Jul
29

Watching Rome burn

Part 2 in a series

By Katie Kieffer

Capitoline Sunset. Rome, Italy. Image credit: flickr – MarcelGermain.

If Rome was so prosperous and peaceful during the first and second century AD, why did she fall? You’ve probably heard people say, “Rome was not built in a day.” Well, Rome also did not fall overnight. It took repeated corruption and poor governance over time for Rome to reach a point of such extreme weakness that German barbarians were able to conquer her. Given how similar America’s balanced constitution to that of the Roman Republic’s and given America’s similar respect for equality and freedom before the law, it is very important for us to understand why Rome fell so that we do not make the same mistakes that she did. Today, I’m going to share with you how Rome brought on her own destruction. She weakened herself to the point of no return through inflation, excessive taxation, military over-extension and political corruption.

Subsidies

Rome planted the seeds her own destruction when she began subsidizing bread for all Roman males and raising taxes. As early as 58 B.C., Rome started a policy of distributing free grain to Roman citizens. Over time, emperors expanded the dole to include free pork, oil and even wine. Roman politicians subsidized frivolous items for political gain and helped bankrupt Rome.
'Roma nel bicchiere - Rome in the glass.' Image credit: flickr.com/photos/geomangio.

'Roma nel bicchiere – Rome in the glass.' Image credit: flickr – Geomangio.

High Taxes

  Rome needed to charge high taxes to pay for its growing subsidies and military costs. As Rome expanded geographically and became militarily involved in the Middle East, she needed to pay for an army to keep the people in line and make sure they were paying their taxes. The taxes were high and inconsistent. Eventually, free Romans chose to sell themselves as servants to wealthy Roman landowners because they could no longer afford to pay Rome’s taxes. The Roman government ended up denouncing individual freedoms entirely and began seizing private property such as food or cattle or land. The free enterprise system eroded and Romans became very unhappy and discontent because they were either forced to perpetually work in an occupation or trade dictated by the state or they were forced to join the army – for life.  

Inflation

In order to pay for ever-growing military and government costs, many Roman emperors chose to devalue the Roman currency which led to inflation. In truth, inflation was just another form of taxation. For examle, the denarious was the basic Roman coin. The denarious started out as a 100% silver coin. However, over time, subsequent Roman emperors reduced the silver content of the denarious so that by the middle of third century AD, it had just a 5 percent silver content.

Intervention in the Middle East

Julius Caesar was a military conqueror and he zealously expanded the Roman empire.
Statue of Julius Caesar. Rome, Italy. Image copyright Katie Kieffer. All rights reserved.

Statue of Julius Caesar. Rome, Italy. Image copyright Katie Kieffer. All rights reserved.

By the second century AD, nearly the entire Middle East was under Rome’s military rule.  As you can imagine, the Middle East became a huge drain on Rome’s military and Rome’s citizens. Not only was the Middle East a huge distraction for Rome’s commander-in-chief, but it was a huge drain on Rome’s economy. Does Rome’s intervention in the Middle East remind you of the U.S. government’s drive to spend time, resources and money it doesn’t have by trying to patrol the world like ‘World Police‘ – as the creators of South Park might say? The Fall of Rome   Eventually, Rome’s citizens became so poor that they could not afford to pay the government’s taxes and maintain Rome’s military. As Rome’s politicians became increasingly corrupt and dismissive of individual liberty, vice replaced virtue in Roman society. Adultery, divorce, prostitution and broken families supplanted the once stable, family-oriented culture. In the end, Rome fell because she abandoned her constitution and her cultural values. After she had become both spiritually and economically weak, she was conquered by German invaders. Interestingly, many Romans actually welcomed the takeover because the barbarians allowed Romans to return to relative self-governance. Stay tuned to find out about “Rome’s Ronald Reagan” and the best hope for American free enterprise. For Part 1 in this series, click here. Primary Sources: HERITAGE LECTURES: The Lessons of the Roman Empire of America Today by J. Rufus Fears, PhD. The Cato Journal: Vol. 14, Number 2, Fall 1994, “How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome,” by Bruce Bartlett.

