think. There are 586 recognized tribes—246 sponsor some kind of gaming facility in 28 states.

Less than 20% of the employees of these facilities are Native American. Many tribal facilities are nothing more than trailers offering bingo. Profits in almost all cases go to the tribes for general welfare, not to individuals.

Health

The average life expectancy for Native Americans has improved yet still trails that of other Americans by almost five years.

Due to underfunding, Indian health service facilities leave a wide gap in adequate and preventative health care for many Native Americans on the reservations. Pharmacies and doctor’s offices outside of hospitals are completely non-existent in some communities.

The pressure to shift from a traditional way of life toward a Western-oriented culture has created a terrible epidemic of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, tuberculosis, and cancer. The statistics are alarming:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American Indians
  • Due to the link between heart disease, diabetes, poverty, and quality of nutrition and health care, 36% of Natives with heart disease will die before age 65 compared to 15% of Caucasians.
  • American Indians are 177% more likely to die from diabetes
  • 500% are more likely to die from suicide
  • Infant death rates are 60% higher than for Caucasians

Education

Today, the historical traditions of learning that distinguished American Indian cultures have nearly been lost. Few American Indians on reservations have the means or encouragement to attend college. Government-funded schools are in disrepair, and teachers are scarce. But education is the only way for young American Indians to break the cycle of poverty and despair caused by our nation’s oppression and neglect of their ancestors.

Sixty-two percent of American high school graduates attend college; only 17% of American Indians who graduate from high school will go on to college.

All in all, as you can see, it is not a very happy or pretty picture. The plight of our Native American population is somewhat desperate.

Would You Like To Help?

American Indian College Fund*, 800/876-3663

Futures for Children*, 800/545-6843
Opportunities to mentor an elementary school child

*Rated “A” by Charity Watch

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ANOTHER FOUR LESSONS IN MANAGEMENT

Lesson #1

It’s a fine sunny day in the forest and a lion is lying lazily outside his cave in the sun. Along comes a fox, out on a walk.

Fox: Do you know the time, because my watch is broken?

Lion: I can easily fix that watch for you.

Fox: Hmm… But it’s a very complicated mechanism, and your big claws may destroy it.

Lion: Oh, no, give it to me and it will be fixed.

Fox: That’s ridiculous! Any fool knows that lazy lions with big claws cannot fix a complicated watch.

Lion: Sure they do. Give it to me and it will be fixed.

The lion disappears into his cave, and after a while he comes back with the watch which is running perfectly. The fox is impressed, and the lion continues to lie lazily in the sun, looking very pleased with himself.

Soon a wolf comes along and stops to watch the lazy lion in the sun.

Wolf: Can I come and watch TV tonight with you, because mine is broken?

Lion: Oh, I can easily fix your TV.

Wolf: You don’t expect me to believe such rubbish, do you? There is no way a lazy lion with big claws can fix a complicated TV.

Lion: No problem.

The lion goes into his cave, and after a while comes back with a perfectly fixed TV. The wolf goes away happily and amazed.

Inside the lion’s cave: In one corner are half a dozen small and intelligent looking rabbits who are busily doing very complicated work with very detailed instruments. In the other corner lies a huge lion looking very pleased with himself.

Moral: IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY SOMEONE UNDESERVED IS PROMOTED, LOOK AT THE WORK OF HIS SUBORDINATES.

Lesson #2

It’s a fine sunny day in the forest and a rabbit is sitting outside his burrow, tippy-tapping on his typewriter. Along comes a fox, out for a walk.

Fox: What are you working on?

Rabbit: My thesis.

Fox: Hmm… What is it about?

Rabbit: Oh, I’m writing about how rabbits eat foxes.

Fox: That ridiculous! Any fool knows that rabbits don’t eat foxes!

Rabbit: Come with me and I’ll show you!

They both disappear into the rabbit’s burrow. After a few minutes, gnawing on a fox bone, the rabbit returns to his typewriter and resumes typing. Soon a wolf comes along and stops to watch the hardworking rabbit.

Wolf: What’s that you are writing?

Rabbit: I’m doing a thesis on how rabbits eat wolves.

Wolf: You don’t expect to get such rubbish published, do you?

Rabbit: No problem. Do you want to see why?

The rabbit and the wolf go into the burrow and again the rabbit returns by himself after a few minutes and goes back to typing.

Finally a bear comes along and asks, “What are you doing?

Rabbit: I’m doing a thesis on how rabbits eat bears.

Bear: We’ll that’s absurd!

Rabbit: Come into my home and I’ll show you how.

Inside the rabbit’s house, the rabbit introduces the bear to the lion.

Moral: IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW ABSURD YOUR THESIS TOPIC IS; WHAT MATTERS IS WHOM YOU HAVE AS A SUPERVISOR.

Lesson #3

An eagle was sitting in a tree, doing nothing all day. A small rabbit saw the eagle and asked him, “Can I also sit like you and do nothing all day long?”

The eagle answered, “Sure, why not.” So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the eagle and rested. All of a sudden, a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it.

Moral: TO SIT AND DO NOTHING, YOU MUST BE SITTING VERY HIGH UP.

Lesson #4

A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more and shouted, “Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The woman below replied, “You’re in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You’re between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 50 degrees west longitude.’

“You must be an engineer,” said the balloonist.

“I am,” replied the woman. “How did you know?”

“Well,” answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct but I’ve no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I’m still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help at all. If anything, you’ve delayed my trip.”

