Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lets Evolve in the New Year...


Another New Years day is upon us...and while it will hopefully be full of good friends, good football, and celebration of life...hopefully it will also launch some real New Years resolutions that will improve our outlooks.

I had another theme prepared for this blog...but last minute have decided a more IMPORTANT message is preferable and succinct. I wrote a whole spiel on "being positive and not focusing on the negative all around us" to keep us going in forward motion. Now I think a better message is the following:

The UNhappiness in the world is primarily about people NOT evolving from their primordial roots and being manipulated to imitate previous generation`s UNhappiness or bitterness about the past...which keeps them from moving forward. Most of our inability to function anywhere near full capacity is based on living daily with the recorded "tapes" in our minds of people and institutions telling us who we are or what can or cannot do. Until we can throw off the yokes of mental slavery of our past experiences, we will not excel, evolve or be free to reach our potentials.

Here is to a happier, more evolved New Year :)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Panama Invasion


December 20th is a somber date in Panama`s modern history. Only 22 years ago this month the USA invaded this small country of around 3 Million people in order to take out its dictatorial leader, one Manuel Noriega.

While many may say that Panama of today is totally different and has "boomed" since its "liberation" from dictatorial leadership...I have to question the "totally different" claim. After almost 7 years living here, while I see billions of dollars of new skyscrapers going up everywhere on the skyline...I am not convinced there is much change in the Panamanian people or culture over all. Sure, there are currently more jobs and a higher standard (cost) of living for many people here...but I am not seeing much of the sense of "liberation" in the words and attitudes of my host country.

As is a common theme in my global blogs, I question many of the assumptions and media hyped manipulations of what is and isn't going on here as well as the rest of the world. While many of us who are somewhat educated or come from a more wealthy perspective may find Panama to be a nice calm place to settle in for either retirement or investment, there is a sick underside to what is going on in this country that should be examined in balance to the superficial buildings and gigantic projects such as the Canal expansion and the Metro. The GNP and employment statistics look wonderful for such a small county of still less than 4 Million people. The new "Cinta Costera" boulevard around the bay and the new island being built before our eyes off Punta Pacifica makes this place appear to be the new "Dubai" of the western hemisphere.

Yet, as I read the local papers, listen to the news and talk to Panamanians I am trying to make friends with...I find that among the regular working or poor classes in Panama...they are not in the loop or benefiting much in the long run from these past two decades of "change". If anything, their cost of living is rising significantly compared to their wage base...and with the recently passed TLC trade agreement with the USA and Colombia, many of their agricultural products may end up competing poorly against the higher production and lower prices of the trading partner's goods. If that happens, the locals will be getting less profit on their products, and paying higher prices in the local markets for those same goods. There is no such thing as true "free trade" in today`s markets...and Panama has little or no manufacturing of products outside of agricultural. Most other products (cars, materials, tvs, computers, etc...) are imported and higher priced than they are in the USA or other global markets. This surely does not help the average Panamanian get ahead in this scenario of modern day Panama.

So...what was accomplished on those dark days of December 1989? Pictures and videos speak much louder than words on what took place. The justifications of why are what I think much more complicated...and unfortunately has little to do with the Panamanian people. There are a number of books out there to read perspective by, and I must admit I have been more busy learning and living in Panama in the first person than pursuing many of those third person written accounts or interpretations. I have been reading more from the faces, words, memories and attitudes of typical Panamanians I have met over these years.

While no one I have met admires or wants a return of the likes of Manuel Noriega in leadership, there are many who still prefer his comradeship to that of the oligarchy and political powers of today. Corruption is STILL hugely rampant in this country...in business and in politics. There is no independent judiciary to speak of, so justice is based on who you know and how they like or don`t like you as a local or a foreigner. Supreme Justices are appointed by the President, so that makes justice a very political exercise. Having protection because of WHO you know is comforting for those within those circles, but lets face the fact that a majority of the population are helpless and at the systems mercy if all they know is WHAT their rights SHOULD be. I don`t know what the USA expected to happen post invasion on this front...but from what I have seen...and observed/read about in other places like Iraq, Nicaragua, etc...the results of our invasions and global "policing" are pathetic in comparison to the price in lives and dollars we have paid.