Jul
27

‘Roma-romama!’

Part 1 in a series

By Katie Kieffer
Katie Kieffer in front of the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome. Image copyright Katie Kieffer. All rights reserved.

Katie Kieffer in front of the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome. Image copyright Katie Kieffer. All rights reserved.

Our founding fathers were obsessed with the Roman Republic. They studied it meticulously and their goal was to form a democratic republic in the United States of America that would replicate and mirror the Roman Republic’s strengths while avoiding Rome’s mistakes. In the first and second centuries AD, Rome was governed by a balanced constitution. The Roman Republic was a decentralized government. There were checks and balances on power, which our founding fathers liked. There was a Senate and three law-making citizen assemblies that had the power to influence and guide the decisions of the consul or the commander-in-chief. Rome held popular elections for the offices of chief magistrates. Roman jurists like Ulpian, rooted the law in the belief that all men were created equal and they had inalienable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The taxes were so low that the average Roman citizen only had to work two days a year to pay his taxes. Consequently, the Roman Empire experienced great economic growth, peace and prosperity during this time. Rome herself was free from foreign domination and expanded geographically. Like the United States, the Roman Republic was also successful because it was united by a strong bond of spirituality and common values. The Romans adopted many of the cultural values of classical Greece and, consequently, they were united by common values and a common spirituality. Jupiter Optimus Maximus was Rome’s imperial divinity.  The Roman law upheld the values of the culture and protected individual freedom. Rome’s influence on America goes beyond our constitution. Even America entertainment and culture, still, to this day, reveal Rome’s influence on America. Take the Colosseum, for example.
Roman Colosseum

Colosseum – Rome. Image copyright Katie Kieffer. All rights reserved.

This elliptical amphitheater in the heart of Rome is where gladiators fought. It could seat 50,000 roaring fans and it was the largest amphitheater in the entire Roman Empire. Now, think about the comparisons between gladiator games in the coliseum and football, which is America’s most popular sport. In American football, you have that gladiator style of play and the loud and enormous crowds. There are even some football teams that refer to their stadiums as coliseums. And there’s the Super Bowl, the biggest gladiatorial-style game of them all – which is always denoted by Roman numerals.

Why does Rome’s rise and fall matter to the U.S.?

So, if Rome was so prosperous and peaceful during the first and second century AD, why did she eventually fall? You’ve probably heard people say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Well, Rome also did not fall overnight. It took repeated corruption and poor governance over time for Rome to reach a point of such weakness that she was eventually able to be conquered by the German Barbarians. In this series, I will share the story of how Rome rose to success as a world super power. I will also showcase the actions Rome took that brought on her own destruction. Given how similar America’s balanced constitution is to that of the Roman Republic’s and given America’s similar respect for equality and freedom before the law, it is very important for us to understand why Rome fell so that we do not make the same mistakes she did. Stay tuned for more. Primary Sources: HERITAGE LECTURES: The Lessons of the Roman Empire of America Today by J. Rufus Fears, PhD. The Cato Journal: Vol. 14, Number 2, Fall 1994, “How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome,” by Bruce Bartlett.

Jul
21

Incept your own dream

Part 2 of 2

By Katie Kieffer

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in “Inception.” Image credit: Melissa Moseley/Warner Bros. Pictures.