The woman below responded, “You must be in senior management.”

“I am,” replied the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” said the women, “you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise, which you’ve no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault.”

Moral: HIRE MORE WOMEN.

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THE TEN BEST SCENIC VISTAS

This is the first in a series of 10 best travel-oriented blog posts. In this first one, we’ll look at The Ten Best Scenic Vistas.

1.  Grand Canyon, Arizona

Noted photographer Gordon Park gave this advice when viewing the Grand Canyon: “Leave your binoculars at home.” The biggest, most spectacular canyon on Earth, the Grand Canyon is one mile deep, 10 miles wide, and covers more than one million acres. For starters, you’ll find staggering views along the South Rim; take the Park Loop Drive, which has a number of exceptional lookout points. If at all possible, stay 24 hours. The views and the colors change constantly.

2.  Niagara Falls, United States and Canada

Niagara Falls—actually three different falls flowing from the Niagara River—is one of the mightiest waterfalls on Earth, with 700,000 gallons of water washing over 184-foot cliffs each second. The best views are from the Canadianside, which takes in Horseshoe Falls and the smaller American Falls. After dark, the falls are illuminated with colored lights. The “Maid of the Mist” boat takes you right up to the base of the falls.

3.  San Francisco Bay, California

Beautiful San Francisco Bay is the world’s largest deep-water harbor. The 60-story-high Golden Gate Bridge, the city’s most famous landmark, guards the bay’s Pacific Ocean entrance. A walkway offers easy access to the world-famous view back to the city, with the sailboat-dotted bay sparkling far below. An even better view awaits on the other side of the bridge, if you drive into Marin Headlands and, from the Civil War fort, look out over the top of the giant, fog-swathed towers to the seemingly tiny city beyond.

4.  Florence Cityscape, Italy

The Florence of Renaissance masters Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo remains much the same to this day. The massive yet refined 15th-century dome of the Duomo (the cathedral) dominates the tower-dotted skyline. The 360-degree view from the top of its dome is breathtaking. Other city-defining structures include the Palazzo Vecchio tower and the 14th-century shop-lined Ponte Vecchio. The hillside Piazzale Michelangelo lookout, across the Amo River, provides a splendidly classic view of Florence.

5.  The West Coast of Ireland

Ireland’s wild west coast, where the Atlantic crashes against high rugged cliffs, appears to stand outside of time. Eire’s fabled green hills run right up to the cliffs, edged with fence rows and blooming lilacs and dotted with centuries-old keeps and thatch-roofed homes. Chances are, you’ll probably spot a rainbow or two arcing over the land. You will discover one vista more spectacular than the next as you drive along the narrow country roads lacing this magical land.

6.  Versailles, France

Louis XIV, the Sun King, nearly bankrupted France in adorning Versailles with the finest furnishings to impress his subjects and foreign dignitaries. Versailles was once home to thousands of nobles, bureaucrats, soldiers, and servants. The stables alone held 2,000 horses. The most renowned chamber at Versailles is the Hall of Mirrors, so named because the light from the tall arched windows on one side of the room is reflected by the corresponding mirrors opposite them. Fine art and chandeliers embellish the hall. The royal chapel and living quarters also define grandeur, as do the immense formal gardens adorned with statues and fountains.

7.  Amalfi Coast, Italy

You’ll find endless breathtaking coastal views on a visit to the Amalfi coast of southern Italy. Picturesque villages cling precariously to steep sea cliffs. During spring and summer bright-hued wildflowers bloom in profusion. The narrow and twisting 31-mile Amalfi Drive between Sorrento and Amalfi is inarguably the World’s most beautiful and thrilling sightseeing road. Take care as you drive: The road has only occasional railings to keep your car from plunging onto the breaker-washed boulders far below. If you’re a fainthearted driver, you’ll probably want to motor north, along the road’s inner lane.

8.  The Serengeti, Tanzania

Africa’s Serengeti Migration is known as the greatest animal show on Earth. More than a million wild animals—gazelles, zebras, and other wild animals—blanket the Tanzanian landscape as far as the eye can see. When a seasonal drought dries up grass and water supplies in one area, the grazing animals move to the next area where seasonal rains are falling. Although lions and other carnivores do not migrate with the grazing animals, they feast on them when their paths cross. To fully appreciate the magnitude of this animal spectacle, hire a small plane and soar high above.

9.  Manhattan Skyline, New York

New York City probably has the world’s most recognized skyline. The buildings soar upward in two Manhattan clusters, midtown and downtown, with a “valley” or low buildings in between. The most sensational daytime views occur in the morning, looking west, and late afternoon, looking east. At night, the lights of the buildings make the skyline glitter. The best skyline vantage points are from the observation areas on the 86th and 102nd floors of the Empire State Building and from a boat in the harbor.

10.  Hong Kong Harbor

Hong Kong Harbor teems with all kinds of boats, from tiny fishing skiffs to great ocean liners, with sparkling skyscrapers rising beyond. From a boat or the bar at the Intercontinental Hotel, you can study the harbor activity up close, and the promenade along the Kowloon side provides a good vantage as well. But for a truly spectacular view, head to the top of 1,811-foot Victoria Peak. From here you take in not only the city but the South China Sea and some of the outlying islands as well. In the evening, boat lights sparkle and lights dance across the water, joining in the frenzy of electric activity produced by one of the world’s greatest cities.

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