Author Archives: Jim

Guns and stuff

When I was a kid, I was always aware of guns. It was the south, the 60’s, and most people I knew had a gun, or several.

My grandfather wore a pistol in a shoulder holster. My older brother used to take me and my younger brother out shooting. My great-grandmother had a .22 rifle she kept handy. Guns were all around us, everyone had access to them, and you never heard of some crazy loon walking into a school and shooting up a classroom full of kids.

Guns, or access to guns likely have very little to do with Columbine, the Aurora Theater, the Fort Hood shooting, the Newton school incident, the Westside Middle school shootings, or any of the other 62 mass murders committed with guns since 1982.

In fact, when I was a kid, the mass murders that made the news rarely even involved a gun. There was Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Albert DeSalvo (Boston Strangler), David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) and Richard Speck. None of these horrific criminals used a gun to wipe out dozens of victims at once; instead they took out their victims one at a time, over months or years, using strangulation, or knives.

Guns were no less available 40 years ago than they are now, so I would ask the question as to why we have seen such a spectacular rise in kooks committing these crimes with guns.

While I am certainly no scientist, I think there is one main factor. Television.

Yes, Television. Every other TV show has taken the art of “grisly” and compounded it. From CSI to Grey’s Anatomy to Bones – the art of depicting blood and gore has become so common that we are desensitized to it. We think nothing of seeing human entrails, gaping wounds, vast pools of blood, and because it happens on TV, it’s easy for us to forget that when this happens to real people, the effects are deadly.

The other reason I believe that TV is a root cause of our rise in spectacular mass murders is that the news media has turned into this huge piranha like machine that simply devours anything and everything in order to fill the 24×7 news feeds necessary to keep the machine running. The ultimate goal of every 24×7 news channel is to fill those 1,440 minutes of every day with something that makes their viewers stay tuned in.

Covering the local PTA meeting may be something we need to see and hear, but covering a shooting six states away in a town no one ever heard of before will be something that causes viewers to stand up and notice.

Couple this with the fact that a lot of these mass murderers have a drive to be noticed, to go out at the peak of their 15 minutes of fame, and you have a rather unscientific cause-effect scenario.

It works for me. When I was a kid, TV shows wouldn’t dare show what they do now. Even movies were cautious about what went on screen. How did Alfred Hitchcock make his movies so scary with so little blood? Could he be successful today?

Apparently kooks feed off one another. They see someone getting their name in bright lights, and suddenly we have all these gun incidents.

It isn’t the guns.

OK, I’ll admit, there is absolutely no reason for a private citizen to have a high-powered military grade assault weapon. Just as we don’t allow private citizens to have nuclear bombs or a stash of grenades in the basement, we should ban all assault weapons.

Mind you, it won’t stop the criminals, and it won’t eliminate all the ones already out there, but it will make a lot of soccer mom’s feel better about it.

I feel badly for all the affected families. I had just moved to Colorado when the Columbine school shooting happened, we could almost see the school from our office windows, and even though I didn’t know anyone who was affected, it felt like a blow to the gut. But, even though I felt so badly, even then I knew that guns weren’t the problem.

Mental health care in this country is practically non-existent. Many employers who offer health insurance either don’t include mental health care, or have such a tight limit on what is covered and how much can be spent annually that it is near useless.

Then there is the stigma. As a society, we act as bullies to anyone who shows a need for mental health care. It’s right up there with having AIDS – something not to be discussed, and often left untreated rather than suffer the embarrassment.

We can make ourselves feel better about this by letting our legislators pursue some useless bit of legislation that bans private citizens from possessing a few really dangerous weapons, or we can really address the problem by insisting that mental health care is as important as going to the dentist or being treated for cancer.

Oh! For Crying Out Loud …

..you’d think that the world has come to a sudden, shattering halt. At least, if you were a Mitt Romney and/or supporter of the Republican party.

And, from a sampling of facebook posts, it appears your average Republican isn’t terribly well informed either – must be from those years of watching Fox news.

President Obama, as we all know, won a resounding re-election, winning both the popular vote by several percentage points, and the electoral college by a significant amount.

If it wasn’t for the fact that many State legislatures used a heavy partisan hand in redistricting, it’s highly likely that the Democrats would have taken the House back as well as not only retaining control of the Senate, but adding two seats.

What the Republicans have consistently failed to get about this election is that America is becoming a nation of brown people. America is becoming much less concerned about who you love or how you love them. American women fought for centuries to gain their rights to vote and to control their own bodies, and the fact that the Republican party has become the party of aging white men and outdated values has everything to do with why they lost not only the Presidential election, but hundreds of other races for local and state offices.

Apparently this upset caught most Republicans by surprise – apparently because they still insist on turning to Fox news as their sole source of “news”.  It’s time to get your heads out of that dank and moldy cavern of lies and untruth, stop listening to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh; time to tell Karl Rove to retire to some place far, far away, and join the rest of the world as we march forward.

Sure, Democrats get things wrong. But when it comes to valuing humans, protecting the weak, supporting people who try hard, and inviting everyone to the table to participate in the American Experience, the Republican party has a lot to learn.

I suspect that had the Republican Party focused more on the economy and less on how to stop women from exercising control over their own bodies, they might have had more success. Ditto for immigration and same-sex marriage.