We typical, everyday Americans have no clue what and why our government does these things. We wake up one morning...such as it was in December 1989...to our leader telling us we have ALREADY invaded a foreign land. No warning, no DECLARATION of war, not invited by any internal leadership group. Immediately we Americans get on our flag waving, Bible toting bandwagons in support of what our government has decided...without our participation or voice. I truly hope after this past decade of demise in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan that we are finally learning our lesson. Our military actions are NOT appreciated. The collateral damage of our actions are NOT acceptable. We the people can no longer afford to blindly agree to the machinations of our flawed leaders, political or military. We truly should become the moral, righteous nation we claim to be...even a Christian nation if that is what you want (see my recent blog on that topic).

Poetry in life continues to rear its sometimes ugly head. I cant claim to know why the various country leaders got together to bring Noriega back to Panama just before the anniversary of that unfortunate invasion this month. What politics are in play for passing this Noriega "hot potato" back and forth in the international justice arena for over 22 years? We (Americans and Panamanians) paid a huge price to "take him into custody", and now nobody wants this ugly bundle of human tragedy and waste.

For me the question always is...why does my country spend the money and lives on taking out some of these tyrants in the world...to "bring them to justice"? What happened with justice for the hundreds and possibly thousands of innocent Panamanians who were killed during that short invasion and assault? Why is the guy we were after still alive almost into his 80s, while so many young, poor and middle class Panamanians are forever lost to their families and hopeful futures? Millions of dollars have been spent in international courts and tribunals and sustaining this one pitiful life in jail...for justice...while no one seems to care about the justice of all those Panamanians seen in the video above. How does this make sense to anyone?

These issues are not very comfortable for typical Americans to discuss or rationalize. We dont want to face the facts of our own barbarianism in world affairs. We don`t want to face the hypocrisy of our hidden agendas and power brokering ways that do not particularly defend the rights of all men and women equally. Yes, we have done many noble things in the two World Wars of this century. Our country has spent considerable money and resources on famine relief and rebuilding countries we have helped tear down through the ravages of war. The question we should ask ourselves is WHY do we continue this cycle of tearing down and building up again...and in most cases getting no respect or appreciation for it? I think we have to face the music that much of the world looks at Americans in a very different light than we see ourselves. We might want to start considering that it IS important how the world views us from a standpoint of trust and stability. Most Americans back home that I talk to have very little concern about how foreign countries view us. As long as WE feel good about ourselves...that seems to be the only thing that matters. Yet, I would argue that in the new globalized world we live in with huge reliance on interconnected economies and ruling international institutions...our reputation and true morality is more required than ever before in protection of our OWN interests and sustaining our future in the US of A.

Most of you will not understand the lyrics to Ruben Blades song above. Most of you will not connect with the images of the charred out buildings and bodies on the ground if you have not been in Panama City and met these people face to face. I will tell you though...that we continue to live with the fallout of this action. We Americans living or working in Panama are the face of those who invaded. The few locals who are "happy" about our invasion are those who profited or took power from the vacuum we produced when we left a short time later. A majority of people here RESENT the fact of our invasion...even if they are also happy that Noriega is gone. Their question justifiably is...why did we have to kill so many innocent people to do so? Why could we not have just paid someone to take him out individually? Why could we not have worked behind the scenes politically and otherwise to replace him or get at him? We may never understand the answers to those questions...but I have never identified with the USA policy of non-assassination of despot leaders in the world or in-clandestine operations...yet we readily defend our carpet bombing, strafing skills and expensive Drone planes firing on indiscriminate targets. Something is hugely askew with our perspectives on morality.

As we Americans enjoy our holidays and contemplate a New Year, I hope we spend some time thinking about the motivations and results of our actions as a country...and hopefully commit to a more peaceful, patient, and yes...Christian...approach to our problems and conflicts throughout the world.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Panama, France and "laissez-faire"


Recent political news in Panama features conflicts between President Martinelli of Panama and France`s leader President Sarkozy. It seems that just after Martinelli`s visit to France to review among other things the terms and conditions for the release of former dictator Noriega for return to Panama custody...Sarkozy chose the following week to claim that Panama is not cooperating with them on collecting taxes from their countrymen or corporations in Panama. I guess the meetings in France did not create good karma for whatever reasons. Now Panama authorities are retaliating by cancelling business and finance deals with French sources on some of the major projects going on in Panama.

Regardless of France`claims, I as a foreigner living in Panama can attest to the fact that Panama and its banks have made it much more difficult to open accounts and do business as foreign entities in this small Latin country. It strikes me as somewhat disingenuous of France to make this claim based on what I have seen first hand of the changes and increased taxation taking place in Panama.

