Monday, November 25, 2013

The Next Revolution

Last weekend I drove to Virginia to pick up my mom who had been staying with my aunt for the week following my uncle's death.  I had been looking forward to crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel but did not realize that my GPS chose a different route which took me passed Washington DC rather than via the Delaware/Maryland shore area.

Still, it made me think about the wondrous engineering feats that were built in the past 100 years.  The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building, and the Panama Canal, among others, demonstrate the incredible achievements that can be accomplished when man combines his intellect with a vision for a better world.

As my trip to Virginia was solo, I let my mind wander.  I imagine it was the next logical step after the industrial revolution that specific man-made wonders would be conceived and created.  One might say, it was indicative of man conquering the limits of his physical world, a process that had begun with his mastering of fire. 

And, perhaps it is a stretch, but I began thinking that once human kind triumphed over the physical restraints of life, it might also follow that a social revolution might occur.  It seems to me that the social changes of the recent past that have resulted in more equal treatment of women, African Americans, and the gay-lesbian community are the direct result of a social revolution that has inspired man to actually apply those awesome words ''all men are created equal".  I imagine that in another fifty years, race relations will have improved even further, and the gay citizens of America will be able to marry the person they love. 

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that I think the physical revolution that has enabled man to cross large bodies of water in their car, plant flags and bring home rocks from the moon, and communicate instantly with anyone, anywhere, has necessarily run its course, or is over.  I would hope that further technological triumphs will continue to free humans from certain physical dangers while opening up the world to grander discoveries.  Nor do I believe in the least that the social revolution that has opened our eyes and hearts to truly treating everyone as they would want to be treated is complete.  But I do think the cycle for each of these revolutions is closer to the end than the beginning.

Which leads me to wonder what the next revolution will entail.  In a previous blog, I published a story about the next greatest generation.  This generation perceived the threat to America, and tackled  it head on, despite the fact that the threat was defined as concepts that had previously helped create the myth and greatness of America. 

In that story, I briefly mention that the generation in question was posthumously known as a very spiritual generation.   Not religious with its connotation of dogma, rules, use of the fear of death to promote goodness, and assignment of "evil" to those with differing beliefs.  True spirituality that transcends those biases and discriminations (and fears) that promote tribalism, whether it be in the form of nationalism, race, gender, or sexual orientation. 

A spiritual revolution is coming, in fact, in my opinion, has begun.  Its signs are hard to discern, but they are there.  I see the signs in disparate places, revealed by a variety of events, and displayed in the actions and words of a multitude of people.

I hope to provide some specific details about this revolution in the near future.

In the meantime, just a reminder that if you have a Kindle, my initial attempt at publishing is available to download.  From the Kindle search menu, you can find it by searching by author, Joe Pugnetti, or title, Short Stories and Wurdsfromtheburbs.

   

   

      

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Death

First, a shameless plug.

I finally uploaded a collection of my stories and most "hit" blogs, accessible on the Amazon Kindle network.  If you have a Kindle and are interested in purchasing this literary effort, just search by author for Joe Pugnetti, or by title for "Short Stories and wurdsfromtheburbs".  It is priced to sell at 99 cents!!

Regular readers of my blog know that I read two monthly magazines, Smithsonian and National Geographic.  Not as well known is that I also subscribe to the Lapham's Quarterly.  It is a compilation magazine which devotes each edition to just one topic.  This month, the topic is Death.  (If you are interested in info on the magazine, here is a link).

http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/

So, of course, with Death already on my mind since the passing of my father late last year, the passing of my uncle in the summer, and the most recent passing of another uncle this past weekend, I have dived right into this edition.

Already, I have read poems and stories, both fiction and non-fiction, which span man's perception of death from the curious who look upon dying as the last and ultimate experience of life to the famous Dylan Thomas poem in which he exhorts us to "rage against the dying of the light". 

For me, I have considered death from multiple viewpoints during my lifetime.  Death to be used as a revenge against those who say they love me but don't show it, death as a backdrop for stories that attempt to teach a lesson about the brevity of life, death of loved ones which releases me from responsibilities, death as a harbinger of the truth of one's real mark on life which is measured by the accumulation of joy and happiness as opposed to material gain, the fear of death because I have not said all that I want or should have said, the longing for death to discover if my conclusions about life were on or off the mark.

My recent brushes with death, also inspire me to reevaluate the need for religion.  Well, not religion per se, but the comfort that certain beliefs about death can provide those left behind.  I generally laugh at the phrase, non-practicing blank, where the blank is filled in with the religion in which one is raised.  In my case, a non-practicing Catholic.  I am amused by this phrase because practicing is generally meant to infer that the person does not go to mass, or follow all of the tenets of the particular religion.  I would prefer that non-practicing refer to those people who claim a religion, yet do not practice the spirit of that religion; act in a non-Christian way, for example.  I actually like to think that I am a practicing Catholic in the way I treat others, in the following of the teachings of Christ, as opposed to the rules of the Church. 

But I digress.  What I meant to say is that with the passing of their husbands, my dear mother and aunt personify the spirit of their religion in their acceptance of death.  They are practicing their religion via mass, etc, but also live their lives as Christ taught.  Yes, they are deeply saddened by the loss of their respective mates, over 50 years in both cases, but they truly believe that their departed spouses are now with God in heaven, no longer suffering the pains of earthly life.  They truly believe in that basic tenet, that our mortal lives are a precursor to everlasting life with the creator.  It doesn't matter if it is true or not, it is real for them, and so they are comforted by that belief.  It makes me wonder if those who grieve so publicly and profoundly, especially those who claim a serious tie to any religion, really understand that their perception and reaction to death might be gauged by those looking in from the outside as an indication that their religion is not doing right by them, or that their perceived belief in that religion does not run very deep.

For me, I no longer think of my dad every day, as I did for many months after his passing.  But when I do, my eyes still fill with tears, wondering if I was a good son, wondering if he left this world with the same love for me that he felt when he fist looked upon me at birth.  I sob with the thought that I gave him grief as all children do, did not always respect his efforts to support his family both materially and emotionally.  I miss his smile and booming voice.  I see him in his glory at work, which I was lucky enough to experience as a child and young adult.  And, I wonder if my eventual passing will evoke the same emotion in those in my life now.

One of my favorite movies about death is Woody Allen's Love and Death.  His angst about this oh so serious subject permeates his movies, but none more so than this film.  If I were to compile a list of five people I would most like to have dinner with, Woody would most certainly be on this list.  Which makes me think that I might like to have just one more dinner with my dad.  Which makes me think that perhaps, I should be more appreciative of the meals I take with those in my life now.  And, not just the meals, but every waking experience I have with my children, my wife, my friends.

Which brings me to the counter culture philosophy of Ram Dass as expressed in his book Be Here Now.  I suppose it was considered "counter-culture" or the philosophy of the hippies, because the establishment saw the philosophy as justification for free sex and drug use.  And perhaps it did produce those activities, but what about its emphasis on the spiritual nature of our lives, the rejection of material possessions as the yardstick of a successful life, the idea that each individual moment should be lived to its fullest?

Perhaps, in the end, the comfort of a religious belief that allows the acceptance of death as the beginning of a new life, along with the perception that this life is more than just the accumulation of wealth, all filtered by the knowledge that each and every person we encounter, each and every day is the sum of our lives, and that in appreciating and loving those moments and those people is the best way to experience life, we are able, not only to fear death less, but to also live life more.

            

       



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Chained Reaction

I watched a movie this morning, one which I had seen a few times before.  Chain Reaction is the name.  The movie concerns some scientists working on a new technology that will provide clean energy (not fossil fuel dependent).  Unfortunately, behind the scenes lurks a secret government agency that has been monitoring these experiments and, once it is clear that the technology can work, take control of the experiments, and ultimately, those involved in its development.  Of course, when I say take control, they kill the lead guy, blow up their lab, and kidnap one of the other main contributors. 

As the story progresses, the main character played by Keanu Reeves begins to discover the truth of the death of his mentor, and the details of the secret organization which has taken control of the research.  As it is Hollywood, Keanu makes the final leap to discovering the secret of the new technology, foils the plot of the bad guys, rescues the girl (a fellow scientist), and releases this new, clean, free energy to the world.  The happy ending is only tempered by the fact that the main bad guy, played by Morgan Freeman, survives as well, knowing that he will begin again with a new secret organization.

As I have said, I have seen this movie a few times before.  But on this particular day, I was struck by a scene towards the end, where the Keanu character, after secretly tinkering with the parameters of the experiment to make it work, now faces the two lead bad guys.  He offers a trade, the technology for his life and the life of the girl scientist.  He is told in no uncertain terms that he has not bargaining chips.  After all, the bad guys hold the guns and the power.

What they forget, what is so often forgotten in the dynamics of using violence to get one's way, is that the idea, the intelligence behind the technology in question is greater that any gun or threat of violence.  The Keanu Reeves character anticipated their dependence on guns and threats to get their way, and simply withdraws his intellect from the success of the experiment.  Despite the bad guys' monopoly on the guns and power, they fail in the face of the intelligence behind the breakthrough.

The phrase "the pen is mightier than the sword" (if not the idea, which had been expressed in various earlier forms) was coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 for his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy

Whether it be the pen or computer keyboard, ideas are the true power of this world.  It is in ideas and innovations that societies are built.  To continue to believe that violence, even when used for a presumably good cause, can bring about good, or result in something positive, is a reaction which chains the believer to a path of failure. 

As I have said many time before, I believe in the evolution of mankind, physical and spiritual.  When I hear the many comments, and I hear them weekly, that society is going to hell, that mankind is doomed to kill himself and/or his planet, I generally counter those statements.  Perhaps I am na├»ve, perhaps a glass half full guy, perhaps just living in a fantasy world.  But to me the days of violence being used to obtain one's needs whether personal or national, are beginning to wane.  Further, it is my hope that this realization will not be lost on the American people and our elected officials.  If we wish to change the face of the earth, inspire the peoples of the third world, deflect the actions of those countries that violate human rights in the name of their sovereignty, we need to do it by example, by spiritually progressive ideas rather than by bombs and "peace-keeping" forces, and drones.

  



  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Next Greatest Generation



                                                        The Next Greatest Generation      

The obituary was neither remarkable in its description of the recently deceased nor in its presentation in the local newspaper.  Yet it could be said that it was the most important obituary written in its time as it marked the final passing of the last person born of the greatest generation in American history. 