I’m not one to gloat, but I am relieved. I’m not sure where we would be had Mitt Romney been given control of our military (War in Iran?). Or control of the supreme court (Roe v. Wade?) – and don’t even mention all the old Bush cronies he would have put back in power. That was definitely a wrong turn we made as a country.

The economy is improving, the housing market is rebounding and hopefully we can do something to get unemployment to continue to decline and hopefully more good jobs can be found in more and more communities. We have a better chance of that happening now than had the Republicans prevailed.

 

Argh!

I don’t know how I’ve become so political in the last couple of elections. When I was younger, I rarely paid attention to the details. I voted, usually, but would often just tick off the names I recognized, without really paying any attention to what they may have said or what their goals were.

For the most part, we Americans just live our lives, and it really doesn’t matter who is running the country. We have a unique constitution with a bill of rights that gives us a level of freedom that is rarely enjoyed by other world citizens, and our system of government contains a set of checks and balances so that no matter what ideology is sitting at the top of the heap, it usually all works out to something in the middle by the time it trickles down to affect any common citizen.

The current election is so very frustrating. On the one hand, we have a young and vibrant Barrack Obama, an electrifying speaker, who took over the Presidency nearly four years ago from George W. Bush.

How can people forget, in a mere four short years, what a mess he inherited? We’ve been fighting two wars for a decade. The United States was seen around the world as a bully with a big stick, respecting no one, and the economy had collapsed into a state like nothing since the great depression of the 1930’s.

None of the above was anything new that started after the election of 2008 – these were all pre-existing conditions. Just as you cannot turn a battleship on a dime, you cannot turn a country around in just a year or two. What do people expect? No one can work miracles, no matter their political affiliation. When did Americans become so impatient?

The 2008 election was also remarkable because of the relatively low profile that the religious right maintained. Previous to 2008, there was always some self righteous preacher who was up in arms about something, and both political parties would do some sort of song and dance trying to appease the bible-belt church goers, while at the same time not appearing to the rest of the voting public as a right-wing lunatic. The 2008 elections heard little from the religious right, and it was refreshing.

The past four years have seen remarkable strides in visibility and recognition of equal rights for gay Americans. While things have been getting better for a long time, mostly in small localized areas and big cities; since 2008 we’ve seen a national move forward, and a vast sea change in how the public perceives their gay neighbors.

We’ve also seen the emergence of the Tea Party branch of the Republicans – not necessarily religious, but definitely on the right fringe of the party. Many of this group are calling for rollback in social programs, reduction of taxes, smaller government – all things that are not necessarily bad things, if done surgically and with a great deal of thought as to the impact.

And, we’ve seen a resurgence from the religious right, again with politicians doing this crazy dance of trying to appeal to everyone at the same time. The story hasn’t changed, but it is apparent that this new religious right is gaining some ground, particularly in regard to women’s rights. Some states have now passed laws that restrict the ability of a woman to get an abortion, and while no state has yet passed it, we are seeing more attempts to get laws on the books that declare a fetus as a person from the moment of conception.

The state of Wisconsin even managed to repeal a law that guaranteed equal pay for women, which was signed by their new Governor, who then went on to survive a recall petition. What are people thinking? C’mon, lets everyone pee in our own cereal.

On our other hand, the Republicans have all fallen in line behind Mitt Romney as the man they think should be president. The scary thing is that there are so many blue-collar, lower-middle-class people who now believe that Romney is the answer to all of our problems that he might actually carry off the election. Woe be unto us should this occur. You think the Bush years were terrible? Just wait.

I’m not anti-Republican. I’m not so leftist that I’m unreasonable. I’m willing to listen to all the sides and make a reasonable choice. I like to think that I’m neither red, nor blue – more purplish – in the middle on most things.

The problem is, that we aren’t hearing anything from the Romney camp except “vote for me, I’m not Barrack Obama.”. If you watch the TV advertisements put out by or on behalf of Romney, you’ll notice that they are nothing but rhetoric. They are full of (mostly false) claims about what the current president has or hasn’t done, but not a damned one of them contain any alternative proposal on what he would do differently.

The Obama side isn’t much better, they put out a slew of their own negativity, but at least they are also stating what they have done and what is different, and what he wants to continue doing. If you stop long enough to actually look at the numbers, you’ll see that they are gradually becoming better. More people are going back to work, more jobs are being created, houses are beginning to sell in many areas of the country – we are in a gradual state of recovery.

One of the things about Romney that so many Americans completely fail to understand is that the man is extremely wealthy, has zero empathy to the masses, and because of his business background, he would be the worst thing we could do to the country right now.

I consider myself a very lucky person. Despite the fact that I’ve no college, I have managed to work my way up in a growing company, make a great salary, with some of those “Cadillac” benefits we read about. Because I started with the company when it was very small, I’ve a personal relationship with some of the “big wigs” at the top.

These people are phenomenally wealthy – just like Mitt Romney.  And, while they are basically “nice” people, every single one of them would not blink an eye if it came to laying me off if they thought it would improve the bottom line of the company.

Every single one of these very wealthy and important people who I’ve worked with for most of 20 years would think absolutely nothing of my personal circumstances if they decided my job could be done better and cheaper by someone in one of our overseas branch offices.

I’ve been to these people’s homes, know their children, have spoken to them on a daily basis for most of two decades. They live in a world where they have three nannies to watch their children. Those children go to only the best private schools. Their families travel around the world on our company jets as a perk.

These people make 100 or even 200 times more than the average employee, and simply cannot understand the lives that normal people lead. I’ve seen the paychecks of some of these people – a single paycheck covering one pay period for some of these people is more than what some of us make in an entire year – on which we support our multi-person families. How can someone who takes home $35,000 in a single paycheck be empathetic to the girl in accounts payable who is supporting newborn twins on that amount of money or less for a whole year?

How can someone who has acknowledged they are worth $250 million or more (we are now finding out about his offshore accounts he hasn’t included in these numbers), who vacations at his private resort on his private lake be empathetic towards a single mom who has been unemployed for six months and is about to lose the house?

Mitt Romney is probably seen as a ‘nice’ guy by his family and his close friends. I’m sure he thinks he is a nice guy. But I guarantee you that he will look at running this company just like he ran companies when he was at Bain Capital. He will do whatever makes the most sense for the bottom line, and will have absolutely no thoughts at all about what those decisions mean for the lives of the people involved. He’ll likely not even understand those decisions will shatter people’s lives, or he’ll suggest that people can just go do something else.

I have no idea why the man wants to be President, except that it must be just something to salve his ego, like a trophy head mounted on a wall. Or, perhaps it’s some secret plan involving the Mormon church. Yeah, silly. But, I don’t think the man wants to be President because he thinks it is his duty.

I’m not so sure that many Americans know what they really want. Whenever things aren’t going good for them, they see “change” as the answer, and Isuppose it is only human nature. Change, for the sake of change, is not always the best answer. Sometimes we just need to be like the slow freighter on its lonely way across the sea. A steady hand at the tiller, with the engine telegraph set to steady ahead. Eventually, we arrive at the destination.

What is most striking about Mr. Romney are the contortions he’s going through currently in trying to distance himself from the Health Care law he signed into being as governor of Massachusetts. This law, which he touted as a good law, benefiting all citizens of the state, served as a model for the law we now have nationally, and which was just declared as constitutional by the Supreme Court.

Why just this past week Mr. Romney has changed his mind at least twice on what he thinks about these two laws. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue website states that residents who cannot provide proof of health insurance when they file their taxes must pay a penalty through their tax returns. Mr. Romney cannot make up his mind whether he wants to agree and call the national mandate a penalty, or a tax and has flip-flopped on it several times.

That is what is scary about this man. He apparently has no strong opinions of his own on which we can count. How he feels on any particular issue depends either on the audience he is addressing at the moment, or which group he is trying to please. He will change his opinion to suit his audience, and he does it brazenly and openly and because of his arrogance, thinks that we don’t notice or don’t care – that our displeasure with Mr. Obama will be enough to carry him through November.

I’d rather stick with the known than put an arrogant, wealthy man in the White House, who simply isn’t the right man for us this time around.

 

 

Patriotically Incorrect

On the eve of our nation’s 237th birthday, it is likely that we are going to hear time and time again from many sources how great our country is, and how we are the best country on the planet.

We all grew up being taught that the United States of America is the best country in the world, but for some reason, thinking back on those occasions, I can’t for the life of me recall being told exactly what we were the best at.

I suppose that we are certainly number one with our Military. Of course, this is subjective and depends on what measures you might use to define the word “best” There are countries with more people in their army than ours (China), but I suppose if you use the measure of which country is likely to win in a conflict, most people would put the USA at the top of the list.

How about measuring some important things like literacy (7th), or math (27th), or science (22nd) or infant mortality (34th). The actual rankings on these things vary depending on the source you use, for example, the United Nations ranks the USA at #34 in infant mortality, but the CIA fact book ranks us at #49. Whichever way you look at it, how can we be #1 when we rank behind countries like Cuba, Cyprus, Croatia, Brunei, New Caledonia and Italy in infant mortality?

The USA is ranked #38 in life expectancy, behind such lovely places as Cuba, Chile, Costa Rica, the UK, or Iceland. How can we claim we are number one when our citizens don’t even live as long as 37 other countries ahead of us?

Yet, in most circles I attend, mentioning that we are anything less than number one at anything is to bring into question your patriotism. The plain and simple fact is that in anything other than being a bully, the United States is simply no longer the best.

I made a statement the other day that U.S. Health Care might be number one if you could afford to pay for the best. The World Health Organization ranks us as #37 with regards to quality of care, but we are indeed ranked #1 when it comes to expenditure per capita. The WHO data available is from 2000, so it is out of date, but we weren’t #1 even back in 2000?

I’m not saying that we need to be number one to be a good place to live. There are lots of wonderful places to live and raise a family that aren’t number one at anything I’ve listed. But, you also don’t hear anyone from those places beating their chest with proclamations of any kind, and I suspect that living in those places that don’t insist on maintaining a false sense of “bestness” is actually healthier.

Throughout our world history, everyone who was “number one” has eventually slid off the top of the mountain to make way for a new King of the Hill. It happened to the Aztecs and the Romans, the French and the British and the Spanish.

We would be very naive to believe that it won’t happen to us. There are 1.3 billion chinese people and over 1 billion on the Indian sub-continent. Americans make up less than 5% of the world in population, yet we are the number one consumers of the worlds resources. Sooner or later some of those billions on the other side of the planet are going to want their share of the worlds resources, and we Americans are going to have to learn to live more frugally.

It’s already known that America is increasingly full of brown people. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants are a dying breed in the United States, much to the chagrin of a whole cadre of narrow-minded people around the country. It is what it is, and we must learn to adjust. There are many areas of the USA today where Caucasians are a minority, and life goes on, and the residents of those areas are just as much “American” as anyone in rural Iowa or Minnesota.

You’ve heard the aphorism “the only thing sure in life is death and taxes”. Well, we need to modify that one to: “the only thing sure in life is death, taxes and change.”

The United States is still a fine country, and with few exceptions, a great place to be from. There is no reason that admitting that we aren’t what we used to be should also be considered unpatriotic.

 

 

 

 

 

The Health Care Act

Like millions of working Americans across the country, and millions more Americans who are covered under existing Medicare and Medicaid care, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has absolutely no impact whatsoever.

I’m covered by my employers health care plan, and millions of Americans are covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

What the ACA does do however is strongly encourage young, healthy people, who otherwise do not have health insurance, and who have, until now, had higher priorities on how they spend their money, to consider purchasing qualifying health care plans and entering the risk pool, thus bringing down the cost of health care for all Americans.

The penalty for not being covered by some sort of qualifying health care plan is a tax penalty, paid when you file your tax return. For someone making about $100,000 a year in 2015, this penalty would be about $2400, or $200 a month, or about 1/2 the expected cost of purchasing a qualifying health care plan.

Another part of the law, not often discussed by the news media, is that the Medicaid program will be expanded to include all persons who make up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Currently, only certain people, often making far below the poverty level are covered by Medicaid. This will allow single people without children, who are riding the poverty train, to be covered in their state if that state elects to adopt the new Medicaid programs.

The Supreme Court today ruled that the ACA, for the most part, is indeed constitutional, and the law stands.

Many people, led by Mitt Romney, want to repeal the law because they say it goes to far and places an unfair burden on the American People. I’m confused by this approach.

Sure, the United States has the best health care on the planet, as many claim. However, most of us can’t afford it, and settle for something considerably less than the best, just as we don’t purchase first class airline tickets, or attend sports events in a private box seat.

“ObamaCare”, or the ACA as I prefer, will allow more of our citizens to access at least some level of health care that is more sophisticated than a band-aid bought at the corner drugstore.

Some people say that we will see ‘death panels’ formed, where decisions must be made about who gets health care, and who is allowed to die. This is myth, traceable to a bunch of malarkey published in The New Republic as far bas as 1994

There is a provision of the bill that requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide health care as an employment benefit. That employers of that size do not already provide health care is a puzzle to me, how do they attract employees now? I would think any reputable larger employer would offer health care as a benefit in order to attract the best qualified employee. I would think this requirement would level the playing field, and employees who now work at large companies where they are just another number might now be attracted to work at a smaller company, where they can really make an impact.

The Congressional Budget Office has actually estimated that in a a ten year period after the law takes effect, the ACA will lead to a direct reduction in the Federal Deficit of 138 billion dollars. Any argument that the bill would increase the Federal Deficit has already been shot in the foot.

There are all kinds of benefits that we, as a country, stand to gain by having a National Health plan that covers a majority of our citizens, and I fail to see why so many conservatives are against this, even on principle.

Yet, today, Mitt Romney is still sticking to his guns and states that his first act in office would be to begin the repeal of the 2010 Health Care Act. That it would be even possible for him to achieve that is in serious doubt, since several attempts to do just that have already failed. Even should Romney win the Presidency in 2012, it is unlikely that he would also have both houses of Congress along with him.

What bothers me most about Romney, and the Republicans of 2012 in general is the same thing that I’ve commented on many times here before. It isn’t enough for me to be against someone or something, you must also state what changes you would make and how you would make them.

All I’ve heard Mitt Romney say in the past few months is that he is against Obama, and that he is against the Health Care Plan, and that he would repeal much of the progress we’ve made recently under President Obama. What he isn’t saying to date is what he would do instead.  In fact, on pretty much any issue at all, you cannot get Romney to say where he stands. His entire campaign now consists of “Vote for me.”

His reputation is that he downsizes and outsources. You cannot do that with the Federal Government and still be a responsible leader. Sure, cut waste where you find it, stamp out corruption where you find it, replace inept employees with talented ones, but you can’t reduce the number of policemen, or firemen, or customs inspectors or border guards or teachers we employ when our population gain alone requires that we add more of these people. You can, and should replace bad teachers, corrupt border guards, lazy policemen just as you would a private employee who isn’t up to the job at hand.

You also cannot eliminate entire departments within the Federal Government as some claim they would do. If you eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development, what will you put in its place to take over the vital jobs that it performs, or the vital oversight it performs? Many current Republicans or unaffiliated conservatives want to reduce the size of our government, but do they truly want to revert to an era when corporations were allowed to pollute our rivers and streams to their hearts content? When corporations could set up a mine and drill on the hillside that you see out your kitchen window? Yes, our government is huge, but lets not cut it with a dull axe – I think a wiser route would be to surgically trim waste with a sharp scalpel.

