Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Farewell, and the Cliff

My last post was for my dad who succumbed to the wear and tear of life last Tuesday, December 4, 2012.  Obviously, the last ten days have been an emotional roller coaster.  While it was nice to see all the people who took the time to travel to see my dad one last time, it was difficult to watch him die in the hospice.  Let it suffice to say that I cried more in this last week and a half than in the previous year.  I cried in front of my family and friends, something that I am not accustomed to do, perhaps to my detriment.  And, I witnessed my brothers and sisters crying, again, not an everyday event.  As I said to more than one person, we have been a fortunate family in that we haven't experienced much death.  In those times when I could separate myself from my own grief, it was interesting to see the range of emotions as expressed by my family as the process of my dad's dying unfolded.  Denial, anger, acceptance, grief; it was all there in stark reality.

Interestingly, I was not privy to any tears from my mother, not even at the service.  In discussing this among my siblings, we hypothesized that perhaps she was hiding her grief from her family, or that she was a joyful event crier only, or that her age/generation understood death better than ours.  No conclusion was derived.

Today, in the car, it came to me that perhaps my level of grief and tears is related to my sadness of all the things I would not be able to share with my dad in the coming years such as the marriage of my children and my first grandchild.  We have a yearly family tradition of vacationing in the Poconos, which will now go unshared with my dad.  Talking sports, playing cards, holiday meals, even just watching TV will no longer include his presence, notwithstanding the huge picture my brother had made which sits in my mom's living room.  And, if I assume that my tears are the result of those missed future times together, perhaps it is also true that the sadness is a result of the past times unshared.  All the things that went unsaid.  All the times I took his life and love for granted.  Which brings me back to my mom.  No tears in her case may simply mean that she never took him for granted, that she shared everything with her husband of 56 years, that her love is stronger than the mere separation of death, and that she knows that where he has gone, she will follow to share eternity.

And then there is the upcoming fiscal cliff.  Of course, it all seems so trivial in the face of the loss of a loved one, but the reality is, how we choose to handle our national finances is important.  I have commented on numerous occasions that I have full faith in that our elected officials will avoid the cliff.  They will (gasp) compromise yet do so in a way that will allow themselves to save face with their respective constituents.  Revenue will be increased, spending will be decreased.  No one will be happy, yet the spin master's for each side will claim victory on the talk shows and air waves.  Oddly, the cliff will be avoided yet the problem will stay with us for quite some time. 

Perhaps it is a stretch, but one might say that paying a bit more in taxes, receiving a bit less in entitlements, is somewhat like the death of a family member.  We know it is inevitable, we know it will cause tears and sadness, but we also know the departed is going to a better place, so we accept that pain and sadness.  It is time for us all to accept a bit of pain for our great country so that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy the same benefits and freedoms that, like one's father or mother, we so often take for granted.





    

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Knife Man

In 1985 I wrote the following story about my dad.  Although I wrote it using a fictitious narrator, it was composed with the knowledge I gained, first hand, in those days when I was a "helper". 

As my dad approaches the time for him to pass from this life to what lays beyond, from myself, all of his helpers, sons and nephews alike, and from those he served faithfully all those years who may no longer think of him but who were positively effected by his life, and, of course from his immediate family, relatives, and many, many friends, here's to you dad.  We love you and will miss you terribly.


                                                       

                                                            The Knife Man



I am standing inside my front door on a cold, October morning with a cup of hot chocolate. I’m up before the sun, awaiting Joe Pugnetti’s arrival. Today, I will go “on the job” with him, a job I’ve often wondered about in the fifteen years of our acquaintance. He pulls up in his station wagon and beeps the horn. I close the door behind me, walk briskly to the waiting car, and we begin the twenty minute ride from our suburban neighborhood to Philadelphia.

Joe is one of the nicest neighbors on our block. If I need a hand with a backyard chore, or want to borrow a tool of his – “no problem”. On most weekends he is outside working on a car, building something, painting or just maintaining his property. At those times, like today, he is rarely at a loss for a good conversation. Today, as we drive to the shop, we discuss a recent hijacking at sea.

We pull into a narrow driveway which widens into a parking area just wide enough for two cars to fit. Joe parks within inches, on my side, of an outside heating oil tank, a few strides from the shop. Apologetically, he tells me to slide out from his side.

Joe is a knife grinder. Along with his brother, they operate a small business providing knives to restaurants, butchers, supermarkets and grocery stores within the city of Philadelphia. Joe delivers the knives from a step-van truck while his brother sharpens them at the shop. Joe’s day consists of a pattern of “stops”, a different route for each day of the week. At each customer, they provide a previously determined number and type of sharpened knife while removing the dull ones from the last delivery. In essence, these customers rent sharp knives from their business. For Joe’s part, he has been delivering knives for thirty-five years, fifty-one weeks a year, 45-50 hours per week.

The shop is a small, darkened rectangle with an oily, heavy air about it. Along two of the walls are boxes of recently sharpened knives and various grinding machines, foremost of which is the whetstone or grinding wheel. Replacing this wheel of stone is done every eighteen months by three men and a winch.

The left side of the shop is dominated by the delivery truck which Joe is loading. He indicates four boxes near me and asks if I can bring them over. All are heavy but within my ability to lift. Within the truck the knives are sorted by type and stored in boxes like the four I have helped load. The wooden boxes are arranged onto metal racks, one on each side of the truck, two levels high. This storage system dominates the interior of the truck, leaving very little room for passengers. As we back out of the shop down the driveway, it occurs to me that I am stationary within a vehicle loaded to the gills with very sharp objects loosely stacked in boxes, without lids.

As we drive the twenty minutes south on Broad Street towards the first stop, the sun rises and the city begins to awaken. Traffic has thickened and people are hurrying through the streets into the stores. Joe is in and out of the first few shops very quickly. “In the early morning, no one wants to talk”, he explains. “They’re too busy”.

Joe is an excellent driver. He maneuvers down boulevards and alleys with equal ease. His parking skill is demonstrated at the third stop when he perfectly backs into a space, with one attempt, which someone in a two-door car has just passed by.

At each stop, Joe moves to the back of the truck and selects the knives. There are at least five or six different types, as far as I can tell, each with a different use. Additionally, the width of the knife blade differs as the action that sharpens a knife also removes or wears away a bit of the blade with each weekly grinding. As a result, the newest knives have the widest blades, the older ones, thinner blades, and, again, each level of thickness results in different uses. Joe carries up to ten knives in one hand, handles in the palm, blades between his fingers pointing to the ground. For stops which require more than ten knives, he uses a wooden box, without a lid. He moves smoothly through crowds, the knives seemingly an extension of his body. “I’ve never cut anyone”, he states proudly.

His hands, however, are another matter. They are rough and heavily callused with thin scars here and there. Today, he wears a small bandage on his right index finger. But he has never gone to a hospital for treatment, preferring butterfly bandages that he keeps stocked in the truck. “It’s a part of the job, like blisters on a golfer’s hands or cramps in a writer’s”.

About 10:00, it starts raining. The weather can be a negative factor in Joe’s day. All precipitation effects traffic flow, adding travel time between stops. The point is illustrated by a ten minute backup of vehicles wading through a small lake which had formed under an overpass. Also, Joe walks twelve to fifteen miles a week from vehicle to store, within stores, and back to the truck so any extreme weather increases the annoyance level. “In the summertime, this truck becomes a metal sweatbox but since this is a stop and go business, I’ve never had one air-conditioned. For me, extreme heat is far worse than the cold”.

Joe symbolizes the work ethic which built America; he is on his route every day, healthy or sick. He shares this value with the predominantly small businessmen who comprise his clientele. Also, Joe emphasizes the personal aspect of his service. Frequently he emerges from a store laughing aloud or calling a “Take it easy” over his shoulder. At other times, I catch the end of a conversation about politics, sports, even basic philosophy. They are blue-collar opinions emphasized with gestures and rising voice levels. “I especially enjoy the social part of the job. My customers encompass all ages, races and opinions, and in dealing with such a wide range of people, it makes me a better person, a bit more tolerant. Also, when it is time to raise the prices, my customers accept it more easily. We understand each other”.

This relationship can also pay off in a more serious way. At lunch, Joe relates a story of getting jumped by two “young punks” after money. One slammed his hand with the knives against the truck while the other rifled his pockets. They got less than they might have because Joe’s customer burst from his store waving a gun. Joe’s savior was a Korean grocer who spoke little English but knew Joe as his knife man.

This kind of potential danger via the cash and carry aspect of the business is Joe’s biggest concern. “Every year there seems to be more senseless violence. I worry about myself but mostly I worry for my family. I still have four kids at home, and one is only five years old. Who’ll take care of them if some dope-filled junkie kills me?”