What might be more interesting on this front has been the many comments and reactions I have read internationally to this charge. It is quite obvious that France, the USA, Great Britain, and many other Western countries have found themselves in more desperate hard times than they are willing to admit. There is no doubt that there is significant cash flow LEAVING these high tax countries. Of course, the real issue is that it is not foreign money leaving these former economic powerhouses...but significant domestic funds are leaving for better opportunities and lower taxation as well. While it is no shock that these countries are trying to stop that exodus of capital...it is still arguably immoral and illegal for these governments to do so. What they are in fact admitting is that they have allowed their systems to become upside down in debt and social entitlement to the point where their governance is unsustainable. It is much easier to blame a country of less than 4 Million inhabitants for your troubles than to accept blame and take REAL measures to give your constituents real incentives to stay the course behind your leadership economically and otherwise.

While few of us really understand the powers that function behind these superpower trading blocks, there is no doubt that Centralized global funds are running scared. There are huge discrepancies between the economies of many of these main political and governmental partners. They have truly grown "too big to manage" versus "too big to fail". The "Superpowers" of current western persuasion are trying to unite in their efforts to stop the bleeding of funds leaving their losing propositions for more upside elsewhere in the developing world. If people`s votes in these supposed democracies vote against investment and for highly taxing retained profits...the money will find a way to go elsewhere. And yes, you can see a lot of it in the Panama construction boom and rise in domestic and international financing here.

Outside of losing military protections in the canal zone, I find it hard to identify motivators for Panama to work WITH the USA and other superpowers in sustaining their high tax systems. Cant any of these players just admit that "globalization" is here to stay and that tomorrows winners will be those countries who offer the best incentives and lifestyles for living, working and investing within those few countries? Must the world continue to bear the saber rattling and cries of "fowl play" from governments that have been upside down economically for decades now? Must countries like Germany, Switzerland and even Asian countries like China, Taiwan and Singapore continue to bail out the former empirical powers of the West?

Western Civilization has overall lost its edge on managing productivity and profits. They continue to fail in legislating moralities and redistribution of wealth. Technology and globalization has now irrevocably taken away any monopolistic opportunities for superpowers to hog resources or control global money flows. Even the recent unconstitutional taxes that the USA has passed will ultimately fail to rescue their sinking ideology. Only continued market competition between regions and states will keep a real score on who wins the global competition on profits and upward mobility. I would argue that Latin America is getting set to realize significant, sustainable growth primarily because they are now more independent of the superpowers to do so. The USA has lost its insider relationship with these countries...primarily because it has been so preoccupied with fighting terrorism. Unfortunately, they have gotten so caught up in the fighting that they have forgotten it takes money and productivity to create and sustain the machinations of warfare. It is a losing proposition I am afraid. Just look at the lack of fanfare over the USA`s complete pull out of Iraq. Where are all the bands and flag-wavers on this one?

So, this brings us back to little Panama. While all of this global hoopla has been going on over terrorism and EURO meltdowns...Panama and other countries in this region have been growing fast and furious. Banks are full of cash, and unemployment rates are next to nothing....and now the likes of Sarkozy and USA voices come out of the woodwork crying about their loss of revenues and investment to these little Banana Republics.

While all is not perfect in Panama...and I fear they are living and investing in the same track as the USA did historically with big debt against irrational income expectations and entitlements...it is little wonder Panama and other democracies in this region are garnering such huge upticks in economic growth and production. France and other Western powers should simply focus more on encouraging their citizens and domestic companies to become more productive and competitive. Quit making it so easy for the Panamas of the world to pick your pockets of prosperity. After all, "laissez-faire" is a French word and concept...meaning an environment "in which transactions between private parties are free from state intervention, including restrictive regulations, taxes, tariffs and enforced monopolies...and literally means "let do", but it broadly implies "let it be", or "leave it alone."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Litmus Test of Faith


Another Sunday is here...and as has been the case for a couple decades now...I will not be going to church. Does that mean I have no interest or concern for things "spiritual"...as a matter of fact I do. But I have discovered in life that walking into a church or synagogue doesn't make you a Christian or Jew any more than walking into a garage makes you a car.