I’m as startled as anyone that Chief Justice Roberts sided with the liberal side of the court in upholding the ACA today. It gives me hope that the court is more impartial than we have been giving credit. I’m also pleased that even the 4 dissenting judges agree that there is no way that the HCA was constitutional under the Commerce Clause of the constitution as the Government tried to assert. That put all 9 of the Supreme Court justices in agreement on many things about this law.

I hope it stands.

While I agree that Mr. Obama has not done the best job that he could have as President, that he has failed to lead in some instances, I still think that among the choices we have for president in 2012, continuing with him is better than a new road with Mitt Romney as the driver.

This was driven home by an article I read this morning at The Daily Beast where I learned that in the 51 years since President Kennedy was president, with Democrats and Republicans in office for approximately equal periods of that time, the economy produced nearly twice as many jobs under democrats than under republican leadership. Twice as many? Wow.

I learned that in just the past 3 or 4 months the private sector has produced more new jobs than the private sector in the seven years of the Bush administration before the financial crisis .

The portions of the HCA that are already in effect have slowed the growth of inflation in health care costs to 4 percent, the lowest in 50 years.

Why aren’t we hearing these numbers in the media? Not even Rachel Maddow is touting these numbers. I think people need to hear them.

Yes, to be honest, it’s Bill Clinton producing these numbers, but he isn’t making them up out of thin air. As “the shrewdest mind to occupy the Oval Office in our time”you have to give the man some credit. OK, so he tended to think with his dick a couple of times, how is he so different from most men in that respect? During his time in office we enjoyed some of the best financial growth in our history. He had to have done something right.

I’m just saying, ya know?

 

 

 

 

What scares me about todays Republican Party

Let’s face it. I’ve been on the planet nearly 60 years. There was a Republican in office when I was born, and I’ve lived through the administrations of Nixon, Reagan and both Bush’s.

I grew up in South Florida, which was heavily Democratic, then went heavily Republican and pretty much stayed there until the year 2000 when it became pretty much a toss up. From Orlando heading South, its urban and liberal, offset by the more rural northern counties which are more conservative. Today, it can swing either direction in a national election, much like many other states.

The world didn’t crumble, I didn’t starve, I wasn’t arrested for being a queer, and I have one of those nice paying jobs with “gold-plated” benefits that you hear people say don’t exist anymore.

I served in the United States Navy for 7 years and 8 months during the 1970’s, a fairly conservative period for the military, well before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I only left the Navy because I told. We’ll save that story for another time as it’s off topic here, but I was surrounded by conservatism, and life didn’t end.

It has been my past experience that the United States of America did not become an untenable place of residence because the Republican party was in power. Sure, there were things done that I didn’t agree with, but nothing that was personally onerous or even particularly difficult to deal with.

So, what scares me so much about a potential win by the Republican party of today?

For one thing, Mitt Romney is about as duplicitous as they come. He’s worse than a shoe salesman, or a used car salesman. He’ll change his personality and beliefs to fit into whatever he thinks you want him to be. We’ve seen example after example of him flip-flopping on important stances just to please whatever audience is before him. This tells me that he does not want to be President because he wants to make a better America – he wants to be President because he wants to make a wealthier Mitt Romney.

He said the other day in a speech, paying Mr. Obama sort of a back-handed and unintentional compliment, that Obama stated that we needed more teachers, more policemen, more firefighters, and that he had missed the point of the recent Wisconsin election. Romney seems to think that the American people want us to hire fewer policeman, fewer firemen and fewer teachers.

Unfortunately, a lot of other Republicans applaud his words, but I don’t think they are paying much attention to what he is actually saying, or what he might actually do if he is elected.

Are so many Republicans willing to vote for Mitt Romney simply because he isn’t Barrack Obama? Many in my own family don’t hesitate to say, with exuberance, “I ain’t votin for no damn nigger”. At least they are out front about it, and I think many Americans around the country have similar feelings about our current President, and just don’t have the balls to come out and say it.

Racism has not gone away in this country, it has simply become more genteel and a lot less violent than when I was a kid.

Back to what scares me about Romney and todays Republican party. As Bob Cesca stated in an opinon piece he wrote a few days ago, the republican leadership of today aren’t concerned about how many policeman or firemen or teachers we have in this country, they are concerned that all these first responders are on the local payroll of “we the people”.

If Romney is elected and the Republican party continue in power, you’ll see a major expansion in the contracting out of government services to third party corporations. Just as Blackwater USA (now known as Academi) took over much of the military’s role in security in Iraq and Afghanistan, under a Republican administration in this decade, you will see the federal government attempt to move more and more “first responder” type civil service jobs out of the hands of local governments and into the hands of private contractors.

I would guarantee you that there will be a slew of loyal and wealthy Republicans behind this, who somehow make even more of a fortune and become even more powerful.

That’s not the worst.  Privatizing our police, fireman and teachers place “we the people” another step removed from having a say in our local communities. It becomes all about the money, and no one really will give more than lip service to principles and ethics.

Look at the mess Dick Cheney’s company (Blackwater) got us into with the torture of prisoners of war. Do you really think that a contract policeman, who is paid by the arrest is going to have any real interest in making your neighborhood safe? It doesn’t matter which party is in power if the ethics are flawed.

While I am not particularly fond of unions, I do believe they have a right to exist, and if you want to join one because you feel you are being unfairly treated by your employer – well, that’s why unions began over a hundred years ago.

Wealthy, conservative CEO’s of corporations are much more interested in profit than they are the rights and comfort of employees. Many of the labor laws we have in place today are the direct result of “activist” unions of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. Under future Republican administrations, you will see more of what happened in Wisconsin where our public employees such as fireman, teachers and policemen have fewer rights to bargain under the umbrella of unions.

How will our country change when everything is run by a private company, under contract to the Federal Government? That’s what the Republicans have as a vision of the perfect United States, and that is what scares me about them today.

Under that veneer of patriotism, and the zeal to “cut costs”, and “reduce taxes”, they are driving the country down a different road that also ends in disaster and ruin.

While we tout ourselves as being a country full of independent-minded citizens, where the work from the sweat of your own brow is all that matters, it simply isn’t the whole story. We’ve also always been a group of small communities, working together to make life better for all of us.

In a pure sense, some would define that as socialism. As a community, we pay taxes to support common services that benefit us all. At first, it was a few citizens pooling together funds to pay for a community firehouse, or a schoolhouse with a teacher, or to make the road to the next town better so it could be traveled on in bad weather.

Taxes were raised to build bridges, to raise dikes, to deepen harbors – all of these are things that directly or indirectly benefit the public, yet many on the conservative side of our political environment today would call these efforts socialism.

As our country grew, and became wealthier, we realized that among us were the very poor, the ill, the elderly, and our sense of morality would not let us abandon them to live or die in the elements, so again we pooled our resources, and for those in the very bottom of society, we gave them a little help.

The Great Depression that began in 1929 and lasted through much of the 1930’s was also accompanied by one of the fiercest droughts in modern history.

Entire fields of wheat were swept away in the wind and honest and hard-working families all over the country were losing their farms, their land and their livelihoods because of the double-whammy of mother nature and the collapse of much of the financial backbone of the country. One fed off the other and you ended up with entire families living on the side of the road.

Before the depression, elderly people usually had a little pension from where they worked, or they saved up for their old age, or their children took over the family business or farm and helped out – and there was no government involvement at all. With farms repossessed by banks, who then went under themselves, with no jobs to be found anywhere, with an entire generations savings gone practically overnight – Social Security was born, again, simply a pooling of community resources for a good cause.

I’m not sure that most Republican or conservative voters today understand just what their leadership wants to do. The Republican leadership imagines a country with wall-to-wall Walmarts, with much of the government dismantled and turned over to private contractors and they count their stock certificates in their dreams.

Is President Obama’s dream of a future America free of problems? Certainly not. He’s as guilty of taking us down a few wrong roads as any of the last few Republicans we’ve had in office, and his glaring lack of leadership is at least somewhat responsible for the gridlock in Congress.

There has to be a healthy balance between doing what is right for people and the country, and allowing corporations to make a profit.

Many of the “socialistic” agenda items referenced by the far right include such things as the clean air act, the clean water act and  the laws on our books that prohibit the exploitation of children or minorities. Do we really want an America where the corporations with unlimited pools of money are really in charge? We are dangerously close to that now.

Do we want to return to an era where our rivers burn, the air is un-breathable, where you can’t get a job because of the color of your skin or the church you attend? Many of the protections of our individual liberties that we know today were championed by liberal democrats.

I had a huge laugh the other day when I saw a post on facebook from someone obviously favoring Romney and the conservative view of today. This particular lady has spent much of the last 25 years on unemployment, or in government housing. One of her kids hasn’t worked in years and depends on government assistance. Has she really thought this through?

I don’t care that Mitt Romney is a mormon. I don’t care that Barrack Obama is black. What I do care about is that we need more of “we the people” and less of Big Corporation, Inc. involved in running our country. I envision much of the social progress we’ve made in the past 50 years sliding backwards under a heavily conservative government.

Perhaps some of it does fit under the category of socialism, but I’d rather see someone getting unemployment  and social security than another Walmart on the corner.

Whichever political party ends up in control, we need to make sure that “we the people” stay involved, vocal and active in oversight. We cannot continue to elect politicians of either party whose primary goal is self-enrichment or nepotism. We need to elect politicians that stop seeing the other side of the aisle as “the enemy.”

I’m not saying that Barrack Obama is a perfect President, but am saying that for now, he’s a better choice for us as a people.

 

D-Day

Yesterday, June 6th, was D-Day.  I would bet if you were to ask most people under 25 today what D-Day meant, you’d get a blank stare, or perhaps some mention of a dance club DJ.

I was born 10 years and 3 months after the official end of World War II. By the time I got into school and we were learning our history around the event, it was far enough in our past that I thought of it as ancient history. I’m sure that today’s students, some 65 years after the end of the war put it in the same category as the War of 1812 or the War of the Roses. Something that happened a very long time ago and has nothing to do with them. Words in a book.

Sure, the news today is constantly full of the “Iraq War” or the “Afghanistan War”, and most of our younger generation has some concept of warfare, at least on the abstract. Because there is no longer a draft, where every young man was required to serve in the armed forces, and because none of the wars or skirmishes that we have been involved in since 1960 have actually involved U.S. territory, the awfulness of war and the hardships required are simply abstract situations we observe on television.

It is hard to grasp that a mere 65-70 years ago, nearly every nation on the planet was directly involved in war. Nearly every single country took sides, and all the great powers of the world were involved. We have lasting evidence of the alliances formed in todays NATO and the United Nations Security Council.

