Why America Could Fail, An Unfinished Conclusion! 5-10-10

Why America Could Fail, An Unfinished Conclusion!

Richard J. Garfunkel

May 10, 2010

 

American is big wonderful place, which has been blessed over the years with an over abundance of natural resources, wildlife, fresh water, wonderful harbors and a dynamic population of immigrants who sought out the New World to express their own ideas, enjoy freedom, and work hard. Over its history, like most of the rest of the world, it has faced many challenges. Most Americans historically have been optimists. But can optimism alone alter dynamics that once in motion must run their course?

 

Lately in the news, the American public has been bombarded by the new economic conundrum, “is a business too big to fail?” For most of us this is a pretty confusing predicament. On one hand the Wall Street monopolists have sold many of us the concept that “big is better,” and for America to compete world wide, we need gigantic companies. Therefore, by default, they became, with the help of many legislators, lobbies, and their own sweat equity, very large. Therefore, when and if they fail, and they are too big to fail, they must be bailed out by the American taxpayers. It’s Catch 22 all over again, but bigger and uglier. So we are all caught in the middle of this problem. Our “friends” on the right are deathly afraid of big government, or   G-d forbid the hint of socialism, but do they have the courage to really allow their corporate friends, supporters and allies to fail? For sure, even they know that the “blood in the water” would be too difficult to endure and economically justify.

 

This of course is can be translated to America itself. Are we too big to fail, and are there reasons why it could really happen here? I am reminded of a very important satirical book written by the great writer, Sinclair Lewis, “It Can’t Happen Here,” in 1935, which tells about the struggle against a fascist regime that controls the American government.

 

My thoughts today are not about whether we will eventually become a dictatorship of the right or the left. It is about why we could eventually get to the point that there could be a struggle between both political extremes to pick up the pieces of a country that has failed. Today we face many challenges that are inimitable to our age, many of our own making, and a few that are the consequence of empire. We have forgotten the past often in our most recent foreign policy initiatives. We seem to have forgotten that our treasury is not limitless, and that a society which worships at the alter of material and celebrity, quite often becomes directionless and almost impossible to lead. As core values become so dispersed the character of a people becomes blurred.

 

American faces challenges today that are quite unique in its long history. Throughout the years from the War of 1812 (possibly our second War of Independence from Great Britain) though the bombing of Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, America was never threatened by a foreign power. Yes, Napoleon controlled what had become the vast area of the Louisiana Purchase and Mexico controlled much of the southwest of the United States until the period of Texan and California independence. Mexico itself was ruled for a short time by the Austrian, Archduke Ferdinand Joseph Maximilian, who was a member of the Imperial House of Habsburg-Lorraine.

 

 

 

 

 

After a distinguished career in the Austrian Navy he was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico, during the Second Mexican Empire, with the backing of Napoleon III of France and a group of Mexican monarchists on 10 April 1864. Many foreign governments refused to recognize his government, including the United States. This helped to ensure the success of Republican forces led by Benito Juárez, and Maximilian was executed, after his capture by Republicans, in 1867.But, he, nor Mexico, was ever a threat to the United States. In fact, at the time of his ascension as head of State of Mexico, the United States, though embroiled in the Civil War had built its military strength to an unprecedented world-wide level, and was never vulnerable to any Mexican desires to physically reclaim Texas or the American southwest.

 

Aside from the Great Depression and World War II, where we were exquisitely tested, America has been quite secure as a nation state. During the Cold War, the chance of a nuclear exchange over Korea, Cuba, the Berlin War, the Middle East and Vietnam were always present. But the policy of MAD, mutually assured destruction, kept both the Soviets and America well away from the nuclear button. So there were always external threats, but aside from the Civil War which threatened the fabric of the country, nothing since that time has been so vexing.

 

Of course on the surface it would seem that this recession will pass, and I am sure it will, and life will go back to some normality. Wall Street will be somewhat re-regulated, banks will become solvent, our health care system will be partially re-structured and again life will go on. It seems simple doesn’t it? It seems like we have been “there” before and that the American people will find a way to adjust to the new realities and eventually prosper.

 

Most Americans have had a tendency to shake off negativity and get on with their lives. But what is wrong with this picture? Well times have changed significantly in the last generation or so. The question then arises how really big is this change and how vulnerable are we to the consequences that stare us in the face?

 

Thirty- five years ago our challenge was getting out of Vietnam. The hawks that abounded, in and around, the military-industrial complex, warned us that by pulling out of the conflict the balance of power would irreversibly shift. What was the result, the Vietnamese are at peace, the country is united, they run themselves, they have their own form of free enterprise and the fight is long over. What is the historical consequence, Nixon ended the war and he’s thought of in some circles as a peace-maker. The Democratic Congress that defunded the war is seen as taking the cowardly way out and giving in to the protests in the street. What was the result? The left triumphed, the war ended, no one really cares today, and the right-wing picked up the political pieces. The average American did not like to lose, but was sick of the war and that same public happily silenced the messenger (the hippy, the joint smoker, the college kid, the draft dodger, and limousine liberal). What eventually emerged from the whole Vietnam and cultural awakening experience of the 1960’s and early 1970’s was the triumph of the Goldwater heirs as the Great Society died.

 

That is just one story, but there are many more. In the wake of the end of World War II, the great concern was that we would go right back into the malaise of the back end of the Great Depression.

 

 

 

 

Who was going to provide the jobs? FDR’s farsighted “GI Bill of Rights,” officially entitled the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, provided education for millions of veterans and it was one of the best investments this country every made. While these veterans were in some sort of schooling, we had the emerging Cold War to confront. As the Soviet threat emerged the Marshall Plan was able to feed Western Europe, re-arm all of our former allies, and beat back the communists both physically in Greece, Turkey, and Korea, and electorally in France, Italy, and Austria. But, in truth the Marshall Plan was able to sustain our production here of foodstuffs, hard goods and armaments from monies we granted our western friends. We also had an almost universal draft who swept the drop outs and the unemployed off the streets. Most of these rootless and directionless young men benefitted from two years in the service. They learned to take orders, keep their billet clean, a trade, responsibility and discipline. The draft served many purposes, both military and social.

