Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Are The Poor Undeserving?

The common political mantra is “tax the rich” because as everyone knows the ‘rich” are the “lucky” ones --- the “fortunate” few, but no one ever seems to look below these statements to determine how the poor got to be poor and how the rich got to be rich. Yes, it’s true some people inherit their wealth but in reality they are truly a minority and the great majority of the “rich” are not truly rich and have gotten their wealth the hard way – they earned it. Well how about the poor? How did they get to be poor – did they inherit it or did they get it the old fashioned way – they earned it? I submit that the people who are poor --- in general – got to be poor by earning their status through personal decisions just as the rich got to be that way through personal decisions.

The undeserving rich – those lucky and fortunate few – seem to have several things in common. For example – they went to school – all 12 grades and frequently on to college although not always. They paid attention in school and learned to read and write and to speak proper English. They obeyed the rules and did not join a gang, steal a car, skip school, or get arrested multiple times. Of course there are those who see that criteria on how to become poor as racist (as if all poor people were minorities), insensitive, uncaring, greedy, or simply reflecting the inherent evils of capitalism. After all capitalism allows some people to get rich while allowing others to become poor, and this is seen as unfair and the greedy capitalists should be forced to give their ill-gotten gains to the poor, so everyone will be equal. What goes unsaid is that when this wealth redistribution is put into practice the result is making everyone equally poor.

But the real issue is how people get to be poor in the richest country in the world. Well if you examine those unfortunate poor you will discover that it isn’t a question of losing life’s lottery or being unlucky, but rather the result of a whole series of poor decisions. There is a failure to learn a trade or get an education, so they have no work skills and are left with only unskilled or lightly skilled jobs. In fact these people, if they are working at all – tend to just have a series of jobs rather than any kind of career or consistent form of employment. These are the people who when the do work spend what they make so they are never able to dig themselves out of the financial hole. These are the people who spend money on alcohol or drugs without seeing that the money spent on these things could be translated into a savings plan and thus eventually lead them into financial stability.

These are the people who fail to get married but instead elect to live together, which may not be morally acceptable but certainly common enough. The problem is that these informal liaisons yield children, many times multiple children by multiple father’s who may or may not be known or contributing to the welfare of the children. But the real problem is that this is simply another series of decisions that leads inexorably to a life of poverty. Children are expensive to have and each year the cost increases, so the decision to have children that you cannot afford is simply another decision that distinguishes the rich from the poor.

Then of course there is the work ethic. Employers expect their employees to be reliable, punctual, and willing to work. A close examination of these poor people shows that these are not common characteristics in the perpetually poor. Instead these people frequently have many excuses as to why they cannot work. They can’t get to work because of transportation issues, they don’t view punctuality as important, and when they do get to work they do not show a great deal of initiative, loyalty, or interest in the job, which leads to a lack of interest on the part of the employer, who drops the poor employee at the first opportunity. This contributes the cycle of poverty experienced by the individual just as it contributes to the idea that employers are greedy, insensitive, rich people who are exploiting their employees.

Of course the reality is that the employer is simply trying to maintain his business and to generate enough profit to pay himself, his creditors, and his employees. Marginal employees become a burden and drag the entire enterprise down, so it is the benefit of all for the employer to terminate these marginal employees. But it is important to realize that the employer – the undeserving rich person – is not lucky but the product of good decisions and a great deal of hard work. The undeserving poor person is not unlucky but the product of a whole series of bad decisions in association with a lack of motivation and a sense of entitlement. They feel the government or someone should help them and ironically many people – plagued by the guilt of success – agree with them.

There are many people who think that these poor people should share the wealth of the rich and if the rich are not willing to share it voluntarily then it is up to the government to seize their wealth through taxes and to give it to the poor. The reality is that there is no such thing as the undeserving rich just as there is no such thing as the undeserving poor. Both groups are the direct result of their decisions over their lifetime.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Lost Queen – Case Solved

Probably no one noticed or even cared that the Mummy of Queen Hatshepsut has been identified and the cause of death determined, but for buffs of Egyptian History this was a momentous occasion because it answered questions that have lingered for 3500 years. For those not familiar with the situation the cast of characters is fascinating. First there is Thutmose I, Pharaoh and father of Hatshepsut, Thutmose II her half brother, Senemut, the Architect and tutor of her daughter Neferure, and Hatshepsut's step son Thutmose III.

This is a family that actually seemed to get along rather well and with the death of Thutmose I, he was succeeded by his son Thutmose II who was not royal since the succession in ancient Egypt was through the maternal line. Therefore, Hatshepsut succeeded her father as ruler and married her half brother who became Thutmose II. But at this point things became a little muddled. Thutmose II did not live long after succeeding to the throne although he did father Neferure with Hatshepsut. He also fathered a boy via a lesser wife who became Thutmose III.

How Thutmose II died has always been a mystery since he was a young man. Senemut the Architect came onto the scene either shortly before or after the death of Thutmose II. But Senemut was very close to Hatshepsut – so close as to raise eyebrows and open the question of paternity for Neferure and speculations regarding the death of Thutmose II. Furthermore, the boy fathered by Thutmose II was taken from his mother and raised by Hatshepsut as her own son. At the death of his father Thutmose III became the new ruler and Hatshepsut became Regent. She and Senemut embarked on a building program that gave Egypt many of the great buildings that symbolize the greatness of Ancient Egypt. This included the great Temple of Karnak as well as her magnificent tomb which stands today as the greatest built outside of the Pyramids.

The relationship between Thutmose III and Hatshepsut is unknown but it is known that she reigned with him as regent for only a short time, then she became Pharaoh and ruler of Egypt, dressing like a man and wearing the false beard symbolizing her status. Hatshepsut ruled Egypt for at least 20 years but the mystery deepens at this point because Thutmose III vanishes and surfaces years later as a mighty warrior and a great general. Thutmose III is known today as “the Egyptian Napoleon. He led a huge army that greatly extended the Egyptian Empire and its wealth. At any point after his maturity he could have overthrown Hatshepsut as the usurper of his throne – he didn’t. Why is unknown but it is known that at her death he assumed the throne as Pharaoh and married his half sister Neferure – or at least that is speculated. Years after he assumed the throne but certainly during his lifetime, every statue and indication that she ever existed was systematically obliterated.

So the mystery has always been what role did Senemut play? What happened to Neferure? Why didn’t Thutmose III over throw his step-mother? Who and why was every vestige of Hatshepsut’s existence obliterated and by whom? There has always been a hint of scandal and possibly murder. But with the recent verification of the Mummy of Hatshepsut and the tomb of Neferure things have finally come into focus.

Hatshepsut was the darling of her father Thutmose I but was the only living child of of his at his death. She dutifully married her half brother Thutmose II and bore him a child -- Neferure. However, the Mummy of Thutmose II shows that he suffered from a genetic skin disease which undoubtedly either killed him or led to his untimely but natural death through other related disease. At his death his son Thutmose III was a very young child and not capable of ruling but some one had to run the country so Hatshepsut tried ruling as Regent but that was clearly too clumsy of an arrangement. So Thutmose III was apparently sent off to become a soldier while his step-mother ruled.

There is no doubt but that this arrangement suited Thutmose III because there is no indication whatsoever of problems between him and his step-mother during her lifetime. Hatshepsut allowed Senemut to tutor Neferure but with recent writings it seems he was never more than just a courtier who served a purpose and nothing beyond that. Queen Hatshepsut seems to have died a natural death brought on by a ruptured abscessed tooth. At her death Thutmose III returned a highly regarded General, married Neferure, and assumed his throne. Neferure apparently died shortly after the marriage and there is evidence that her tomb was at one time occupied.