As an American, you can determine your own life. You can make your dreams realities. A new study indicates that young American professionals out-dream young professionals around the world, and they have free enterprise to thank. A recent global research study conducted by Johnson Controls asked young people in the U.S., UK, China and India to rank their top priorities in choosing an employer. While Americans ranked “meaningful work” as their first priority in choosing an employer, young people in the UK said that “work colleagues” were their first priority and ranked “meaningful work” third. Chinese young professionals did not even list meaningful work” as one of their top three priorities – ranking “opportunities for learning” highest. Young people in America grow up with the belief that they can do anything. According to this study, they also have a very individualist approach to life. This outlook on life is different from young professionals in the UK, and drastically different from young professionals in China. This study suggests that young people define the scope of their dreams by their economic freedom. Today, young people in America have more economic freedom than young people in the UK or in China, and therefore it’s not surprising that they have higher criteria for achieving happiness on the job. My assessment is that young people who grow up with the most freedom have the biggest dreams. Americans see meaningful work as their first priority because they know they can potentially achieve it. The UK has built a more socialist state than the U.S., so Europeans are less confident that they can achieve “meaningful work,” and so they rank it third rather than first. After analyzing this study, I surmise that Europeans settle for jobs where their “work colleagues” are friendly because they know their chances of finding a job in their field of choice are slim. This study suggests that young people in the UK set their sights low because of they understand the reality of their economic conditions. So, Europeans prioritize having chummy colleagues over actually having jobs where they are using their talents and education to the fullest. The Chinese young professionals ranked “opportunities for learning” as their first priority in the Johnson Controls study and failed to list “meaningful work” as one of their top three priorities. I think this is because they have little real hope for growing up to do whatever they want (“meaningful work”), but learning is a realistic dream. As I discussed here, young Chinese professionals understand that a true free market system does not exist in China. The government controls the economy and young Chinese professionals forgo dreams of independence and home ownership for reality. They live like ants – piled on top of each other in one-window rooms without air conditioning or running water in order to find temporary work in a big city like Beijing. My overall interpretation of the data in this study is that young professionals in socialist or communist countries do not dream as boldly or as independently as young people in the U.S. because they lack the economic freedom that exists in the U.S. This study indicates why young American professionals should care about preserving and strengthening free market principles in America: Free market principles give us the power to dream big because big dreams are achievable within a free market system.
Statue of Liberty, New York. Image credit: visitingdc.com.

Statue of Liberty, New York. Image credit: visitingdc.com.

There is some truth to the French thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville’s notion of American exceptionalism. In his book, Democracy in America, Tocquiville said America is exceptional because she has been founded on freedom and a balanced constitution that respects the God-given inalienable rights of all men. Our government’s foundation in freedom and a balanced constitution gives young Americans the power to dream big dreams and the opportunity to do what they are best at and most passionate about. We need get involved and preserve freedom and free enterprise in America in order to preserve our own American dream. Leonardo DiCaprio can’t start – or incept – our dreams for us, but we can each do it for ourselves.

Jul
19

Jobless & drinking Jameson

Part 1 of 2

By Katie Kieffer
Jameson Irish Whiskey. Image credit: luxurylounge.ca.

Jameson® Irish Whiskey. Image credit: luxurylounge.ca.

If you’re a young, talented and educated Irish professional, chances are you’re drinking Jameson® and bemoaning your job prospects. Now that I’m back from a long visit in Ireland, I’m convinced that economic freedom  is the cornerstone of success for a young person – no matter what part of the world you are from. Between 1995 and 2007, the Irish economy was called the Celtic Tiger because it was performing so well. Today, Ireland belongs to a group of countries called PIIGS, due to government debt levels and deficits relative to annual GDP. Ireland’s retreat from free market principles is disappointing considering the free-spirited history of the Irish people. As Ronald Reagan remarked at the Shannon Airport upon arrival to Ireland on June 1, 1984, ‘There are few people on Earth whose hearts burn more with the flame of freedom than the Irish. George Washington said, “When our friendless standard was first unfurled for resistance, who were the strangers who first mustered around our staff? And when it reeled in fight, who more bravely sustained it than Erin’s generous sons?”‘ Young people in Ireland spend small fortunes and many years studying in the best Irish grad schools to become doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, architects, planners and surveyors. Yet, despite this advanced education, they simply cannot find jobs in Ireland. So, how do young Irish professionals feel about this dismal situation in Ireland, and how are they coping? They have no choice but to leave their families and move elsewhere in order to use their advanced degrees. One recent pharmacy grad, Edel Greene, told the Independent in May of this year that, “It’s embarrassing to go on social welfare as a qualified pharmacist.” She is moving to London for a job, but she says: “I would like to come home at some stage and I can’t see that happening for a long time.” But, many young and educated Irish professionals are not fortunate enough find work in their field in another country, as Greene did. So, they have to pick up temporary jobs and hope for the best. In the U.S., our president embraces socialist European policies that “spread the wealth” and penalize small businesses. Young Irish professionals are facing a job crisis that even the smoothest Irish whiskey cannot cure – because the government has restricted economic freedom. We don’t want to go there. In Part Two, I will discuss a brand new study that compares young American professionals to those around the world.