Many young people today are completely unaware that immediately after World War II, the United States was the only authorized government in Japan and the allied forces ruled Germany.  The United States occupied Japan from August of 1945 until April of 1952. Germany was more complex, with four zones of occupation, American; British; French and Soviet. German was eventually split into two countries, with the occupation of the Western portion continuing until 1955.  The German Democratic Republic, or East Germany was founded in 1949 and was largely run by the Soviet government until late 1955.

Germany recombined into a single country in 1990.

Even though we see news stories about “the war” daily, it has very little impact on our daily lives. Nothing like World War II, where nearly everything was rationed. I wonder how todays young people would react if told they could no longer fill up their car with gas whenever they wanted, or that they could no longer purchase sugar, meat or butter at the grocery store whenever they needed? I have a hard time seeing the population of todays United States being so cooperative were the government to suddenly ration such things.

During World War II, such things as gasoline, cars, bicycles, shoes, coffee, meats and canned fish, cheese — all these items were rationed. Thousands of rationing boards were established around the country, and they decided what sort of stamps a family or individual might get, based on family size, importance of any job performed, and of course, what was available to be disbursed.

Times have changed of course. I’m sure that should a new global confrontation arise, and rationing were necessary, we would see a whole new list of items. For one thing, there really isn’t much actually manufactured in the United States anymore. There are lots of things that are “assembled” here – mostly cars, but the parts are produced in Vietnam, China, Thailand, Mexico – any place where labor is less expensive. With the economies of most major world powers being global today, we would see a vastly different impact.

I’m not sure that were we required to sacrifice as our parents (or grandparents) did for World War II that we could do something similar today. So many of our youth are so accustomed to their McDonald’s chicken strips and daily dose of video games that I wonder what sort of state of bewilderment would they be in should that be ripped from them?

I suppose that I’m just being silly, and that if we had to do something similar today, we would come together and do whatever we needed. We see glimpses of this when a natural disaster hits a region – like a tornado or a hurricane flattening a town or a county – for a short time, people come together and it all works out fine.

 

 

 

 

Just because everyone says it, doesn’t make it true

Salt. I love salt. I salt my pizza. I salt my tuna. I bath my french fries in salt. Give me a platter of thin, crisply fried sweet potato chips and some garlic salt. Salty fried eggplant. Ummmm. Salt.

On cooking competition shows that we watch, I point out to my partner that contestants are regularly faulted for not using enough salt in their cooking. Proper amounts of seasoning, applied at proper times, elevate food from “stuff” to exquisite joy in the mouth. Adding salt from a shaker after its cooked just isn’t the same in many cases.

My partner is constantly yammering* at me about my salt intake. Perhaps he fears I’ll suddenly stroke out with a fork halfway to my face. I don’t know if he restricts his salt intake because he simply doesn’t like it, or if it is because of the messages we have been seeing for the past 30 years from the National Institute of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that too much salt might be bad for you.

It turns out, as discussed in a New York Times article, that we’ve been fed a load of crap. Everyone who has been telling us for the past 30 or 40 years that salt was bad for us, also freely admitted that there was absolutely no scientific evidence behind this claim that made it true.  Back in 1972 when the NIH started pushing this tasteless load of bull onto the American public, it was based on two observations, none of them qualifying as a scientific study.

Finally, someone has gotten around to doing some scientific studies, backed by some real and proven science, and guess what? They found that if you cut back your salt intake too much, you can actually do more harm than good. Yes, reducing the amount of salt you eat can result in some people in a temporary reduction of blood pressure, but there is no scientific evidence that this does any long-term good…or any long-term bad …..or any long-term anything. The only thing that a reduction of salt does for sure, is that it makes pretty much everything we eat taste like baby food. Bland and lifeless.

Throughout the history of the world, salt has been a foundation of civilization. It was used to preserve food, long before we had refrigeration or other sophisticated methods of making food picked today still edible next month. It was an important and vital part of many ancient economies, in fact the word “salary” is derived from the Latin salarium. The Roman empire depended on salt, and even plain old Liverpool rose to be a great port because of nearby salt mines.

There are now scientific studies showing that over a long term, people who restrict their salt intake secrete a higher level of Renin from their kidneys. This higher secretion of Renin can set off a chain of physiological changes which, remarkably enough, end with an increase in risk for heart disease. One of the very things that the NIH and USDA said we could prevent by reducing our salt intake.

A slew of recent trials indicate that reducing your salt intake to anything near what our government says is the upper limit of “safe” will probably do more harm to us than good.  These more recent studies are large, covering 100,000 people across 30 counties.

I am going to rejoice! I’m going to make sure that salt is always on the grocery list. I’m no longer going to restrict the salt I use when I cook just because I’m afraid I’ll send someone into sudden kidney failure.

I’m going to keep salting my pizza and french fries, and no longer going to feel guilty just because someone else seems to think that salt is evil. Salt makes life taste good – I even remember my grandfather salting the limeades that my grandmother used to make on those sweltering summer days when even the asphalt on the street was beginning to melt.

Black salt, grey salt, red salt, white salt – it’s all good and has a place in my kitchen, and everyone is welcome!

*footnote – Yanmmer. To utter persistent complaints, cries of distress or sorrow.