During her lifetime Hatshepsut raised her daughter like a Prince and she is shown wearing the scalp-lock usually associated with the Crown Prince. It is believed she was grooming Neferure to succeed her as Queen. Nevertheless, the succession went peacefully and Thutmose III succeeded to the throne and married Neferure. Apparently at some point there was some question of legitimacy because he was not descended from Hatshepsut but was merely a stepson so it was he who years later ordered the destruction of her memory. However, this destruction was half-hearted and only happened to major edifices, so it is unlikely it was done through hate.

So after all of these years, Hatshepsut is shown as a kindly stepmother who could have killed her rival but did not. Her stepson is shown as dutiful son who succeeded her an only reacted to circumstances in his decision to obliterate her memory and not from any malice toward her. There was no murder, no malice, and no hatred behind the destruction of her memort -- it simply became a political necessity.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Undefined Politics

It is truly amazing how politicians throw around words without ever being challenged to define or explain. Instead the media simply goes along and reports what was said, the population accepts what was said without questioning, and nothing ever seems to change because these same people with the same squishy positions keep getting elected by a people who are either too dumb or too lazy to question what is being said.

In recent days the stock market has reached record highs, retail businesses are reporting solid profits, the unemployment is at the lowest point it has been in years, the trade deficit is declining and the economy in general is humming along. Ordinarily this would be a reason for the politicians to gloat and attempt to take credit, but instead we find the liberal establishment shaking their heads in despair as they attempt to put a negative spin on what would ordinarily be signs for cheering.

It seems that among all of this good news the politicians have discovered that instead of cheering over the low unemployment they are concerned about how the “working poor” are not sharing in this general prosperity. But the unasked question is “who precisely are the working poor?” In fact who are the “poor”working or not. These terms are never defined with any precision even when pushed, which is rare. The poverty line in the US is $20,000 for a family of 4 and with this measure the people living in poverty in the US is approximately 37 million. But of course poverty is a relative term and who precisely is included in this figure? The reality is that people in poverty rarely stay there instead they cycle in and out of poverty. But the point is who is “poor?” Again the reality is that in any given year approximately 12% of the population would be regarded as “poor” but then these people are rarely permanently poor but are only poor for a period of time and then move on up the economic ladder. It is also worth noting that these figures include people under 18 years so the number of adults living in poverty or being poor is substantially smaller and even so – none of this defines or explains “the working poor”. After all poor people are not necessarily impoverished and these figures include people under 25 which mean students who rarely work full time, but work at minimum wage.

Furthermore, no profile is ever offered regarding the poor or the working poor. What is there age? How much education do they have? Have they been arrested? How many smoke marijuana or take other drugs? How many of these poor people abuse alcohol? What is the employment record of the average poor person? How many families are in this category and how many in that family are working? Obviously answers to these questions would be very revealing and could easily make the politician claiming that there is a problem and that the minimum wage must be raised look foolish. Any family who cannot find and keep a job paying more than minimum wage has much greater problems that must be addressed if the poverty issue is to be addressed with any hope of success. Still, the politicians cry about the working poor and no one seems to want to look very close at this problem.

So the working poor is a relative term that is very controversial and rarely defined by the politicians who bandy it about. But if the term ‘poor” is not well defined and understood what about “rich”. The liberal establishment is constantly calling for the government to “tax the rich” but they never really define precisely who is rich. The call is always to raise the taxes on the “rich” but in practice the tax changes impact everyone so in effect the "rich" are the employed.

What about “racism”? We have politicians and wannabe politicians like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Julian Bond who accuse anyone with whom they disagree of being “racist” when in fact they seem to be the most racist of all. If race is considered and weighted in terms of blacks – that is good and not racist in their eyes. They justify this on the basis of “leveling the playing field”. However, that level playing field never seems to include competition or merit. If the only thing considered is qualifications and performance that is viewed as racist. Hence affirmative action which is nothing other that racism against whites is viewed as good. Therefore, it an effort to garner the black vote politicians extol the value of affirmative action and spout rhetoric in favor of stamping out racism, when in fact racism has been on the wane for some time.