 As is always the case, the early lives of this wondrous generation of Americans was marked by ridicule from those members of the previous generations.  Lazy, selfish, too focused on fun, undependable, irresponsible, etc.  The same criticisms that have been leveled at every generation by its predecessors were directed at them as well.  But again, as is frequently the case, when faced with the very destruction of the life they had come to love, when liberty, self-determination and freedom were at risk, they rose as one to the challenge, and with unwavering resolve, self-sacrifice and a fixation on the end goals, they brought the country (and correspondingly, the world) back from the edge of ruin. 

Unlike the last previously anointed greatest generation, the threat was more internal than external.  Whereas a great world war was fought by that initial greatest generation, a great world peace was required for this generation’s outcome.  Whereas the wrong side, the side of inhumanity and intolerance was easy to identify by that previous greatest generation, the right side for this challenge was much more difficult to discern.   

After the defeat of the forces of evil, the first greatest generation rebuilt the world, infusing it with the benefits of democracy, and creating a booming postwar economy fueled by industrial growth and driven by a growing labor force and burgeoning middle class.  Yet, in the following few generations, the darker sides of those same positive developments infected the economic and social systems, reducing all to a strong-over-the-weak, more-resources-for-less-citizens facsimile of its former self.   Opportunity became limited, and those with the advantages turned the political system upside down to ensure their status, while also eliciting support from the spiritually bankrupt forces of religion which described those with less as victims of their own laziness and ignorant of God’s will.

Education was determined to be the first critical area to address.  Public school education was OK, but not advancing to keep pace with the changing technological and social trends of the day.  Private school education was better focused, but the expense limited its students to those who already had the advantages of birth.  And too often it strayed into the realm of religious indoctrination that denied the facts of science and was blind to the discriminations embedded in its dogma.  College tuition continued to skyrocket while funding was cut in the name of fiscal responsibility.  When a return to an interest in the blue collar trades became apparent, for-profit schools turned historic apprenticeship programs into overpriced, under performing certificate mills that created more debt than job opportunities.

 The second biggest challenge was health care, or to be more precise, paying for health care.  While the baby boomer generation had died off a generation before, the debt associated with their unprecedented longevity, the medical professions cooperation with the pharmaceutical industry to prescribe a pill for every ailment, health insurance industry greed that placed profit over patient wellness, and the overall selfishness of a generation told it was the best and brightest but could never figure out that such a title needed to be earned, all had combined to create a perfect storm of private and government debt.  To make matters worse, the political will to tell the truth and address the issue was continually masked by media created news bytes which focused the passionate but uninformed electorate into a series of congressional and executive votes that created an atmosphere ripe for political maneuvering but did nothing to solve the problem. 

As this new generation began to reach voting age, it turned its attention to politics.  The great American experiment of government by the people, for the people, had been hijacked by single issue voters, well-funded special interest groups, and elected officials who, if they ever grasped the importance of public service, had long ago traded it for the desire to govern for life while padding the bank accounts of themselves and their loved ones. 

As they began to marry and have children, this generation was faced with a growing sense that the very roots of the democracy that had been built upon for over 250 years, were now withering from within, being poisoned rather than nurtured by the very forces of capitalism and individualism that had helped make the United States so strong.    

And so they began to change these trends. 

It was slow and difficult at first.  Many martyrs to the cause were created, visionary individuals who saw the inevitable destruction as it approached but were ignored and ridiculed for suggesting that the great concepts themselves were the problem. 

Fortunately, there had been some groundwork laid by the previous generation, so the message was not completely foreign to everyone.  As it gained a foothold, more and more people who had sensed the problems were finally willing to state the causes out loud, and begin the work to correct and move forward anew.  In some cases, surprisingly, change came swiftly as the apathy of the previous generations, especially in the voting booth, made it easy for the new generation to elect those who shared this new vision.   

First and foremost, the nature of the election process was altered.  No more eighteen month campaigns.  No more multi-million dollar election war chests.  Oddly, to some, the salaries of many elected public servants were increased.  While winning a House of Representatives or Senatorial office was still coveted, being a US Representative or Senator became an exclusive club fit for only the best and brightest of men and women interested in the public good.  Political ethics was no longer a contradiction in terms.  The influence of money was certainly not eliminated, but its hold on those in office was substantially reduced because the days of midterm elections which drew 20-25% of the electorate were replaced by hotly contested elections between members of a generation not interested in making a million, just in making a difference.     

Income inequality was addressed but not through legislation which had proven to be a fruitless endeavor in the past.  Being rich and successful was still an admired goal of much of the population.  But accumulating wealth became a byproduct of hard work, ambition, innovation, and perseverance not the goal in itself.  And how one became rich was gauged to be just as important as achieving material success.  Taking advantage of others, whether through questionable business ethics or outright deceitful advertising was no longer acceptable.  Investment groups which bought struggling companies for a song, moved the labor force overseas or to a state where employment laws were more “friendly” to business slowly faded out of existence, replaced by investors who were interested in saving jobs and communities, and less concerned about the percentage they would get once the company was profitable again.  At one point, when one of the most successful innovators in the manufacturing world announced that she would offer her services for free beginning with the most troubled companies in the country, the precedent was set.  When other well-respected men and women who had achieved great success joined her, she was able to form a school to begin training a new generation of public servants who placed the public good above massive material enrichment.   Being rich was slowly being re-defined in non-material terms.