 

Back in the 1960’s, America led the world in every category of production. Regarding oil production, the change in world production, between 1960 and today, can be accessed in the following link: http://www.eia.doe.gov/aer/txt/ptb1105.html ,  In 1960 we were the world’s leading oil producer with 7 million barrels per day production out of a worldwide production of 21 million barrels. In other words, we were producing one-third of the all the world’s oil. At that time we had more than double the production of the Soviet Union and more than all of the Persian Gulf producers. By 1970 our production rose to 9.64 million barrels as world wide production more than double to 46 million barrels. The Soviet Union’s production doubled and the Gulf’s production almost tripled along with Saudi Arabia’s. Our production dropped from one-third of the world’s production to 20%. By 1980, as our consumption soared we no longer were exporters and our production dropped to 8.6 million barrels as worldwide production grew to 59 million barrels. Our percentage of world wide production dropped from 21% to 14.5% and we were replaced by the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia as the world’s greatest oil producer… In 2007 world wide production reached 73 million barrels per day, our production dropped to a shade over 5 million per day or 7% of the world’s production. Realistically we do not have the reserves any more, but unfortunately we are using 25% of the world’s production with only 5% of the world’s population. Is this sustainable? No!

 

The history of our automobile production has also turned quite bleak. From the 1920’s America dominated world wide automobile production up to WWII and for many years after. Obviously we benefitted greatly by the catastrophe Europeans faced during the war production as they saw and experienced the destruction of their manufacturing base. As to Asian production of automobiles, before WWII in was almost non-existent, and it remained unimportant until decades after the surrender of Japan, the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, and even the Vietnam War. Until there was political normalization, which now exists almost universally in that region, the means to produce automobiles was either limited or impossible. The peace dividend, cheaper labor, new factories arising out of the ashes of the war, and a drive to succeed and prosper has built Asia into a manufacturing colossus. Many conveniently forgot, in the wake of the Japanese defeat in 1945, that they produced an excellent fighter plane in the Mitsubishi Zero, along with an extensive and competent air force which complimented a world class surface navy. They also had an excellent submarine fleet, large affective transport planes and had mastered all of the arts of modern warfare.  

 

 

 

In 1960, fifteen years after the end of WWII, the United States produced 7.9 million automobiles or 48% of the world wide production of 16.5 million. By 1970 our percentage of world wide production had fallen to 28.2% and last year (2008) our production represented 12.3% of the world wide total production of 51.9 million. As the world’s leading car producer, we were able to sustain a balance regarding our habit and taste of buying luxury foreign goods, with our heavy price-tag exports. In fact, only recently, General Motors, which was founded in 1908, the now moribund giant relinquished the title of world’s largest automobile producer to Japan’s Toyota. They had held that title for seventy-seven consecutive years from 1931 through 2007. In the 1980’s, General Motors had 348, 000 employees and approximately 150 plants. Today it has only 68,500 United States employees, with 48 plants, a reduced line of cars and 40% less dealerships. Big was better? Yes, if you can hold on to your market share! They didn’t! General Motors today only exists because the United States Treasury has bailed it out, kept it afloat and is a major shareholder. So much for capitalism! If it were up to the free market most of Detroit would have shut down and the loss of jobs through the secondary and tertiary markets of suppliers and others was conservatively estimated at 3,000,000. Yes, there would have been car makers ready to sell to Americans, but who would have been there to buy them? Once the domestic automobile industry would have collapsed, the infrastructure would have probably imploded and within a short period of time there would be no domestic industry left. Aside from all that “good” news of General Motors’ survival, China has now passed the United States as the greatest producer of cars. 

 

Of course as major energy users, the United States in 2007 led China in usage 4.167 trillion kilowatts to 3.256 trillion. But as recently as 2001 the United States led the 2nd place Chinese with a production of 3,719 trillion kilowatts to 1.420 trillion kilowatts. The United States went from a 2.6 ratio to a slight lead of less than 4 to 3. Of course China has a much larger population than America and the amount of poor people in China is vastly higher in proportion. But regarding total growth in electrical production, China will certainly pass us in 2010.

Obviously we have been losing our leadership in the production of commodities, energy and manufacturing for decades. In 1960, we not only led the world in almost every category, but since then our percentage of world production has been also steadily declining. As our manufacturing and production of commodities has shrunk, our exports have decreased and our imports have skyrocketed. A stark example is the production of cement. In the 1960’s we the world’s leader, but today after eighteen straight years in the lead, China in 2005 produced 45.5% of the world’s cement, with the United States a distant 3rd at 4.38%. Of course most of that is for their huge domestic consumption. But why aren’t we supplying more of China’s needs to help balance our trade deficit with them?

As a consequence of this reversal, the United States has had trade deficits starting late in the 1960s. It was this very deficit that forced the United States in 1971 off the gold standard. Its trade deficit has been increasing at an accelerating rate since 1997 and increased by 49.8 billion dollars between 2005 and 2006, setting a record high of 817.3 billion dollars, up from 767.5 billion dollars the previous year. The United States last had a trade surplus in 1991, a recessionary year. Every year there has been a major reduction in economic growth, it is followed by a reduction in the US trade deficit.

 

 

Since the stagflation of the 1970s, the U.S. economy has been characterized by slower GDP growth. In 1985, the U.S. began its growing trade deficit with China. Over time, nations with trade surpluses tend also to have a savings surplus. The U.S. savings rate has been declining for years its savings rate has been consistently lower than its trading partners which tend to have trade surpluses. Germany, France, Japan, and Canada have maintained higher savings rates than the U.S. for many years. Wealth-producing primary sector jobs in the U.S. such as those in manufacturing and computer software have often been replaced by much lower paying wealth-consuming jobs such those in retail and government in the service sector when the economy recovered from recessions. Many economists believe that the U.S. is borrowing from itself and its trading partners to fund the consumption of imports while accumulating unsustainable amounts of debt. Obviously the importation of oil and automobiles are feeding those deficits. We can obviously produce a better car here if we make the proper commitment. With regards to the outflow of “Petro Dollars,” that reality must be reversed.