What is considered racism today is largely an example of class-ism. Turn on any TV channel in any city and you will see black faces reading the news. These are people who got their jobs on the basis of ability – not through affirmative action. What sets them apart from those blacks who are perpetual victims of racism? Perhaps the distinguishing factors are education, speaking proper English, and dressing appropriately. We hear complaints from blacks about racism every time they get into trouble with the law. Perhaps if they obeyed the law they wouldn’t have difficulty with the police. Yet, all of the black leaders maintain their power and influence by perpetuating the idea of racism. So when it comes to politicians a little critical thinking is in order but this must be done at the individual level because the media, academia, and the politicians cannot gather the courage to tell the truth or to be precise.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Imperial America Part II

Previously we concluded that America does not meet the criteria for an Imperial Power in the classical sense because it does not have a policy of territorial expansion, domination, or power, yet America is widely viewed by others as Imperialistic. Many liberals and non-Americans reject this classic definition of Imperialism because America doesn’t fit the definition therefore; they have elected to redefine Imperialism. The basis for this new definition for Imperialism is to ensure America can be described as Imperialistic because it includes “influence” and on this basis American can indeed be accused of Imperialism. But even with this expanded definition, America may not actually be Imperialistic because this would require America to have a formal and announced policy to influence or change other countries and cultures. But the question becomes, if others choose of their own accord to emulate America, does that represent Imperialism?

Within this new framework the New Imperialism includes economic, political, and cultural influence. Certainly America is an economic superpower not only through our vast expenditures worldwide, which range in the trillions of dollars and touch almost every country, but through our consumption as well. If the American market were to collapse, the entire world would drop into global depression and whole countries would be ruined economically. This actually happened in 1929 when the American Stock Market crashed it brought the whole world to its knees and that was before America became the economic powerhouse it is today.

There is no doubt but that the American economy represents a major part of the world economy if not the actual foundation of it. But the reality is that it is our purchasing power that makes us such a formidable economic force, not some policy of economic domination. Our purchasing power is a direct result of our productivity and capitalist system. It is capitalism that is shunned by much of the world because it permits a great disparity in wealth, and this brings us to the concept of Imperialism via political domination. This charge is leveled at the US primarily by the various dictators and Marxists around the world, because the very word “democracy” is a threat to their power.

America is frequently accused of attempting to impose democracy – American style democracy – on the rest of the world, but this is really not the situation. America’s policy has always been one of self-determination by the people being governed. Now having a policy and being able to enforce it are two separate things entirely, hence the USSR was able to subjugate Russia and most of Eastern Europe through intimidation. This is also true in Cuba, Venezuela, and various countries around the globe. The US has chosen not to intervene because these governments at least appear to be self-detemined. However, when it is possible the US has consistently acted in the interest of the people being governed and when military force is used, that military is withdrawn as soon as practical. But that just means that the US is not Imperialistic in the classical sense, yet American politics influences much of the world.

The concept of equal rights for women or equal rights for all was initiated by America and voluntarily adopted by various other countries. The same is true for the concept of sexual harassment, hate crimes, environmental protection, and many more. These political changes have been freely adopted by other countries – primarily in the west. It was the US that pioneered the concept of human rights and human rights violations which are widely recognized today. However, these were changes that the US adopted internally and never inflicted on other governments. These concepts were freely adopted by other governments reflecting America’s drive for equal treatment for all. So America’s political views are widespread but spread through influence not through any policy that inflicts these on others. But America’s influence isn’t restricted to the political arena but it extends culturally as well and perhaps this is the one area that causes the most criticism around the world.