Jul
15

How to win fans in America

By Katie Kieffer Joe Mauer signed baseball.Royalty doesn’t sit well with Americans. Our ancestors sailed across the pond to free themselves from pompous aristocrats. Americans believe that all men are equal before God, not that certain men should be treated as gods. If you’re a pro athlete and you want to win fans in America, you need to respect American ideals. These include gratitude and humility, of which basketball star Lebron James has proved deficient throughout his process of moving from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat as a free agent.
LeBron James celebrates his move to the Miami Heat. Image credit: FOX Sports.

Lebron James celebrates his move to the Miami Heat. Image credit: FOX Sports.

Americans want choice. We want to choose our celebrities and we expect our celebrities to at least appreciate where they came from. We don’t mind if they drink Champagne for breakfast and get chauffeured to their private jets. We don’t even hold it against them if they’re a celebrity for no apparent reason (i.e. Paris Hilton). But, if you’re Lebron James and you dub yourself ‘King,’ believing your fans will eternally grovel at your feet – regardless if you leave them for another city, use an hour of prime-time TV to announce your decision to move and then celebrate with a wild fanfare – you’ll turn American sports fans away from your alter. You’ll cause your sport’s commissioner to label your “Decision” as “ill-conceived.” You will incite your hurt and angry hometown fans to tear down your mural, set fire to your No. 23 jersey and throw rocks at your billboard. Here are three tips from our own hometown hero, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, rated the most “fan-friendly” athlete in all of sports by “Joe Phan” of ESPN The Magazine.

Look yourself in the mirror everyday.

Joe Mauer faced a similar decision to Lebron about a year before he would have become a free agent. Mauer decided to sign an eight year contract extension, essentially guaranteeing that he would retire with the same fans that brought him to life. Mauer chose his hometown team and says he’s never looked back. According to Joe Phan, Mauer answers and signs all his fan mail with a personal touch. Mauer told ESPN, “I remember getting that first fan letter. It still feels cool. It’s not work when you read this stuff from people. So I decided a while back that this is important.” Here’s a video of Mauer responding to fan mail with his mother: Mauer is not one to preach from the pulpit and tell other athletes how to act. His one piece of advice for Lebron reveals his genuine desire for the basketball star to succeed:

Joe Mauer enters a news conference at the Twins' training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., on March 22, 2010 during which he signed a new $184 million contract extension, flanked by Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, right, and Justin Morneau, second from right. Image credit: AP Photo/Steven Senne.

Mauer told MLB.com, “He [LeBron] has to live with what he decides and I hope that he’s happy with it. It’s kind of tough. I’m not sure with how the NBA works with all the salary caps but he’s probably going to sign a pretty lengthy deal so he’s going to be there for awhile. So I just hope for him that he’s happy with his decision.” LeBron said he has “no doubts,” about his decision. But, so far, many sports fans and former LeBron fans are expressing emotions ranging from disgust to outrage at his decision and the manner in which he announced his decision.

Look outside yourself.

Joe Mauer took home the jackpot when this year’s All-Star Game votes were counted. Mauer received the most fan votes to the 81st All-Star Game and the third-highest number of votes in all-star history. 5,372,606 to be exact. At the end of the day, LeBron openly admitted that his primary motivation in choosing the Heat was his personal obsession with winning. He may discover that this self-centered motivator will backfire on him in the years ahead. Although faced with shoulder, hip and back pain and a grueling schedule, Mauer still chooses to get up early and meet with fans, hold press conferences, and help multiple charities. Due to his pain, he considered sitting out of the All-Star Game, but ultimately said, “I kind of went back and forth a little bit, but this is a great event. It’s a great honor to be the top vote getter.”