When one considers our international trade deficit, http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/top/dst/current/deficit.html , China is by far the leader with a current $259 billion surplus with Japan in second place with an $83 billion dollar deficit. All of these deficits are made up of computers, accessories, household goods from China and basically cars from Japan. With regards to “Petro Dollars,” Nigeria, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia account for $72 billion in deficits and our North American friends Canada and Mexico account for $140 billion in deficits, of which a large proportion of those dollars are for oil. This continued dependency on imported manufactured goods and energy will continue to weaken the dollar, strengthen the buying power of our foreign suppliers and impoverish the American public.

Not only are we threatened by huge and ongoing trade deficits, but we are also victims of our own domestic spending. The amount of federal, state and local spending has grown dramatically over the years as we have been fighting two unfunded wars, and supporting the largest defense budget, aside from World War II, in history. By the end of 2008 we have spent $900 billion in both Afghanistan and Iraq and this doesn’t include the current and future costs incurred by the 33,000 wounded from both theaters of operation. This cost is brunt by the Veteran’s Department. The current defense budget for fiscal year 2009 is $515 billion, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_budget_of_the_United_States . When one includes other discretionary spending in the Defense Department, which includes interest on past wars, homeland security, maintaining nuclear weapons, NASA and counter-terrorism the dollar amount climbs to between $925 and $1124 billion. The 2009 U.S. military budget is almost as much as the rest of the world's defense spending combined and is over nine times larger than the military budget of China The United States and its close allies are responsible for about two-thirds of the world's military spending (of which, in turn, the U.S. is responsible for the majority). As much as the U.S. Navy has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, for example, in terms of tonnage, its battle fleet is still larger than the next 13 navies combined — and 11 of those 13 navies are U.S. allies or partners. The question going forward is not whether we need all of our very expensive carrier groups, but can we pay for them! One way to pay for this vast army is to raise taxes. This logical step seems anathema to the average citizen.

 

 

The rest of the budget also has daunting problems made more complicated by the changing demographics of the country. The so-called baby boom generation that numbers approximately 79,000,000 individuals born between 1946 and 1964 is the largest generation in our history. Of this group approximate 15% are immigrants. Also, a greater percentage of these people will live to collect both Social Security and Medicare, and a greater percentage of these people will be alive than any other comparable generation. Besides the reality of the mortality tables, the generation to follow is smaller and poorer. By 2031 the first boomers will turn 85 and there is expected to be 51 million still alive and the cost for their Social Security and Medicare will be astronomical. .

Spending on Medicare and Medicaid is projected to grow dramatically in coming decades. While the same demographic trends that affect Social Security also affect Medicare, rapidly rising medical prices appear a more important cause of projected spending increases. The surplus of Social Security payroll taxes over benefit payments is invested in special Treasury securities held by the Social Security Trust Fund. Social Security and other federal trust funds are part of the “intergovernmental debt.” The total federal debt is divided into “intergovernmental debt” and “debt held by the public.”

Even though both of these entitlements are self –funding through payroll taxes, the Congressional Budget Office has indicated that: “Future growth in spending per beneficiary for Medicare and Medicaid—the federal government’s major health care programs—will be the most important determinant of long-term trends in federal spending. Changing those programs in ways that reduce the growth of costs—which will be difficult, in part because of the complexity of health policy choices—is ultimately the nation’s central long-term challenge in setting federal fiscal policy. ” Further, the CBO also projects that “total federal Medicare and Medicaid outlays will rise from 4 percent of GDP in 2007 to 12 percent in 2050 and 19 percent in 2082—which, as a share of the economy, is roughly equivalent to the total amount that the federal government spends today. The bulk of that projected increase in health care spending reflects higher costs per beneficiary rather than an increase in the number of beneficiaries associated with an aging population.”

The U.S. budget situation has deteriorated significantly since 2001, when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast average annual surpluses of approximately $850 billion from 2009-2012. The average deficit forecast in each of those years is now approximately $1,215 billion. The New York Times analyzed this roughly $2 trillion “swing,” separating the causes into four major categories along with their share:

  • Recessions or the business cycle (37%);
  • Policies enacted by President Bush (33%);
  • Policies enacted by President Bush and supported or extended by President Obama (20%); and
  • New policies from President Obama (10%).

 

 

 

But note, that the depth and breadth of this current recession, which promises to be one of the deepest and most severe since the Depression, has caused the Executive Branch and Congress to spend inordinate amounts to not only stop the hemorrhaging, but salvage a number of our industries which include; automotive, insurance, banking and toxic housing market.

The high cost of Medicare is exacerbated by the fact the health care costs keep on accelerating at a pace 3 to 4 times the rate of inflation. This of course affects Medicare and Medicaid payouts, to an aging population that is living longer, and longer, ironically assisted by healthcare provided by Medicare. As people became unemployed, they stopped having health insurance, and consequently reduced the pool of the insured. Therefore, insurance companies were paying out ever-rising claims as the pool of revenues had shrunk. As a consequence, insurance premiums have increased. One is reminded of the reverse phenomenon that has faced various water departments. After a long rainy summer, where people do not have to water their lawns, water fees have to increase to make up the shortfall in revenues from the drop in usage! Therefore, as insurance premiums increase, health care costs will continue to escalate and the whole system will be in jeopardy. It is a vicious, never-ending, cycle.

As to government revenues, a variety of tax cuts were enacted under President Bush between 2001-2003, through the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) and the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA). Most of these tax cuts are scheduled to expire December 31, 2010. Since CBO projections are based on current law, the projections discussed above assume these tax cuts will expire, which may prove politically challenging. CBO has estimated that extending these cuts would cost the U.S. Treasury nearly $1.8 trillion in the following decade, dramatically increasing federal deficits and exacerbating the entitlement-related risks described above.