America exports our culture through movies, television, language, the internet, and business. There is a long list of American companies whose names and logo’s appear around the world; companies such as Coca Cola, McDonalds, Burger King, IBM, Disney, Microsoft, and many others. These are businesses which are expected to make a profit and represent investment and employment in the countries where they exist. Yet, many regard these businesses as a form of American Imperialism, when in fact they are an example of American entrepreneurship and capitalism. If these businesses didn’t have customers they would go out of business, so the critics of these American companies do not represent the feelings of the majority of the citizens. This is particularly true in France where English words are creeping into the language, in spite of strenous efforts by the government to prevent it.

Of course television has played a dramatic role in the cultural influence of America. When the USSR ran a television show that showed poverty in America it backfired on them because the poor in America had TV sets, automobiles, nice clothes, food, and generally a home, things missing for many citizens of Russia and other countries. The result of television and movies has been the spread of American style of dress, food, and language which are being adopted worldwide, especially by the youth of these countries. It isn’t that people want to be Americans as much as they want to be LIKE Americans. Consequently, America is seen as Imperialistic by many liberals and governments, when in fact the influence of America is being voluntarily absorbed by the people to the chagrin of the governments. America is not Imperialistic by policy but there is no doubt that America’s influence is impacting virtually every country in the world and it is this influence that offends many governments who fear that influence, the Muslim countries in particular see American culture as destabilizing. America is seen as the great Satan because of the temptations it offers in the form of freedom.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Imperial America

Increasingly we see various public statements by Americans as well as foreigners accusing America of being “Imperialistic”. The definition of “Imperialism” is “the policy of seeking to extend the power, dominion, or territories of a nation”. The key word here appears to be “policy” because that infers that the government of the United States has a conscious and defined policy to gain territory (land), to increase its power at the expense of others, or dominate other countries. If this is the policy of any political power or elected official since 1900, it has been a well guarded secret.

In fact, the United States was very isolationist prior to WW I and refused to get engaged in the struggle between Britain, France, and Imperial Germany until 1917. As usual the Europeans made the mess and then turned to the US to clean it up. The US not only brought all of their soldiers’ home, leaving Europe to its own devices, but sent food and treasure to repair the self-inflicted damage. The President of the United States was instrumental in establishing the ineffective League of Nations, which was intended to act as a diplomatic forum to prevent further bloodshed.

The US Senate failed to ratify the League of Nations so America was never part of it. This failure to join the League of Nations was a reflection of the isolationist attitude of America and Americans. Even though the US emerged from WW I as a global power it was unwanted and the role rejected by the US. The League itself degenerated into a debating society that was totally ineffective. The failure naturally was attributed to the failure of America to join. The implication is that had America been a member, America would have used its military power to thwart both Mussolini and Hitler. This represents the first step in the “blame America first” policy that has permeated European politics since 1918. The reality is that following WW I America returned to its peaceful and isolationist state and reduced its military to a token level, a point largely ignored by the Europeans.

The important point here is that the United States, who had the military might to dominate Europe and dictate the peace terms, did not. This is demonstrable proof that the US did not have any interest or policy to dominate or to increase either its territories or power after defeating Imperial Germany. In fact the minimal role played by the US and its failure to exercise its power led to that travesty of the Treaty of Versailles, where the European “powers” punished Germany and carved up the Ottoman Empire, thus assuring the instability and violence that afflicts the Middle East today.

This scenario was replayed again as Germany once again rebelled against the onerous terms of Versailles and rose to power. Once again the Europeans turned to the US to for assistance and once again the United States came to the aid of Europe and crushed Germany and the Axis powers. However, this time the US could not withdraw its troops because Europe remained under threat from the communist USSR. Those troops remain in Germany even now, but at the request of Germany.

In an effort to correct the mistake of not joining the League of Nations, the US led the effort to establish the United Nations. This was in reaction to the charges that the old League had failed because the US failed to join. However, the UN has – like the League before it – degenerated into a debating society that is totally powerless and thoroughly corrupt. It has no military power and has not been successful in preventing any war or keeping any peace anywhere in the world. UN “peacekeepers” are not just ineffective they are generally ignored and attacked when they get in the way of the dictator du jour.