Once the concept of public service was returned to politics, those elected were able to turn their attention to the originally identified main problems; education and paying for health care. 

As the problems with the education system were analyzed, it soon became clear that public education in the United States perfectly illustrated how severely penalized were those born with less.  Income disparity was the first indicator among the undereducated of the country.  Not necessarily because less money was being spent on their education.  In some cases, under achieving school districts were as well funded as those whose students excelled.  It was the level of poverty in the surrounding community that interfered with the education process.  Parents who struggled to stay fiscally above water, spent that much less time participating in the education of their children.    And children with parents who did not teach the importance of education and engage with their children in the learning process, continually under performed.  Communities stuck in an endless cycle of poverty, less education producing poor job skills and job opportunities could not prosper regardless of outside funding.   While not exclusive to inner city and extremely rural areas, there was a disproportionate number of children attending those kind of schools who were imprisoned within that cycle.   

It was a national problem in that no state was immune to the problem, but it was a local solution that was applied.  Where the confluence of big government and big business had corrupted the ideals of America, the application of a non-specific but global government provided solution funded by private monies, and applied to address the specific needs of each local school district, employed the best of both worlds to begin the transformation. 

Within 20 years, and with the cooperation of community leaders and parents, local and national teachers, government guidelines, regional businessmen and women, and directed funding to address specific problems in each affected area, the American education system, elementary and high school, became as respected world-wide as its higher education system had always been.   And, with cooperation among the education players, education costs stabilized eliminating the young to have to choose between higher education and high personal debt. 

Those that had said, “there will always be poverty among us”, were proven incorrect as poor became an adjective rather than a noun.  Of course, income disparity still existed.  But the extremes were eliminated.  People were poor only in the sense that they had not yet achieved an income level which would suffice for their needs.  “Not yet achieved” as opposed to “will never achieve” as had existed before. 

Individual greed which was rewarded, even adored, under the guise of a free market and a love of capitalism was recognized for the damage that it unleashed upon all levels of society, especially those born with less than average intelligence, ambition, and physical strength.  Reaching one’s potential was intertwined with the understanding that in doing so, helping other’s to achieve the same was part of the process not a hindrance.  The phrase dog eat dog reminded everyone how not to act towards their fellow man as opposed to being used as an excuse for those who achieved success on the backs of others.   

The problem of health care was a trickier issue.  Everyone agreed that America could not pretend its claim as the greatest country on earth, as long as its most vulnerable citizens were not included in a solution that provided health care for all.  Yet, it was also obvious that those most in need of advanced health care services, the elderly and the very sick, were most likely to be the least capable of paying for those services.  A purely market solution would never solve an issue where those in need of the most advanced services were the least likely to afford them.  The mid-twentieth century concepts of Social Security and Medicare, had addressed the issue but failed to provide a long term financial answer.  As America’s population aged, combined with the incredible medical breakthroughs which prolonged life, the cost of providing the safety nets seemed unsustainable. 

A few decades earlier, a bold approach to address the escalating costs of health care was initiated.  A mandate that required everyone to purchase health care insurance was enacted.  Among others. laws that eliminated previous health insurance industry rules that capped benefits for the truly sick, and outlawed pre-existing exclusions for those seeking health care insurance were also passed.  But the idea languished in a political morass of party before country.  Also, some American businesses took advantage of the "out" which allowed them to jettison the responsibility to their employees to provide health care insurance or altered working hours to deflect the requirement to provide coverage for full time employees.  The generation that became known for its selfishness and me before country attitude, ignored the premise of the concept, to allow more Americans access to health care insurance, working against the concept itself rather than addressing the shortcomings of this initial attempt.  

Now, building on the positive aspects of that legislation, this new generation combined the basic tenet of individual responsibility with the understanding that that responsibility extended beyond one’s own self, beyond one’s own family.   Gradually, amendments to the law were passed that focused energy on access to health care insurance for all while reducing costs for services most needed.  Insurance plans were crafted that addressed individual needs yet priced across broad actuarial models.     

More importantly however, an attitude shift began to develop.  Americans began to understand that each of them needed to participate in the solution, both on a personal as well as country-wide level.  A partnership between the American public and the health care providers took root.  Cost for services, which had become insulated from the public, became an ingredient just as when purchasing any product or service.   A level of competition was introduced to care givers that had been missing since the emergence of HMO’s and employer subsidized health insurance.  Additionally, the providers, individuals as well as hospitals, being already more cognizant of the dangers of income disparity, and having been freed of the escalating costs of higher education debt, slowly began to reduce their costs.  Reasonable profits and salaries slowly became the norm, and as more people became engaged in the process, even more insurance plans were developed to address even more specific health care needs.  Involvement at the federal level was slowly replaced by oversight by the individual states, each with their different demographics, hence different health insurance requirements.    

Bankruptcy via medical bills was eliminated.  Costs were contained via the normal market forces that control any product or service through the supply and demand process, but also due to those service providers internalizing a newly evolved belief that providing excellent health care service is a reward in itself, and that the accumulation of material wealth by providing those services is icing on the cake, not the cake itself. 