I have had a few interesting discussions this week with friends who remain a bit more on the fundamental side of Christianity than I have evolved to. While I have less and less interest in discussing or arguing over "beliefs" or theologies that are somewhat mystical or esoteric...I continue to be interested in what people believe in and why...and then cross check those things with my own current understanding. Understanding what and why people believe helps one better predict their actions and determine potentials within a relationship. When it comes to my own sense about people of faith...I have come up with a "Litmus test" that works for me anyway in determining respect for someone`s faith or religion. For me, the effectiveness of faith depends on what ACTIONS or BEHAVIORS result from those beliefs as to whether I can agree with them or not.

I believe there is "good" faith and "bad" faith. Since my religious heritage is Christian, I tend to revert to many Biblical sayings and teachings even if I have strayed a bit from fundamental zealotry over that book...or collection of books I should say. There is a New Testament scripture that says "faith without works is dead"...and in another part it says "by their fruits your will know them" (referring in context to professing versus real believers). It doesnt take us long in this world to find someone who chirps a lot about their faith or their religious traditions...but their actions or lack of integrity does not match up to their claims.

We live in a world full of "faith". We each live daily exercising faith in something or someone. We make plans for the future assuming we will be in good enough health or without disaster to fulfill those plans. We get on airplanes where most of us have no clear understanding of aerodynamics...but we have "faith" in the knowledge and expertise of pilots and airplane builders that this bird will carry us to our next destination. We have faith in financial institutions full of strangers that we trust to guard whatever level of worldly wealth we have earned or acquired. Perhaps there are much better examples than these...but for the sake of argument lets agree we do a lot of things based on 3rd hand or non scientific understanding of how it will work.

As has been a frequent theme in my blogs...I believe true religion or faith should be a UNITER, not a divider, of men and races. I believe that 80% of what the main world religions teach in their churches and books are compatible for the most part. Man made religions spring up over slivers of disagreement over interpretations of what someone said over 2000 years ago. If a reasonable person steps back and analyzes the reasons for various divisions between all the major religions of the world...one may quickly discover frivolity and vitriol in the origins of many of these divisive religions. Most religions or denominations have sprung up over personality contests or false comparisons of who is more like the originator of that religion.

For me, truth is truth, wherever it is found...in whatever book it is found. I think there are truths in the Bible, the Quran, the Talmud...and even the Book of Mormon or Scientology`s new slant on things. Heck, I found truths written in Jimmy Carters interview in Playboy magazine back in the late 70s. The problem comes in most religions when someone or some group claims "exclusivity" over truth or ownership of "God". How presumptive of any person to claim by divine revelation or personal hallucination that they heard a "new" truth about the Supreme Being and everyone should follow them. This for me is the first "oh oh" moment when listening to someone talk about God or their faith.

I think the Christian Bible which I am most familiar with has relevant instruction about this issue:

For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9)

To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to? (Isaiah 40:18)

I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me. (Romans 10:20)

I could go on and on quoting...but let it suffice to say that Gods message to man through ALL the major religions is..."I am God, you are not". You cannot understand nor bring me down to your level. That's why I AM the "Supreme Being". Why are you constantly trying to bring me down to your level of nature and understanding?

It is unfortunate that throughout the history of mankind on earth, we have been fighting and killing each other over our particular religions claims on "God". We continue to do that now, even in the US of A which, while founded on Judeo Christian ethics of freedom and personal sovereignty and responsibility, most Americans have now sacrificed those ideals for securing religious and patriotic ideals for themselves over reasonable and right thinking for all. Instead of PEOPLE helping PEOPLE, we have subjugated ourselves to governments to take care of our futures and act for us. We have aligned our faiths in many instances with a temporary and impure flag of government and state. This mixture of faith and politics has watered down both matters to a level where no one can clearly see right from wrong, either by faith or by principle. We have relegated reasoning and resolution of conflicts to governments and courts which do not necessarily function based on "good faith" principles.

For both people of faith and those of political passion...I suggest we return to the causes of "good" faith that people of all races and religions can agree upon...at least a majority. I think anyone of "good faith" will approve of what I deem the core doctrine of "good" religion, whether you believe in the divinity of Jesus or not. Of course, you`ll notice it mentions nothing of following "rules" or going to church. It primarily focuses on what good faith DOES...

Marks of the True Christian
Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If America wants to truly be a "Christian" nation...it is time for her to take this previous passage to heart...and action. Same goes for Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc... This to me is the secret to having peace in our time...and the litmus test of true Faith.

Why the Average American Investor will always get "shafted"....


