Sunday, May 21, 2006

THE IMPORTANCE OF LANGUAGE IN CULTURAL UNITY

U.S. lawmakers have renewed an old debate over whether to make English the nation's official language. On Friday, the Senate passed two measures, one declaring English the nation's official language and the other its "common and unifying" tongue.

Interestingly, the White House initially voiced support for both measures. White House officials later waffled, trying to draw a distinction between an "official" language and a "national" language, the latter of which the President is said to endorse. If you're confused, you're not alone.

The proposal declaring English as the national language requires immigrants seeking citizenship to demonstrate a “sufficient understanding of the English language for usage in everyday life.” Sounds reasonable, right? Apparently most people agree. In an MSNBC online poll, 67% of respondents favored recognizing English as the national language of the U.S.

The idea is to promote assimilation and unity.

Legislation declaring English as a "common and unifying" language would accomplish nothing, other than stating the obvious. It's simply a feel good measure. Everyone already knows that English is the common language of the U.S. And if it's also unifying, then why not make it official? How can anyone argue against unity?

Some 158 nations have included a specific measure in their constitutions proclaiming one or more national languages. The United States is one of the relatively few without such a measure.

Canadian lawmakers have struggled to placate a divided nation by promoting bilingualism. Everything from cereal boxes to highway signs are written in both French and English. Except, that is, in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, where English has been eliminated as the officially sanctioned language.

Culture is not only a unique part of a nation's identity, but an invaluable one as well. Culture has a unifying quality that pulls people together, giving them binding commonalities and collective characteristics. In countries around the world where citizens lack a common culture, there is often tremendous strife, as evidenced in the Balkans, regions of the African continent, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East, to name a few. In the places where people have been able to identify, and in some cases exploit, their obvious differences, deadly consequences have often ensued. National customs, values and mores are all important aspects of culture, as is language.

In just the last decade alone, our northerly neighbor, Canada, has managed to survive intact despite repeated attempts by residents of Quebec to secede. The reason? They believe, rightly so, that their culture is distinctly different than that of the rest of their countrymen. Quebec is the French-speaking province of Canada, with a uniquely French flavor and flair. The competing languages of Canada, English and French, have long caused national dissension and discord.

When President Bush visited Canada for talks with then Prime Minister Paul Martin, every statement the two leaders made, the subsequent questions from reporters of both nations, and the leaders' responses to those questions, had to be recited in both English and French. This wasn't for the benefit of the citizens of both nations, but for the people of Canada alone. The process not only made the press conference long-winded and exhausting, but it also pointed out the division and lack of national unity in Canada.

The U.S. has never formally made English its official language, but that time has come. While Americans should be encouraged to be bilingual, or even multi-lingual, since that ability is so vital to business and trade, having to cow-tow to immigrants who've refused to be come Americanized is going too far. There are people who have lived in America for more than a generation who refuse to learn and speak English, and who are determined to maintain communities that represent their motherlands, more than America itself. In these communities English isn't even a second language. This is divisive and non-productive. The more things we have in common in America, the greater our unity. A common language is fundamental and critical to that end.

While multi-cultural elements such as food and the arts make America unique and diverse, the ability and willingness for all Americans to speak English and share a larger cultural identity is essential to our long-term success and health a nation. We need look no further than to our northern neighbor for a prime example of the consequences of not doing so.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Friday, May 05, 2006

EXECUTIVE EXCESS

Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts has introduced a House bill that would make executive compensation figures for the top three officials at publicly traded companies a matter of public record - including retirement packages - and would allow stock holders to vote on these compensation packages.

President Bush even weighed in on he issue this week. “I am staggered by some of the compensation levels,” said Bush. “And I think it's very important for boards of directors to understand that they represent shareholders and that compensation packages need to be fully transparent, in easy-to-understand language, so that the shareholders can understand whether or not the compensation package is fair or not.”

The following illustrates why this issue is suddenly getting so much attention:

In 1980 the average CEO made 42 times the average worker.
In 2004 the average CEO made 431 times the average worker.

The average CEO of a Standard & Poor's 500 company made $11.75 million in total compensation in 2005, according to an analysis by The Corporate Library.

With a median income of $44,389 in 2004, the average American's earnings pale in relation to the average CEO's salary. If the average American worked for a half century at that income level, his $2.2 million aggregate earnings would still be dwarfed by the annual salary of a typical CEO.

And sadly, the size of a CEO's salary doesn't always correlate to performance, or a return to investors.

Between 1991 and 2004, the stock of the previous year's most highly paid CEO underperformed the S&P 500 half the time, in some instances quite substantially.

But with the President publicly noting the problem while a bill is quietly working its way through the House, investors have reason for cautious optimism that the days unchecked, and wildly outsized CEO pay may eventually come to an end.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.