Tuesday, December 23, 2014

'Tis the Season

It's Christmas time again. It seems like it keeps coming around earlier and earlier every year. Sales galore, complete with ruder than usual motorists, crowded stores and mall, not to mention some amazingly nasty bargain hunters who could put Army's Rangers to shame. I think I saw my first Christmas commercial this year just before Halloween; of course that doesn't include the perennial "Christmas in July" sales. Nothing says "Christmas" better than a good sale on appliances or a new car. As for me, I was never much of a Christmas person. Yeah, I know..."Scrooge"...."Grinch". I've heard it all before believe me.

At Christmas, people go into hock to buy the latest gizmos or the most popular toys, which everyone knows will either be outdated or fade with the next "big thing" within the next two or three months. America, despite its failing government and political influence globally, is still a land of plenty. Yes, our quality of life is in decline. No question about it. This present generation is the first in history not to equal or exceed its parents, and the next generation is expected to do worse. We have no one to blame but ourselves....and Washington which has consistently ignored the people with its debt prone policies and bailouts of the uber-rich ruling class which comprises the oligarchy under which we now all live. But, I digress.

America is still the land most people want to come to. We're not the most popular nation in the world. That honor falls to Germany. No, we are not the freest people on the planet. Far from it. That honor goes to tiny Estonia on the Baltic. In fact, America isn't even in the top ten freest nations. When Obama took office, the US was ranked tenth. Now, we're ranked 12th. That means there are 11 other countries with more personal and economic freedom than we have in the good ole US of A (kinda scary isn't it?). In terms of academics, we don't fare much better. We're 17th in the world in academic performance, yet we spend more money per student than most of the 16 countries above. In math, we're a dismal 25th; 17th in science, and a pathetic 14th in reading.

So, who's on top? That would be Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore. Latvia, Chile, and Brazil are making academic gains at three times the rate of US students while countries like Slovenia, Columbia, Poland, and Portugal are making academic gains at twice the rate of the average US student. At this rate, it's a good thing Velcro has caught on. Shoelaces may soon prove to be too much. Meanwhile, the US spends the second highest on children's toys, with an average of $371.00 per child. Wahoo! The Brits win honors for spending the most on the little tikes at a whopping $438.00 each. France comes in third at $338.00 each on their little Napoleons and Josephines. Spain came in last. They only spend $176.00 on their little ninos y ninas.

Of course, the other side of the coin, while American's spend an elf's ransom on Christmas toys, we're nowhere near the top when it comes to spending money for Christmas. Americans tend to spend up to 5% on their annual income, the Greeks and Russians will drop 6% of their income, but even they aren't first. So, who's number one? Well, as hard as it is to believe, the "Christmas Consumer Award" goes to the South Africans who spend an insane 15% of their annual income (adjusted to US dollars) on Christmas. No wonder Nelson Mandela was always smiling in all those pictures!

Yet, despite all this spending, America still has a poverty rates comparable to any third or second world nation. The bad news is that our national poverty is 14.5%, the good news is that it's down for 15% from 2013. The poverty rate for children is down by two million to 19.9%, or about 14 million children from a previous high of 21.8%. However, with Obama's attempt, apparently unconstitutionally, to grant executive amnesty to some 5 to 6 million of the 12 million illegal immigrants currently in this county, the poverty rate will likely increase as those individuals will now officially be counted (many had previously avoided the census in years past) and struggle to find work openly.

The backbone of this county, the middle class, has also seen its number decline with the average income level remaining steady despite annual inflation growth (adjusted for inflation, the average purchasing power for the middle class is equal to 1975 rates). The one group that's done well is of course the elites; the top 5 percent, whose numbers include the oligarchy that is now America. Their incomes have increase 14% since 1995 (since 1979, the top 1% have seen their incomes grow by 200% compared to the middle class, which has seen a growth of 67% while the bottom 20% has seen a growth of just 47%). If we forget about just income and look at overall wealth, we'll find that the top 3% controls 54% of the wealth in this country, and it's growing. So much for the economic "diamond" model most of us learned in school which showed a small group of poor and rich at the bottom and top and a large middle class in the center.

So what does any of this have to do with Christmas? Well, first is that we should be grateful for what we do have. While there are some who are doing way better than us, there are many more doing a lot worse. We need to reach out to those who are in need and not give them a handout as much as we should give them a hand up. We must find ways to return America to the land of opportunity it once was. Everyone of us has needed some help at some time or another. That's fine. There's nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything wrong with offering a helping hand. If anything, that's about as "American" as it gets, but so it helping someone get back on their feet so they can get on with life.

Christmas should be about helping others, not going overboard with toys and gadgets. Maybe it's time to make a point of adopting a star off of an "Angle Tree", making a donation, or volunteering somewhere a family tradition. Maybe too we should loudly demand those in our state capitols and in Washington start listening to us for a change. Let's penalize companies that ship jobs overseas yet continue to get tax breaks. Let's end corporate welfare and cut red tape for small businesses so they can hire more local workers.Let's make sure the super rich pay their fair share of taxes, and speaking of taxes, let's overhaul this outdated tax code to make it more fair for the poor and working poor, which includes what was once known as the middle class. Let's take money out of politics, especially corporate money so that our votes actually count for something. And let's get politics out of the classroom and get back to teaching students what they need to know to be productive citizens, and that includes civics, volunteerism as well as restoring discipline, and while we're at it, we need to invest in trade schools again. Not every job requires a college education and not everyone is cut out to go to college. That concept seems to have worked pretty for Germany, Japan, and South Korea. By investing in our children's education, we're investing in America's future. What better Christmas wish could there be than a stronger and compassionate America?

Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas from Another Opinion.

U.S. Drops From Top 10 Freest Countries in 2014

Best Education in the World

Amount Spent on Toys by Country

Christmas spending gone global

No comments: