Saturday, September 29, 2012

Help Wanted…What Your Government Could Do, But Won’t.

"Politicians like to tell people what they want to hear - and what they want to hear is what won't happen."
-Paul Samuelson

How is it that with so many unemployed and under-employed Americans, we still have over 3 million unfilled jobs? Many economists (and politicians) point to “structural” issues or a significant “skills gap”. People just don’t have the right training for the jobs that are available. I would agree that this is a major factor. I would also suggest that it’s not going to be solved overnight. It’s taken us 40+ years to dig this “structural unemployment” hole and it will take a while to get out of it.

But, there are three other factors which impact the unfilled jobs situation and they could be addressed immediately. These three factors are: Location…Location….Location. In many cases, the people are simply not where the jobs are. It’s that basic. You may say, “Well, it’s a free country. Why don’t they just relocate to the work?”

The truth is that many of them have and many will. But there are still thousands of families that are trapped. It can be a house they can’t sell. Or the spouse has a job that doesn’t pay much but at least they have insurance. Or the kids have been in this school district all of their lives. Or we’ve got “a support system” here (family, church, etc). Or maybe they are just scraping by and literally cannot afford any disruption to whatever income and public/private assistance they are receiving.

But with all of the millions of dollars our state and federal government spends on programs to help people in need, you would think there would be some way to help folks get to where the jobs are. Wouldn’t it be better to have them as productive, tax paying citizens? Well, that depends on how you look at it. They say all politics is local and that is never truer than when you look at how politicians view economic development.

Let’s say I am a Congressman who represents a district that is suffering from high unemployment. I work hard to “take care of my people” with government programs, grants and such. They vote for me. I am on their side fighting against “the powerful forces” that have put them in this predicament. The people keep voting for me. Someday they may figure out that I’m not doing them much good and vote for someone else. But, for the time being they vote for me and one thing I know for sure: if they don’t live in my district, they can’t vote for me. So why would I push for any type of program that creates mobility for my constituents? It is not in my best interest to see these people move to other places even if it means they would be better off there. I am better off with them here, in my district. So I do what I can to keep them pacified and give them a little bit of hope.

If we want to fix this problem (along with many others) we need term limits. Otherwise, we will continue to see tax dollars thrown away just keeping people alive in places where they have little chance of ever making a decent living.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

An Old Testament Story

If you think the Bible is just myth and fairytale, this story is pointless. But if you believe it to be “The Word”, then this story is worthy of consideration…

Genesis 16: 1-12

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.

5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.” 6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

7 The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

11 The angel of the LORD also said to her:
“You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the LORD has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.”

Genesis 17: 15-22

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

Genesis 21: 8-20
8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer…

The story of Ishmael has been analyzed and interpreted in many ways by people of all faiths and persuasions. For the most part, over-analyzed and often misinterpreted. My own personal take on it is that an omnipotent God, unbound by the constraints of time and space, knew that there would be conflict between the descendents of Ishmael and the descendents of Isaac. That the conflict would include those adopted into the families of faith that trace their origins back to these two individuals whom God chose for his own purpose and design.

People of different faiths will never agree on matters of faith. And there will always be tension between people who disagree on such things. But, it doesn’t have to be the way it is. If we continue to hate each other, we will ultimately destroy each other. Hatred in the name of religion is still hatred and there is way too much of it. And it’s on all sides and in all religions. Unfortunately, it probably won’t change and it’s only likely to get worse. At least until we get to the final story at the end of The Book.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Eastwooding or The Invisible Bluetooth?

“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone”
- Arthur Schopenhauer

Clint Eastwood’s dialogue with the invisible “Mr. Obama” sitting in the empty chair at the RNC has quickly become known as “Eastwooding”. I for one am glad that I now have another option for talking to myself. As an only child and one who really enjoys time alone, I have always been a “self-talker”. There are worse things one can do to one self. So I’ve never thought much about it. But occasionally, someone (usually my wife) will catch me talking to myself. (Again there are worse things she could catch me doing to myself, but that’s another subject).

Before cell phones and bluetooths, I used to tell her that I was practicing a speech or a sales presentation or trying to get rid of my thick Texas drawl. Another one that sometimes works is to say that you are singing. When the other person says, “Well it sounded like you were talking to yourself”, you can respond with something like, “I’m a terrible singer. That’s why I only sing when no one else is around”. If you have pets, you can always say that you were talking to them. That can work even if the dog or cat is nowhere near you. “Gee Honey, I thought Fluffy was over there on the couch.”

But the ultimate cover up for talking to oneself is the Bluetooth. As long as you have one of those in your ear, you can get away with talking to yourself or no one at all. You will not be questioned as long as you have that little gadget hooked on your ear. (Now the truth is that your wife will begin to get suspicious or perhaps jealous if you wear it 24/7.)

And then there is the Invisible Bluetooth. A term that some smart ass came up with when he saw a homeless person wondering down a city street talking to himself. Invisible Bluetooth has caught on and now when you see someone talking to themselves or you get caught talking to yourself, just say Invisible Bluetooth and everyone has a good laugh. As I have gotten older, I find that I am very comfortable wearing the Invisible Bluetooth. Everyone except my wife seems to understand. So my advice to all of you aging baby boomers like me is just go with it. Talk to yourself and if anyone gives you a funny look, point to your ear and say the two magic words: “Invisible Bluetooth”. Besides it’s much easier than carrying a chair around all of the time.