When we finish eating, Joe walks to the counter to pay our bill. He is 6’2” tall with an outdoorsman’s upper body, yet I recall the hurt in his eyes, the hurt of a sensitive person who worries about the uncontrollable dangers of life.

By one o’clock, the sun is out again. I go into a few stores to watch Joe in action. He walks purposefully, stopping at various stations within the store, exchanging sharp knife for dull. In dank, dark basements, he roots around for knives. In the hectic kitchens he blends in and out of the chaos, even exchanging hellos with some of the busy workers. I am more in the way than useful, but in those few shadowings of Joe, I witness a form of artistry in the way he performs his job.

Later in the day, Joe lets me “serve” one of his customers by myself. He hands me a box with five knives, tells me to put four at the butcher block and the smallest one at the register. “In this area, many store owners keep a sharp knife with the cashier, to discourage robbery”, he explains. Inside, I am initially attacked by five sets of eyes, but they relax with I exchange the knives at the butcher’s block. At the register, I am given the last knife along with their payment, and asked with some sarcasm if I am the helper today.

Back at the truck I recount my experience and ask him about the helper comment. “My kids and my nephews have been my helpers in the past. I start them at eleven or twelve, and they assist me in the summer and on days off from school. I can’t pay them much money, so by sixteen they get a real job. But in those few years, I am able to experience something that few fathers can – I can take my kids to work, to work”. He turns to me, taking his eyes off the road for just an instant. “It is a very rare opportunity; to have your son’s be a part of your world, of the world which supports them and the entire family. They may not understand it as it is happening, but I know it will stick with them forever”. Joe turns his head frontwards again, but before it has turned completely, I catch what I think is a small tear at the corner of his eye.

This brief glimpse of Joe, the father, underlines even more the hurt he exhibited at lunch. Being able to properly take care of his family is Joe’s biggest concern, his prime motivation for working.

Back in the shop, we unload the truck. Joe sharpens a few saws which is a minor part of the business. He relates his pole-climbing days in the Army as the saw sharpener scrapes between each and every tooth. As retirement approaches, he sometimes regrets not going to Philadelphia Electric or the phone company to make a career from the skills he learned in the service. There is no grinder’s union or pension to supplement his future social security checks. Only the judicial use of the lump sum gained for the eventual sale of the company. Also, Joe’s brother will retire before him, so Joe will need to perform both aspects of the business for a number of years. It will be even more hard work at a time when age will begin to take its toll. At this point in his life, it would have been easier to have worked for a large company. “I did not go to college, never even finished high school, so I emphasize education to my kids. I am a bit sad that none of them will take up the old man’s business but very glad that I supplied them with the opportunity to choose their own paths”.

On the way home, Joe makes one last stop at a local restaurant in our area. He walks across the lot from the car somewhat slower than this morning but comes out smiling and a step faster. He tells me a joke the cook just told him and we share a big laugh at its punchline.





Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Election 2012, final thoughts

In my last post I mentioned my disappointment in the decrease in votes cast in the 2012 presidential election as compared to 2008.  Much was made on the Republican side by those who pointed to nominee Romney receiving about 3 million votes less than McCain in 2008, but I didn't see much talk concerning the drop of almost three times that number for President Obama as compared to 2008.  Clearly neither candidate was able to excite his base enough to prevent this drop in cast votes.

Or was it the huge sums of money spent on negative ads. 

I saw an interesting talk show which asked the question, did the billionaires get took?  In other words, were all those extremely wealthy people who shelled out millions of dollars for Romney, ripped off?  The panelists seemed to start from the position that BIG money was a BIG loser in this election cycle, and that all those super PACS threw their monies into bottomless pits.  Personally, I would eagerly like to think that was true, and that this type of free spending will not occur in subsequent elections.  However, what if the constant barrage of negative ads did effect the election, not in terms of the outcome, but in terms of keeping people at home last Tuesday.  Perhaps all that money convinced millions of would be voters that the choice between the lesser of two evils as described by all those nasty ads, wasn't worth the effort.  Perhaps BIG money won, and democracy, individual involvement in our political system,  choosing the best man for the job (as opposed to the least horrible), and in the end, the American electorate, were the losers.  Even worse, one panelist reminded the rest that this was the first presidential election since the Supreme Court ruling regarding Citizens United, and that the various super PACS on both sides will learn from their mistakes and do a better job of targeting their ad content to the appropriate audience.  UGH!!

The good news, in addition to the possible interpretation that BIG money was a loser in this election, my above comments not withstanding, is that freedom was a winner last week.

What, you say?  Americans have more freedom today than they did before the election?  Well, if you live in one of the three states that legalized gay marriage, you now have the freedom to marry whom you choose.  For those of you who truly believe that being married is an important factor in one's pursuit of happiness, then granting this right to the gay community in those specific states, by popular vote, is an amazing achievement.  And, when the people of another half dozen states do the same in the next four to six years, many will look back upon this election as an important milestone in the ongoing battle to walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to true freedom in America.  If I were inclined to make a prediction, I would expect that same gender marriage will be legal in a majority of states by the year 2024.

Another interesting freedom issue was the legalization of marijuana posssession (under an ounce, I believe) in two states, again by popular vote.  While this movement has far less momentum than the battle to legalize gay marriage, it is a personal freedom issue nonetheless.  While I expect a much slower process as compared to the gay marriage issue, I can see another ten states following Colorado and Washington in the next decade.

It is kind of surreal to think that so many opponents of President Obama in specific, and the liberal viewpoint in general, believe their opposition is representative of the movement to preserve freedom in America.  I especially see it in the gun rights advocates who are already, just one week after the election, breaking out the same tired old, false stories about how the president is going to take away "our" guns.  I generally do not engage in debate on this issue unless I know the person more than as just an aquaintence as some, not all or most, but some, are extremely intense about their right to own guns.  But to those who repeat the oft stated response to gun control, "they can have my gun when they take it from my cold, dead fingers" I ask the following question.  Who exactly, are you expecting to take your guns from you?  The local police?  Your state's national guard?  The army?  I guess my point is, for those who believe they will be shooting at and fighting the "bad" guys, you might want to remember that those bad guys will be the cop who lives down the street, the guy at work who goes away a few times a year for Guard service, your neighbors' kid, or your child's friends who enlist in the military.  We the people, remember?  I often wonder if they think it will be a mob of zombies that comes for their guns so that shooting them won't be any big deal.

I also see it in the religion based freedom lovers who are all about denying the freedom of those who do not believe in their religion or their god.  Again, it is not all or most of them.  But the minority is vocal and has some powerful allies, both in terms of money and clout.  Abortion and other forms of birth control are against your religion?  Wonderful.  Be true to your beliefs.  Don't engage in these activities.  But to insist that I follow the same rules, violates the very principle you advocate.  My freedom to choose might result in a decision different from yours; that is what makes freedom so beautiful, and so complicated.

Finally, with all this talk of freedom, it is incredibly important that we remember that the more freedom we attain, the more responsibility we incur.  Frankly, I am not nearly as worried about how much freedom we have as I do about how much responsibility we are taking to preserve, protect and respect that freedom.  As mentioned above, we voted in lower percentages this presidential election cycle than last.  While I would like to see a much longer period to vote, say a full weekend, it is still a sad commentary that so many American adults pissed on their freedom to vote last week. 

Your right to do as you please, only extends to the point where it infringes on the right of your neighbor to do the same.  Your responsibility is to protect and preserve both the freedoms and rights that you seek and cherish as well as those freedoms and rights that differ from your own.  

      

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election 2012

Congratulations President Obama on your re-election, congratulations Mitt Romney on your hard fought campaign, and congratulations America for making your voice heard. 

Personally, I had reached my breaking point during this ever so long lead-up to the election.  Too many negative commercials, too much truth bending, too many outright falsehoods.  But I must confess that I watched the returns until after 1:00 AM despite dozing off a few times, because this was an important day for America.  Now, I won't go so far as to say that it was the most important election in our history.  I think that this kind of talk reflects more on our self-importance than historical reality.  But certainly any and all presidential elections are critical, and matter immensely for both short and long term reasons.  After all, this was only the 57th in our history.  While I didn't stay awake long enough to hear the Romney concession or Obama re-election speeches, I read them before composing this post.  Let's hope, in both cases, their actions in the next four years match the sincerity and patriotism reflected in their words.

Now comes the hard part.  But first, I must say that I am a bit disappointed in the overall turnout. Over 130 million ballots were cast in the 2008 presidential election while we will just surpass 120 million for this one.  And while I am sure that there were some transfers of power from one party to another in various state houses and governor mansions, overall we see the same situation at the federal level that we had after the 2010 election: a Democrat in the White House, a Republican controlled house of representatives, and a Democratic controlled Senate.  For all the talk about the lowest approval ratings in history for Congress, there was very little change.  One could almost say that we wasted, literally, hundreds of millions of dollars on this election only to find a very similar playing field. 

Anyway, the hard part.

Clearly, America is split in our opinions on the big issues and problems that we face.  While there was clearly no mandate for Obama to continue his agenda, there was also no clear rejection of that agenda. During much of the first Obama Administration, the word "polarized" was used extensively to describe both the members of Congress and the electorate itself.  Compromise became a dirty word, used to denigrate those who would negotiate with the other side.  Or worse, described as unpatriotic, evil, socialist, anti-American, etc, etc.  We all know that an all-or- nothing approach to any relationship, whether it be between spouses, children, neighbors or friends, is not only unhealthy but unproductive, yet we tolerate it in our political world.

It is time for that to end.  And it is up to each of us to make it clear that we will accept compromise on each side, sacrifice for all citizens, as long as these compromises are enacted fairly, above board, and with reasonable explanation on the whys and hows.  Adult decisions driven by adult conversation.

Abortion

Roe vs Wade was the compromise created 40 years ago to respect the right of women to control their bodies without government interference.  Life began at birth at which point the rights of citizenship and the protections of our government to defend those rights kicked in.  It was not a perfect decision because, clearly, there is life in the womb of a woman.  But that life includes everything from a microscopic blob of cells to a full term baby.  The compromise, for better or worse, was to give a woman and her doctor the freedom to end the pregnancy.  For those who consider abortion murder, it was left to them to choose to not exercise their choice as granted by this ruling, and, while abortion was now legal in America, it was not legal for federal money to be used to fund abortions.  I respect those who are against abortion, would like to think that regardless of the situation, I might choose not to abort a child if it were my decision, but also understand that an abortion is sometimes the best choice in certain situations and I do not want my government to interfere in that decision.  My hope then is that those who have worked to make abortion illegal will join those who work just as hard to educate our young to abstain from sex as long as they can, use proper contraception if they are having sex, and provide the emotional and financial support for those who choose to abort, or to choose adoption.

Immigration

America was built on the backs of the various waves of immigrants that have come to our shores in our history.  Each time, there were greeted with disdain and fear by those already ensconced in the American dream.  Yet each time, there contributions added to the advancement of America and fabric of our culture.  One might say we are the Heinz 57 country.  Amazingly, some of the most vocal of the current anti-immigration crowd are only two or three generations removed from their immigrant ancestors.   The first compromise we need to enact is the Dream Act.  Allow the children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship as detailed in this act.  But also, require those who wish to live in our great country to contribute, not just take, and deport those who commit crimes on our soil.  Finally, let's take a hard look at our immigration quotas and the process for legal immigration.  Are we encouraging illegal entry because the process is cumbersome, and the quota unrealistic?  And, let's not forget that many illegals easily find jobs with employers more interested in their profit than paying living wages, not to mention taxes.  We need enforcement of laws against hiring undocumented workers to have some teeth as well.

The Deficit

At the end of the day, the deficit will never be addressed as long as special interest groups are able to wield their financial powers to gain access to the our political system.  Everyone says the tax code is too complicated, but as soon as a proposal to eliminate a specific deduction is proposed, the special interest group which originally helped create that deduction goes into motion.  Also, the fact is, we pay less taxes than virtually all other western nations.  We will all need to make a choice; either pay a bit more in taxes, or expect less government services. 

The first compromise is to actually pass a budget.  The budget will include the understanding that spending will revert back to 2010 levels.  No exceptions.  Any additional spending will need approval by both houses and a presidential signature.  This alone will not create a balanced budget.  More revenues must be found.  Ending the Bush tax cuts for those making above $250,000 is the first step.  Creating means tests for certain tax deductions is another.  For instance, we can maintain the home mortgage deduction but limit it to one residence only.  Also, there should be basement tax levels for each income level.  For instance, those making $5 million MUST pay a minimum of 15% tax.  They can use deductions to get down to that percent, but not below it.  Conversely, those paying no federal tax cannot additionally get a refund.  Or, the refund can be no larger than what has been already paid through payroll deductions.   Even then, we will still have a yearly deficit.  We will need to continue to raise the debt ceiling.  But the national debt will increase more slowly until the economy improves sufficiently that payroll taxes for the newly hired plus a reduced requirement for assistance brings the budget more in balance.  And the American people will see that some serious decisions can be made when necessary.   

Entitlements

It is obvious that the future of Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid is dependent on a compromise similar to the one made in the 1980's under President Reagan.  We are living longer, so must adjust the age when full benefits are realized.  Currently, I must wait until I am a bit over 66 as opposed to those who currently attain full benefits at 65.  Conversely, we may need to push the age into the low 70's for those born in the 1990's.  And, again, a means test must be established for receipt of benefits.  Someone earning millions of dollars a year doesn't need social security benefits.  If we want to give them an option to use that benefit as a tax deduction, so be it, but people of this income bracket do not need a monthly SS check.  Also, it is time to raise the ceiling at which income is taxed for social security.  I believe it is in the low $100's.  Let's raise it to $120,000 with an increase of $3,000 each year for the next 5 years, then an increase every year based on the increase in the cost of living.   Finally, and most importantly, each of us needs to remember that the idea of social security was for it to be a safety net, to keep our elderly from living in the streets or eating dog food.  We each must take responsibility for a plan to be financially secure in the years when we are not working.  Whether it is by having a large sum of money from selling one's home or business, or dutifully contributing to an IRA or some such retirement vehicle, we need to take responsibility for ourselves and leave the safety net to those who encounter unexpected life events.

Income Disparity

Not everyone sees this as a problem, which is part of the problem.  (See also Climate Change).  But, for all of us to begin taking responsibility for our financial futures, we need to have a living wage while we are working, and a method to save/invest some money for the future.  When a company outlays 30, 40, 50% of its labor cost to 3,5, 10% of its employees, then the remaining employees suffer.  Which means the community suffers as the families living there have less to spend.  I do not begrudge the movers and shakers of the world financial prosperity and wealth.  But when you are paid $10 million a year yet fight government regulations that require you to pay your entry level employees $8 an hour, you are part of the problem.  And, when your company earns billions of dollars a year in profits, yet purposefully limits its employees to part time hours thereby eliminating its need to provide health benefits, your company is part of the problem.  The middle class needs to be strong to create demand for the goods and services that our businesses make and provide.  Income disparity drains wealth from the middle class, thereby reducing demand for products and services thereby continuing the slow economic recovery.  Short of a government regulation requiring a company to pay its top wage earners no more than 50 times the salary of its bottom wage earners, I would appeal to those at the top to share a bit more, accumulate a bit less.  And remember, if the middle class does not have the means to save for retirement while still purchasing goods and services so our businesses can hire, etc, then something will have to give.  A growing income disparity sets the stage for either a continued slow growth economy, or a generation of Americans with no savings for retirement, which means even more dependence on entitlement programs.

Health Care    


This was the catalyst to the Obama as socialist viewpoint that engulfed a portion of the American population.  I feel confident when I say that most people accept the fact that everyone should have access to health care services.  The question seems to be, should everyone pay, even those who aren't sick?  I am of the opinion that if you are lucky enough to live your life without serious illness for you or someone in your family, you should happily accept the fact that you wasted your money on insurance.  Put it this way.  If you were told that if you paid a few thousand dollars a year and you and your loved ones would never get sick, wouldn't you take the deal?  I am no fan of the insurance industry, especially the health insurance industry.  But if we accept that we need them to insure that we won't go bankrupt should we get sick, then it seems an easy step to require everyone to participate in the cost of health care insurance.  The Affordable Care Act is not government run.  It is market based, private insurer dominated system that requires mandatory participation so that everyone has "skin" in the process.  We need to stop talk of repeal and replace, and begin the adult conversation of how to make sure Americans of low and middle class income can purchase affordable health care insurance, how employers should participate in this system, and how we can convince/require health insurance companies to derive health insurance premiums for all Americans via one all-encompassing pool. 

That said, if the compromise is that the federal government requires each state to establish its own mandatory system, in which each state offers a varying level of insurance coverage through those private health insurers who choose to participate, then so be it. 

Climate Change
Again, we can't address the issue unless we accept it is a problem.  For those awaiting 100% scientific evidence, backed by every single scientist on earth, I offer this scenario.  You are the president of the United States and in conference with your cabinet.  You must make a decision, a very important one, and you must act in a few days.  After hours of discussion, it comes down to nine out of ten cabinet members supporting one choice, and one supporting the other.  Do you wait for ten out of ten?  Or do you go with the nine, knowing that you picked those people precisely to advise you in these difficult situations? 

