About Me

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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Monday, July 28, 2014

My Take on America, a Cartoon and a 1939-2014 Comparison

"My Take" on What's Going on in America Today

In the previous blog posting, I mentioned that I disagree with columnist Charles Krauthammer 99% of the time.  A reader questioned this and asked what "my take" was on the issues facing America today. I will get to some of them shortly. 

   http://static1.businessinsider.com/image/4d2d2df44bd7c8764d2d0000/charles-krauthammer-and-the-wall-street-journal-have-now-completely-flipped-positions-on-the-sequester.jpg Charles Krauthammer

First of all, I want to modify my comment on Dr. Krauthammer.
Actually we agree on more that I originally thought.  Of course, I agree with his recent column regarding Israel and Gaza (see blog posting of July 21), but surprisingly, I find that his positions regarding legalized abortion, the death penalty, “intelligent design,” embryonic stem cell research and higher taxes on energy to induce conservation are not that far from my own, and not those one would expect from an eminent conservative columnist.

But let’s move on to what “my take” is on the issues facing America today.  First, in regard to foreign policy, I believe that after our experiences in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States should not be willing to risk American lives in wars which do not directly pose a threat to our country.  We can train, equip and finance countries involved in such wars when we feel issues involving the United States are involved or when ideologies abhorrent to our way of thinking are at issue.  Avoiding being drawn into such conflicts should carry a high priority, particularly when geo-political and historical factors are not in our favor.   For example, President Obama did the right thing by not entering the Syrian civil strife on the part of the rebels, although his empty act of drawing a “red line,” the crossing of which would bring us closer to war, was foolish and cost him credibility here and abroad.  

Bashar al-Assad (cropped).jpg  Syria's Assad Ignored Obama's "Red Line"    

Rather than go to war with troops, battles can be fought economically with sanctions and restrictions on banking and trade.  Up to a point this can work, as it may be working in regard to Iran and hopefully, will work in our relationship with Russia, especially if the nations in the European Union go along with us.  But the danger in this kind of thing is that when you back someone up against a wall, economically, they may have no alternative but to pull a gun out of their holster and shoot at you.  Hence, economic war should be waged with great care, making sure that the opponent is not backed up against a wall.  

Domestically, the United States in 2014 is different from the United States of thirty, fifty, and one hundred years ago.  Demographic changes in the make-up of our population have changed the way Americans are employed, are educated and are housed.  Actually, our racial make-up is changing too, blurring what once were clear-cut distinctions between Caucasians, Blacks, Latinos and Asians. 

All are Americans

What once were minority problems, taken together, are now problems for what will soon be a majority of Americans.  Immigration, health care, jobs and increasing longevity all are affected.  There even have been drastic changes in the structure of our families.  it was once shameful for an Infant to be born outside of of wedlock; now it is commonplace and accepted.  We are not the same country we were even one generation ago.  And we cannot go back, as much as we would like to, and restore what appears in retrospect to have been a safer, more comfortable America. 

The days of Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour and Bing Crosby ain't coming back.
Overlaying this is the question of what Americans believe in.  Earlier, we were primarily a Protestant country with a large Catholic population and a smaller number of Jews.  Today, the traditional Protestant denominations have been supplemented by many evangelical and pentecostal groups, and of course, Islam is followed by an increasing number of Americans.  Generally, religion serves as a brake on change and in America today is struggling, in the pulpits and in the courts, to preserve values of earlier times.

Traditionally, the United States has operated as a free enterprise, capitalist nation.  It was a land of plenty, of opportunity and of hope.  That is why, historically, it has always been the first choice destination of immigrants.  And the jobs created by our economy since the industrial revolution, and before that by the open land waiting to be farmed and settled, were our chief attractions.  And America thrived.

But how much of that is true today?  Industry is increasingly automated, as is agriculture.  With or without unions, our labor force is being underpriced by overseas labor where wages and the standard of living are lower than ours.  We are still a land of plenty, but right now, we are becoming short on opportunity.  The wealth is still there, but it cannot be routinely accessed by getting a good education followed by a good job for one’s working years the way it used to be.  
Shhh. The answer to this is some sort of wealth redistribution.