Still the point is that following WW II, Korea, Viet Nam, Grenada, Bosnia, and the cold war, the United States has only grown in power but that has not been the policy of the US government but the result of other nations not being able to defend themselves and looking to the US for assistance in maintaining their sovereignty. Nevertheless, the US has not extended it territory or dominion over other nations. So why is the US accused of being Imperialist? This is addressed in Imperial America II.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Freedom, Virtue, and Morality

The march of militant atheism continues unabated with the newest attack on God and those ignorant enough to believe in Him, resting on the mistaken belief that it is religion and God that establish the morality of a people. Of course this, like so many positions held by the glitterati rests firmly on ignorance and the absence of critical thinking. It would seem self-evident that the morals of a culture are established by the individuals that make up that culture. For example, (and I am not making this up) it is considered bad form to kill and eat your neighbor in most Western Cultures, but to the Cannibals of New Guinea, this is acceptable and indeed – expected. In some cultures it is an accepted practice for a man to have multiple wives while in most Western Countries it is frowned upon – outside of Utah. The point is that the atheists have started with a false assumption and that is that the morality of a culture is based in religion. It seems more likely that it is the religion that reflects the morality of the culture not vice versa.

Nevertheless, there does appear to be certain universal beliefs that are common to all cultures. For example, murder is not condoned by any human society but is prevalent in the animal kingdom. Adultery is another moral concept that seems to be common, even in those societies where multiple wives are permitted. So while there may be a fundamental moral code common to human society that still does not make morality and religion synonymous. The morals of a society may be related to the religion but the morality of that society is still reflected by those who do not believe in the religion. Thus the question becomes, without religion would a society degenerate into barbarism? This may be an unanswerable question since no known society exists that has no religion, even the Neanderthals seemed to have believed in a higher power. Even the most secular power today, has laws that govern that society that reflect the religious beliefs of the founders.

However, this opens the question “can a religious based society be barbaric” and act in an inhumane way. In effect, can religious people act in an immoral way in the name of God? Obviously this answer is yes, because we have many historical examples from all parts of the world. The Catholic Church persecuted Protestants, the Spanish Inquisition tortured and killed Jews as well as witches and heretics; the Protestants persecuted and killed Catholics. Even the Hindus have a violent record. Since the Western World has separated church and state, these religious persecutions have largely stopped today, except for Islam.

Islam purports to be more moral and virtuous than all other religions and has the objective of converting the world to Islam. Islam does not separate church and state, and the church is the state. Therefore, in the Muslim countries the morality of those countries is rooted directly in the religion. The most visible evidence of this is in the veil worn by women. Even in the more enlightened Islamic countries the women wear head scarves instead of the Burqua. But the question becomes does this enforced “modesty” indicate a higher level of virtue than that shown in Christendom or is it merely a reflection of the lack of freedom? The argument mounted my Muslims is that if freedom permits immodesty then freedom is wrong.

Does a woman who chooses to not wear a headscarf – as in the West – act immodestly? Does a man who chooses to shave his beard less manly or immodest? Do Draconian punishments for petty crimes, like cutting of the hands of thieves, make the Islamic countries more virtuous? Is the person who has the freedom to choose between modesty and immodesty, but chooses modesty more virtuous than the person who is forced by law to be “modest”. Is that person who is acting under duress even modest or is he simply enslaved? These radical Muslims – more accurately Islamofascists – clearly think that their opinions of what is “proper” transcend freedom of the press, speech, religion, and assembly. Clearly, in their eyes enforced “virtue” is to be desired and any person who chooses to deviate from their view of conduct must be harshly punished according to Shar’ia Law.

The reality is that morality is established by the society and while the morality of the culture can stem from religion, that religion cannot triumph over personal freedom. This means that the while the militant atheists are entitled to their opinions, they do not have the right to dominate or eliminate religions practice. It also means that the enforced modest and virtue associated with Islam is equally wrong because religion cannot overcome individual freedoms.