Scientific evidence is overwhelming, not unanimous, that climate change is occurring.  It is clear that the continued melting of glacial ice will increase the absorption of the sun's rays on earth, thereby raising the earth's temperature, reducing even more ice cover, etc.  If we make a calculated, thought out decision to accept that we can't change quick enough to slow down global warming, and will just have to pay as we go, then at least we will have made a choice.  But to continue to deny the obvious, sets us up for huge future expenditures that we can't afford (see Deficit above) and, eliminated the chance we have to direct our formidable scientific and technological prowess towards solving this important problem.  Perhaps this sounds biased, but is amazes me how people who beleive they are so patriotic and loving of America, seem so willing to throw up their hands and say, sorry, global warming is just too big a problem to solve.
Really, that is the extent of your faith in America and American know how?

The election is over, Obama won again.  This will not mark the end of democracy.  It will not mark the end of freedom.  It will not mark the end of racism.  If you voted for the president, be happy, but know that you will have to continue to show support for his policies to make them a reality, and will have to listen to voices on the other side as we craft the various compromises we will need to solve our issues.  If you voted for Romney, accept that your candidate lost, get over it, and understand that you can either engage in the dialogue that will help create the various compromises we will need to solve our issues, or you can do nothing to advance the discussions.  I truly hope that you will not only choose engagement, but that you will make it clear to your elected representatives that you expect the same from them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Frankenstorm II

While Hurricane Sandy has been downgraded and has spent most of its damaging power, its effects will not be easily forgotten.  Dozens killed, millions without power.  The shore areas of multiple states swamped and reconfigured.  While the rain and heavy winds in my neighborhood were not as severe as in some, my daughter has had no school all week, and many businesses remained closed even today for lack of electricity. 

In my previous post, I mentioned that I expected some water seepage.  We had a bit more than seepage however, as the front sump pump could not do its job due to our loss of electricity from Monday evening until Tuesday early morning.  This resulted in the necessity of my bailing out the sump pump hole by hand every 90 minutes or so.  Eventually, I gave up and let the water settle in an area of our basement that has seen water in the past.  This area is separated from the rest of the basement by an eight inch step and I figured that the water was not flowing so much that it would rise above that level.  Strangely, once I fell asleep, I dreamt of battling water in the house.  

As they say, be careful what you wish for as you might get it.

Which brings us to the upcoming election.

In 2008, we were still in the grips of the financial meltdown.  The stock market, along with so many 401K balances, was still dropping.  The housing market was dead in the water.  We were seven years into two wars in far-away lands, and still had not caught the mastermind of the 9/11 tragedy that spurred our overseas military involvements.  Unemployment was rising, and most employers were predicting  further layoffs. 

To be honest, I considered it a no-brainer to vote for hope that America might turn its fortunes around by changing the direction of its policies, as did the majority of Americans who voted that day in November 2008.  And perhaps that was the danger.  We elected someone who promised that he would change everything for the better.  We assumed that by pulling the Obama lever that day, the bleeding would stop, the sun would shine again, and all that was wrong would be right.

For my part, I believe the president tried extremely hard in the face of all that needed to be fixed, and made a good amount of progress.  But was it enough progress?  Did we wish for him to fix it all, without understanding that our role did not end just by making that presidential choice?  Did we do enough to help him, support his drive to increase the number of Americans with health care insurance, stand behind his proposals to reign in Wall Street, encourage his efforts to protect our natural resources from unregulated drilling and digging, advocate for him when he attempted to end Don't Ask/Don't Tell and other forms of homosexual discrimination and defend his proposals to provide contraception and family planning choices for women. 

Or did we jump off the bandwagon of hope and change because the road was not free of bumps and obstacles?  Did we truly believe in his vision of America, or merely vote for him because he wasn't a Republican.

I think it is important to know how you answer these questions, before you vote next week.  If you expected then, that merely pulling a lever would make your life OK again, without any belief in the candidate or willingness to do your part, then it won't matter who you choose next week, you will be disappointed.  The fact is, no one person can solve America's problems.  It will take all of us, engaged in adult conversations, making the hard choices with the knowledge that everyone will need to do their part. 

Like so many observers of this election cycle, I see much more excitement in the Romney supporters than on Obama's side.  But it appears that as much of that fervor is directed to remove Obama from office as it is to elect Romney.  If you believe that by choosing Romney there will suddenly be jobs, good paying jobs, that gas will drop to $2 a gallon again, that all the countries of the world will bow down to our will, that terrorism will be crushed by our superior military might, and that we can all pay less taxes while still reducing the debt, without losing the benefits our government provides us, you risk falling into the same trap that has many Obama supporters second guessing their choice in 2008.  Our own individual responsiblity to solve Ameria's problems doesn't end in the voting booth, regardless of who you choose on November 6th.

Again, be careful what you wish for, as you just might get it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Frankenstorm

After a gloomy day yesterday, made worse by the Eagles horrible showing against the Falcons, today is day one of Frankenstorm.  Surprisingly, no work for me today as all the wine and spririt stores in this area are closed.  I can tell you, this will not pass without many negative comments from those already against the state's control of alcohol.  The good news is that our sales for the weekend were much higher than normal so perhaps everyone thought ahead and purchased their favorite comfort drinks early.  The bad news is that those people who must buy alcohol everyday, and unfortunately there are many, will be disappointed when they slosh up to the door today (and probably tomorrow) and find it locked.

Perspective.

We have a history of getting water in our unfinished basement despite the presence of a sump pump at either end.  A few years ago we made the investment in one of those "dry basement" companies, and have had virtually no problems, but two days straight of wind and rain may make this the exception that proves the rule.  Still, compared to the dozens of people that have perished in other countries, the fatalities that will occur in America, the loss of home, the loss of treasured possessions, and the probable loss of power that will occur to thousands of people, I will be happy to only have a bit of seeping water.

The good news, also, is that with our advanced weather technology, we have warning before a storm of this magnitude arrives.  Imagine even a few hundred years ago, let alone a few thousand, when we were at the mercy of such natural disasters without the benefit of time to prepare.  This same storm with its exact wind speed and rain content, would have been far more disastrous to those living in the time of our founding fathers.  Even today, in 2012, there are people born in places and situations where the weather is what you see when you walk out your door.  Again perspective.

The wonderful part of tragic events of this type, is that when trouble strikes, we all pull together to help each other.  More than once has it been said that you measure the greatness of a people by how they face adversity.  There will be tens of thousands without power, perhaps hundreds without homes, and sadly, dozens who will have lost a loved one.  Yet all those victims will find solace in their families and their neighbors, and will find support from those untouched by this storm, good hearted people in other areas of America doing their part to help those in need.

If only we could extend that sense of help without reward into other issues of the day.  Is it because we don't see the emergency of our present times?  Or are we paralyzed by the complexity of our problems?

When a hurricane hits, we know which items we need to provide for its victims.  But what do we do when our middle class is struggling to live from one paycheck to another?  When the poorest of our fellow citizens do not have access to a quality education, health care services, healthy food, or the means to obtain those basic requirements? 

There is no one to blame (despite the occasional use by certain "religious" people to blame disasters on "bad" Americans) for a hurricane.  Most of us consider it an external threat, something beyond our control, so we rally together to counter its damage.  Yet as we approach election 2012, all we hear is how one side, be it liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, is at fault for our problems so, of course, all we need to do is vote for the other side and everything will be OK.

Perhaps someday, hopefully soon, we will grow up.  Just like providing water, shelter, clothing, etc for the vicitms of the storm that is upon us will occur despite any differences we might have, so too, solving our national problems, whether they be financial or social, will require us to put aside perspectives that focus on our differences, and embrace perspectives that embrace commonality.     
 

      

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Closing in on the election

To be honest, I am tired of this interminable lead up to the presidential election.  While I read that there are still tens of thousands of people who have yet to decide for whom they will vote, those I speak with about the election have long ago decided on their candidate.  I didn't even watch the debates, my level of "let's get to it" having risen so high.

Still, I occasionally see a news item or receive an email from a friend that sparks an idea, and leads me to my computer to post, yet again, another blog about politics.

In this case, it is the belief that we vote for the party which gives, or says they will give, us, individually, the most. 

To be more precise, conventional wisdom says

Those getting a government paycheck will vote for Obama.  These are the alleged 47%  of Americans who are on welfare, unemployment, social security, medicare, medicaid, food stamps, disability or some other form of entitlement program that provides a check or low cost benefit. 

Those involved with earning or running companies making millions of dollars (the 1% that Occupy Wall Street labelled in the past few years) will vote for Romney.

That leaves 52% of the country to decide the outcome.  But since Obama already has 47%, even if he only gets 10% of this group, he wins going away. 

Since most major polls have the election a win by less than 4% one way or the other, it appears that conventional wisdom may be off the mark.

So, for those of you who are still on the fence, here are some reasons to vote for Obama or Romney.

If you are on social security and medicare, vote for Obama because he has not proposed any changes.  On the other hand, vote for Romney because he will change it , after you no longer need it, so that your children and grandchildren will not be beholden to the government for their income or health care.

If you are on welfare or unemployment, vote for Obama because he will make sure you continue to get your checks.  But, if you are on welfare or unemployment, vote for Romney because he has promised to create 12 million new jobs so you won't need welfare or unemployment.

If you are sick and having trouble getting health insurance, vote for Obama as the Affordable Care Act will give you some choices in the near future.  But if you are sick or struggling to find health insurance, vote for Romney and move to Massachusetts because he already created a successful universal health care system.

If you are planning to enter the military, vote for Romney because his foreign policy appears to focus on military action to prove America is always right.  But if you are planning to enter the military, vote for Obama as he has been removing our soldiers from the front lines so you have a better chance of surviving your enlistment.

If you run a business, vote for Romney because he will remove all restrictions on your ability to make money.  But, if you run a business, vote for Obama because he will provide the regulatory staff that you can bribe or take to lunch so you can side step the regulations.

If you run a Wall Street traded business, vote for Romney because he will allow you to create any financial vehicle you can create, give as much money as you want to gain the favor of those in Washington, and pay as little corporate tax as possible.  But, if you run a Wall Street traded company, vote for Obama because your stock has regained virtually all of its value since the beginning of the recession and your company probably has millions of dollars it its coffers (unless you already spent it on a super PAC endorsing Romney).

If you are a woman, vote for Romney because he will decide for you that you should bear a child regardless of your circumstance, will make sure you are encouraged to stay at home with the kids by fighting same pay for same work, will protect you from the stresses of upper management responsibilities by keeping those binders closed, and will even provide more money in your pocketbook by making contraception illegal.  But if you are a woman, vote for Obama because he will not infringe upon your pursuit of happiness via your reproductive rights, your opportunity to earn what you are worth, and your freedom to get in on all those cool Trojan comericals. 

If you are homosexual, vote for Romney because he will save you from the the agony of divorce which afflicts over 50% of the heterosexual community.  But if you are homosexual, vote for Obama because he has already given you the right to defend your country without denying your identity, and believes that two consenting, tax paying adults should marry whomever they choose.

If you believe that God favors America, that all other religions are second to Christianity, that eternal life can only be achieved through the salvation of Jesus Christ, vote for Romney because the evangelical community supports him.  But if you believe that God favors America, that all other religions are second to Christianity, and that eternal life can only be achieved through the salvation of Jesus Christ, vote for Obama because Romney is a Mormon not a Christian.




  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Letters to the Editor

Every once in a while, I read my local (weekly) paper online.  I generally glance through the main headlines in an attempt to keep up with the local doings, and then check out the "letters to the editor".  Invariably I will comment on one, especially those which claim that the current Obama Administration, or next one should he win in November, will mark the "end of a free America", or the "last hurray for capitalism in America" or some such blathering. 

Yesterday I read a letter from an older reader, (she referred to her grand kids and great-grand kids) who
seemed truly upset about our current president and his lack of love for America.  She sincerely believes that he (and his wife Michelle) hate America, and that another four years of him as president will mark to end of freedom in our country.  She points to his going to church and listening to Rev Wright's sermons, his initial disdain for wearing an American flag pin, his attendance at flag burnings (not sure if this is an actual fact), and his going around the world apologizing for America.  Her final comment is that she has seen many threats to America in her life, but that Obama is the worst.

http://montgomerynews.com/articles/2012/10/18/perkasie_news_herald/opinion/doc507637c664f86697814546.txt?viewmode=2

What is as interesting to me as her perception of how horrible Obama's term has been are the five published comments to her letter.

Two were in complete agreement of her sentiments.  Two were of the exact opposite opinion, and one asked the question/challenged the readers of the paper to submit a letter that actually used facts to support their argument as opposed to "spewing idiocies". 

And that, my friends, is the problem with our current political perspective.  Hate the other team, love our team.  All their ideas are lunacy, anti-American, anti-freedom, racist and inhuman.  All our ideas are pragmatic, job creating, prosperity building, and God approved.  And those without allegiance to either try to stay above the fray, pointing out how illogical the blind faith to either party can be.

It is as if we have fallen into a world where all the most bizarre sports cliches have become our country's mantra for discussing the real issues of our time. 

I added my viewpoint, and have copied and pasted it below for your consideration.  You may want to read the letter (link is above) and the comments before reading my comment so that you have a reference point, although I am sure that you can infer the references without much effort.

Also, I readily admit that I am biased in my viewpoint of this current election.  I believe that the current Republican economic theory of trickling down the leftovers from the top has hurt America, and the American middle class, and should not be adopted again.  I believe that the current Democratic plan to help level the playing field by establishing a can't go below tax rate for those in the top 5% of wage earners will stop the flow of America's wealth to those few Americans.  I believe that making contraception and family planning services more available is a way to provide more freedom for our young women as they navigate their child bearing years, and decry the resistance by Republican and/or certain business leaders to same pay for same work.  I am against sending our young men and women to the far corners of the world to "promote" democracy, when the real reason is to maintain a bloated military industrial complex that gets almost one out of every three discretionary dollars from our federal budget.  I am against the pretense that if you don't say God in every other phrase that you utter that you our anti-American but am also distressed at the lack of Christian acts in our country where a politician can get applause when promising to end funding for PBS, where the poor and elderly are referred to as "those" 47% who are only seeking a handout, and where the selling of guns and ammunition has become a national past time since the election of our first African American president.  I am against a "Defense of Marriage" Law that defends marriage by making it illegal for certain law-abiding, tax-paying Americas to get married. 

But I don't think Mitt Romney is some type of horrible man who only cares about his personal wealth and those of his ilk.  I meant it when I said that regardless of who wins, we will have a man of integrity in the White House.  It is OK to disagree, vehemently even, but to slander, lie, bend the truth until it is unrecognizable, and assassinate the character of someone who is making the monumental decision to put his personal life on hold to serve our country in its most difficult and challenging position is a sad statement about our culture. 

To me the choice of who can best lead America is obvious, but it is OK if you think the exact opposite if you present facts and logic to justify your decision.  Unemployment is high plus too many Americans are underemployed, or have to work two jobs in order to make ends meet.  Our national debt is out of control, and we haven't had a true federal budget in 3 years.  America is less respected across the globe than the previous two generations.  Cite those problems, and we discuss and debate the whys and hows and perhaps reach some common ground and some real solutions.

Tell me my candidate hates America or is a rich bastard, and there is no where to go from there.

Here is my comment to above mentioned letter and published comments to that letter.


I am neither an illegal border jumper, dead, or on welfare, and I have voted in every presidential election since 1976 when I turned 18 years old. I voted for Obama in 2008 and will do so again in November so does that make Woody's comments mute? As for Daisy, unemployment has slowly been dropping and inflation is non-existent so I am not sure from where she gets her facts. The truly sad part is that there are many people on both sides of the political aisle that have ideas that could address our country's problems but instead of working together they engage in ridiculous finger pointing and blatant fact bending making it that much harder for the electorate to make the right choice.


The good news is that despite the prevalence of sound bites in place of sound policy, America is still the place to be for opportunity and freedom, and despite the fact that many voters don't have a clue, there will be a man of integrity and vision in the White House for the next four years. Which man we choose is yet to be determined but at least we have the precious right to vote and choose. Let's work together to help each other make that choice and stop all the grade school playground name calling.





Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sick Day at the Dog Park

I used a sick day today, first time in quite a while.  I probably shouldn't have worked the late shift Monday night until 9 PM, then 10 PM to 4 AM at the second job, then 7 AM to 3 PM on Tuesday considering my ongoing battle with this cold, but I needed to do so to attend my daughter's water polo  senior night.  Of course, the senior night activity was well worth the effort even though I was on cruise control after only 90 minutes of sleep.  So many memories of my daughter, Rachel, flooded to the fore of my wife and my collective memory. 

Swim lessons at the Y, summer swim team with the other little Gators, the first ever winning swim season, little girls turning to young ladies, the switch from swimming to water polo in high school, those same little girls kicking and scratching their way to the first winning water polo season.  And the other parents who also brought snacks, wielded stop watches, kept score, and reffed from the bleachers.

Many tears and smiles at the ceremony.  The end of an era for us, the parents.  The beginning of a new life for our daughters. 

Since I didn't work today, I relaxed at home and watched movies while dozing.  Around 4:30 I took the dog to the dog park so he could run around without me having to run with him.  It was a mild day and the park was jammed.  Dogs of every size and breed, barking, running, sniffing each other's butts.  Dog heaven, one might say.

At one point, I heard one "mommy" say to her pet, "go ahead and play with the other dogs", a comment not unlike one I made and heard so many times when taking my kids to the playground when they were young.  But then I thought, is that always true?  Do we always encourage our kids to play with the other kids, or only when those kids are similar to our own? 

Don't get me wrong, we are all guilty to one extent or another of "protecting' our children.  Whether that protection takes the form of the white flight to the suburbs of the 1970's, or home schooling, or even the subtle messages we send about our children's friends who look different, we rationalize these prejudices in the wrap of being good parents. 

I know, kids and dogs aren't the same.  But still, wouldn't it be nice if, just as we don't give it a second thought when our labeagle (lab and beagle mix) plays with a retriever, or poodle or pit bull, we looked less askance at our kids when they brought home someone with a different skin color, religion or sexual preference. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thanks, and the Debate

Another big gap since my last post.  I mentioned that I had worked 12 days in a row finally having a day off on Sept 23rd.  From there I worked another 12 days straight until this past weekend.  And, of course I am working a 2nd job, 3 nights a week from 10 PM until 4 AM, so it all added up to me getting sick late last week.  Nothing serious, just a horribly sore throat and a hacking cough. I have been waiting for the stuffed up head and drippy nose but nothing yet but I am sure it is on the way.  Still, my wife and I managed to spend a lovely weekend at the beach.  The highlight of which was falling asleep in the sun with the waves lapping gently onto the shore on a sunny, perfect, blue sky, Saturday afternoon with my wife dozing in the chair beside me.  A memory that will last forever.

Anyway, despite my lack of posting, my "audience" has been growing of late.  My bog had over 1600 hits last month, a full 50% more than any month previous.  And this month is on pace to equal that total even though this is my first post. 

So, a big THANK YOU to my loyal readers.  I know you could all fit comfortably in one of those half sized yellow school buses, but thank you just the same.  I suspect that some of you are sharing my blog with friends, and perhaps this is why my "hits" are increasing.  (Mike, I suspect you of this, thanks)  If so, I am glad you feel that my words are worth sharing and that you continue to check my blog for new posts.  I have also noticed an increase in my foreign readership, blasts of interest from the United Kingdom, Russia and Germany.  It truly amazes me that I can sit at my desk in Perkasie, PA, post my thoughts on this blog, and have those words read by people who don't know me in lands I have never been to or may never see.  The incredible power of the Internet to shrink our world, make us all closer, and perhaps more aware that we are all riding together on this big, blue marble as it races around the universe.  

Due to my burgeoning illness, I did not watch the debate last Wednesday.  By all accounts, Mitt Romney "won" hands down.  President Obama looked tired and uninterested.  Perhaps he was feeling like I did.  If so, I am sure he will make a better showing in the next round.  But if he is just tired, tired of the pressure and enormous responsibility of the presidency, then perhaps it is time for a change. 

I often wonder how a president, a CEO, or anyone with the responsibility to make life and death decisions, how those people justify their choices when they send young men and women into battle or close factories to increase profit.  I know I would struggle with such choices, not that I wouldn't be able to make them, but that I might not be able to live with them once made.  Does it take a special mind set that can set aside the knowledge that ones decisions can so negatively effect their fellow Americans, and instead focus on the larger picture, the bigger, hopefully more positive outcome?  We all studied Machiavelli and learned about the means justifying the ends.  Is it a prerequisite that a president must truly believe in that maxim in order to make those life changing decisions?  If so, perhaps President Obama does not have that internal strength while through his time as CEO in the private sector, Mitt Romney does.

Notwithstanding everything else I have written in my past blogs on this matter, my concern for the future should Romney have the chance to nominate the next Supreme Court Justice, my disillusionment with our current form of capitalism where the resources and wealth seem to be flowing up towards those with the most and away from the middle class.  Despite my truly deep seated belief that a Romney Presidency will be bad for hard working Americans like myself, and especially for those unlike Mitt Romney, the poor, and the disadvantaged, and those without the benefit of rich parents and/or white skin, I wonder if President Obama has the conviction to make his vision of America come to pass.  The guts, if you will, to fight for his beliefs despite the fact that many will challenge him along the way, and that some will be hurt by the decisions he makes.   

I used to believe, fully, that we need men and women of strong moral character to lead our nation.  That those with the understanding that every American, from the richest to the poorest, the smartest to the dullest, the most ambitious to the laziest, that every American makes up the land we call America, contributes to the traits that make us very good at times, and misguided at others.  But perhaps, pure evil aside, we need less morality and more Machiavelli.  We need leaders to focus on those that can make us great, and forget those that hold us back.  Leaders who can funnel our shared resources to those that know how to make money and pay less taxes.  Laws that protect profit rather than the sick and old.  Policies that throw the flora and fauna of our planet under the bus so that we can have more shopping malls.  Regulations that allow more digging in the earth and more smokestacks to belch so that we can have cheap energy to get us to those malls.  Decision makers that can look past the hardships of the few and make sure that those with the most continue to see green lights ahead so we can return America to its rightful place on the world stage. 

Certainly Ayn Rand would be happy.   


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Romney, and Civility

Sorry it has been a while.  I just finished a 12 day in a row work schedule this past weekend.  In addition I took a part time job about a month ago so my blogging time has been limited.  Hopefully, I will still be able to post once a week but...

In a previous post I listed reasons why one might vote to re-elect President Obama, vote for Mitt Romney, or vote for "none of the above".  For this blog I would like to emphasize the importance of voting for President Obama, or rather, the importance of not voting for any Republican nominee.

I believe I have been consistent in detailing my displeasure at the recent Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited funds to infect our election process.  There is far too much money being spent on these campaigns, on both sides, and it seems clear to me that the more money that is "donated" by large corporations and wealthy individuals, the less likely our government will do the work of the people.

By and large, the Supreme Court justices who ruled to equate money with free speech are conservative, and nominated by past republican presidents.  While there are certainly surprises, at times, in how justices will vote, it is not usually hard to guess which justices will rule which way on important issues.  (Justice Roberts' recent vote for the individual mandate section of the Affordable Care Act, is certainly the exception to the rule).

My concern is that there is a reasonable chance that the next judge to retire will be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg due to her ongoing health issues.  That being the case, it is of great concern to me that the next president nominate a liberal leaning candidate to maintain the current balance of 4 left-leaners, 4 right-leaners, and one who moves between. 

My ultimate fear is that a right leaning judge will be the deciding vote to overturn Roe vs Wade.  Already, many states are weakening this important precedent through work around laws that are making it harder and harder for women to have abortions.  Inevitably, a challenge will be presented to Roe v Wade that will make its way to the Supreme Court so it is imperative that either Judge Ginsburg still be there to vote for women's reproductive rights, or her replacement be someone who would not force the next generation of American women to be reduced to second class citizens. 

If you think I exaggerate, there have already been attempts to pass legislation under the guise of  "fetal rights acts" which would grant person hood to a fetus at the moment of conception.  In other words, abortion would be murder, as would a few of the most commonly used forms of birth control.  And, in case you missed it, Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, was a co-sponsor of the Sanctity of Human Life Act of 2009 which declares that a fertilized egg is entitled to the same legal rights as a human being.  Fortunately, the first attempt to pass such a bill was defeated in Mississippi but I do not think that will deter its advocates.

As I said in my last post, please vote.  And, when you are in that voting booth, remember that in many cases, a president's mark on our country is effected as much by his Supreme Court nominees as that which happens while in office.

My other topic of the day, Civility, comes from the movie Troy. 

The scene in question occurs after Achilles kills Hector and, rather than allowing Hector's body to be properly prepared for the afterlife, Achilles binds Hector's legs and drags him back to the Roman encampment.  Of course, this is the Hollywood version of Homer's Illiad, but after the battle, the King of Troy sneeks into the Roman camp and walks unscathed into Achilles tent.  There he makes an emotional appeal to Achilles to allow him to take Hector's body back to Troy so he can follow the normal customs and traditions of death.  Achilles agrees, not because his hatred of everything Troy has abated, or because he did not relish killing Hector, but because he respected the king of Troy and his bravery in making the appeal.

Of course, this emotional scene made me think of our current political situation.  Dems vs GOP.  Conservative vs Liberal.  In the movie, there was a nine day truce so that Hector could be properly mourned.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could have such a truce during this election campaign?  No more lies.  No more inuendo.  No more "what he said or did 20 years ago". 

Is it so hard to realize that regardless of your political affiliation, we are all Americans?  We all love this great country and want to see it prosper.  We need to DEMAND that our elected officials stop the blame game tactics and work together to solve our nation's problems.  And, just as important, we need to teach them this lesson through example.  Politicians are nothing if not students of popular sentiment.  If we chart a course of civility as we debate the issues, they will do the same for fear of being cast as a rigid idealogue, or worse, for fear of losing an election.


    


     

Monday, September 10, 2012

Another 9/11 Anniversary

Tomorrow marks the 11th anniversary of the terrible events of 9/11/2001.

Perhaps I am in the minority in this perspective, but this year's anniversary seems to have come along much quicker than previous ones, and with much less fanfare.  To be clear, the point of the title, Another 9/11 Anniversary, is not meant to suggest it is becoming tiring, or that it is unimportant to mark any and all days that memorialize events which should remain in our consciousness; the title is meant to indicate, simply, that this year's anniversary has come very quickly and does not seem as publicized as previous ones.

Of course, after the 10th anniversary of last year, perhaps it is natural that the eleventh might be underwhelming.  And, as the national focus is on the upcoming presidential election in November, perhaps it should come as no surprise that this year's 9/11 anniversary seems to have approached without the usual flourish of publicity.

As evidence of the difference in perspective on this year's anniversary, I sight the topics of the two articles I read this past week in the Philadelphia Inquirer that touched on 9/11.

One described the flap that has blossomed between the governors of New York and New Jersey, and the privately run organization that has funded the creation of the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum.  Apparently, a number of issues has created some friction, including the length of time it has taken for the 9/11 memorial to be completed, who will have jurisdiction over it, and the recent decision by the board led by ex-Governor Bloomberg to exclude speeches by politicians for this year's anniversary ceremony.  In short, the article was less about remembering those innocent victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the brave emergency personnel who willingly entered the effected zone, and more about political wrangling over who might emerge with jurisdiction over the memorial, and perhaps, without saying it outright, who might be able to take the most credit and use it to their best political advantage.  

The second article touched on the emotional "hit" America took on that fateful day, and its lasting impact today.  The main thrust of the article was that before 9/11, most Americans considered death at the hands of a terrorist to be a very low risk.  After 9/11, understandably, approximately one in three Americans "..were very or somewhat worried that they or a family member would become a victim of terrorism".  Yet, 11 years later, that rate has remain unchanged, even though the actual chance of dying at the hands of a terrorist, statistically, is less likely than getting hit by lightning.  Further, a significant percentage of Americans (almost 75%) "..consider another major attack in the near future to be very or somewhat likely", about the same as in early 2002.

I imagine there were other articles about 9/11 that I missed.  I know that there are many groups, especially those associated with family and friends of the victims of 9/11, that continue to work hard to help us "never forget".  And, perhaps that is the most telling point of all; that there needs to be people in our face to remind us of the most defining moment in United States history in this young century. 

To me, the events of that day have shaped our country ever since.  Worried about the deficit?  Depending on who you ask, we have spent at least $2 trillion, possibly 4 trillion unfunded dollars in our war against terror.  Want a balanced budget?  Not when we earmark one in three discretionary dollars for the department of defense.   High unemployment and a lack of good-paying jobs an issue for you?  Perhaps a war on our failing infrastructure might be a better solution. 

The events of 9/11 were horrendous.  Our generation's Pearl Harbor. 

And, like all defining moments in history, many lessons have been and will continue to be learned.

My hope is that we might someday come to understand that the past does not consist of static events that "happened", but that where we are today, individually as well as nationally, is the accumulation of past events.

We need a balance of remembering events such as 9/11 mixed with the understanding that our reaction to those events help create our future.  If we want an America where the middle class is employed at jobs that provide a livable wage, empowering them to create the demand for products and services that will speed the cycle of economic recovery, we need to remove our collective heads from our asses, shed our "fears" of radical Islam, Al-qaeda, same sex marriage, contraception, evolution, and anyone "not like us". 

We need to break the cycle that has made us like so many deer in the headlights of life. 

   

 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why you should vote for...

..President Obama

The economy is better.

At the end of the summer of 2008, the United States experienced the second worst financial meltdown in its history.  Fortunately, the 2008 financial collapse did not lead to a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930's, but it did result in a United States recession as well as a deeper world-wide economic slowdown.  To counter the effects of this economic disaster, President Obama continued the work of the Bush Administration by applying Keynesian economics; stimulus spending.  From TARP to the auto bailout to the economic stimulus of 2009, public policy was applied to avert the very real possibility of America falling into a depression cycle.  While one can certainly argue that a GOP president might have done the same thing, credit needs to be given where credit is due.  President Obama oversaw the end of the recession and the beginning of the recovery.

At this point in time, corporate profits are at a record high.  The Dow Jones is back at 13000 just below its level in the summer of 2008 before the collapse.  The unemployment rate which stood at 7.6% in January 2009 when Obama took office, steadily increased to 10.2% by October of 2009.  The economy stopped hemorrhaging jobs during 2010, then began adding jobs steadily by the fall.  Since October 2010, about 3.5 million jobs have been added and the unemployment rate is now hovering just above 8%, only 1/2% above the January 2009 rate.

We are only fighting one "war"

As promised, President Obama withdrew the remaining troops we had in Iraq.  While, he unfortunately, increased our presence in Afghanistan, troop levels overseas has dropped from just under 200,000 in
January 2009 to about 85,000 today.  While it is difficult to say what Mitt Romney might do in this area, as he did not mention Iraq or Afghanistan in his nomination acceptance speech, we know that President Obama has proposed a continued decline in our military presence.  In conjunction with this reduced overseas military presence, there has been a reduction in the sacrifice young, American men and women and a much needed reduction in overseas military spending

Finally, a Health care Reform Bill

Despite the Republicans critical perspective of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), at least, finally, the United States has joined the rest of the Western World in an attempt to provide a plan to give all Americans access to health care insurance.  Among other advances, millions of young adults are covered on their parents' plans, sick Americans who were previously denied coverage have access to insurance, and benefit caps have been removed so the chronically ill do not have to choose bankruptcy or death.  While we can expect President Obama to work to improve this advance, it is obvious that Romney will work to repeal the ACA and ignore the success of Massachusetts where he had reduced the uninsured of that state to one of the lowest rates in the country.


..Mitt Romney

Perception

Mitt Romney has taken full advantage of capitalism.  He is extremely rich.  He has been involved in multiple, successful businesses that enriched investors.  He is one of the 1%.  But, no matter how you slice it, we need the 1% to begin investing in America.  We need them to stop shipping manufacturing jobs overseas.  We need them to put patriotism before profit.  We need them to feel that their president wants them to succeed, not punish them for their success.  It is clear that Obama is not one of the 1%, even though his salary qualifies him, and he has hired and is advised by many who are.  It all comes down to perception, and the majority of those who comprise both the public and private boardrooms in America, look at Obama as an outsider, a novice, an idealist even.  But Romney is one of them. 

Congress

It is all too painfully clear that the House of Representatives will not work with the President if he is reelected.  And, if the Senate were to change hands as well, I expect that we can look forward to even more partisianship in the form of Senatorial filibusters although it will be the Democrats rolling out that awful procedure this time.  A Romney election will force the House to move away from their primary goal of just saying NO.  Compromise will no longer be a four letter word as they will be more inclined to make Romney look good and be successful.  And, if the Senate remains Democratic, the House will need to present bills that have a modicum of a chance to pass rather than passing exercises in futility as they have since 2010. 


..None of the above

The reality is that the current version of our two party system is hindering the chance of good governance.  The goal, get elected, has surpassed the goal of solving America's problems.  None of the above, were it to be an option, might send a message that it is time for our elected officials to speak plain, attack our problems head on, lead by example, and place the security and prosperity of America at the top of their to-do lists.  It would be nice if there was someone currently within the system who would propose a change to all ballots, presidential and congressional, that stated that "None of the above" must be added for every race, and if this "candidate" were to receive more than 10% of the vote, neither candidate wins. 

Short of that, and despite my better judgment, it may be time for an amendment to the Constitution.  Change the length of terms for all members of congress to four years.  Once elected, one term and done.  No career politicans (as Paul Ryan is, by the way).  No life time health care coverage.  No pension.  Just service to America and the electorate.

In the end, and regardless of who you choose to vote for, please vote.  Encourage your family and friends to vote.  Exercise your right to vote for as is true of all of our muscles, when we stop exercising something, it begins to weaken, and eventually becomes useless.   
     

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What if...

Xenophobia is defined in the online Webster dictionary as a fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.

Now, some might say that a little bit of fear of strangers is a good thing.  We teach our children to be wary of strangers, not because we don't want them to be social but because we know that there can be dangers when approached by someone you don't know.  But clearly, immediate recoiling when approached by someone who appears different than the face we see in the mirror, or negative judgements about those who are physically different than us, when taken to its extreme is not a trait that we admire.

Yet, the human animal has spent thousands of centuries living among and seeking out people like themselves.  One might even say that we are genetically wired to flock together when the together is defined as those who like and think as we do.  We formed villages, cities, states, countries all so that we could feel part of a group, a group made of people like us.  And when our group is threatened, whether it be familial, national, racial, ethnic or religious, we defend it, in some ways reverting back to our most tribal behaviors.

Diversity, it has been suggested, is one way of broadening the "big tent", so to speak of the group called mankind.  Once we include more types of people within our group, there are less types to be afraid of, less reasons to act xenophobic.