Once this perspective began gaining hold across other big money industries, energy, entertainment, communication, and technology, the problem of income inequality began to disappear.  Many people were still rich, but a much larger percentage of Americans were economically comfortable.  As a result, even more products and services were required, more jobs were created, more businesses prospered, and the economic turnaround was complete.  Needless to say, the rest of the world turned its collective eye once again to America, and its shining example of prosperity for all spread quickly throughout the globe. 

Strangely, and only in the clarity that is available in retrospect, this new generation also became known as the most spiritual generation in history.  While organized religion remained a positive force in many lives, the various dogmas that had produced “religious” wars and hatred between believers of differing faiths faded into oblivion.  One man’s religion did not justify the discrimination against those whose biblical interpretations focused on finding a scapegoat for the troubles of society.  Xenophobia, a force used without restraint by both governmental and religious organizations, was turned on its head with the wide spread belief that our creator made us different precisely to challenge us to live the message of love rather than retreating into the fear and violence of tribalism.  

Belief in God remained widespread but the practice of that belief was manifested in the mantra that those with the most have a social obligation to help those with the least.   Those who had prospered the most financially happily shared their wealth with the less fortunate.  Those born with above average intelligence spent a part of their lives improving the minds of others.  Those blessed with physical strength served their communities with free labor.   The overriding tenet of this generation was that personal success was equal parts luck, hard work and birth lottery.  Each individual endeavored to uphold that tenet by honoring the creator that provided the luck, supporting rewards for those who worked hard, and respecting the parents, friends and family that added up to the circumstances of their birth.   

Which returns us to that last obituary.  As is true for each individual from every generation that preceded this next greatest generation, no one escaped the inevitability of death.  Regardless of achievement or status, wealth or renown, fame or fortune, each person had lived and died.  But in so doing, the combined efforts of each and every one of them created a legacy that produced a country greater than any that had come before it.   And a world far better with their passing than when they were born.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Half Full - Half Empty Conundrum

A beautiful day in the neighborhood so I took full advantage via an extra long walk with the dog.  While enjoying the sun on my face, an occasional breeze and the pleasant temperature, my mind wandered, as it sometimes does.

Thoughts of those I know and have read about who seem to have very little going their way yet remain optimistic about the future and grateful for what they have, mixed with thoughts of those I know and have read about who seem to have everything in their favor yet remain disgruntled about their lives and fear the future.

What makes some people adopt the half full philosophy while others cling to the half empty perception?

I believe that I haven't mentioned that I was recently promoted to a larger store.  Also, that we recently began a complete bathroom renovation, and, as a result, we haven't had a working shower for ten weeks.

The half full viewpoint on the new job notes the slight increase in pay and the exposure to the challenges of assisting in running a much larger establishment.  The half empty perception notes that the drive is now 50 minutes rather than three, and that shipments in this store begin at 5:00 AM (necessitating a 3:30 AM wake up).   Additionally, since I am maintaining my second job minus one shift, the half full person is grateful to have a second job to support the family while the half empty person notes that twice a week I work from 10PM to 4AM which puts quite a kink in the sleep cycle.

As for the shower, half full knows that the bathroom will be great, once it is done, and that it has been gratifying to know that so many friends and family have been willing to allow me to shower at their home, while half empty is not happy with the occasional hair washing in the kitchen sink, and purchasing/wearing extra deodorant and cologne to mask the days when a shower is not available. 

As I continued to walk, more of my life became fodder for these musings.  Half full is extremely proud of my two children, both in college.  Half full regrets the college tuition cost.

Half full is happy to have such a beautiful, smart, loving wife who has remained at his side for 25+ years.  Half full is cognizant of seeing the same face, day after day after day.  (Sorry honey, just making a point).

At this point, my half full/half empty dialogue moved to the national scene.  Half full realizes that the government shutdown will eventually end, and the United States of America will survive another default crisis.  Half empty bemoans the selfishness of our elected officials who have placed party over country, and knows that this is just another in a series of "crisis" that our representatives will continue to create, to the detriment of America.

As a Democrat and Liberal, half full can only shake his head at the continued distention in the GOP, with its carousel of leadership via the flavor of the month.  From 2008 candidate John McCain to 2012 candidate Mitt Romney, from Sarah Palin to Ted Cruz, from Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump, the GOP has fluttered, and now seems to have failed its moderate majority in favor of the resource rich, be-elected-but-refuse-to-govern tea party minority.  Half empty is saddened, knowing that a two party system is required to maintain the give and take that a democracy needs to thrive, and hopes that saner minds in the GOP will cleanse the party of those who, like my kids at age two, only know how to say no.

And finally, we have our president, Barrack Obama.  Elected twice, both times receiving a majority of the popular vote as well as the electoral.  Half full is exceedingly proud of the American electorate for choosing our first African American President.  We are all a part of history, regardless of how we voted, and future political as well as social historians will dissect how and why we made that choice. 