Joe Mauer preps for game against Oakland A's on July 22, 2009. Image credit: Brad Mangin.

Mauer is loyal to his fans and his hometown team, and they are loyal right back.

Get in touch with your human side.

While Lebron James refers to himself in the third person and appears to consider himself royalty, Joe Mauer’s humble talent leads his opponents to treat him with respect, even when his performance is down. Perhaps Mauer’s talent is more believable because it’s more human. As Blue Jays catcher John Buck told Kelsie Smith with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, “When you talk about him in the meetings, it’s the same things,” said Buck, who called pitches against Mauer in Toronto last week. “I think if you go to any pitcher, any pregame pitchers’ meeting, there is not one pitcher for one second thinking, ‘Oh, Joe Mauer is struggling.’ He’s still Joe Mauer; if you make that mistake, he’s still going to hit you.” “If you’re going to throw him balls off the plate, he’s still not going to bite. He’s going to stay disciplined. I think that’s obviously what makes him so tough to pitch against, even now while he’s so-called struggling or not being Joe Mauer. I think people are realizing he might be superhuman rather than super-nonhuman or robotic. He’s actually just superhuman now.” Lebron would stop hemorrhaging fans if he followed Mauer’s lead and expressed genuine gratitude to his hometown, made peace with Cleveland fans and began de-emphasizing his royal ‘Kingdom.’  After all, royalty is so overrated.

Jul
12

Lookin’ at a winner

3 ways the USA dominates soccer

By Katie Kieffer

USA's Clint Dempsey of USA celebrates his goal against Brazil with his team during the FIFA Confederations Cup Final on June 28, 2009 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Image credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images via soccer.teamusa.org.

Pass U.S. the ball. ‘Cause she’s a winner, winner, winner. Team USA did not hoist the World Cup trophy on its shoulders in South Africa. But, what the sports world, even in the U.S., has overlooked, is that Team USA and the U.S. have made soccer the popular and profitable sport that it is today. Today, the U.S. influences and contributes to the growth and development of soccer more than any other country in the world. Here’s how:

ROLE MODELS

  • Safe and fun atmosphere: In America, we are passionate about soccer without becoming obsessed. Players do not need to fear for their lives if they make a mistake like the late Colombian soccer player, Andrés Escobar Saldarriaga. As sports columnist Christine Brennan of USA Today points out, “By not being single-mindedly devoted to soccer, aren’t U.S. fans exhibiting a laudable sense of perspective? They respect the World Cup, mostly — bad calls, bad acting, bad leadership and all — but they don’t live and die with it. One could make a case that this is a very good thing.”
  • Sportsmanship: Our team played honorably and stood out from the Ghana players faking injuries and the French handballs that robbed Ireland of a chance at the 2010 World Cup.
  • Responsibility: The U.S. soccer team takes their celebrity seriously. As Ronald Bum of the Associated Press reported, U.S. coach Bob Bradley said, “You want to have a team that the people who care about … and follow that team and root for that team and can feel part of. A team that people believe in and a team that people are proud of. And so, that’s part of our responsibility, and we’re excited in the moment that there’s that kind of feeling.”

Team USA head coach Bob Bradley during the FIFA World Cup Qualifying soccer match between the USA and Mexico at Azteco Stadium in Mexico City, Mexico on August, 2009. Image credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images North America.

$OCCER’$ GREEN MACHINE

  • Economic boon for other countries: If it weren’t for U.S. investors, soccer would be a whole different ballgame – one with less glamor, fun and profitability.The U.S. hires foreign-born stars such as David Beckham and Fredrik Ljungberg to play on her teams and recruits British pros like Martin Tyler to analyze her game on ABC/ESPN. Thanks to American sponsors such as McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Visa, and live TV coverage of the World Cup on American networks, there are suddenly millions of Americans are familiar with players from the Republic of Cameroon. Millions of Americans watched Spain’s historic soccer glory yesterday on ABC. No doubt this will prove a boon for Spain’s floundering economy.