Francis Fukuyama, the American philosopher, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Fukuyama, who specializes in economic and political theory, summarized these concepts: “Prior to the 1980s, conservatives were fiscally conservative— that is, they were unwilling to spend more than they took in taxes. But Reaganomics introduced the idea that virtually any tax cut would so stimulate growth that the government would end up taking in more revenue in the end (the so-called Laffer curve). In fact, the traditional view was correct: if you cut taxes without cutting spending, you end up with a damaging deficit. Thus the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s produced a big deficit; the Clinton tax increases of the 1990s produced a surplus; and the Bush tax cuts of the early 21st century produced an even larger deficit. The fact that the American economy grew just as fast in the Clinton years as in the Reagan ones somehow didn't shake the conservative faith in tax cuts as the surefire key to growth.”

We are also devoting a huge amount of our GNP to higher education in the United States. There are over 7000 colleges and universities in the United States with over 15,000,000 students, or about 4%, when one excludes the large amount of foreign students (estimated at 600,000), of our population. (See: http://www.braintrack.com/us-colleges.) Of these students, over 70% attend public schools and the average total cost is $15,000 per year. The remaining 30% attend for-profit private schools and the average cost is about $30,000 per year. Almost 80% of the students require some assistance, and 23% of all higher education schools are located in the United States which has approximately 4.6% of the world’s population.

 

Each year the tuition and living costs of these institutions rises at a much higher rate than inflation, the debt load becomes greater on the students, and these institutions demand more assistance from local, state and federal coffers.

As a consequence of this artificial need placed on both the education provided and the curriculum offered, we have a whole generation of over-educated sales people with large personal debts. Therefore we have a tax-exempt industry providing a very expensive and somewhat unnecessary service to a large percentage of the public who are unprepared for the world outside the campus.

With regards to the growing education gap in our expensive, non-performing public education system, nearly one-third of all high school students fail to graduate with their class. http://right-mind.us/blogs/blog_0/archive/2009/04/22/67045.aspx. Of this total amount of high school students, nearly one-half of all African-American, Hispanics, and Native Americans fail to graduate with their classes. They earn substantially less money than their peers that graduate and  their incarceration rate is much higher. In fact dropouts are more likely to be unemployed, live in poverty, in poor health, on welfare, and be single parents. They are eight times more likely to be in jail as high school graduates. The estimated cost to our government is huge because of higher public health costs, high crime, and welfare. If the dropout rate for these 700,000 persons could be cut in half, the government would reap and additional $45 billion in extra taxes and reduced costs. In 2000 of our public high schools, the dropout for the typical freshman is 40% before they become seniors. If that were not bad enough, in Westchester County, NY, where many schools are considered at the highest levels in the country, the cost per student annually could average between $23 and $30 thousand per year. Please note that costs have risen dramatically since this chart that was published in: The White Plains CitizenNetReporter, and the cost rose to $184 million in 2008.http://www.whiteplainscnr.com/article6324.html

The Student Spending Leaders in Westchester County in 2006-2007:

1.       Greenburgh Central School District , $28,322, (1,800 enrollment)

2.       Bedford, $25,914  (1,800 enrollment)

3.       North Salem, $25,244 (1,385 enrollment)

4.       Harrison, $25,113 (3,548 enrollment)

5.        Scarsdale, $24,647 (4,702 enrollment)

6.       Katonah, $24,306 (4,100 enrollment)

7.       Dobbs Ferry — $24,168 (1,410 enrollment)

8.       White Plains –$23,500 (7,060 enrollment)

9.       Byram Hills — $23,407 (2,835 enrollment)

In truth, many of these schools have wonderful curriculum, excellent teachers, above average students, a high graduation rate, and a high college attendance rate. Westchester schools have traditionally fed students into the elite schools all over the Unite States. But aside from that good news, many schools in Westchester do not. They are beset with problems and they are easily incorporated into those 2000 schools with high drop out rates. In those districts, along with the tonier ones like, Scarsdale, Chappaqua, Rye, Bronxville, Rye Brook, Bedford, to mention a few, the local tax rate, which is dominated by public schools, is driving people from the region.

 

 Home prices have dropped not only because of the recession, but because, despite the economy, taxes continually rise through excessive budget creep. Therefore, without further explanation, even the 8th wealthiest county in the nation has its problems regarding its own sustainability.

Of course Westchester County isn’t New York and New York is not the United States. The image of New York as being the Empire State and the home to many of our Fortune 500 Corporations is long over. If New York was once the jewel of industrial America, it is now virtually broke, and run by an appointed governor with a dysfunctional legislature. As of today, the present governor inherited his office when the former governor, Eliot Spitzer, resigned in disgrace. The new state comptroller was appointed to fill the seat of the indicted and convicted former controller Alan Hevesi. If that was not enough, the former and long-time Republican Majority Leader of the New York State Senate, Joseph Bruno, was indicted and convicted and was sentenced to two years in prison. In the court proceedings against him, the amount of conflicts of interests, pay-offs and phony deals was astounding.

Of course, again New York State is not unique regarding its public officials, and the amount of corruption, indictments, resignations and convictions of public officials around the country of both parties could fill a large book. Is this a break down of values that mostly exists in our more liberal states, which are populated by more minorities that are not used to our system, or immigrants that are poorer and more susceptible to crime? The answer is a resounding no! Not only do public officials in the conservative heartland of America fail, but in these so-called “Red States” their level of social problems far exceed the more liberal states which are located on our coastlines or in the “rust belt” area of the Middle West.

In the November’s Vanity Fair magazine (please access the following site: http://louisvilledivorce.typepad.com/info/2006/11/red_state_blue.html ) one can read about the “real” national statistics on morality. The “Red States” lead in violent crime, overall crime, divorce, illegitimacy, infidelity, multiple sexual partners, rape, incest, teenage mortality, drug abuse and incarceration. One should ask why?

 

As to illegitimacy rates, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, of states with the highest percentage of births in 2003 to unwed mothers, 9 of the top 10 are “red” states. The rate for teen mortality by suicide, homicide and accidents, despite their state’s reputation for family, religious and moral values, was much higher in the “red” states. In fact the top ten states regarding that statistic are “red,” and the bottom ten are “blue!” Not only that the top ten states in alcohol dependence and abuse, are “red” states. The incidence of venereal disease is 40% higher in the “red” states.