But half empty sees an electorate with a sagging spine.  Perhaps we were ready to elect a black president but we may not have been ready to be governed by one.  From those who openly challenge President Obama on his heritage, his religion, his love of country, to those who stand by and say nothing to rebuke those who cast such dispersions, lies, and hate, to those of us who voted for him but seem afraid to defend our vote and our president, seem unwilling to shout down the ignorant who fail to realize that once you legitimize such hatred of our president you can't go back when the next one happens to be one you voted for, can't retain the higher morale ground when he is besmirched by friend and foes outside our borders.

Half full - half empty.  Can one choose which side one's viewpoint will fall?  Or are half of us born half full while the others are born half empty? 

I like to think that I lean towards half full, which upholds that we can train our mind, direct our thinking to half full if we reflect on our lives, and our perspectives, and understand the difference between the two viewpoints.





 


         

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Defunding Obamacare

I thought for a few seconds about using "Obamacare" in the title for this post as I absolutely despise its use.  At first only those opposed to the Affordable Heath Care Act (ACA) used this derogatory term, but as time passed even many advocates began to use it, mostly because the term Obamacare was instantly recognizable, but also, sadly, because referring to the law that aims to provide access to health care insurance by its true name does not create the visceral reaction that so many pundits, politicians and news journalists are seeking.

So, that being said, I decided to join the crowd with my title in hopes that I may reach an audience that is pre-disposed to fighting the implementation of ACA.

Like all laws, ACA is not perfect.  First and foremost, it requires the citizens of America to seek health care insurance through this program when they have no other source.  Not because it might be cheaper, not because it might be partially subsidized, but because they have no other options.  It also requires businesses with more than fifty employees, to accept their duty to offer basic health care insurance to those people who make their business successful, as opposed to reducing their full time work force to avoid the requirement.  In each case, it requires Americans, as individuals and as corporations, to put the needs of the country ahead of selfishness and greed.  And finally, it requires the health industry, insurance and providers alike,  to place the health of Americans, especially the sickest among us, on par with their profit margins and salaries. 

In my opinion, if the American people continue to seek only what is in it for them, and if American corporations continue to measure each and every decision by the yardstick of short term profit, then the program will not work.

Speaking of opinions, here is a quick caveat.  From the President himself, down through every Senator and Congressmen for and against ACA, to anyone willing to air his/her viewpoint concerning the consequences of implementing ACA, it is ALL conjecture.  No one really knows if it will work, no one really knows it if will save money or be a boondoggle, no one really knows if lives will be saved because more people have access to health insurance, no one really knows if our continued experiment with using a "market" approach to health care insurance will ever work.  No one really knows.  Opinions are just glorified guesses, so anyone who presents his/her opinion as fact might best be ignored. 

But there is one thing I believe I do know.  If we work together, the health care insurance, pharmaceutical, medical device industries, doctors, hospitals and other care givers, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and most importantly each and every American, if we all work together towards a common goal of developing a program so that no American is denied health care insurance, no American can go bankrupt due to their medical bills, no American must make a choice between medicine and food, then I believe we can solve this problem.  If we want to continue to believe we are the greatest nation on Earth, then we must solve this problem or no longer make that claim.

So, then, the big question is, why is the GOP so intent on defunding ACA, so much so that they are willing to shut down the government?  Obviously, they oppose it.  They oppose Obamacare.  But which portions of ACA do they actually oppose?   For those reading this blog, which of these do you oppose?

No yearly health insurance benefit caps
No lifetime health insurance benefit caps
No denial of insurance coverage simply due to an error on an application
No denial of insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions
No denial of insurance coverage for children with pre-existing conditions
An option for young adults to stay on their parents policy up to age 26
Reduction of the "doughnut hole" in Medicare
Subsidies for people earning incomes which make paying premiums cost prohibitive.
The individual mandate requiring all Americans to retain health care insurance.

If you are like most people I have spoken with, you are opposed to one or less of the above items, and most likely the mandate.

Strangely, most of the people I have spoken with have health care insurance yet resent being told (by the government) that they must purchase it.  And, if we had laws that said that those without health care insurance should not be given health care services that they can't afford, I guess I could understand people who decided to throw the dice and take their chances.  But we have more humane laws that require people to receive health care services despite their ability to pay, and we have care givers that concern themselves more with healing the sick, first, worry about the money, second. 

So, answer me this.  Would you agree to waive your rights to health care services that you can't afford so that you do not pass along your debt to your fellow taxpayers, or do you think it best to pay an insurance premium so that if you (or a family member) does become extremely sick, you will be covered for the services required to save your life? 

I have a life insurance policy on myself so that should I die, my wife and children will have the option to stay in our home, continue their education, live in the community where we have lived for 20+ years, etc.  Hopefully, I will not die prematurely which means I will have wasted my money on that life insurance policy, and I will be darn happy about it!

Similarly, for those who live a lifetime of good health never having to face the consequences of a heart attack, a cancer diagnosis, or a debilitating accident, for those who are fortunate enough to never needing costly health care services, I say, what a shame!  All that money wasted!  Perhaps in your next life you will be less fortunate and have some type of chronic disease that justifies your health insurance premium.  But in the meantime, perhaps you should visit a local cancer ward to bolster your perspective on who is suffering.