    David Beckham plays for the LA Galaxy.

  • Television coverage & Sponsors: A primary reason TIME Magazine can report that, “Africa was the world’s third largest TV audience for soccer in 2006″ is because of U.S. investment in soccer.FIFA president, Joseph S. Blatter, was able to bring soccer to Africa and Asia because of the U.S.’ success in soccer and investments made based off of that success.Television is “central” to the World Cup and allowed Blatter to make “the game truly global, taking it to Asia and Africa,” says TIME Magazine.Television coverage and financial sponsors for the game came from the U.S.According to TIME Magazine, “The still unsurpassed success of the U.S. tourney allowed Blatter to float TV packages for the 2002 and 2006 tournaments to the highest bidder on a country-by-country basis. Under Blatter, FIFA began soliciting only the biggest brands and corporations, and all rights packages and sponsorship deals were sold for two World Cups at a time, guaranteeing fees against volatility in the global economy. The packages don’t come cheaply: in 2006, Blatter enticed more than $875 million from FIFA’s top sponsors.”
GROWING THE GAME The U.S. is popularizing soccer at an unmatched pace.
  • Fan base: “More tickets to the World Cup were purchased in the U.S. than in any other country except the host nation,” reports Bill Saporito.
  • Participants: TIME Magazine reports that, in the U.S., “Soccer trails only basketball in the number of participants.”
  • Media: American media giants have helped give credence to soccer as an American and worldly pastime. Vanity Fair has featured foreign stars such as Christiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba on it’s cover – while the Fox network chose live coverage of an Inter Milan vs. Bayern Munich soccer game over live coverage of a New York Yankees vs. New York Mets baseball game, reports TIME Magazine.
Soccer is thriving in America, and it is alive and well in the world. Much of soccer’s growth is attributable to the passion of American soccer fans and participants – as well as the investments of American capitalists. This video showing the reactions of from Team USA fans across the U.S. and around the world to Landon Donovan‘s last-minute winning goal against Algeria. It will shred any doubts of America’s passion for soccer: World Reacts To Landon Donovan’s Goal – Watch more Funny Videos

Jul
07

Finding beauty in life

By Katie Kieffer

Twin Cities Finest recipient, Katie Kieffer, conducts an interview at White Rock Coffee to learn more about cystic fibrosis. Image copyright Katie Kieffer. All rights reserved.

Life is a beautiful thing. That is why the freedom to give generously to others and to choose gratitude over discontent elevates humanity. I was recently nominated by the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Foundation as one of the Twin Cities 25 Finest Young Professionals. Prior to being honored in this way, I was not fully aware of the impacts of this genetic disease. Recently, I was fortunate to interview Chelsea Votel – an amazing and optimistic young woman who is living with cystic fibrosis. In the video below, Chelsea tells me about her daily regimen to manage cystic fibrosis and her hope for the future. I think you will find the video inspiring and eye-opening. Video filmed and produced by Charles Eide of Forever Film Studios. Katie Kieffer’s CF Video from Forever Films on Vimeo. The CF Foundation is a highly efficient non-profit that is making real headway in finding a cure for cystic fibrosis. There are therapies in development in the CF Foundation’s pipeline – including several new drugs that, if approved, could add a decade to the life of individuals coping with cystic fibrosis. Currently, the median life expectancy for individuals living with cystic fibrosis is 37.4 years old.  Thank you for considering making a generous donation to the CF Foundation. Special thanks to White Rock Coffee Roasters for generously providing a filming location for this video and to Forever Film Studios for their amazing videography. Video copyright Katie Kieffer. All rights reserved. No portion of this video may be edited or reproduced without written consent from Katie Kieffer.