 

With that in mind, should it not be the question, “Why America Could Fail,” but has it failed already? Many over the past 60 years have stated, “America, love it, or leave it,” or “where else would you live,” or other questions along the same lines. Of course, that is not the issue. We know most of the rest of the world has problems. We know that the poor live better here than the middle class in most of the world. We know that we have the most trinkets still, so what! All the poverty, political instability, war, famine and pestilence around the world have nothing to whether we survive or implode as a consequence of our greed, national vanity, self-indulgence and top-heavy institutions. Unlike 1933, we are not protected by two great oceans, we do not have unlimited natural resources and energy, and we do not have a homogenous population.

 

 

 

 

 

We are an over-stressed society, with 25% of the world’s imprisoned population. We have over 8 million people in jail or on parole in America. We have 47 million people who have been convicted of a crime in this country. We have overloaded jails and the cost of maintenance of a prisoner in some states exceeds $50,000 per year. The stress level in America has created an epidemic of legal and illegal drug use. The amount of mentally ill in America is staggering. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/statistics/index.shtml, here are the following are the statistics:

 

Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people. Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion — about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 — who suffer from a serious mental illness. In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44. Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time. Nearly half (45 percent) of those with any mental disorder meet criteria for 2 or more disorders, with severity strongly related to co-morbidity.

 

The consequences of this reality are not only daunting, but staggering. They manifest themselves in crime, family dysfunctional, the high cost of incarceration, and an incredible burden on our teetering heath care system. As to suicide alone, please read the statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Black American teens, especially females, may be at high risk for attempting suicide even if they have never been diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to researchers funded in part by NIMH. Their findings, based on responses from adolescent participants in the National Survey of American Life (NSAL), provide the first national estimates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors (ideation) and suicide attempts in 13- to 17-year-old black youth in the United States. The study was published in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in all teens in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Historically, black teens and young adults have lower suicide rates than white teens, but in recent decades, the suicide rate for black youth has increased dramatically.

The last issue one should consider is the ongoing partisanship reflective of the growing political fissure between the extreme left and right. On one hand we have people on the far-left who have a tough time with personal responsibility or standards. They blame society quite often for personal actions that quite often result in a varied amount of crimes from; rape to murder. They disconnect rights from responsibility. There have always been leftist views that have been part of the political spectrum and these views have quite often shaped the middle of Democratic Party. This reality is not particularly bad or good. But today the left wing of the Democratic Party has become more polarized from the center on issues such as global warming, cap and trade, freedom of expression, the belief in G-d, salvation of the darter snail to the polar bear, and the right to universal benefits our society seems unable to afford. There are many in this group who would like to tax the rich as a means to re-distribute income. Maybe this goal would be more realistic if these revenues were used to pay for the expensive services this country seems to need and require. As freedom of expression has been championed by adherents of the far-left, standards in speech, dress, and conduct have markedly declined. In other words, anything goes!

 

 

On the far right, we now see domination from religious zealots, who oppose almost all women’s issues from; choice, birth control to equality in the work place. The right supports states-rights as an avenue to not only weaken the strength of the Federal government, but to enable the states to eliminate or weaken Supreme Courts decisions that have affirmed worker’s rights, accessibility to abortion, family planning, sex education or an adequate criminal defense. We see a flat-earth, flat-tax mentality that believes sincerely that all our problems emanate from big government, and decision makers in Washington.

A percentage of these people actually believe that we never landed on the Moon. Many believe that the world was created in six days, and that Darwin’s Theory has no merit. The right-wing often nurtures racial hatred, homophobia, and religious bigotry. They are not tolerant or sympathetic of people who are different from them, and they form the core of xenophobic, know-thing thinking in America.

The left-wing has often supported anti-Israel stances in the Middle East. One just has to read the website Code Pink, or various other left-wing sites that excuse all of the actions of our enemies and blame our capitalistic society for all the ills of the world. Many left-wingers have been unrealistic when it came to Castro, Daniel Ortega, Lenin, Allende, and socialism in general. But, the right-wing has a much worse record. It has tolerated; anti-immigrant Know-Nothingism, Father Coughlin, the Liberty Lobby, the American First, almost all social and labor reform, and dictators by the score overseas. Many right-wingers supported Franco, Mussolini, appeased Hitler, backed Batista, Somoza, Noriega, Pinochet and scores of others now forgotten tin-horn “Banana Republic” strongmen. They believed in eugenics, championed segregation, apologized for Henry Ford, and opposed immigration of Jewish refugees in the 1930’s. It certainly wasn’t liberals who supported slavery in the South and persecution of America’s Native Americans.

We as a nation should have learned much from our nation’s history. As rights became more incorporated into our daily lives, the resistance to those changes has stiffened. I am sure that no one can predict whether these fissures will become so deep that in the future that civil unrest could erupt. There is bitterness towards the excesses on Wall Street, there are strong feelings against Muslins, there is a rise of anti-Semitism, and there has always been anti-Black prejudice. Could these emotional feelings exacerbate a break down of the American state? Hopefully the rule of law will survive and economic recovery will cool the savage breast of conflict.

But, in conclusion, what society can survive and continue to be a debtor in their own currency, export billions of Chimera dollars to the Far East and petrodollars all over the world, continue to run high domestic deficits and have low Federal taxes on the people who can afford to pay more? Something has to give! We can control health care costs, we can reform education, we must pay more for domestically produced goods, we must increase our savings rate, we can work aggressively on home grown energy, and we have to have more secure borders, and we must provide hope and opportunity to lower our excessive and expensive crime and incarceration rate. If we don’t start on that path our will be eventually on the slippery slope to ruin.

The Pizza War of Southern Westchester: Johnny’s vs. Pepe’s 5-9-10

The Pizza War of Southern Westchester: Johnny’s vs. Pepe’s

May 9, 2010

Richard J. Garfunkel

 

In November of 2009, Pepe’s Pizzeria, founded by Frank Pepe, on Wooster Street in New Haven, CT, and now run by his descendents moved into a location at 1555 Central Avenue, which was formerly the home of the now departed and legendary Ricky’s Clam House. I can remember eating at Ricky’s when Eisenhower was president. How did the subject of Pepe’s come up one could ask! Linda and I met her cousin Terry Rosen Deutsch at Beth Shalom Synagogue this past Friday night. In the course of their conversation, Linda mentioned that our children, Dana and Jon had come to New York for my birthday the other day and we went to Yankee Stadium and for dinner at the legendary Johnny’s Pizzeria. Along with us were Jon’s friends, Merry and Stephanie. All three of them, without coercion, or politeness to their host, (they had never eaten there before) felt that Johnny’s slices were not just very good, but great! Linda, Dana and I had previously enjoyed their critically acclaimed slices.

