If this is your first time visiting, welcome. If you are returning again, welcome back. While this blog was originally not going to be about me or my life, it seems to be morphing to include more of myself and experiences. I will still strive to add a different perspective to the news and events around the world that impact everyone's life,however, I will focus more attention on issues that relate more tangibly to our personal lives. We all live in a world that is increasingly interconnected yet it seems a lot of people are turning inwards, shying away from human interaction. Lets step away from ourselves and see what we can do to make a difference. There are ads on this page and 65 cents of every dollar earned will be donated towards helping the homeless. If you like what you are reading, please share it with your friends.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Money Well Spent

When we hear of someone winning the lottery, we often assume that they will be set for life, maybe help their family out, or maybe spend all the money on themselves.  Some will quit their job depending on how much they win while some may keep on working, investing the money wisely to secure their future.   Regardless of how lottery winners spend their money, one man in Washington state is investing the money in the high school he works for.   This man won about $3.4 million five years ago in the state lottery and never stopped working at the high school.  He is a janitor at the school during the school day, and afterwards, coaches the track and field team.  He never even considered quitting his job even though he doesn't have to work because he enjoys what he does and it keeps him busy.  His biggest enjoyment comes from coaching however and this year is donating $40,000 of his money to putting in a new track for the team.   He said he knew what he would do with the money before he even won.  This year he plans on retiring and then running for the school board. 

In this day and age, it is heart warming to see the generosity of people when they come into money.   There are not many people these days with as generous a heart as this man from Washington.   Don't get me wrong, anyone who gives of themselves either monetarily or through their actions is to be commended.  It is even more refreshing to hear of these stories in the media, granted, not main stream media, but it is still being reported nonetheless.  In these current economic times when we are all struggling to make ends meet with rising gas and food prices and less money coming in, it is morale booster when someone shows their big heart and gives to others regardless of what it is.  It is not easy to give, but it sure feels good when you do.  People's mentality these days is turned more towards themselves than towards their community and the needs of others.  We are taught from an early age that we must mainly look out for ourselves and make sure that our future is secure.  But what if we secure our future?  What happens then?  Being generous starts when your future is not secure and should continue right on through.  If we start out with the mentality of selfishness, then that mentality will be hard to change when we have enough to live off of comfortably. 

If you have a computer and are reading this, it means that you have the ability to be generous.  We often times fill our lives with frivolous activites and items that in the long wrong won't mean a damn.  Even if we don't have extra money to give to a charity or a cause, we could always find time to help others and give of ourselves physically.  In this world, if more of us don't start giving our time or money to help others, more and more people will suffer.  Funding for charities and social programs are being cut because of budget restrictions and there is less money to go around for everyone.  The only way we can turn this around is getting up and getting out there to help make a difference.  Is it easy?  No, especially if you have a full time job and work long hours, but if you start giving one hour of your time a week to helping others, it will become a habit and part of your weekly routine.  It may even increase to include more time helping others.  In any case, the weekend is upon us and hopefully none of us will experience any ravaging storms.  Lets all try and enjoy life a little bit and take a little time this weekend to help and friend, neighbor, or stranger out in some way, be it big or small. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lingering Questions of Obama's Birth

We are well into the third year of Barack Obama's Presidency and questions of the legitimacy of his birth certificate are still being promulgated by the media.   When he originally decided to run for president, he had to file the necessary papers proving that he was born in the United States.   These papers were checked and verified and guess what, it was verified that he was born in Hawaii.  Yet since the start, there have been questions and conspiracy theories circulating regarding the legitimacy of the birth certificate.   The most popular of the theories is that the birth certificate is a forgery and that he was really born in Kenya.   Due to the internet and the speed in which these questions and conspiracy theories can now be circulated, the idea of illegitimacy took hold and spread like wild fire.   And yes, my writing about it now is not helping in cutting short the life of this "birther" issue.  However, I feel that these ideas and theories of illegitimacy are ludicrous and are a result of a deeply rooted racism that won't seem to dissipate with the passing of time from some people's minds.   For the most part, the theories were started small, picked up by fringe media outlets and began to foment through talk radio shows such as Rush Limbaugh's.   Following that, the ideas went mainstream and were then being covered by TV media shows on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC.  Most of these shows, to be fair, called these theories far-fetched and outrageous, but the theories had taken hold in the minds of Americans.

Media has far greater power over the minds of Americans than we realize.  Whether they speak for or against a specific idea, that idea is given traction and will take hold in one form or another in people's minds.  Some will use that idea as a means to excuse certain prejudices they may have about an issue such as President Obama's birth certificate.   The "birther" issue has gained such a hold in the public eye that books have been written about the certificate's illegitimacy and become no.1 best sellers for brief periods.  It seems people want a reason to validate that fact that they don't want Obama in office.  Well, he is there legitimately and has every right to stay there.  Bringing this issue to the front of the media headlines again and again will only distract us from the more pressing issues that need to be dealt with in our country.  It seems that the reason this theory has been revived recently is due to some comments made by Donald Trump claiming he wanted to see the long form version of the birth certificate.   Trump, who is toying with the idea of a Republican run for president, is nothing more than an attention addict who has a need to keep the money rolling in any way he can.  If there is something that he can say that will draw attention to himself, he will get in front of as many cameras as possible and proclaim it to the world.  As the British would say, its bolox.

What our country needs is for the media to remove themselves from their fear-mongering and diversionary tactics about legitimacy and start delving more into issues that affect Americans at a deeper level, their wallets.  We need to remain focused on recovering from our current recession and bringing more jobs back to American soil instead of lingering on these questions of a legitimate birth certificate for the president.  While racism in the U.S. has diminished greatly and has for the most part removed itself from the public eye, these questions of legitimacy speak to its hold on people's subconscious and their desire not to see an African American in office.  Obama won the election fair and square and it is up to him to prove that he his capable of doing his job.  We may or may not agree with his policies and vision, but that does not mean we should begin trying to undermine his legitimacy.  In addition, not everything the media forces down our throats should be believed.  The purpose of the media these days, especially on TV is not just to report the news, but to make sure they are number 1 in the ratings.  That means they will spin a story any way they can to evoke more emotion and viewer response from people.  As archaic as it may be, it would be much better to get your news from either a traditional newspaper or an online newspaper where you can read the facts and come to your own conclusion about the way things are or should be.  By watching the news on television, you are watching people play to the underlying emotions of an issue and by doing that, there can never be total impartiality.   Let us put this issue of Obama's legitimacy to rest and move on with dealing with more pressing issues like rising gas prices, rising debt, joblessness, wars overseas, home foreclosures or any of the other issues that directly affect us as Americans and in a broader sense citizens of the world.  There are very few countries these days who are not dealing with a recession of sorts and we all need to focus first on personal fiscal responsibility and then on the fiscal responsibility of the countries we live in.  The week is almost over for most of us and let us look towards the weekend and at least a few days of relaxation in this tumultuous world we live in. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lobbyists and Transparency

Regardless of where you live in the world, there seems to be a general consensus that the population of any given country wants to know what is going on in their government.  Put simply, this is called transparency, or the ability to view the actions that the government takes that directly affect the populace and how money is being spent to take those actions.  In the United States, the policies of the government are greatly influenced by lobbyists and government contractors who represent businesses throughout the country.  Some, as in the oil industry, are more powerful than others.  Millions upon millions of dollars are spent by these lobbyists and contractors every year to try and push policies that will positively impact their represented businesses and also to recieve a cut of the federal budget to help them in their efforts.  Currently, it is very difficult for the average American to see what kind of money is being spent by these lobbyists and corporations in D.C.   The money these lobbyists give goes anywhere from assisting in re-election campaigns to financing personal endeavors of elected officials.  As much as we don't want to hear it, these companies pour this money into the pockets of senators and congress persons to get what they want, and we the people, have no way to clearly view what is being spent. 

President Obama wants to change all of this and add increased transparency into the shroud of secrecy that engulfs lobbyists, government contractors and their millions of dollars.   The President would require disclosure of any direct or indirect political spending by contractors and lobbyists that exceeds $5000.  Seeing as the money spent directly affects how are taxpayer dollars are divided and spent, it makes perfect sense to me.  I personally feel that it has taken way too long to come to this sort of transparency.   Hopefully, this executive order will come to fruition.  As you guessed, there are already lobbyists and businessmen vowing to fight this tooth and nail to prevent this transparency from coming into effect.  They would prefer to keep blinders on Americans as to how they are spending their money in government.  What businesses and corporations spend within their own doors is their business being held liable only by their shareholders.  However, when money starts to affect policies and spending of American's money, we have a right to know about it.  Republicans have fought this transparency before and I am sure will be fighting it again.  They want to make government smaller, yet they have a deep seated desire to remain where they are and keep the money flowing into their pockets from lobbyists and corporations.  What Americans need these days more than anything else is a clearer view of how government runs and how their money is being spent.

I personally did not vote for President Obama and have objections to other policies of his such as the Health Care Bill, but this time, I am siding with him and throwing my support behind the increased transparency that he wants to inject into government, lobbyists, and government contractors.  Not all is negative with our government and it seems we may get a better view at how things are funded within the closed walls of congress.   We may now be able to see how money gets diverted in the federal budget to fund programs and policies that positively impact certain businesses and the correlation between businesses and government.   This could directly impact how we vote in the future, giving us more insight as to which political hopefulls are receiving money from businesses and what the businesses are looking for in return (although that last part still may be a little iffy).  We will have better information when going to the polls as to who we should vote for and who we should get out of office.   In any case, transparency will force businesses, lobbyists, and government contractors to watch who they are giving money to more closely and be a little more honest in their motives (hopefully).  If this comes to pass, this could start moving the government in the right direction, giving more control to the people in terms of elections and an increased ability to speak out against what they don't like.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Government and Same Sex Marriage

Homosexuality is an issue that many people wish to avoid.  Many people still hold the opinion that people who are attracted to another person of the same sex are "wrong" (if that is even possible) and should not be allowed to be married to one another.  I for one support any individual's decision to get married to whoever they want.  Marriage should be based on a deep seated love for another person and the desire to spend the rest of your life with them.  I know that I am flying in the face of many religious views by saying this, but not everyone is attracted to someone of the opposite sex.  It is a fact of life and no matter how much people try to fight against it, nothing will change it because you can not alter someone's underlying attraction.   Every religion has their own view of same sex marriage, most are against it, and there is nothing wrong with their view either.  It is merely an opinion based in deep historical roots that unfortunately will probably take years to change just as it will take years for all of society to come around and openly accept same sex marriages.   There arises a major issue, however, when our government decides to take a stand against the recognition of same sex marriages.  In this day and age when it is unlawful for any corporation to discriminate against people based on their sexuality, how can the government essentially discriminate against people attracted to others of the same sex by not recognizing their marriages as lawful. 

There is some good news in all of this, however, in that a law firm hired to defend the Marriage Act (which is the act that does not recognize same sex marriages) has decided to withdraw their firm from the defense.  Many people in government today feel that the Marriage Act is outdated and needs to go, except for a handful of Republicans, who are committed to defending the Marriage Act as legitimate and seeing it through till the end.  These Republicans, many of them alligned with the forsaken Tea Party, are using our taxpayer dollars to pay lawyers to defend this case.  The law firm that withdrew was charging $520 an hour and would have made in excess of $500,000 throughout the course of the case.  These Republicans, fighting so ardently to cut spending for education and infrastructure are increasing spending in defense of a discriminatory policy that needs to be changed to adapt to the changing world that we live in.  Homosexuality is not a new occurence that just came about within the last few decades.  It has been around for centuries, yet due to cultural taboos and societal mentalities, has not been able to come to the surface.   Our government needs to change their policies to adapt to new societal norms that are becoming more and more prevalent. 

As with any change, people will fight it tooth and nail till the end till they have no choice left but to admit defeat.  Here I am talking about those with the archaic view that everyone should be attracted to someone of the opposite sex.  Some of my best friends and clients over the years have been gays and lesbians and the only reason they were is because I was open to them being who they were and not judging them based on their personal decisions.   There is light at the end of the tunnel for these individuals.  It will take time, just as it took time for women to gain the right to vote and slowly achieve equality in the work place (although equality in pay for them is not there yet).   We live in a society where unfortunately we hold on to our past so tightly that it inevitably defines the future that we live in.  There are those who are able to live in the present and change their views, adapt to new societal norms and mentalities, and create a future for themselves that is ultimately more fruitful and satisfiying than the future of those who cling tightly to their past.  While we can not forget the past, we must not let it define our life and future.  Instead, we should learn from the past and move forward, living each day as it comes.  Republicans today have no concept of the future or for that matter, the present.  They are stuck living in the past and trying to drag the past with them into the future and in the process, wasting our taxpayer dollars on frivolous law suits that are distinctly contradictory to everything that our country stands for, freedom for all and the right to live a life of our choosing.  I urge everyone today to stand up to the wastefulness of these Republicans and take a stand against the Marriage Act whether you believe in same sex marriages or not.   Live today for what it is and don't let the past define your future.

Monday, April 25, 2011

No High Speed Trains for U.S.

We all live in a world that is essentially much smaller today than it was even 20 years ago.  Physically, the size of the world remains the same as we know, but through the internet and cellphones, the virtual world has shrunk, allowing people to stay in touch more easily, business transactions to be processed more quickly, and the overall reach of individuals and businesses to extend beyond the borders of the countries they were once confined to.  As the virtual world has shrunk, some countries have kept up with shrinking the physical world through the construction of high speed train lines that allow people to travel more quickly from one side of a country to another and beyond.  None of these countries include the United States.  France, China, Brazil, and Russia are a few that recognize the importance of high speed train lines, some like France having had high speed trains traveling across their country for over a decade now.  High speed train lines not only allow people to travel more quickly between destinations, but they also allow for the increased speed of transporting commercial goods that help businesses survive.  Being able to carry many more tons than a big rig truck and less costly than air travel, they can reduce the cost of transporting goods across a country and thus have an impact on the prices that we buy these goods for. 

The United States government however, is severly cutting any funding that was going to assist individual states and businesses in developing and constructing these high speed train lines.  California has been planning a high speed train line from San Francisco and Sacramento all the way to San Diego.  Currently, the price tag is exessive and with that state's budget faltering greatly, it doesn't look like it will happen any time soon.  There were other plans in place in Florida, but those got side-tracked as well.  The most promising at this point, costing potentially the least amount of money is making improvements to the rail lines in the Northeast on which the Acela trains run, Amtrak's fastest train to date.  Would it be capable of reaching the limits of high speed trains in other countries?  No, but improvements could allow it to increase its speed in certain sections from 130 mph to 160 mph.   There are broader plans in place to eventually connect the entire United States with a system of high speed trains.   As with anything in the United States, local opposition to high speed trains is excessive as with anything new that attempts to get rolled out.  The mentality of a lot of people is, "That's nice, but not in my backyard."   This is one of the best ways to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce congestion on our freeways.   With a system of high speed trains throughout our country, people and goods could travel more quickly and efficiently and there would ultimately be fewer cars on the road.

But alas, our government and a good part of our population has their heads stuck in mud, or oil I should say, and refuse to look into the future and the best way to get there.  A year after Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and ensuing oil spill, there is a general consensus amongst Americans that we should get back to drilling for oil so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil.   What they don't realize is that we import at least 90% of the oil currently used in this country so increasing drilling really won't make that much of a difference.   On top of that, our government would rather keep sinking money into military operations that focus some of those funds on improving our infrastructure and transportation system.  Does our government need to make cuts?  Yes, and there are a number of ways they can do this as I have been discussing time and time again so I will not go over all of them again.  Suffice it to say that cutting funding for any sort of transportation overhaul or investment in our future such as high speed rail lines is the wrong area to cut as it will only solve the short term issue leaving us with more expensive overhauls in the future.  Trains are one of the most cost effective ways of transporting people and goods across the land.  Maybe one day the mentality of Americans will change, but unfortunately it doesn't look like it will happen anytime soon.  For now, check out the plans for high speed trains in the U.S. and speak up in support of them. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

China and Christians

For Christians, today is the most Holy day of the year, Easter Sunday, the day where we celebrate the rising of Jesus Christ from the grave, signifying in a broader sense the fact that we will all rise one day and be with him in Heaven.  Not everyone reading this will be a Christian and as such I will not dwell on the spiritual aspect of this day.  Everyone has different religions and everyone should have the right to worship as they choose.  Many countries allow people to worship as they choose, not all obviously, but many, including China according to their constitution.  However, in China, if you wish to worship freely, Christians especially must worship in a church run by a state-controlled organization.  Today in China, 30 or so Christians were detained after attempting to worship at an "illegal church" in the city of Beijing.   This church is illegal only in the sense that it is not run by a state-controlled organization.  Most Christians in recent years have taken to worshiping in houses as opposed to churches.  The numbers are staggering.  60 million Christians worship in houses versus 20 million in the state run churches. 

The main problem arises when church goers attempt to register with the state.  Apparently in 2006, this specific group of worshipers, some of who were detained on Sunday, attempted to register with the state but were rejected for some reason.  Then in 2009, they bought property from the state in a section of Beijing in order to worship according to the government's rules, but through government interference were never allowed to occupy the space.  For some reason, China sees Christians as a threat to their power.   Going to church and praying have now become actions which the government sees as suspicious, especially with the growing number of people that are Christians.  Yet if you look at the numbers, China, with over 1 billion people is scared of a religion that has worshipers making up less than 10% of the population.  Freedom of religion in China is obviously just on paper.  In reality, the freedom of religion is a convoluted process by which China can keep a close eye on any activity in order to maintain order and peace.  Religions around the world are subject to prejudice and scrutiny, not just Christianity.  Anywhere that a religion is in the minority and understanding of the religion is minimal, you can be sure that it will be scrutinized and efforts will be made to control it. 

Religion, if you look at the fundamental basics of it, is there to teach people how to lead a better life, give them hope that their lives mean something, and provide a means by which they can move towards an afterlife or heaven amongst other things.  Even in the United States now, a largely Christian nation, Islam is being subjected to increased scrutiny and prejudice by those that do not understand it and are in essence fearful of it.  I am not saying that we all must believe in someone else's religion, but we must move past our fearfulness and prejudice about those religions we do not worship in order to accept people for who they are and what they worship.  Luckily in the United States, people do have the freedom to worship and the federal government makes no efforts to prevent people from doing that.  Individuals on the other hand will, but I fear that there are those that will always be prejudiced against that which they do not understand because they do not take the time to understand it.  Today, on this Holiest of days for Christians, let us all, regardless of which religion you follow, seek to understand others a little better so that we can move to eradicate prejudice from our lives and allow for more freedom for all. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Corporate Tax Dodgers

Its the end of tax week in the U.S., perhaps the most dreaded week where we file our tax returns and either recieve some money back from the government (a refund indicates an interest free loan to the government) or we have to send in a nice check based on the money we made last year.  This month is also the month where we finally get to start to start keeping the money we earn.  For all those who don't know, based on the current tax brackets, the income that the average American makes until the middle of April will go to pay taxes for this year, or approximately 30%.  If we don't pay our taxes, the IRS goes hunting and starts looking for all those that didn't and forces them to pay up.  This will include penalties, intrusion into bank accounts, levies placed on income, jail time for the worst offenders, and more.   Yet, while the average American and the small business are subject to the IRS, an elite power force in its own right, large corporations often sqeek by getting enormous deductions from the IRS and in some cases not paying taxes at all with seemingly no penalties.  I stumbled across a link that I will now share with everyone that highlights the 10 largest tax dodgers in the United States. 

If you didn't automatically click the link to find out who is number one, I will tell you now that it is ExxonMobil with profits for 2009 reported at $19 billion, a rebate of $156 million and no federal taxes paid.  Are there any executives at that company getting penalized or sent to jail?  Not to my knowledge.  The second worst offender happens to be one of my most personally hated banks, Bank of America.  This bank, which should have failed in the industry collapse back in 2008 but was saved with $1 trillion of our taxpayer dollars, made $4.4 billion last year and guess what, recieved a $1.9 billion dollar refund.  How the hell does that work?  I am not going to go through the whole list because to be honest with you, I might have to run to the bathroom and vomit by the time I finish typing.   The average American works his butt off to make an honest dollar, pay his taxes on time, and support his/her family.  If we are even 1 day late filing, we face penalties.  The Bank of America incident sickens me the most because they were not able to be fiscally responsible and needed saving by the American public. 

We all must pay our taxes, yet it seems that loopholes are created for the companies that make the most money in this country, allowing them to essentially put more money in their own pockets.   Most Americans don't consider what happens to the larger corporations because they are too worried about being able to make ends meet themselves.  It seems that the middle America takes the brunt of the tax burden while those that profit the most pay the least percentage wise.  Tax codes and percentages are also way to complicated for the average American to figure out or fight against.  It would take way to much of our precious time to figure out all the nitty gritty details.  Hence most of us just pay our taxes and go on our way.  What we do need to consider and take a stand against is the large corporations that are dodging the proverbial bullet and elluding their tax responsibilities, although according to the IRS they aren't. 

Its Friday, Earth Day today, and a time to celebrate the environment and all that it has to offer us.  Lets once again forget about taxes till next year but keep in mind that there will always be large corporations that somehow elude the IRS and find their own special loopholes unavailable to the average American.  If you feel so inclined, take a stand and start writing letters to your elected officials asking them why these corporations get such large refunds and pay so little in actual taxes.  If enough people take a stand, something could get done.  We must look at the larger picture and take a stand on the most important issues.  Today, lets start with the environment and fight for saving it, then lets move to tax dodgers.  Enough is enough.  Today, I am going on a hike with my dogs and will try to enjoy the outdoors while it still exists.  Before our state and local governments decide to let every inch of open space be developed, I urge others to do the same.  Sieze the day, the sunlight, and your humanity. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Military and Government Waste

A while back I had written about the excessive military budget in the United States and how if we cut it by at least a third, we would be able to fund other programs in the United States that are currently more important to our welfare than the military.  In one blog post, I alluded to the expense of military fighter jets and how Iraq declined to buy some from the U.S. so they could divert the money to feed the poor and hungry.   Well, I stumbled across an article written a few years ago that highlights exactly how much money is spent on one of these jets and how much is wasted.  The military fighter jet that I am referring to is the F-22, the most expensive plane currently in operation with a cost of about $350 million per jet.  I am not sure as to the exact number of F-22's made, but the number is at least 187.  If you do the math, thats over $65 billion spent on this one type of military figher jet.  It was supposed to be the top dog in the skies, yet since production began, has proved to be one of the most costliest and problematic.  The Air Force has reported that the jet requires 30 hours of maintenance for every 1 hour of flight time.  The cost for this maintenance is over $44,000 dollars for one hour of flight time.  I could go on and on about the problems from degraded visibility in the canopy, to rusting ejector seat rods, to problems with the weapons systems and its "stealth skin". 

Due to the excessive cost of buying these aircraft and maintaining them in addition to all the issues that they have, there was an effort in Congress in 2009 to cut spending on this aircraft.  However, you guessed it, in 2010, money was again allocated for this jet.  The money spent on one aircraft alone would be able to fund many state programs across the country, likely improving the economy and adding jobs if the money was focused on renewable sources of energy or repairing and replacing our infrastructure.   The infrastructure in this country is aging and needs attention, however, money keeps on being spent on jets that can't perform as they were intended to.  Since 2005 when the first F-22's began to roll out, there has been issue after issue, yet our taxpayer dollars keep on getting dumped down the drain trying to fix it and extend the life of this pariah.  This is just one example of wasted money in our government.  Yet because of the military industrial complex, it is almost an impossible cycle to rid ourselves of.  The manufacturers of these aircraft put money into the pockets of our elected officials (indirectly of course) so that their projects get funded regardless of their efficacy.  And on top of that, these companies like Lockheed Martin in association with Boeing spend millions on ad campaigns to boost their favor with the American public just so they could use that as a tax write off for that year. 

We have far greater issues residing within our own borders that need attending to such as this current economic recession, increased home foreclosures, job loss, etc.   On top of all the money we spend on this one fighter jet, we can't recoup any of the cost because there is a ban on exporting this type of jet to foreign countries regarless of what country it is.   In a way, we are sparing other countries from this money pit of a jet fighter.  There is no other industry that I know of that would spend billions upon billions of dollars on something that doesn't live up to its own standards.  If a product put to market by say a car company failed, either that product would be immediately de-railed or fixed to the point where it was functional.  Sometimes, older is better.  There are older jets still in operation that have much better track records than this newest stealth jet.  Why? Because they are based upon simple principles of avionics are not chock full of the latest technology that seems to get in the way of actually flying the plane.  The jet needs to be sent to the graveyard once and for all.

The military is not going to fix our economy, or our infrastructure, or feed the homeless, or provide for the elderly.  They are instead usurping much needed money from programs already underfunded.  There needs to be a serious re-assessment of the military's size and the efficacy of specific programs within the military.  Wasting taxpayer dollars is not an option any more, especially when for the majority of the population, there is little extra money to go around and waste.   They still haven't found Bin Laden in over 10 years, yet we keep on wasting money there as well.  The latest story I heard of yesterday was about new silk boxers for military personal that have either kevlar or some other product imbedded in them to help protect their private parts from shrapnel.  Last time I checked, if a piece of shrapnel hit their head or heart, their privates wouldn't do them much good.  I don't even want to know the cost of one pair of these new boxers.  But alas, its almost Easter and time to move past all this waste in the government for now.  Lets focus instead on our own lives, keeping more money in our own pockets (if we can), and staying positive in these times of depression and uncertainty.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Deaths From Painkillers Skyrocketing

In Ohio, painkillers are now the leading cause of accidental deaths, surpassing the number of deaths due to car accidents every year.  The statistics are frightening with invididuals even in high school becoming addicted to prescription painkillers and as a result dying from them.  The drug that is taking the greatest hold on individual's lives is OxyContin, an extremely powerful painkiller that should be hard to get, but as it turns out, really isn't that hard.  In some cases, addicts only have to travel next door, to their local elderly drug dealer with prescriptions to this drug, to get their fix.   Some of the elderly selling these drugs are over the age of 70 and are using the money they make to supplement their social security checks.  It is a sad case when your local drug dealer isn't someone to be feared, but someone you should look up to.  In Ohio alone, more people died in 2008 and 2009 from prescription painkiller overdoses than died in the World Trade Center attacks in 2001.  In Portsmouth, Ohio, nestled in the Appalachian's, nearly 1 in 10 newborns tested positive for drugs.   There seems to be no end in sight as local clinics and doctors dispense the drugs and also, your local elderly folk.   The situation is now killing more than heroin in the 1970's and crack in the 1980's combined.  Yet the biggest problem being faced is the that these drugs are legal. 

People are looking to place the blame somewhere, yet are increasingly stymied by the fact that these drugs are legal and to go after "drug dealers" is to go after someone with a legitimate prescription for these drugs.  Are the doctor's to blame?  What about the pharmaceutical companies?  The government maybe?  It is a more difficult situation than any illegal drug because they are so readily available.  The blame therefore, cannot be wholly placed on one sector without another accepting part of the blame.   It is pretty well known that to try and fight the pharmaceutical industry would be a losing battle, mostly because they have billions in revenue to fight any lawsuit and their lobbyist's hands run deep in Washington D.C. making sure that the drugs they are pushing remain legal and available to the widest possible demographic.  Still, you would hope that they would maintain some moral perspective of what they are doing and make some efforts to reduce the effects of the widespread dispersion of this drug.   I am not saying that OxyContin or any other prescription painkiller should be removed from the market.   In some cases, they provide excellent pain remediation for those that really need it.  However, there needs to be more limitations placed on its use, keeping it reserved for those with the most excrutiating pain, and there also needs to be a limit placed on the length of time it can be used for along with a plan to wean the patient off the drug. 

This is where the FDA should step in, especially in light of the increase in addictions and accidental deaths as a result of the powerful painkillers.  Doctors need to be held liable for their often indescriminate use of the drug for "pain management".   The painkiller will not cure anything, it should only be used in the most dire cases and only temporarily while a patient recovers from an injury.   Some doctors (not all by any means) seem to use the drug as a cure-all, an easy prescription to write to alleviate pain.  Many people probably don't need a painkiller as strong as OxyContin, yet they are prescribed it due to their supposed "increase in pain".   The doctors who do prescribe it, should also keep better track of the number of pills prescribed, and the length of time it should take a patient to go through the pills.  If the pills prescribed to a patient are supposed to last a month and the patient returns in two weeks, they should not recieve another prescription.  All in all, the problem needs to be addressed from many different angles, from restrictions from the FDA, to pharmaceutical companies giving doctors bonuses, to doctors themselves prescribing the drugs, to more education for the patients recieving the drugs.  It will not be an easy problem to solve as this drug is legal and currently seems to have free reign.

Perhaps the most effective method to reduce the number of accidental deaths is to limit the prescriptions to those that actually have a need for it.  OxyContin is one of the most powerful painkillers on the market.  Thus, it should be reserved to those that have the most need for it, i.e. those suffering from cancer, major surgery, or a horrendous accident.  Mild shoulder pain or back pain should not be treated with this drug, but then again, that is my opinion.   More effort needs to be placed into looking at a patient's history, their possibility of drug addiction, and the actual cause of the pain that they need the painkillers for.  I guarantee that if you looked at all the people with prescriptions to this drug, you would be able to list 75% of them as ineligible to recieve it.  However, the rampage of OxyContin goes on, sure to take the lives of many more individuals, young and old, unless major efforts are taken to address the underlying issues.  For those out there who knows someone addicted to these drugs, get them help.  Often times, the people addicted are not able to help themselves because the drug takes too strong a hold of them and literally takes away their life.  It will never be any easy task, but lets make the effort with those we know to help them.  Get them help, don't let them waste their life away on these painkillers. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Miracles Amidst Destruction

Too often on the front page of any newspaper we are bombarded by tragedy, death, and depressing news about our economy or environment.  Well, nestled amongst all the typical stories was one that brought to light some small miracles that occured during the violent storms that killed 45 people across the South and Southeast United States over the weekend.  The miracles were to be found in a small hamlet in Askewville, North Carolina.  While 11 people died during the storms tornado's that blew through, not all the news was bad.  In one instance, a man was able to lift an entire wall of a house to save 5 people trapped beneath it.  He even admits that he does not know where the strength came from.  Whether it be the adrenaline coursing through his veins after having a roof ripped off from over his head or from some other source, he said it felt extremely easy to lift the wall up.  Another couple was huddled in a bedroom closet as the tornado tore their house apart and threw them through the air into the back yard.  They landed only a few feet away from each other with minor injuries, something that most people would not live to re-tell.  The last small miracle occured to believe it or not, a donkey that played a key role in the town's yearly Christmas pageant.  The donkey was lifted by the tornado, thrown three hundred feet onto its back, yet survived and was seen chowing down in a pasture the next day. 

It is miracles like these that give people the strength and inspiration to clean up and move on with their lives.  Not everyone was lucky enough to survive the storm, but things could always be worse.  Bombarded by tragedy almost every day, we often times forget how strong the human spirit is to lift ourselves out of the any tragedy and move on with our lives.  Will things ever be the same for these people, probably not, but to be able to find the small miracles is a miracle in and of itself.  Similarly, for a newspaper such as the NYTimes to report on these minor miracles is refreshing.  There is a lot of negative news out there and unfortunately, that is what a lot of people feed off of.  People seem to need news of tragedy happening to others in order for them to feel better about themselves and their situation.  If we look around us, there are small miracles happening all the time.  They may not be on the same scale as the miracles that occured during the tornado in North Carolina, but miracles they are nonetheless. 

Even if we look at the tragedy in NY last week in which a mother drove her children into the Hudson River (I did make a mistake in that blog, the 10 yr old escaped from the van once it was in the water, he was not let out by her), the fact that they 10 yr old was able to escape despite his mother's efforts to keep him in the van is a small miracle.  Yet more emphasis was placed on the death and tragedy.  We should instead spend some time celebrating the fact that this young boy made it out alive.  (Note taken, do this myself as well).  Its not always easy for us to see the miracles around us because we are in a sense blinded to them.  We have been inoculated by society and the media that tragedy is what we should focus on.  What about life and those that survive the tragedy?  We should instead take the time to learn their stories and how they got through the tragedy.  If we look around and start finding the daily miracles, we might realize that they happen more often than we think. 

A tragedy comes and goes, most times a fleeting moment that impacts the lives of many.  However, it is how we deal with the tragedy and address it that can turn a life around.  If we dwell on the tragedy instead of the miracle of surviving it or those that did, we will be depressed and get caught up with it.  If we are instead successful at putting tragedy behind us, moving forward, and remaining positive, things may turn out better than they were before.  Everyone will experience a tragedy first hand at some point in their life.  It may be an enormous tragedy such as dealing with losing a house to a tornado, or it could be a minor one that is merely a hiccup in our daily lives.  It is up to us to find a way to move past it, look for the positive outcome (as hard as that may be) and see if there are any miracles that present themselves as a result of the tragedy.  Miracles, small or big, often appear when we least expect them and aren't always readily noticeable, but they are there.  In order to notice some miracles, we must have a deeper awareness of ourselves and the events unfolding around us.  We must take our eyes off of the future and deal with the present.  Today, look for a small miracle, whether it happens to you or someone you know.  Celebrate it and keep it with you throughout the day.  Life is not always as depressing as we make it out to be, we must just shift our focus and awareness to see things in a different light. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

New Use for Coal Burning Byproduct

Coal is one of the fossil fuels most widely used to produce electricity across the world.  In the United States alone there are over 450 coal burning power plants that provide electricity.  While many people agree that we need to begin investing time and energy in finding alternative sources of power, coal will not be going anywhere in the near future.  One of the byproducts of burning coal is flyash, a substance that used to be pumped into the atmosphere before regulations in the United States mandated that the power plants capture the flyash and find other ways of disposing it.  Some of it gets recycled, but about 70% ends up going into landfills which are filling up at an alarming rate.  This 70% amounts to about 91 million tons a year.  However, in a consortium between acadamia and industry, a new use has been found for the flyash that could save taxpayers millions of dollars and reduce drastically the amount of flyash that ends up in landfills.  The new use for this flyash is a coating for concrete and rebar to extend its life in road surfaces, bridges, and other municipal uses.  This new use was created by the American Chemical Society which meets every year. 

This new use is absolutely fantastic.  In addition to extending the life of concrete on roads and bridges, it can also be used for all the concrete piping that is used to transfer waste water in cities, dams, and almost any other industry or city/state that uses concrete.  The article states that studies were done where concrete coated with this new substance was exposed to "acid rain" and other natural phenomenon such as freeze/thaw cycles, extreme heat, etc. and has proven to outlast any conventional concrete out there.  In one specific experiment done, coated concrete was exposed to acids 100,000 times those found in the natural environment and lasted a year before showing signs of decay and crumbling.  Regular concrete started deteriorating within days.  This could be one solution to assist in our economic recovery.  One aspect that is rarely factored into the whole scheme of budget problems is the rapidly aging infrastucture of our country.  Bridges, roadways, water systems, dams, are all decades old and many are in dire need of replacement if they are going to last.  The only other option is to begin to replace these structures with the costs skyrocketing into the trillions of dollars.  In our current economic climate, we can not afford extra trillions tacked on to our already stressed state and federal budgets. 

Now it seems, it will be up to our elected officials to begin use of this new product to help stave off the inevitable.  While the bridges and roadways will have to be replaced as this is not a permanent fix, the problems can be addressed more slowly so they all don't hit our pockets at the same time.  We can only hope that this new product will be used to its fullest extent.   When our aging structure is eventually slowly replaced, the use of this new product could extend the life of the new infrastructure decades more than it would last otherwise.  We have all seen the temporary fixes that are being implemented to our roadways and bridges, a little patch here, a little patch there, and within a few years, they begin to crumble and give way again.  This alone drains our pockets because the same areas need to be replaced on an almost continuous basis.  Our infrastructure was not originally designed to handle the current loads and traffic that they are being used for.  Populations are increasing, there are more cars on the road, and things deteriorate more quickly than intended. 

Lets hope that this new product is ready to be used in the near future and lets also hope that the cost is affordable to taxpayers.  We are already burdened by the recession, but this could help in the recovery.  Not only could it help in the recovery and sustain our infrastructure, but it will also help our environment by keeping this coal byproduct out of landfills around the country.  It is a wonderful day when a byproduct normally discarded can be used to benefit all of us.  This is the sort of ingenuity that our country is known for and we need to see more of.  We have long been known for our inventions, innovations, and technological breakthroughs.  It seems that we have not lost it all completely and are still capable of using our innovative spirit to turn trash into a beneficial product.  Today, lets celebrate the human mind and all its capable of.  Lets turn for a minute away from the trash in D.C. and look instead to the future.  Even better, lets put our innovative spirit to work and turn the trash that is walking down the congressional hallways into a beneficial byproduct.  I don't know what can be done there, it may be harder than turning flyash into a coating, but maybe it is still possible. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lets Kill the Environment

Across the United States, funding is being cut, mostly by Republican governors who just happen to align themselves with the almight Tea Party, that directly affects our environment.  In Maine, the governor is seeking to open up 3 million acres of forest for development seeing it as a way to boost the economy of that state.  At the opposite end in Florida, the governor there is cutting funding to the restoration of the dwindling Everglades from 50 million to 17 million dollars in addition to allowing urban sprawl to continue unchecked.  What this will amount to will be the devastation of local environments across the country.  These two states are not the only ones with new ideas to let the environment be subjected to the whims of the population.  Instead of looking in depth at ways to fix their budgets such as pension reform or other options, they are going for the easiest culprit, the environment.  These governors across the country, allies of the Tea Party, are not taking into consideration the tangible connection that we have with the environment and are in essence, allowing the environment to be killed off. 

Our population is continually growing and as we are growing we our pumping more and more pollution into the environment without taking into consideration the effect it will have.  I am not even alluding to the effect it has on global warming, which some people believe and some don't, but I am alluding to effect that it will have on our health.  Our environment is the number one filter we have for carbon dioxide and other pollution.  Almost every plant thrives on carbon dioxide and through photosynthesis, converts it into oxygen for us to breathe.  If we allow, as in the case of Maine, 3 million acres of forest to be opened up for development, it will inevitably mean that we will have that much less of a filter to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen for us to breathe.  The very health of our population depends in large part upon the environment.  If we reduce spending for environmental convservation programs and allow delopment into large swaths of nature that were previously held either as nature preserves or open land, then we will all suffer.  Simply cutting, cutting, cutting, will do us no good.  In the short term, it may boost the economy somewhat, but there are a slew of other areas in the budget that need reform and if not adjusted will drive us right back into a recession. 

Another issue that needs consideration in this whole debacle is funding for development.  How is simply opening up land for development going to boost the economy?  In order for businesses and individuals to expand or develop, they must first obtain money to do so.  Banks are still not opening up their doors for loans that could support the necessary development that these states seek.  There must first be reform in the financial and real estate sector in order to free up more money for individuals to obtain loans.  In our current situation with the amount of foreclosures and bankrupt businesses, there are plenty of abandoned properties that are ripe for new growth and expansion should money become available.  In my mind, there is a significant lack of foresight by these governors in what would actually stimulate local economies.  They feel that, in part through pressure from the Tea Party, that cutting spending any way they can will make a difference.   They are unable or unwilling to confront the current issues in their budgets that would actually make a difference. 

The Tea Party activists are perhaps the biggest group of loonies that has come about because of this recession.  They speak of financial and government reform, yet are not willing to look at all aspects of the problem.  I keep on coming back to pensions because I feel that this is a big part of the problem that many states are facing.  In Connecticut, there are some individuals who recieve pensions larger than the salary of our current governor.  Our state is losing money because of this, yet no one is willing to give an inch, they simply want the budget issues to go away.  When a governor proposes cuts in public programs, there is outrage, when he proposes concessions needed by unions, there is outrage, when he proposes tax hikes, there is outrage.  It seems that while we want reform and a means to affect reform, no one wants to hear about it.  So what happens, the environment suffers because that seems to be the only area that people seem to care the least about, yet also happens to be the area that will affect them the most in the long run.  Everyone wants a quick fix, yet there is no quick fix to be had.  Our current problems have been years in the making and unless we all buckle down, accept the necessary reforms to pensions, state programs, and unions, we will continue to suffer from these budget problems.  What happened to the automakers in the upper midwest when their prices became to high for people to afford?  They shut down, mostly because they were driven by unions that demanded high wages and pensions for employees.  They turned out to be unsustainable and the factories closed, leaving thousands without jobs.  Turns out the unions forced bankruptcy upon some automakers.  What is going to happen at the state level if unions don't make concessions, hopefully not the same thing. 

Using the environment as a scapegoat for our budget problems will only be a temporary solution unless governors are willing to look more deeply at their budget problems and take the necessary steps to resolve them.  In the process, we will potentially lose millions of acres of forest, wetlands, and vibrant species of flaura and fauna at the hands of unscrupulous individuals.   If we want to preserve the unique landscape of our country, then we must stand up to these republican governors who want to literally kill our environment.  They have no concept of what is at stake and are unwilling to take the stance necessary to fix our local budgetary problems.  If you want your children to grow up being able to breath easily and explore the natural beauty of our country, then we all need to take a stand and protect our environment from these bastards.  Our welfare is at stake and we need to confront the issues at hand.  Today, lets take a walk outside and look around at nature.  Enjoy it while you can, because if our Republican Tea Party governors have their way, it won't be there for long.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Continuing Budget Problems

Last week the United States government almost shut down because our elected officials could not seem to drag themselves out of kindergarten and compromise on a budget.  This week we have Obama speaking about his ideas of how our country needs to reduce its deficit, not even its debt, and make some fundamental changes in taxes and welfare systems.  Oh, and yes, more budget issues.  There is no perfect solution to this issue, mainly because it has been building for so many years that to try and tackle it in just a few is not feasible.  Simply cutting spending, or instituting austerity measures as they like to call it, have proven not to entirely work.  England tried this last year and just last month suffered a 3.5% decline in retail sales, the worst in 15 years.  Keep in mind that they tax their wealthiest citizens almost 50%, something that would probably never happen in the U.S. although Obama wants to increase the tax on the wealthy.   The problem now is how do you balance spending and cutting in the midst of trying to recover from an economic recession.  To be honest, I don't have the answer.  But a good start would be our elected officials in Washington actually having bi-partisan discussions about the best solution, putting their entrenched ideologies aside temporarily, and actually listening to each other's ideas.   Here are some tentative compromises that might be made if people actually talked.

Obama was incredibly vague in his speech this week.  He mentioned what he wanted to do, cut 4 trillion in the national deficit in 12 years.  Now keep in mind, the deficit is vastly different from our national debt.  Our deficit is simply the difference in the amount of money our government makes via taxes and other sources versus the amount it spends every year.  Our government has spent more than it makes every year for God knows how long and Obama wants to slightly reduce this over the next 12 years.  If any household did this on the scale that our government does, they would lose their house and cars and have to file for bankruptcy.  The average family can't just go to the wealthy family down the street and say, "Hey buddy, I'm spending more than I make every year, want to help me out and give me a loan?"  That other person would laugh in his face, especially if the potential borrower said, "Oh, and I plan on keeping on spending more than I make for quite some time, so just keep the money coming."  It is ludicrous, yet this is exactly what our government is doing.  Unfortunately at this point, with so many people depending on government jobs and money, to drastically cut our spending would greatly endanger our fragile economic recovery and potentially send us into another recession.  However, for us to spend more money to try and stimulate more recovery would affect our debt even more and potentially cause our financiers, mostly China, to come knocking and tell us to pay up on our debt in which case we would be royally screwed.

Hence, no easy solution.   There are some areas that we could start to look at however that might make a difference.  First lets look at the corporations that send work abroad, wherever it might be, and increase the taxes on them.  They send the work out so they can increase their revenue and put more money in the pockets of those running the corporations.  If we increase the taxes on them with the stipulation that they will go down if the work returns to our country, we might actually see jobs increase in this country.  Conversely, for those corporations/companies that keep work in our country, we might actually want to offer some tax cuts for them with the stipulation that any extra money must be re-invested into their company either towards R&D or job growth.   Next, lets look at the size of our military.  I have mentioned this before, but it needs to be mentioned again, our military is too damn big and the spending that goes into the military is utterly ridiculous.  Does some of that money create jobs here, yes, but to spend over $500 billion every year is outrageous.  Obama in his speech asked the Pentagon to find areas to cut.  Do you actually think they are going to look that hard on ways to cut spending when asked politely?  I don't.  They might get rid of a few offices here and there and stop ordering expensive chairs for their top commanders, but I don't see it gong far beyond that.  Part of the problem is the military-industrial complex.  I will not go into it in depth here, but in essence, it is a vicious circle that increases spending due to expensive programs for fighter jets, new military technology, etc. and the lobbyists who push these ideas and get them passed through congress.  If we took some of the military's money and re-invested it in our own country, we might start to see a difference.  And, oh yeah, we need to reduce the size of our government as well.

As I mentioned before, our budget, debt, and deficit problems have no easy solution.  The problems have been cemented into our society and our way of life for so long that it will be admittedly painful to change things.  Unfortunately, if we can not figure out a solution thats workable, we are all in trouble.  It took our government almost 6 months to pass a budget for our current year which we are almost 4 months through.  If this happened at a corporation, those in charge of passing a budget would be fired.  We should be outraged that we have such ineptitude lurking in D.C.  The unfortunate part is, we put them there and now must live with them.  To me, there really is no difference between the Republicans and Democrats, they are both blood sucking leeches.  We get them into D.C. and their public image is drastically different, but behind closed doors they probably sit down to figure out ways to screw us even more.  Maybe if they listened to their consituents, which some of them might, and work for us, which few of them do, we might actually get somewhere.  In any case, we are on the cusp of the almighty weekend where we might be able to forget about some of these problems for a few days and actually enjoy ourselves.   So lets all get through this day, send some stinging letters to our representatives informing them of how displeased we are with their inability to work, and then sit down with a beer or two and watch the sun go down over another lost week of budget reform and foward movement in our government.  Maybe next week will be different, we can only hope. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Democracy in the Middle East

Democracy seems to be part of the driving force behind many of the protests in the Middle East.  If not democracy as we know it in the United States, at least more freedom and citizen participation in how the government is run.  These protests, at least for now seem to be winding down, in part because the successful ones are now working on transitioning to a more democratic government and the others because they have been excessively shut down through brutal beatings and killings by those in power.   In reading an article last night in the NYTimes by Thomas Friedman, new factors were brought to light that I personally had not considered before.  It is well worth reading the whole piece he wrote as I will only sum it up here.   To sum it up, he feels that a good number of the countries where protests occured such as Yemen, Bahrain, Syria do not have a good chance at seeing democracy flourish if their rulers are removed from power.   This is because most of those countries as they stand now are divided between tribal disputes, issues over religious sects, and internal power struggles that if given free reign, would more likely lead to "civil war versus a civil society."  As an example, he sites the Eastern European country of Yugoslavia, who after the Iron Curtain came crashing down in the late 80's, fell into civil war between clashing ethnic groups. 

In order for democracy to flourish as it did in other Eastern European countries after the Cold War ended, there must be strong leadership and a general consensus amongst the whole population of the country as to how the country should be run.   Often times we forget to look to the past to learn the lessons we need today.  So this brings up the issue, how are these countries going to reconcile their differences in order to bring about democratic change?   It must first come with an acceptance of the tribes or religious sects that they are embattled against.  In Bahrain there are the Shiite's and the Sunni's, and in Yemen, you have the same issue plus various tribal issues to contend with.  Each group believes that they are correct and are unwilling to accept the other's point of view or even the fact that they should exist all together.  What they really need is a charismatic leader, someone accepted by different sects and tribes to work with all of them to reach some sort of consesus as to their vision for their country.  Without a distinct vision of democracy or even a constitutional monarchy that is based on a vision of unity with freedom of expression and religion, any effort to reform government will break down.  It seems that one of the biggest struggles that these countries face is between the differen sects of Islam.  When you boil it down, they amount to different interpretations of the Koran and how one should worship and lead one's life.  Every religion has differences in how they worship, different sects, and different beliefs.  If you look at Christianity, you have Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists, etc.  The same goes with Judaism where you run the gammit from ultra-orthodox to "light" Judaism as I will call it.  What it all boils down to is acceptance and a willingness not to force your opinion on someone else. 

So then how can Egypt and Tunisia seem as successful as they are right now even with their non-homogenous populations?  While Egypt does have a variety of religions represented, the majority are Muslim.  Regardless of that fact, they were able to rally behind the fact that every single person, either Muslim or Coptic Christian, were being suppressed equally by in essence a dictator.   In rallying behind the need for everyone to live in freedom, there was unity in purpose and a common cause, something that is absent in Bahrain and Yemen.   Is Egypt scot free yet?  No, simply because democracy is not a simple idea to implement into a society that was subjected to tyranny for so many years.  Everyone has their specific idea of what they want and what needs to be done, and there will be disagreements and issues along the way.  The main thing that they must keep in mind is the ultimate goal that they set out to accomplish, a desire to live freely, and in keeping that goal in mind, they must also resist the temptation to get sidetracked by minute differences of opinion or minor obstacles on their path.  If Yemen and Bahrain especially, due to their tribal and religious differences, can find a common cause to rally behind, accept each other for who they are and fight for freedom for everyone (not simply Sunni's or Shiite's) then perhaps democracy can succeed. 

Democracy will take time to implement in the Middle East.  In the United States alone, it took years before the details of how the country should be run were ironed out.  And even then, we plunged into civil war after democracy was in place for decades.  Finding a common ground amongst people is perhaps one of the most difficult things we can do as humans simply because we all have widely varying opinions on how a government should be run, who is right, who is wrong, and what the ultimate goal should be.  One needs only to look at our current political landscape to see this in action.  Even in perhaps one of the most democratic countries in the world, we can not reach agreements on how big or small the government should be, or what the government should actually do.  The big difference is, we don't resort to physical violence when we can't agree, we listen, debate, listen some more, and then debate even more.  Nothing will ever be perfect and this is perhaps the key to success in the Middle East.  People need to realize that no matter what form of government they decide to stand behind, nothing will satisfy the needs of everyone.  The most we can hope for across the world, but especially right now in the Middle East, is freedom to express one's opinion without being beaten, freedom to protest without being killed, and freedom to worship whatever and however we choose without being chastised for our choice.  If they can achieve this, democracy will come, albeit slowly, but it will come.   Let us only hope today that they can resolve their differences, find their cause, and move forward in peace and diplomacy. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mother Kills Her Children

There was some devastating news this morning out of Newburgh, NY in which a mother drove three of her four children into the Hudson River in a minivan.  From the report, it appears that she had been involved in a domestic dispute beforehand and afterwards piled her four children in the van, but before driving into the river, let the oldest child out.  The child ran to the nearest fire station, but by the time he alerted them and they responded to the incident it was too late.  Even when they responded, it took them over an hour to find the van in the murky waters of the Hudson.  The children who perished were 5,2, and 11 months old.  The child the mother let out of the van was the oldest at 10 years of age.  He could have taken care of the three others had she let them all out of the van, yet for some reason decided they needed to die with her.  What could have been so horrible about the domestic dispute that drove her to kill herself and 3 of her four children?  Now that 10 year old boy has to live the rest of his life without a mother or siblings and has to live with witnessing the event first hand.  Would it have been better if she didn't stop and drove them all into the river?  Psychologically for the boy, maybe, but at least she took mercy on one of her children. 

I am of the opinion that life, no matter how bad it might get, shouldn't drive someone to take their own life.  And it never gets bad enough where children should be dragged along for the ride.  If this mother's domestic dispute was so bad that she wanted to leave everything behind, she could have left the children in the house and just started driving, never turning around, never coming back, and starting a new life elsewhere.  Would this have been traumatic on her children, absolutely, but not nearly as bad as what the 10 year old boy witnessed.  Perhaps she feared for the life of her children at the hand of her husband/partner.  Why couldn't she have simply dropped them off on a corner near a police station and then taken off.  If she really felt like she needed to take her own life, she should have let them all out of the car and driven herself into the river.  At least the 10 year old would have had siblings and a sense of purpose in life.  But now, what is he left with?  A single child with a father who was once part of a family of 6.  

I don't know the specifics about this woman's situation, but it seems that a lot more people lately, when sliding down the slippery slope of depression and anxiety in life feel the need to drag others with them.  Maybe its for consolation that they are not alone, maybe its a vain attempt to make others feel what they are feeling, or maybe its simply because need company on their trip to hell.  Whatever the reason, people need to step up to the plate and deal with their issues.  Society has led us to believe that there is an easy out for any situation, whether it be drugs, alcohol, abandonment, or even taking ones own life.   Society wants us to believe that life should be easy and if it isn't, we should make it easy with substances or leave it altogether.   What example is this setting for others or our children.  What happens when this young boy grows up and gets into a situation that is overwhelming?  Will he follow his mother's example and drive himself into a river?  I believe that there is a greater propensity for him to do so.  If not necessarily killing himself, perhaps he will turn to the closest pill or bottle to relieve himself of the need to deal with the situation. 