Finally, to my young readers who still believe you are immortal.  Enjoy your health!!!  Stay up all night, burn the candle at both ends, sky dive, travel, hitchhike across America, engage in recreational drugs and one night stands.  Do it all, enjoy your life knowing that eventually, inevitably, you will grow old.  So yes, you might have a few less bucks to spend today, but if something were to happen in your happy-go-lucky time of life, you won't be saddled with immense medical debt, or, should you opt to the waiver I mention above, find yourself on the short end of the medical services stick.  And don't forget that you are paying those premiums now, so that us old people, your parents and grandparents, uncle and aunts, older cousins, brothers and sisters, will have the means to obtain health care insurance despite being old, or sick, or both.  Hopefully, then, when your time comes for help from the generations to follow yours, they will also be as generous. 

Which brings us back to ACA.  What provisions need to be changed?  Of course, it is hard to know since the main tenets of the law are just starting to become effective.  But, as the exchanges begin to develop, as people who have spent years trying to obtain health care insurance navigate their options under ACA, as the wheels begin to turn on this massive program, we should be able to identify problems and tweak the law, just as we have tweaked virtually every law ever written, including the Constitution for those of you keeping score.  But, again, we need to do it together, with the best interests in mind of the American people in the forefront of the discussion.  Not through the lens of which political party can make the most points or which special interest group can get the most exemptions. 

Finally, one last question.  If you were to lose your job tomorrow, do you know what your COBRA payment would be?  Could you afford it?  Up until now, you most likely would have had to make the tough choice of dropping health care coverage in this scenario, either because you weren't able to obtain coverage on your own or because you could not afford the premiums.  You were isolated and alone, and if you will forgive my obvious distaste for the health care insurance industry, you were at their mercy which is precisely where they want us all to be.  Now, through ACA you will have other choices.  That simple fact alone makes this a no brainer for me that we should stop trying to defund ACA, and get on the side of the American people. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Another Massacre

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email asking me if I was interested in seeing a short video called The Business of Guns.  Apparently, my occasional gun related posts had resulted in my contact believing I might find the video interesting.  I watched the video a few days later, then watched it again, today, in light of this past weekend's massacre in Washington DC.

First, here is a link to the video if you are interested.  It appears to be a (mostly) unbiased presentation of facts as related to the gun industry.

http://www.onlinemba.com/blog/business-of-guns

I also did some research about mass shootings and found this detailed list of mass shootings with "mass" being defined as 4 or more fatalities.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data

Finally, I looked for articles with data about gun ownership in America and found these two, interestingly enough with different conclusions.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/us/rate-of-gun-ownership-is-down-survey-shows.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.gallup.com/poll/150353/self-reported-gun-ownership-highest-1993.aspx

As I have said many times before, I prefer stronger laws to control guns based on the assumption that many gun deaths, and a significant percentage of gun related violence is the result of impulse rather than a planned crime or event.  People get mad, i.e road rage, domestic quarreling, bad day at the office, etc, and act without thinking, act our of passion, or just plain lash out at what is nearest.  Having the availability of a gun in these situations increases the chance of a fatality.  For me then, the less guns there are, the less chance they will be used irresponsibly and/or with unplanned consequences.     

It has been argued that this logic does not apply to most mass killings, in that most seem planned.  If we glance at the list compiled in the link above, there are not that many spur of the moment killings.  Rather, the perpetrators have reacted to a specific event or have killed as a result of a mental illness.  Still, I would maintain that the ease of attaining weapons with high killing capabilities, makes it all the more easy for them to fall into the hands of those with bad intentions.  That being said, I agree wholeheartedly with those responsible gun owners who make the case for tighter enforcement of current laws that limit the sale of guns to those with a history of mental illness.  The problem is that the mentally ill are still able to procure guns since they are so readily accessible via holes in the legal process and illegally.

For me, the most insidious aspect of the gun debate, is the gun's industries soaring profits as detailed in the video.  Of course, much of the blame for why people buy guns which produces the sales and results in the profits, is our own, the people of the United States.  We continue to buy in to the notion that violence offers a solution to the problems we face, whether personal or national.  And then, we complete the charade with the rationale that if only we could keep the guns out of the "bad" guys hands, and get more into the hands of the good guys.  I would love to see the app that a gun dealer could use to determine who is good and who is bad!!

The good news is that despite the increase in guns in America - we are #1 in the world according to the video - the rate of homicide, overall and by guns, has not increased in the past 30 years despite the seemingly endless barrage of news stories detailing gun violence and the increase in mass killing.   As the gun-ownership-is-down link suggests, I am a firm believer that man, as a whole, continues to evolve spiritually and that in so doing we more and more embrace the concept that killing each other, whether for reasons of religion, land, money or love, is slowly, ever so slowly, becoming a trait not compatible with the survival of our species.  

And so I hope that one day there will be a world without guns.  Not through legislation, although it is a nice way to move us forward, but through the shared realization that violence, whatever its manifestation, solves little, destroys much, and is a poor choice of solutions for our problems.      

     

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Another 9/11 Anniversary

September 11, 2001. 

9/11.

Regardless of how you say it, the events of this day will forever have an impact on the people, politics and future of America.  Today marks the twelfth anniversary of that fateful day.  And, as was true of all past anniversaries, memorials are taking place all across the country.  We remember where we were when we heard the news, what we did as he horror unfolded, how we united in our suffering, and, to this day, how the lump in our collective throats is just that much bigger when we hear our national anthem played and recall the sacrifices made by both the victims of that terrible event and their families.