 

Meanwhile, with that in mind, Terry mentioned that they had eaten at Pepe’s Pizzeria in Yonkers. We, of course, had heard of this well-known eatery, which was located in New Haven, CT, but we were surprised that they now had a local venue. Johnny’s, which has a Zagat’s rating of 27 for food, has been a legendary Mount Vernon eatery for seven decades, but people have always asked us if we ever enjoyed the cuisine at Pepe’s.

 

Therefore, on our way to Stew Leonard’s in Yonkers this afternoon, we decided to make a lunch detour to Pepe’s on Central Avenue. Unlike Johnny’s, there’s plenty of parking available at Pepe’s, but the lot and the spaces on Central Avenue looked like they were filled. But, fortuitously we found a space right next to the front door. It was crowded, but our waitress, a lovely, lithe, lass named Lisa, got to us quite quickly. We learned that she was a relative of the Migliucci family that runs the legendary Mario’s on Arthur Avenue. We ordered a small salad for $3.95 and a small plain tomato pie with mozzarella, which was priced at $7.70. The salad came very quickly, but we waited more than 20 minutes for the pie. The pizza finally was served and it was a nice size for a small pizza. It was quite hot with a decently thin crust. At 3:30 PM, I could have eaten anything. But it was a bit too gooey and oily and it did not have a distinct enough taste. We felt it was not spicy enough. But, all in all, it was very good, but unlike Johnny’s pies, it needed a lot of garlic powder, and hot pepper. We even took home two slices. No one leaves any slices left over at Johnny’s. The crust at Johnny’s is incredible, thin, but firm, and many gourmands believe that toppings only subtract from the greatness of Johnny’s plain pizza. So far, with only one eating experience at Pepe’s, we still both lean heavily to Johnny’s.

 

With Pepe’s bold move into Yonkers, the Great Pizza War has been engaged. These two super powers of the culinary art of thin crust pizza are less than two miles apart, but their venues are diametrically different. Johnny’s could almost be classified as a shrine to the NY Yankees, with pictures and pennants of the Bombers festooned over ever inch of its wood-paneled wall space. Even though it is in its third location, it has that “lived-in” charm of a family restaurant. Pepe’s is in a rectangle building, painted bright white, with huge paintings of Frank Pepe and old photos of their original location in New Haven. In the center of the restaurant is a wide open cooking area where their chefs do their culinary craft.

 

Historically, Johnny's, established in 1942 is one of Westchester's oldest pizzerias. Their ultra-thin crust pizza is served by the pie only; no slices! Though the pizza is the real star, one can order many entrees and appetizers off their extensive menu. You can ask anyone where there is good pizza and they will say Johnny’s.

 

Meanwhile, Johnny’s a Mount Vernon culinary landmark with its famous, delicious and expensive pizza (a six-slice mushroom, sausage and cheese is about $16) is now located a block up West Lincoln Avenue on one’s way to Yannantuano’s Funeral Home. Reasonably not every one who goes up West Lincoln is heading there, and for sure not every one going there is in position to enjoy the famous thin crust of Johnny’s pies.

Except for the last sixteen years, Johnny’s was always not there. For decades it was on Gramatan Avenue and before that it was a small hole in the wall on the corner of Third Street and Fourth Avenue. Back in the early 1960’s, when I experienced my first 15 cent slice, it was not far from Hi-FI Pizza, another vest pocket pizzeria off Mount Vernon’s 4th Avenue shopping district.30 W Lincoln Ave
Mount Vernon, NY
914-668-1957

Established in 1942, Johnny's is one of Westchester's oldest pizzerias. Their old-school approach maintains as the ultra-thin crust pizza is served by the pie only; no slices! Though the pizza is the real star, traditional Italian menu items (eggplant parmesan, baked ziti) are also available.You can ask anyone where there is good pizza and they will say Johnny's. People still to this day walk in and say “Is this the FAMOUS Johnnys pizza that was… (read more)

 

Pepe's was founded in 1925 by Frank Pepe (1893 –1969), an Italian immigrant. Pepewas born in Maiori, Italy, and immigrated to New Haven in 1909 at the age of 17. The quintessential Wooster Square Italian immigrant (poor, uneducated, enthusiastic), he took a job at a New Haven factory, but he hated it.

During World War I, Pepe went back to Italy to fight for his native country. Upon returning, he soon landed a job working at a bakery on Wooster Street. Pepe began walking through the Wooster Square market and sold his “tomato pies” off of a special headdress. After saving up enough money, he was able to buy a wagon to sell his pizzas from. He did so well with his pizzas that he was eventually able to take over his employer's business and turn it into the first Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana on June 16, 1925. Frank Pepe died on September 6, 1969.

Pepe's originated the New Haven-style thin-crust apizza (closely related to Neapolitan-style Italian pizza) which he baked in a coal-fired brick oven. Originally, Frank Pepe only made two varieties of pizza: the “plain” (oregano, chopped garlic, tomato sauce, and grated pecorino romano cheese) and the “marinara” (tomato sauce, grated cheese, and anchovies).

The piece of land which Pepe's restaurant sat on was owned by the Boccamiello family. They later made Frank Pepe leave so that they could start their own pizzeria at the establishment, which they renamed The Spot. Pepe moved his restaurant to its current location next door to The Spot in 1936. The Pepe family later bought back The Spot from the Boccamiello family in 1981 and it now serves the same menu as the newer restaurant.