--These guys...Paulson and Bernake...are the biggest manipulators and culprits in the manipulation of markets that were supposedly regulated and "free"--

This article about how the US Secretary of the Treasury Paulson gave hedge funds advance word of the government bailout of Fannie Mae is just the latest of many instances where government and SEC insiders get a huge advantage in the American markets over the average American investor. The people MAKING the rules are continually BREAKING them...without reproof.

I continue to believe that investors in the American markets will never get a fair shake while the market manipulators or their lackies are running the SEC and Wall Street. The "old boys club" continues to be alive and well as it always has been. A very small fraction of inside traders get caught or convicted. It is only the middle level or small time players who get taken to the cleaners when someone accuses them...while the guys at the top like Paulson always have a finger to point elsewhere or run under the cover of the most expensive lawyers Wall Street can afford...which are the "best".

I was a licensed investment broker in the mid 1980s and have seen this stuff from up close and personal. It sickened me then, and it sickens me now. These machinations are a big part of the reason I got out of the broker racket. Unless you are part of the inside track machine, you might want to reconsider the idea of investing in direct stocks.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Coming to terms with "Altruism"...


In the past few years, I have found myself involved in a couple projects that I call "altruistic". Probably the best example is having visited the Embera Indians in Panama, met a Peace Corp worker, and thereafter provided a mini Computer Lab to a village that has no running water or electricity. I have some mixed feelings about the whole situation, but the involvement was reticent of decades past when I was involved with troubled youth in America and medical missions in Mexico while in my 20s. I spent probably a total of 5 years of this short life with the motivation of helping others or "saving souls". I still have no idea what the lasting "results" are of those years and dollars spent.

On the other hand...the lessons I learned during those altruistic years...all the people and cultures I experience even while making no money...helped me learn things about life and people you would never learn at Harvard. My understanding of the human condition by both reading and experiencing so many different facets of humanity tremendously affect the person I am today.

After all my reading and youthful conditioning...I still can`t relate totally to Gandhi, Mother Teresa...or even Jesus. While they all in their own ways confronted many realities of humanity and the "meaning of life"...I´m not sure any of them would know what to do with the world we live in today.

Gandhi for me was a replication of Jesus but for the Hindu and Indian races who were so subjugated during his times by white British rule in both India and in South Africa. Like in most religious movements...these movements were born out of reaction to subjugation, suffering and tyranny of one race or nation over another. While some would say "God" is to blame for creating this inhumane nonsense, others seem to think "God" is the answer. Interesting, huh? I have come to think we humans only have OURSELVES to blame for accepting social injustices, wherever and for whoever they are experienced.

To be true to her own cause, Mother Theresa had to practically leave the Catholic church. It is interesting to note that Mother Teresa, the ultimate altruist of our age, had long bouts of doubt regarding her faith and original intents of her "mission". She is quoted as writing...
Where is my faith? Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness ... If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul ... How painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, ... What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.

Some of Jesus own reported final words when dying on the cross were "My God my God...why have you forsaken me?" I can`t help but wonder if in that final moment of dying, Jesus himself seriously doubted the meaning of all the good deeds he had done "for his Father".

When a person performs altruistic acts, it is almost impossible to know the true intent or motivation behind those actions. Is it purely out of "love" or caring, or is the action based on guilt for having more than the person you are helping? Do we help others in order to "be a good person" which makes US feel better...or do we do it "under orders from God" in order to have a "reward in heaven"? How many altruistic persons are truly able to look deep inside to REALLY know the purpose of their altruistic act?

Many people view "selfishness" as the opposite of altruism. Most religions preach that selfishness is immoral or evil. While I grew up on that religious track, I was very challenged by Ayn Rand`s book "The Virtue of Selfishness" which defined selfishness and her reaction to the word`s wrong meaning with the following...

(I define Selfishness as)..."concern with one's own interests. The equation of selfishness with evil, Rand said, has caused "the arrested moral development of mankind" and needs to be rejected.

I have seen much generosity in my life...both towards myself and towards others. I have at times been altruistic...and at other times selfish. Having studied communications and "words" to a significant extent, I always find it interesting to hear people discuss their altruistic activities or actions. I have often heard people say "I am happiest when I am giving to others", or "It made me feel so good to give or help "so and so"...". Doesn`t sound very "sacrificial" to me.

