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Flush with success is taking on an unfortunate meaning.

Flush with success is taking on an unfortunate meaning.

Something is seriously out of whack. Why do so many average Americans (those with full-time jobs) seem to be unenthusiastic about their work? When is the last time you heard anyone talking about becoming a millionaire instead of just scraping by? The focus in the current economy seems to be on downsizing and unemployment instead of wild success or even just growth. No one speaks, let alone thinks, of rewards anymore. Who dares to dream about starting their own business these days? Where are all the entrepreneurs?
Incentives? Carrots have become sticks. Visions of sugarplums are gone, replaced by fears of inflation, foreclosures, and punitive taxes. Retirement plans are pushed back. Class warfare is far too commonplace. Even young guys like Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg who achieve beyond their wildest dreams talk about giving away half their fortunes. More on that in a minute.
It is easy to blame a difficult global economy and a world of low cost competitors. But the answers lie a lot closer to home. America has lost its way. This is still the land of opportunity built on free enterprise and initiative. However, decades and decades of perpetual government growth adding more and more unelected bureaucracies and departments and officials and regulators, all funded by a tax system that is Byzantine and designed to punish and disincentivize the achievers and job creators.
As the Wikileaks scandal(s) and the latest TSA controversy illustrate, the U.S. government is doing a pretty lousy job of protecting itself and its citizens. So, why is anyone still buying the concept that going after the rich, French Revolution style, is a winning strategy for economic recovery. How is giving the government more funds to waste a help to anyone?
Both major political parties and all citizens of this country have their work cut out for them in re-engineering government at all levels in the coming years. Socialists need to take a basic economics class so they understand that it is not desirable for government to take on nanny-state responsibilities for an entire nation of adult-size Depends wearers. A healthy private enterprise sector is vital to American economic vitality and global economic vitality. Capitalists need to wake up to responsibilities far beyond short-term profits and start investing more in American-based operations and communities. That includes examining government largesse toward big business and specific industries through lobbying, healthy subsidies, and tax breaks — the system is currently unfairly stacked against small businesses where so many Americans are employed and so much innovation begins. Government needs to learn to spend less and spend wisely.

If more of us were this rich, we could afford to give away half our fortunes to charities. And that's a good thing.

If more of us were this rich, we could afford to give away half our fortunes to charities. And that's a good thing.

Doubling back to Marc Zuckerberg, he has announced plans to give away half his fortune to charities, part of a campaign started by Warren Buffet, who is appealing to the consciences of the uber-wealthy. That is different from the idea espoused by another high-profile millionaires group, which has come out in support of boosting the tax rates of the very rich. Nothing is stopping these extraordinarily well-off folks from contributing more of their fair share of taxes directly to the US Treasury now. Unless it is the nagging doubt that such a generous act would be akin to flushing those funds down the sewer line.
The rest of us need to start dreaming big again. It would be great to be so successful in business that we can become like Scrooge McDuck, dancing hip-high in currency in our own private vaults, knowing we will still be comfortable and well-provided for after donating half of everything to help others.

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Duck Tours

Duck Tours

Some times it is fun to learn what is going on at home when you’re on vacation. That was not the case last week, while in Boston with my family. We were grabbing lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant when my oldest son looked up at the TV and noticed a scene from Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing waterfront area featured on CNN. The story was about the sinking of a Ride the Ducks tourist amphibious vehicle following a collision with a barge. Ironically, at that moment, my wife was on her cell calling the Boston version of this attraction to get information on departures later that day.
Needless to say, this story resonated with my family the rest of the week. We had all taken the Philadelphia tour the other year and enjoyed it a lot. Even though, we were familiar with all the on land sites, it was fun to see them from a new perspective and the 20 minutes or so in the Delaware River was a view of our city we’d never seen before. Throw in the plastic “quackers” and the fun Philly music favorites played on the Ducks’ speakers and you had a winning outing for all ages. We were more than interested in repeating the experience in Boston.
For awhile the story seemed to get better. Initially, it sounded as if all the passengers were rescued and that those who were had not been seriously injured. Then, news came that two passengers were unaccounted for. As time wore on, hope began to fade and eventually the bodies of 16-year-old girl and a 20-year-old man from a Hungarian church group touring the states were recovered. A sad riverside memorial service on Saturday indicates that the thoughts and prayers of many in the city go out to the families of Dora Schwendtner and Szabolcs Prem.
Reading the detailed accounts in the Philadelphia Inquirer answered most of our questions as to how this tragedy could have happened. This tidal section of the Delaware River is a major shipping channel, and although the tourist boats stay close to shore, unforeseen circumstances such as this can bring them into harm’s way when motor trouble occurs. Making matters worse, the barge was being powered from the other side by a tugboat attached near the rear. There was evidently no visual recognition that the stranded duck tour vehicle was even in the barge’s path.
One surprising revelation came from Chris Edmonston, Director of Boating Safety at the Boat US Foundation. He noted that a Pennsylvania rule that requires children 12 and younger to wear life jackets applies only to recreational vessels. Commercial vessels must have enough life vests for everyone on board, but passengers are not required to wear them. This tragedy could spur a change in that regulation. From passenger accounts, it sounded as if things went from minor problem to full-blown chaos very quickly. Plus, if we should have learned one thing from the current BP rig disaster it’s that we must never forget Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” A corollary to that might be that “No matter how many contingencies we plan for, there will always be another one that we didn’t plan for.”

Duck Tours

Duck Tours

That might be why the very next day after Philadelphia’s tragedy, the streets of Boston were still active with so many of their own Ducks tours. The ones I saw were all filled with eager tourists. Either they hadn’t heard the sad news

Duck Tours

Duck Tours

from the Delaware River or they didn’t believe in lightning striking twice.
From a PR and marketing perspective, I guess this all makes sense. The Ride the Ducks tour company seemed to be taking appropriate steps. The President flew up from Atlanta to Philadelphia and made himself accessible to address questions promptly. Not sure that Boston’s duck tours are run by the same company, but regardless, all their livelihoods depend on making tourism fun. You just hope they will incorporate everything they learn from the Philadelphia tragedy into standard operating procedures going forward to also make tourism safe. Improvements that might prevent future tragedies are the least that should be done in memory of Dora and Szabolcs.

Historical Footnote: Peter Binzen writing for The Inquirer has an interesting bittersweet personal account about usage of the Ducks in WWII in Italy.

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