Baseball and Fine and Schapiro 5-4-10

Baseball and Fine and Schapiro

May 4, 2010

Richard J. Garfunkel

 

Last night I met Alan Rosenberg, my old buddy from high school, and Richie Teichman another Westchesterite at the Ethical Culture Center on 64th Street. The NY Historical Center, which is undergoing a year long and well-deserved renovation, was hosting an evening of Yankee baseball. We all had last met at the NY Historical Society on January 26, 2010, for a program called “Longshots and Underdogs” about NYC sports with writer and author Bert Sugar, Bob Herbert of the NY Times, and Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker.

 

This program was the final in a series on baseball with Ed Randall, of radio and television’s Talking Baseball, Bert Sugar and Tony Morante of the Yankees. The subject was about Yankees icons: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Of course they digressed about the old Yankee Stadium (1923-2008) which was rebuilt in 1973 and how the Highlanders became the Yankees! Below is an outtake from my essay “Take Me Out to The Ball Park” which one could find in my website http://www.richardjgarfunkel.com

 

The Yankees were originally known as the Highlanders, who owed their name to the location of their ballpark and the fact that their owner Joseph W. Gordon’s name reminded some folks of the famed British Army unit (Gordon’s Highlanders.) In 1913 the current owners (Farrell and Devery) of the Highlanders, who were quite often were referred to in the press as the Yankees, were unhappy with their antiquated park, and therefore accepted an invitation to play in the Polo Grounds. But moving to the Polo Grounds did not bring the Yankees or their owners financial or artistic success

 

Therefore, the modern Yankees are really traced to the partnership of (NY National Guard honorary) Colonel Jacob Ruppert, (aka The Prince of Beer) who owned the Ruppert Breweries. He was a former four-term Congressman (1899-1906 from NY’s Silk Stocking District!) and reputedly worth between $50 and $75 million, who teamed up with one (retired Army Corp of Engineers) Colonel Tillinghast l’Hommedieu “Til” Huston, to buy the team. Huston, a construction millionaire and Ruppert bought the Yankees in 1915 for the astronomical sum of $460,000 from Big Bill Devery and Frank Farrell, who had paid just $18,000 for the Baltimore franchise in 1903 before moving it to New York, (The Yankees had a previous 12 year losing record of 861-937, and an average attendance of 345,000 fans per season.) Of course, it was the innovative Ruppert, who supposedly designed the team’s brand new pinstriped uniform in the 1920’s. He thought pinstripes would make the Babe, who had a tendency to expand his belt-size, look slimmer. Ruppert liked to win and told his new business manager “I want to win.” He also said, “Every day I want to win ten to nothing. Close games make me nervous.” I always heard that Ruppert, the proto-typical Yankee fan also said, “I like to see the Yanks score nine runs in the first inning and pull away gently!”

 

The Yankees stayed there as tenants of the Giants until 1922, when John McGraw asked the Colonels Jacob Ruppert and Til Huston to take their team and leave. It is a mystery why he did that. The Yankees were big draws and outdrew the Giants in 1920 (in this year the Yankees set a major league record, drawing 1,289,422 into the Polo Grounds, 350,000 more than the Giants), 1921, and 1922 and most would have thought that the added revenue would have been hard to resist. Maybe the Giants felt that they were being overshadowed by the presence of the Yankees new star Babe Ruth. John McGraw, an exponent of “inside” baseball or “little ball” as they term it today, hated Babe Ruth and his home runs. He said in 1921, “The Yankees will have to build a park in Queens or some other out-of-the-way place. Let them go away, and wither on the vine.”

 

They moved directly across the Harlem River and built “The House that Ruth Built.” The 58,000-seat concrete and steel edifice, opened up on April 18, 1923, at the cost of $2.5 million. It was built in 258 working days and featured the first triple-deck grandstand. The Opening attendance, with Governor Alfred E. Smith throwing out the first ball, was reputed to be over 74,000, but later on it was revised down to about 60,000. John Philip Sousa and the Seventh Regiment Band led the procession of Yankee and Red Sox players to the centerfield flagpole for the raising of the 1922 pennant. There were a few changes since 1923. The right field triple deck grandstands were extended around the foul pole to the bleachers in the late 1930’s, and some of the outfield distances were re-adjusted before the great re-building in 1974-5. Originally center field in the old ballpark was 490 feet. It was later reduced to 461 feet and to its present day 408 feet. Deepest right center was an astronomical 550 feet, but quickly reduced to 457 feet and to its present day 420 feet. The right field foul line remained at 296 feet until the renovation where it was lengthened to 314 feet and the fence was raised from 4 feet to 8 feet. Left field was originally 280.5 feet but was quickly adjusted to 301, and it is presently 318 feet with and 8-foot wall.

 

The Yanks still remain on property purchased from William Waldorf Astor for $600,000 and the Giants, who eventually went broke, left in 1957, and currently play in San Francisco. Many years later, in 1974-5, when Yankee Stadium was being re-constructed, they moved over to Queens and became guests of the City of New York, in Shea Stadium, for two unhappy seasons.

 

Interestingly, we met Ernestine Miller, who is a good friend of the legendary sports authority and baseball biographer Ray Robinson, who was with us at the NY Historical Society back in January. It was like old home week. Most of their stories were known to aficionados of the sport, but it was nice to hear them once again. Of the four, probably Gehrig was the only one who wasn’t deeply flawed. Both Mantle and DiMaggio had issues inimitable to their upbringing, social skills and insecurities. Gehrig, who was the only one of the four to grow up in New York, came from leveling parents, was exposed to higher education at Columbia and even thought he was quiet, was used to the big city, and knew how to avoid its pitfalls. Ruth was in a league of his own and everyone in baseball history is measured against his career and incredible lifestyle. The Ruth-Gehrig Era moved smoothly into the one dominated by DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle’s rookie year was DiMaggio’s last. Therefore, from 1920 to 1968, a period of almost 50 years, the Yankee dynasty was dominated by larger than life superstars.

 

After the “question and answer” period and the book signing, we drove over to Fine and Shapiro’s on 72nd Street and enjoyed kreplach soup, derma, pickles, cole slaw, and pastrami and tongues sandwiches. Not only were we overdosing on Jewish delicacies, but we wound up talking to other fressers about baseball, trivia, and real estate. All in all, another “boy’s night out” was a great success. Blame it all on our host Alan Rosenberg, who organized this grand effort.