In addition, I have seen extravagant boasting about "giving". You only have to spend 5 minutes on most Evangelical TV programs in America to hear the rantings of extreme "givers" who boast how much money they sent to such and such mission...or how they received "ten fold" in return for whatever they had given to that program or church. Whenever I have observed this, I have been reminded of the words of Jesus when he was quoted as saying

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4)

I think I have evolved to a realistic viewpoint on giving and altruism...at least for me. It is probably a unique blend of my religious upbringing tied to some original views on what it means to be a "Humanitarian". I tend not to give money to institutions or third parties to distribute to someone else. I have grown to be very distrusting of most such institutions...from NGO types like the "Red Cross", "March of Dimes", UNICEF and others...to religious organizations such as "World Vision" and the various TV "ministries". Most that I have seen...some from way too up close...have involved a high percentage of administration and overhead to where the actual "mission" receives a small percentage of the money given. Many of these organizations also put demands or qualifiers in order for the poor or victims to get help. They have to attend certain meetings, certain churches or perhaps sign up to back certain political movements in order to receive the handout. I`m just not seeing the results from this form of "altruism".

Now lets think a couple minutes about familial "altruism". After all, this is probably where the most "charity" is exchanged within humanity. Fortunes tend to be built and based on multi-generational exchanges within certain cultures and families. By "luck" or destiny, some of us were born into families of wealth and education. Most upper-class families I have observed tend to be substantially about preserving or making more of their estate for future generations. An interesting footnote along this line might be that some of the greatest fortunes ever made were by individuals who came from poverty or underprivileged backgrounds. I think it is rare that this happens, but when it does, it comes from motivations where the individual has nothing to lose and everything to gain to take great risks...that sometimes turn into great rewards. On the other hand, some of the greatest fortunes LOST have been at the hands of those who never made a dime of their own. The game of life seems to often be played in the arena of who will make the fortune and how many family members will it take to spend or waste it all. This seems to be a never ending cycle in history that speaks to character differences between the acheivers and the "users".

There is no doubt in my mind that it is better to teach a person to fish than to give them fish. Same with money...it is better to help someone "make their own" than to give them unlimited amounts to spend or more likely "waste". It has been my observation that we humans don`t respect money we have not made ourselves. Human nature I guess. Herein lies my fundamental difference with traditional "socialism" or communism. Redistribution of wealth is rarely respected by those on the receiving end. While there are obvious cases of societal members who deserve or need our altruism and support...that number is not nearly as high as today's hoards clamoring for those handouts.

For me the best model for both giving and receiving of altruistic acts is a mixture of my Judeo Christian roots and the more humanist manifestos I have been undoubtedly influenced by. I think "to whom much is given, much is required". I believe this goes for the "receiver" as well as the source. I think "sharing" is meant to be passed on. Any rational person knows we can`t take material wealth with us after we die. Therefore, money and "things" are only meaningful as a form of combustible life-force while we are living. It primarily serves as a "measure" of our productivity and influence in our short lives. Our legacy beyond this life often hinges on what we did with what we had and what we left behind or built with it. Some "star" producers can blow millions on cocaine and fast toys like planes, boats and cars. Other producers are like the "millionaire next door" who hardly ever spends a dime and never flaunts what they possess. I think both extremes can be quite unhealthy in this life. People shouldn`t feel guilty about spending and enjoying what they have earned...but some should obviously feel guilty about what they have wasted in self destructive ways while leaving in their wakes millions of people who would have better used their luck and fortune.

So, in summary, I think there is virtue in Selfishness...and there is virtue in Altruism. It all comes down to motivations and purpose. For me there is no great pride in inherited wealth. Sure, it is okay to be proud of your family and previous generations who HOPEFULLY gained their wealth honestly and with integrity. Unfortunately history has shown that many great fortunes are built via dishonesty, stealing, slavery or other terrible human habits. There is no great pride in stealing...unless I guess that is your only profession or talent.

The most interesting and respectable individuals of wealth I have known were those who "made their own". These people tend to be of great character, hard workers, disciplined and self sacrificing. The luckiest people I have known are the hardest working ones. These people also tend to be the most responsible "givers" in that they expect the receiver to respect what it took to make the money or goods being charitably given. To that extent they might be called "selfish" givers because of their expectations...but I think that is a healthy form of "selfishness".

So...is there virtue in selfishness? Probably. Is there virtue in Altruism? Sometimes. Depends on your motivation...in both cases.