Too often, when we run into a situation that is difficult or overwhelming, we want to run, naturally.  We have no desire to dig down to figure out what the root cause is and try to fix it.  We bury it, stuff it under the rug, ignore it any way we can, but it never goes away unless we face it head on and resolve it.   There are times, when working with others, that something can not be resolved, but no situation warrants the taking of a life, especially your own children.  Life is difficult and once we can all realize that it takes work to get through life, especially the hard times, good times will come.  Every part of life is not difficult, but if we start to cover up the problems or ignore them, life will get worse.  The only way to improve life is to deal with the ghosts in the closet and move on.  Everyone will have issues they are going to need to deal with whether it be with spouses, children, family, relatives, friends, etc.  It is a part of life, period.  Once we can come to accept that, we can began to work on improving our lives.   What are the ghosts in your closet?  Lets all start this day by making sure our family knows we love them.   Kiss your children if you have them or simply your spouse, partner, or girlfriend/boyfriend.   If we start every day like this, there is a good chance the rest of the day will be better.  Don't run from your issues, deal with them, but start with love.  Till next time, cherish those around you.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Abortion and the Government

It is time to tackle this incredibly divisive issue seeing as it is playing an increasing role in forming a budget for our government and the inability to truly reconcile any issues with it.  Let me start by saying that I am a Catholic and as such do not believe in abortion and am wholeheartedly against abortion.  As such any references to religion will be from the stance of a Catholic merely because I do not know that stance on abortion from another religion's perspective.  Let me also state that I believe that our government should be minimally intrusive in the personal lives of individuals and its current size should be reduced greatly.  Abortion, whether you believe that people should have the choice or not, is not one that should be decided by the goverenment and here is why; there has been no clear agreement amongst scientists or individuals as to when a fetus becomes human and whether it should be considered in essence the killing of human life.  In the case of murder of an individual, the law is distinctly clear.  Until there is a decision reached from outside the government that the moment of conception is the point when human life begins (which I agree with) or that human life begins sometime after that, the government should not stick its medlesome hand into the decision of individuals. 

That being said, the government should afford no money either for or against abortions based upon the fact that there is no clear distinction or agreement to be had.  Even if a decision is reached, funding should not occur simply because not everyone agrees with it and the money being used, taxpayer dollars, comes from everyone.   At this point, as it stands in the law, people should have the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.  In the end, if you are religious, God will decide after you die whether you made the correct decision or not.  Who are we to play the hand of God?  If people wish to kill their unborn child, let them, its their decision and they will have to live with it, but why should my taxpayer dollars go to help them with that decision?  How can I hold this view as a Catholic?  Because in the end it boils down to free will.  As humans, I believe that we have the ability to choose between two options, good or evil, correct or incorrect.  Once an institution begins to dictate what we can or can not choose between, our free will begins to be eaten away.   Every person has the right to choose to kill someone else as long as they are prepared to face the consequences.   The same holds true for abortions.  Everyone should have the right to choose as long as they are willing to face the consequences.  Should there be consequences?  In my mind, yes, but not according to a number of other people.  The government to my knowledge does not fund bomb-making schools or terrorist cells or gun distribution centers as they should not.  So why is there even discussion about funding abortions?  Yes, I know that currently there is no law against abortions, but that does not make it morally right for them to use my money to fund something I don't agree with.  Will they do it anyway, of course.

In 95% of cases, abortions are not a medical necessity, it is merely the choice of an individual to not deal with the consequences of their actions.   If you are walking down the street staring at your phone and trip over a root sticking up out of the sidewalk, fall and crack your head, are you responsible?  Yes, even though in this sue happy society, someone will attempt to place blame on someone else.   So should the government fund the surgery you need after tripping and falling over a tree root?  No.  Granted these are two widely different issues, but in essence it comes down to personal responsibility when it comes to dealing with the consequences of your actions.  The government should play no role in funding anything that deals with the consequences of personal actions, period.  The government, in mind should be minimalist.  It should uphold and maintain the laws of the land as agreed upon by all and ensure the safety and security of the population.   Of late, it seems the government needs to stick their hand into everyone's business and have a say in how everything is run.  Increasingly, they seek to strip away our free will a little bit at a time by dictating what we can or can not do.   The fact that our government's budget couldn't be passed for 6 months over discussing how intrusive they wanted to be is testament to this.  On top of that, this whole abortion issue was one that seemed to be one of the top discussion points that almost shut down our government.  To fund abortion or not to fund.  I say lets fire our senators and congressmen who increasingly act like pre-schoolers and start with a new bunch.  The fact that not a day goes by where they don't attempt to pass the blame to each other and bicker over such inconsequential issues shows that they do not have the true spirit of our country in mind. 

Our founding fathers created this country to have a small government, with limited ability to intrude on the lives of the population.  We have strayed far from this original plan of theirs and it is time to re-make our country in their vision.   Unfortunately, we can not fire our senators or congressmen and must now wait till their terms are up to get them out.  I still maintain that we get rid of the whole bunch and start with fresh blood, not this tea-party crap that is in essence a super conservative republican bunch.  Lets get some people under thirty in there, up-end this beurocratic B.S., eliminate special interest groups and lobyists, and get back to the basics.  

So I guess I have strayed slightly from the issue of abortion, but it is in there and it is an issue that needs to be dealt with.   Perhaps the overall issue we really need to deal with is dealing with the consequences of our actions.  Should there be a law that punishes someone who has an abortion?  Personally, I believe there should be (again it is my opinion and anyone is free to disagree with me).   Regardless of whether a law is ever passed that supports my decision, there should never be any funding for any abortion.  I don't care if someone is poor and they can't afford an abortion, they should have considered the possibility of pregnancy when they had sex.   Lets fight to keep government smaller and less intrusive because that is the overwhelming issue at hand.  If government was kept as small as it was intended to be by our founding fathers, we wouldn't be dealing with this issue now.  But alas, that is a mighty task to undertake and it doesn't seem likely that it will happen anytime soon.  For today at least, enjoy the fact that you are alive and your mother didn't have an abortion because you wouldn't be reading this today if she did.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fear of Death

While this topic is not necessarily one that occupies the front page of any newspaper, it nevertheless seems to be ingrained in our social consciousness.   It is widely accepted that most people do not want to die.  We want to hold off the inevitable as long as possible, struggling to the very last minute to stay alive and prolong our existence.  The medical field has made advances in keeping people alive whether it be through new procedures after a heart attack or new medicines to stave off the inevitable.  In general, everyone seems to be living a longer life due to better nutrition and awareness of what is needed to live longer.  Yet regardless of how long we live, whether it be to an early age of 40 or a very old age of 105, there is an inherrent fear that accompanies death and a distinct sorrow and sadness that infuses the lives of those who are close to the one dying.  Is death a sad event, absolutely, and I know that I would like to put it off as long as possible.  But in addition to the fear of death, there also seems to be a lack of acceptance of the inevitable when it begins to happen.  Death is part of life.  Death is something that every living thing on this planet must go through.   So why then is there such a distinct fear and lack of acceptance of it?

From an early age, we begin to learn about death, either through the pets that we have as children to random roadkill we see on the road to grandparents that we might barely know at the time.   Beginning at that age, we start to push death to the side, not wanting to admit that it will happen to us.  We feel the sorrow that accompanies a family member dying and want nothing to do with it.  We seek to push it to the back of our minds and relegate it to the recesses of our consiousness until a time when we must deal with it where it comes flooding back in torrents.  We learn about the infectious sorrow from those around us who sometimes struggle to move on after a loved one dies.  We see the tears and the grief and often times feel it ourselves.  And we have every reason to feel sorrow and grief.  But at the same time, there must also come an acceptance that for whatever reason the person died, whether it be a car accident, health issue, or natural causes, no matter how much we fight it, there is nothing we can do to bring them back.   No matter who we want to make responsible for the death of a loved one, they are gone and we must deal with it.  Some deal with it better than others, but in most cases, regardless of the cause, we dwell on the actual event of death. 

As we deal with the deaths of those around us, we begin to bring into our consiousness a fear of the event because of the impact it will have on those around us when the time comes for us to die.  Often times, people struggle and fight to the last minute, not accepting their own mortality.   Not having been there, I obviously do not know what its like to lie on your deathbed facing the inevitable.  Yet having known that this day would come for your entire life, it seems that more people would accept their fate when it is presented to them.  In general, most people are unprepared for their own death, not knowing how to deal with it and not wanting to relinquish their tenuous grip on life.  I believe that a big part of the reason that people feel so much sorrow at the death of a loved one is because they see this inner struggle going on and are helpless.  If more of us could die with dignity and acceptance when the day comes, we may impart a different sense of the event to those around us.  If we can offer consolation to those around us from our own death bed, their grief and sorrow might pass a little sooner.   If we can all begin to realize from an early age that we will be on our death bed at some point and accept this fact, when the day comes, events might flow a little more smoothly and our families might have an easier time dealing with it.