 

The death of local news

Despite my protestations the other day about all the negatives in news, I do still peruse a regular run of news sites around the web. My favorites are of course the aggregation of news on the Google news site, and the Huffington Post.

I was a little disappointed today when I browsed to 9news.com, the website of a local TV station.

The top 1/3 of the page deals almost exclusively with national news. While I enjoy national news that is applicable to me, I don’t think that my local TV station, who is given a license by the F.C.C. in return for a promise to serve the local community should be my primary source for national news.

In 2012 there are hundreds of sources I can turn to for national news. There is the internet of course, and countless 24-hour news channels on cable TV. There are darn few sources of local news.

Since I don’t actually watch channel 9 news, I thought I’d go check the website of the channel I watch most often for local news. That would be the local channel 7. Their website is harder and longer to type, so I don’t visit it often – for some reason it is thedenverchannel.com.

Sure enough, the top 1/3 of their website is all about local news, and the national news is relegated to a “beneath the fold” location, where it belongs on a web site that should be devoted to local resources.

Even the local Fox news channel, kdvr.com has most of the top 1/3 of their page (but not all) devoted exclusively to local news. I’d rather go without news than watch Fox, but I do applaud the fact that at least they remember they are supposed to be a local resource.

The CBS television station, channel 4, KCNC doesn’t even bother to maintain their own website – they use a generic template run by CBS at denver.cbslocal.com. That’s even worse than Channel 9. That’s no local representation at all.

Television and Radio station licenses are not given out to people and corporations so that they can make a gazillion dollars. They are handed out in return for a promise from the broadcaster that they will service the local community in some way, using the license to broadcast on a specific radio frequency. Radio Frequencies are “public property”, thus their use is controlled, and it is supposed to be for the good of the community in some manner.

Again, in todays age of the internet, where you can watch movies, have a live conversation, look up information, listen to music – radio and tv and libraries are rapidly becoming less important to our society, but, while they are still here, they should at least try to pay homage to the terms of their licensing.

 

A Picture is worth 1000 words

Everyone has heard the line that “A Picture is worth 1,000 words”, but have we really given any serious thought to what that could mean? In today’s world, where good pictures can be taken with your phone, at any time, what is it that we are capturing, and why do we even need a picture?

With the advent of the internet, it isn’t uncommon to discover that your attention span for any given subject has decreased dramatically. With so much information available with the next click of the mouse, do we really stop and think about what we see, or do we just click to move on, addicted to what is next instead of what we have now.

I’m fond of many Tumbler sites, some of them quite pornographic, others are more eclectic, but I find all of them fascinating. For those of you not familiar with tumblr.com, it is a place where you can post a visual blog, a stream of pictures that fascinate you, tell a story, of a similar them – whatever strikes your fancy.

One of the tumbler sites that I follow is myselfixion, a site that can be pornographic, but has far more pictures that suggest another time, another place. The author of the site is very fond of old military pictures, tintypes, things from the past.

Every picture that is posted tells a story. You don’t know what the actual story is, and that is the beauty of sites like this – you can look at a picture, and make up your own story to match the picture.

Take our adventurous young man on the left, who has decided to wander into the lake.

From the ripples spreading out to either side, he is obviously moving, not standing still.

His arms are raised. Is this to help him balance? Or, like myself when entering a body of water, is it cold, and the raising of the arms just helps stay warmer for just a little bit?

Where is he going? Is he heading to the trees on the other side? Is he headed for the rainbow? Looking for the pot of gold? Why is he naked? Who else is there? Who took the picture? There is a storm coming, or a storm has just passed, so the time of day is hard to discern. Is it afternoon? Evening? A rare morning storm?

How about our friends Pete and Robert from 1947? From the scenery behind them, it is a family beach, but neither of them has a girl in the picture. Were they out with another buddy, who is behind the camera? Are they boyfriends? One of them has wet hair, he just came in from the surf, the other appears to be dry. In another picture just before this one, the man on the left is shown in a side view wearing aviator sunglasses, and the one in the dark trunks is shown on his knees, with a cigarette hanging from the right corner of his mouth. From the houses along the left side of the picture, this could have been taken along the North Carolina shore, or perhaps even somewhere in New England.  Pete and Robert would be approaching 90 now, if they were still around. Do they remember this trip to the beach?

Then there is the plain bizarre.  Here are four young men, all apparently close-shaved, wearing what appear to be the same color and style of shorts, playing a game of cards, while wearing gas masks, with one of the men having a rifle propped across his lap.

It is outdoors, on what appears to be a nice day, with a lake or river behind them, as they sit on granite rocks, in what may be a marshy area.

Are they participating in a military exercise and just passing the time until the drill is over? I remember from my time in the military that unless you were skilled in “hurry up and wait” you could be frustrated much of the time. These guys are barefoot, with little to speak of in the way of clothing, so they obviously aren’t going to go very far in a hurry.

Perhaps I’ll post more from this and other tumblr sites I like, and try to write actual stories about what I think the subjects are doing and thinking. Of course I’d have no way to know that I was even close to accurate, but it does amuse me.

These pictures also help to remind us that in days gone by we were preceded by people who were very much like we are. Curious, adventurous, handsome, cute, ugly, fat, crazy – we aren’t the first to invent any aspect of life or human behaviour. We are but one link in an unending chain of life, and that is what pictures help us remember.