We all most likely fall somewhere in the middle of the tolerance scale rather than on the edges.  There are no lynchings or stonings in our activities.  We state belief in the bible verse "do not judge less ye shall be judged", yet we don't immediately welcome those with differences into our personal circles of trust.  We might cross the street rather than passing close by someone who "looks" strange or dangerous.  We might cut short our encounters with clerks sporting multiple piercings or tattoos.  We might avoid hiring the applicant with a dark color, long hair, effeminate mannerisms, or physical disabilities.  We use all kinds of rationales, some supported by intellect, some by our religion, some by our country, to keep those who are different at arm's length. 

And we believe we will go to heaven because we are good people.  How do we know?  Because we treat our family well.  We sacrifice so our children can have a better life.  We call and visit our parents who sacrifice for us. We donate clothes to the local FISH, volunteer to run the snack stand for our child's sports team, go to church most Sundays, lie as little as possible, only lust in our hearts.  We follow, mostly, all the rules and guidelines that have been established as defining what a good life entails.

But treating those we love, those we birth or are birthed by, those we marry, those we live among, those who look like us, think like us, belief what we believe, treating those people well seems pretty easy.  Is the bar to get to heaven so low?  If so, and if our life on earth is a test to see who gets to heaven, well, it seems more like a pass/fail test than a real "separate-the-boys-from-the-men" test.
 
What if your chances of reaching heaven, nirvana, full consciousness or whatever your particular religion or belief may call a pleasant afterlife is based more on your interactions, positively or negatively with those of different faiths, different races, different cultures, different economic situations?  What if heaven is occupied by the spiritually advanced only?  If our life on earth is truly a test to see who earns eternity with the creator, what if the sole factor in determining this reward is how we treated people who are different from us? 
  What if the creator's plan purposefully expected human development to be so varied and include such a wide range of religions, cultures, beliefs, colors, etc. precisely because she wanted us to simply learn how to get along despite our differences?  
There is a saying that the best parties, the gatherings where the most fun and interaction occur, are those with fewer participants rather than those with the most guests.  Perhaps heaven is such a place; and if so, what a surprise that would be.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Private health care insurers

There is a lot of concern in America today that the Affordable Care Act, known "affectionately" as Obamacare, will negatively effect the entire range of the heath care industry.  Depending on the particular grind of the speaker, everything from patient care, to doctor-patient relationships, to access to health care providers to the actual cost of health care will be changed for the worse.  This is especially troubling when the speaker holds the widely held but not as easily proven assumption that health care in the United States is the best in the world.

It does not take rocket science to conclude that the health care provider network in America is as good as it gets.  And while it is convenient to ignore the United States' world rank in infant mortality, life expectancy, and access to health care services, the fact that those with the most money invariably seek treatment here illustrates the point.  

In essence, when an elected politician claims America has the best health care delivery system in the world as Speaker Boehner did on Sunday, July 1st, 2012 in an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation", he can be said to be speaking the truth, in his experience.  After all, he has an incredible government provided health insurance plan.

But if you are one of the tens of millions of Americans without health care coverage, or have an insurance plan that severely limits which providers you can see, features only a basic list of covered benefits, and/or includes prohibitive co-payments for the more serious or less frequently occurring maladies, you might grade the United States differently. 

And, if you are the World Health Organization (WHO) your ranking of the US falls somewhat below #1.  Their calculation uses the five factors listed below, and produced a ranking of 37 out of 191 countries for the American health care system.

• Health level, as defined by a measure of life expectancy, which shows how healthy a country's population is. This factor gets a 25 percent weight.

• Responsiveness, which includes factors such as speed of health services, privacy protections, choice of doctors and quality of amenities. This factor gets a 12.5 percent weight.

• Financial fairness, which measures how progressive or regressive the financing of a country's health care system is — that is, whether or not the financial burdens are borne by those who are economically better off. This factor receives a 25 percent weight.

• Health distribution, which measures how equally a nation's health care resources are allocated among the population. This factor receives a 25 percent weight.

• Responsiveness distribution, which measures how equally a nation's health care responsiveness (which we defined above) is spread through society. This factor gets a 12.5 percent weight.

I am of the opinion that both the good aspects and the problems with our health care system, the reason behind why we are ranked only 37th by the WHO, and why individual experiences and opinions of our health care system vary so widely among Americans, is the private health care insurance industry, emphasis on private.

As I have stated in the past, I am a firm believer that all discussions of health care must include disclosure of ones own health care insurance status.  I think this disclosure will render some opinions mute, or at least provide the listener with a reference point to conclude when hypocrisy is at play.  In my case, as an employee of the state of Pennsylvania, I have a very good health insurance plan with good access and below market co-pays.

That being said, I just spent some time arranging a physical therapy visit for my daughter who recently had knee surgery.  I first went on line to the health insurance company's website to find a physical therapist.  There were literally dozens within 10 miles of my home.  But what appeared to be easy access, turned more difficult when I called the nearest provider.  They didn't except the HMO version of my plan.  So even though they were a listed provider, we couldn't use them.  During the conversation, I was also told that there might be some limits due to "capitation" and that I might want to call my daughter's pediatrician and/or knee surgeon to find out which therapists might be capitated to them.

If you haven't heard this term before, here is the Webster definition;

a payment method for health care services. The physician, hospital, or other health care provider is paid a contracted rate for each member assigned, referred to as "per-member-per-month" rate, regardless of the number or nature of services provided. The contractual rates are usually adjusted for age, gender, illness, and regional differences.


Interesting.  Fortunately, my daughter reminded me that she had required physical therapy a few years ago.  Checking the list, we found that provider, and when I called the office for an appointment they reminded me that we would need a referral.    All in all, not particularly cumbersome despite the roadblocks due to the capitation issue.  Still, when someone rants about how Obamacare will limit which providers you can see, remember that it is already the case in most health care plans.     You see, health care insurance companies still seek profit.  That profit is decried when it appears that it exists, or is increased, by sacrificing the health of those paying the premiums, or those denied coverage in the first place.  That profit is defended by those who believe that by maximizing efficiency, establishing fee based services that providers can live with, and reducing risk exposure by the health insurance providers, the entire system stays afloat providing health care insurance for the majority of us.   And that is the rub.  As long as we believe that without the profit motive we can't have a strong health care insurance industry, therefore a strong health care delivery system, then we will need to tolerate decisions by the insurance industry which deny benefits for certain procedures, force health care providers to see more patients for less money, and influence the doctor-patient relationship through the filter of what is good for the health insurance provider.  Strangely, it is a similar list to why some decry Obamacare in the first place.   Which brings us to a recent decision by the Highmark Group, one of the top ten largest health care insurance companies in the United States as ranked by http://health.usnews.com/health-plans/national-insurance-companies.   Unless something has changed since I was informed of this situation, as of September 1, Highmark will institute its Physical Medicine Management Program.  This system, developed by a software development specialist in the health care industry, will use computer algorithms to predict outcomes, thereby influencing doctor decisions.  In other words, a computer will help determine procedures and therapies based on its analysis of past results with patients with similar problems.  This, from a health insurance company that was questioned in 2002 by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department about their then-excessive $2.4 billion reserves which, as of 2011 had ballooned to $3.7 billion, an astounding 38% increase in nine years.   While it may be naive to think that huge conglomerates such as Highmark operate as a company committed to a "social mission to provide affordable health care to the community", shouldn't we at least expect them to operate without creating the impression that they are raking in profits via the pocketbooks of their providers and members?

"Don't let a bureaucrat tell your doctor how to treat you", is a rallying cry for those against the Affordable Care Act.  Unfortunately, there are already non-medical influences effecting how your doctor chooses to treat you, and could soon be computer print outs in every doctor's office "predicting" your course of treatment as well. 

Clearly, we don't want to replace one flawed system with another.  Obamacare is not perfect and needs some real discussion about what to keep and what to replace.  But a free market based system, profit driven, will never improve the United States ranking in the WHO calculation because sick and old people cost money and a profit driven system will always resist insuring those people and/or paying for the necessary benefits they need.

The health care insurance industry is not evil, as you might believe I think or as you may hear others claim.  But it is overly concerned with profit, as all huge corporations are.  Perhaps some nudging on the part of the government, the providers and us, the clients, might lead the health care insurance industry to

conclude that a reasonable profit is better than the perception that huge profits come from dead Americans     
reevaluate its fee for service model, under which doctors are compensated for the quantity rather than quality of their care and move to an alternative which gives doctors a flat salary with bonuses for improved patient outcomes

And perhaps with a group of elected officials less beholding to large health care insurance firms, pharmaceutical companies, trial lawyer lobbyists and the countless other factors that cause the United States to spend thousands of dollars more per person with limited return, we can

reform malpractice laws so that doctors don’t prescribe tests and treatments simply to avoid lawsuits.

provide better evaluations of the efficacy of all medical tests and treatments, so doctors don’t prescribe—and, equally important, patients don’t demand—unnecessary and even harmful procedures