 

 

The Yankees, My Birthday and Johnny's Pizza 5-2-2010

The Yankees, My Birthday, and Johnny’s Pizza

May 2, 2010

Richard J. Garfunkel

 

Then Linda, Dana, Jon and I drove down to the Bronx, the home of the fabled NY Yankees of international sport and baseball fame. The first game I saw was in 1951 at the old, but now leveled Yankee Stadium which stood for 85 years. The new Yankee Stadium, opened last year is right across the street from the old location. From Tarrytown, we drove down the Saw Mill River Parkway to the Mosholu Parkway, which crosses the northern part of the Bronx. Then we headed south on the old Grand Concourse, which was modeled on the Champs Elysees, the center of Paris,

 

The Grand Boulevard and Concourse (almost universally referred to as the Grand Concourse) is a major thoroughfare in the borough of the Bronx in New York City. It was designed by Louis Aloys Risse, an Alsatian immigrant who had previously worked for the New York Central Railroad and was later appointed chief topographical engineer for the New York

Risse first conceived of the road in 1890, as a means of connecting the borough of Manhattan to the northern Bronx. Construction began on the Grand Concourse in 1894 and it was opened to traffic in November 1909. Built during the height of the City Beautiful movement, it was modeled on the Champs-Élysées in Paris but is considerably larger, stretching four miles (6 km) in length, measuring 180 feet (55 m) across, and separated into three roadways by tree-lined dividers. Most minor streets do not cross the Concourse. Grade separation allows major ones to pass underneath.

The New Stadium opened last year and replaced the old Yankee Stadium which was opened in 1923, rebuilt in 1973 and was nicknamed “The House That Ruth Built.” Ruth referred to George Herman “Babe” Ruth, who was the first professional mega star to grace America. He ruled baseball from 1914 through 1934. Even today, 76 years after his retirement, and 62 years after his death at 53 in 1948, he remains the pivotal American sports family.

George Herman Ruth, Jr. (February 6, 1895 – August 16, 1948), best known as “Babe” Ruth and nicknamed “the Bambino” and “the Sultan of Swat“, was an American Major League baseball player from 1914–1935. Ruth originally broke into the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox as a starting pitcher, but after he was sold to the New York Yankees in 1919, he converted to a full-time right fielder and subsequently became one of the league's most prolific hitters. Ruth was a mainstay in the Yankees' lineup that won seven pennants and four World Series titles during his tenure with the team. After a short stint with the Boston Braves in 1935, Ruth retired. In 1936, Ruth became one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ruth has since become regarded as one of the greatest sports heroes in American culture.[1] He has been named the greatest baseball player in history in various surveys and rankings,[citation needed] and his home run hitting prowess and charismatic personality made him a larger than life figure in the “Roaring Twenties“.[2] Off the field he was famous for his charity, but also was noted for his often reckless lifestyle. Ruth is credited with changing baseball itself. The popularity of the game exploded in the 1920s, largely due to his influence. Ruth ushered in the “live-ball era“, as his big swing led to escalating home run totals that not only excited fans, but helped baseball evolve from a low-scoring, speed-dominated game to a high-scoring power game.

In 1998, The Sporting News ranked Ruth number one on the list of “Baseball's 100 Greatest Players“. In 1999, baseball fans named Ruth to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.[2] In 1969, he was named baseball's Greatest Player Ever in a ballot commemorating the 100th anniversary of professional baseball.

The Stadium is located at 161st Street and Gerard Avenue, and it was there we met Jon’s girl friend Merry and his old school chum Stephanie, who took the subway up from Manhattan. We parked, made our way into this new and incredible structure, found our seats and settled down to enjoy another Yankee victory. But the fates had other things in store. After the Yankees rallied from being down 5-2 to take the lead, they wound up surrendering the lead in the next inning and wound up losing 6-5. Too bad! So saddened, but not bowed we headed out to our car, and headed up to City of Mount Vernon, where I was raised. Our next stop was the fabled Johnny’s Pizzeria, a culinary landmark for decades. We satiated our sorrows with their house salad and legendary pizza. So, all in all, it was fun and a full day. We’ll get them tomorrow as the Yankees meet the Chicago White Sox for the final game of their three game series.

 

 

The Advocates 3-31-10

Wednesday, March 31, 2010, at 12:00 Noon, I am hosting my show, The Advocates on WVOX- 1460 AM, or you can listen to the program’s live streaming at www.wvox.com. One can call the show at 914-636-0110 to reach us on the radio.  My guest is Dr. Vivian Diller, co-author of Face It, What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change.

Our subject will be her book, which addresses the implications of women coming to grips with their complicated feelings about their appearance as they age. Dr. Diller has created a psychological guide for women in this era of material, celebrity, the worship of youth, the race to slow the outward effects of aging and the race to extend life.

Vivian Diller, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. Prior to becoming a therapist, Diller was a professional dancer with the Cincinnati Ballet Company and a model represented by Wilhelmina Models. As a model, she appeared in magazines such as Seventeen and Glamour, and in national print ads and television commercials.

 

Diller returned to school to earn a Ph.D. from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, and a postdoctoral degree in psychoanalysis from NYU. She has served as a consultant to a major cosmetics company and has made numerous appearances on television discussing issues surrounding beauty and aging. Diller now works with individuals and couples in psychotherapy, with a special interest in helping young dancers, models, actors, and athletes transition to new careers. Website:  www.FaceIttheBook,com .

 

One can see her on the below sites:

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/35803098/ns/today-today_books/ http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/18/fashion/18SKIN.html

Meanwhile, the mission of The Advocates is to bring to the public differing views on current “public policy” issues. “Public policy,” therefore, is what we as a nation legally and traditionally follow.

 

One can find my essays on FDR and other subjects at http://www.richardjgarfunkel.com. All of the archived shows can be found at: http://advocates-wvox.com.  Next week on WVOX my guests will be Dr. Terry Kirchner and Patricia Dohrenwend of the Westchester Library System and our subject will be “reading, its future, and how libraries facilitate that end.”