It need not be a Robin Hood style “rob the rich and give it to the poor” approach.  It shouldn’t be Socialism.  But, it can be achieved through increased taxes on the country's vast wealth so that America’s plenty can be shared by providing increased opportunity for all.  This translates into jobs and the training to prepare people to fill those jobs, be they in manufacturing, the service industries, finance, or restoring our infrastructure. The government itself may be involved as the instrument used in accomplishing this, or preferably, our private economy, with government loans or subsidies, should be the engine of wealth redistribution. It worked with the auto industry in Detroit.

In the America of 2014, it is undeniable that the government will have a greater role in providing services to Americans and more importantly, in regulating the private sector. Banking and the financial marketplace cannot operate with gain as their primary motivation.  Banks and markets make the economy work in the sense that they are its railroad tracks, but the locomotive chugging along those tracks is what creates jobs and opportunity, not the traders on Wall Street or the money arbitrageurs.

Some contend that the government need not be involved in more than a minimal sense and that reduced taxes will promote investment and enable the private economy to expand itself, creating jobs, benefits and opportunity in a faster and greater manner than the any government can.  I disagree with this and I believe recent history is on my side. There is a role for both, but I doubt that the private sector alone can deal with the numbers of permanently unemployed, the poorly educated and the loosely structured families which are a part of America’s demographic in 2014.  There’s just no profit in doing so, and it is the bottom line that shareholders and Boards of Directors are interested in.  Return on investment should really be considered in human terms as well as in dollars, but it isn't.

Some also contend that government usually does a poor job, is filled with free-loading bureaucrats and is inherently corrupt.  There is some truth to this.  Ronald Reagan once said the worst words a businessman can hear is that “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”  Well, that image must be changed if America, still a land of plenty, is to remain a land of hope and opportunity.   

AMERICA CANNOT BE SAVED BY PROFIT-ORIENTED BUSINESSMEN NOR BY OVER-ZEALOUS BUREAUCRATS.  But if both learn to work together, to show respect for their fellow Americans as they are constituted in today’s ever-evolving demographic, and develop a “social conscience,” focusing on getting the job done, the nation can once again thrive.  That's "my take" on America today.

Jack Lippman


A Political Cartoon

Here's a YouTube video which impressed me.  It pre-dates the current violence in Gaza but the point it makes is still valid.  (It's my first attempt to include a video on Jackspotpourri.com so you may have a problem with it.  If you do, you can also see it by copying and pasting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SS93A6GNws on your browser line.)  Oh, yes.  It's mostly in French, but I am sure you will understand it.  Anyway, the title translated into English is "The Israeli-Arab conflict in cartoon form."


Thoughts on Immigration

Seventy-five years ago 938 German Jews fleeing persecution by the Nazis tried to cross the Atlantic and get into the United States on the German ocean liner St. Louis.  The ship was turned around since allowing them to land would have been in violation of our immigration laws at the time.  Once back in Germany, most of them ultimately were sent to concentration camps where they perished.   Our immigration laws did not fully anticipate what would happen if these refugees were turned back.  It was their fear of that danger which caused them to try to reach the United States in the first place.

The Saint Louis carried 938 refugees attempting to enter the United States - 1939

No analogies are perfect, but it seems that a similar fear of danger, this time from a lawless, violent and drug-ridden environment has led many Central American parents to send their children on a similarly hazardous journey, hoping to reach the safety of the United States.  With rare exceptions, which these refugees nor their parents did not comprehend, our letting them in would be in violation of our immigration laws. 

Illegal immigrant children attempting to enter the United States - 2014

Hence it is likely that most of these children, once the administrative procedures to show that they are not eligible for admission are completed, are likely to be deported.  Some will not survive the dangers to which they will be returned in Central America.  The analogy to the turning back of the Saint Louis refugees is not a precise one, but the morality involved is similar.  

What is the same is that the anti-immigrant rhetoric of many Americans in 2014 is not unlike that of many Americans in 1939.  Of course, unless these complainers come from Native American stock, they may have forgotten that they too are the descendants of immigrants who came to the United States for similar reasons, some legally and others not.  (Did you know that the racial slur referring to early Twentieth century immigrants from Italy as Wops was derived from the fact that many of them were illegal, arriving here WithOut Papers?)  How many upstanding Americans are descendants of those arriving here "without papers" or with fudged documentation?

I know the President has spoken to the Presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador about improving the circumstances which have prompted so many parents there to send their children northward.  That may be the first step in finding a humane answer about what to do with the 50,000 children being detained at the border with Mexico.  That answer should be a better one than we came up with in 1939. 

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Jack Lippman