In accepting our own mortality, perhaps we can begin to see death as a way to celebrate the life that a person lived rather than dwelling in sorrow on the event of death itself.  Dwelling on the event and imparting an overwhelming sense of sorrow and grief will not help anyone.  Grief and sorrow must come, but they can be dealt with in a different way.  If we choose to celebrate the life that a person lived, we can begin to see past the event itself and instead of holding onto their death, hold onto the life they lived and keep it closer to our hearts.  There are some cultures that celebrate the life that was lived when someone dies and it seems that while the tears flow and the grief abounds, a celebratory spin lightens the mood and forces them to move past the event of death.  Death is a solitary moment in our existence that if we choose to dwell on the one moment, in can infuse a sense of perpetual sorrow and grief.   By celebrating death, we can look past the event and look instead on the impact that person had on family and society while he was alive. 

Perhaps one reason why we fear death so much when it comes knocking is because many people simply float through life, living while not really living.  Even more so today, people do not spend enough time interacting with those around them or spend enough time actually living and enjoying life.  If we come to realize earlier that we will die someday and not bury that notion somewhere in our subconsious, we can approach life with renewed vigor and tenacity.   If we invest time and energy in relationships with those around us, when it comes time to die, we can do so with dignity and knowledge of the fact that we lived a wholesome life and did the best we could.  Death is not an event we should be afraid of.  It is an inevitable fact of life that we were born and so we must die.  Once we can come to terms with this, our lives will be more wholesome and complete.  And when we die, let us urge those around us to celebrate our lives and move quickly past the event of our own death.  Let us start today by living our life with renewed vigor and tenacity, establishing deep connections with those around us and seeking to make a positive impact on those around us.  My favorite quote, which I mentioned before at some point embodies this notion:  "Carpe Diem"  Sieze the Day!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Part 3 of 3: Individualism and the Pitfalls of Socialism

We have finally arrived at the culmination of the three part series where individualism and our uniqueness will be tied to the inevitable pitfalls of socialism as I see them.  There will admittedly be some repetition of previous statements in an attempt to portray as clearly as possible the connections between topics.  Started in part one, we discussed how every individual is unique based upon their accumulated memories and perceptions of life.  These memories and perceptions are the fundamental basis of who that person is on any given day.  As memories and perceptions of the world are accumulated through every day life a person constantly changes, either for the better or for the worse.  For the current topic, lets look specifically at how this affects a person in regards to employment and the work force.  From an early age, although we may not realize it at the time, we begin to formulate distinct perceptions of what it means to work, how to work, and why we should work.  These early perceptions are based primarily on our parents and their experience in the workforce.  As we grow older, more individuals eventually have in impact on our future lives as working individuals.  But lets start with our parents.  Every day when we were younger, we witnessed not what our parents did for work, but how it affected them.  They left in the morning for their jobs and came home in the evening.  The middle was unbeknownst to us as we were not there.  We could hear stories of their day, but this did not have as great an impact as the physical effect work had on them.   In the morning when they left, we either saw excitement in their eyes at the day ahead of them or a sense of boredom and dread at what they had to do that day.   There are many other factors that are associated with these feelings that we would have picked up on as well such as their posture upon leaving, their specific demeanor, or how they talked about it.  If we saw that they were happy going to work, excitement with their day ahead, we began to associate these feelings with their job.  The same holds true if they left feeling negative or downtrodden.  Although we may not have known specifically what they did at the time, the associations were being made.  Similarly, when they came home at the end of the day, we saw the effect that work had on them, positive or negative, full of energy or exhausted and also began to associate these feelings and emotions that they portrayed with the work that they did. 

As we grew up and began to tacitly understand what they did for work, the early associations we made based upon their portrayal of feelings and emotions as related to their work became more concrete in nature as we had something specific to relate these early memories to.   Growing even older, we began to see other adults, their jobs, and how it affected them although these perceptions were more vague as we did not relate to them on the same level as we related to our parents.  The biggest impact upon our perceptions and memories of work was had by our parents.  Consequently, when as teenagers we began to decide what we wanted to do with our lives, either consciously or unconsiously, we drew upon our earlier perceptions and used them in our decisions for a career choice.  Also tied into these memories and perceptions is work ethic.  Although we did not see how our parents worked, we heard about what they did, their struggles, and to a certain extent, we saw how they worked around the house, their dedication or lack thereof, and these in part developed our own sense of how to work, how much energy to dedicate to work, and how good of a job we should do in our daily work.  As every person had parents who were either happy or unhappy with their jobs and either did the best job they could or put in the minimum amount of effort, every person had subtely different perceptions of work and what it means.   So how does this relate to socialism.

Well, in a socialist society where there is supposedly a level playing field and equal opportunity for everyone, there is inherently less drive to do the best job possible.  If work is equally available to everyone and there is no worry about job loss, then there is no need to do the best job possible.  If we go even further where production is equal to the demands of the society and everyone is working, then there will be less work overall to do, further driving down the need to devote our full energy to work and doing the best job possible.  As generations progress and work becomes a general stability equal to the needs of society, every new generation of children begins to formulate their perceptions of work as something that everyone does and everyone benefits from.  While perceptions will still be different based upon a child's parents, more children begin to see a lack of drive to do the best job possible and also a general indifference when it comes to work.  As they grow older, they begin to see work as something that must be done because everyone does it and that it doesn't really matter what you do or how good you are at it, because everyone is compensated equally.  Therein lies the subtle stagnation that begins to take hold of a society through an equal workforce based on socialism.  While socialism maintains that equal work opportunity affords people more time to pursue other interests say in the arts or science, the overall mentality of a society based upon an equal workforce begins to inhibit their underlying desire to pursue other interests.   Now you might say, well what about lower income families in a capitalist society?  How are their children supposed to ever rise out of their situation if their parents impact their future lives in work and they are unhappy?

When children see their parents unhappy in their line of work and not making much money, they will carry those memories into the future and look for different means of making a living.  They see the unhappiness that their parents may have and decide that they want to do something that instills within them a sense of happiness.  They then begin looking for other influences and means of being happy.  Does this always happen?  No.  But it does.  A bigger problem is with parents who exhibit indifference or apathy.  These are issues that to me are more prevalent in a socialist society.  Indifference and apathy provide no drive to change anything.  If a child sees that their parents have what they need, works, but is neither happy nor unhappy, they see this as acceptable and continue forward with it.  Happiness and unhappiness are much greater motivating factors than indifference and apathy.  If you want a prime example, look at a union worker.   Most times, they do the work because thats what their parents did, they will not get fired from their job most likely and they will be provided for in the future.  Is it the best they could do, not necessarily, but they continue on because of job security and a pension.  If you talk to their children, they most likely say they are going to follow in their parents footsteps in the union because thats what their family has done.  This is how stagnation occurs and indifference and apathy are carried through generations.  We have all heard of generations of union workers continually employed in the same line of work because thats what their parents did.  There is more mobility between "classes" if unhappiness or happiness are brought into the home from the workplace.  Thus we see that socialism, while attempting to create a society of equal opportunity and general equality, inherently promotes indifference and apathy and stagnates society.  In addition to having that effect on society, it takes away the uniqueness of individuals by allowing more indifference and apathy to be passed along to children across the board. 

If we want to preserve the uniqueness of individuals and promote creativity when it comes to making life choices, we need to eradicate indifference and apathy from our society.  Those who make the biggest differences are those that are either happy or unhappy.  As horrible as unemployment is, it serves a purpose in our society.  During a recession there is obviously a larger percentage of the population that is unemployed, but under normal circumstances, unemployment serves as a motivating factor to do the best job you can and constantly seek to improve yourself.  Is this always the case, no, and there are many intricacies related to unemployment especially in a capitalist society which negates this.  But in general, unemployment can be a kick in the but to change careers, figure out who you are, and get on a different track.  Is any economic system perfect?  No, and there never will be because the population that is involved in that economic system, namely humans, are not perfect and contain too many differences and faults.   Thus any system, as perfect as it is in theory, will not meet the needs of every individual.  Socialism may look the best on paper, but is perhaps the worst in actuality.  Where does capitalism rate?  In my mind, somewhere in the middle which is about the best we can expect.   As we are all unique individuals with different backgrounds, different perspectives, and different memories constituting who we are, there will always be a constant struggle to find the perfect system or to improve upon the one that we have.  Inevitably, any improvements we make will not satisfy every need and could in the long run create other unforseen problems. 

Perhaps the most important part of all of this is the realization that we are all unique.  No two people are the same even if they are twins that have grown up together.  Any economic or social system which hampers this uniqueness or stifles it should not be accepted.  Again, this is my opinion and I am sure that there are many who would disagree with me.   So to sum it up, socialism stifles our uniqueness and our ability to create for ourselves a future of our own.   We must constantly look at who we are and improve ourselves.   While improving ourselves, there is the very real chance that we will cause someone else to consider improving themselves.  So until next time, lets take the time to look at who we are, where we came from and where we are headed.  Life is about constantly improving our situation (or at least should be) and only we can improve ourselves.