Coincidentally, we are also involved in a national debate about Syria. Despite the history of the citizens of this great country to respond to injustices throughout the world, polls indicate that we are not all that eager to get involved in punishing or otherwise addressing the horrendous treatment of the Syrian people by President Assad and his military.  Would we be so reticent to slap down a bully like Assad had we not spent the last dozen years in Iraq and Afghanistan in response to a past bully?  Have we grown tired of our role of world policemen, especially in face of the vengeful response of those we have labeled terrorists, the indirect assistance that these groups have received by countries like China and Russia who are supposed to be our friends, or at least not our foes, and the unappreciative attitude of those countries that claim to be our allies but are loath to contribute monetarily to the ever increasing bill we face to "keep the peace"?

Interestingly, I just finished reading an article in this month's Smithsonian about the muriqui monkeys.  See link below.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Humans-Would-Be-Better-Off-If-They-Monkeyed-Around-Like-the-Muriquis-220566921.html#spider_monkeys_01_631x473.jpg

A remarkable woman named Karen Strier has been studying these primates for the past thirty years, and in the process has helped focus the world of primatology on animals other than just gorillas and chimps.  In so doing, she has also opened up this field of study, and in conjunction, the study of the most evolved of the primates, man, towards the consideration that competition, aggression, and territorialism, all the precursors of war, are not necessarily common among all primates.  That there are other traits that primates share that are not based on violence.

In the world of the muriqui, cooperation, and physical and emotional support are the rule of the day.   They do not compete for food, but share it with each other, old, young, healthy and infirmed.  Males do not fight each other for access to mating rights, but are invited to mate by the females who do not appear loyal to one male over another.  As a result, infant muriqui do not need to be protected from males eager to kill off another's progeny.   Hugs and embraces have replaced fighting and killing.

As a believer in evolution, specifically that all primates evolved from a common ancestor millions of years ago, it is uplifting to think that our aggressive traits may be the result of environmental pressures and specific situations as opposed to the more common belief that we they are inbred and  impossible to avoid, or worse, some type of "original" sin that God has inflicted upon us.  Perhaps if we stopped for a second, took our heads out of the swirling sands of materialism, greed, and winner takes all cutthroat competition, we might begin to understand that helping each other, those in our direct "pack", those in neighboring packs, and even those in packs that have different customs, language, skin color, religion, is a better way towards species survival. 

If we believe that primates do what they do, the good, bad and the ugly (sorry Clint) out of a desire for access to food, shelter, and sex, then we need to address what forms this desire might take, and what methods provide the most food, shelter and sex for the most people.  Clearly, killing all the competitors can produce this result, but only if you are willing to accept the possibility that you, as an individual, will be killed by someone with bigger muscles, whether those muscles are the ones on a body or in the form of tanks and bombs. 

But, if we decide that peace through war is the ultimate oxymoron, then perhaps we might imitate the muriqui who do not measure their wealth by how much one has more than another, but by the collective resources and happiness of the group.



       

Monday, August 26, 2013

The future of health care

So, then there were two.

I drove my daughter to college over the weekend which has now resulted in our version of the empty nest.  Of course, I miss her, just as I miss seeing my son, but I am also happy that our children are progressing towards independent lives without "parental" oversight.  As I have said to my wife, while we might miss the kids, we (and especially my wife) did a great job raising them and it is time to let them fly on their own with the knowledge that they can return if they need to.  Let's just hope they don't!!

As for writing, I must say I have been uninspired.  My interest in politics is wavering, my interest in debating issues is flailing, my interest in time in front of my computer is slight.  Still...

As the Affordable Care Act begins to kick in, and despite the obsession that the Republican Party has exhibited to repeal and/or defund it rather than addressing its weaknesses and proposing alternatives, I am hopeful that the American people will realize its benefits outweigh its negatives.

Ultimately, it seems apparent to me that we need to sever the link between employment and health care insurance.  Everyone needs to become more involved in the cost of their health care, and as long as we allow our employers to act as intermediaries, and allow the health care industry to dictate coverage, benefits, and choices through the filter of their profit, rising premiums and costs will remain the norm.

From what I am hearing, the exchanges that are being set up in some of the states that are ahead of the curve on this issue, are providing much more attractive premiums than have been traditionally available to individuals and small businesses in the past.  If we are not ready for a single payer option (due to the wrongheaded notion that this smacks of socialism) then we need to make sure that every state in America embraces the goal of providing the means for each of its citizens to have access to affordable health care insurance. 

I often ask my friends and family what contribution their employer pays toward their health care premiums and many don't know.  They certainly know what is deducted from their pay, but they don't know the extent of the subsidy that they are receiving from their employer.  Perhaps if that subsidy was paid to the employee, and each employee was required to purchase their own health insurance, we would be more cognizant of its cost and shop for the policy that bests suits our needs.  My experience has been that most employers offer a single rate and a family rate, and perhaps a married with no kids rate.  But families with one kid might find a more suitable (and less costly) policy assuming that the family rate is based on an insurance company configuration that most likely assumes 2 or 2.5 kids per family.  And, perhaps a single, healthy person might find a single rate on their own with a high deductible that would better suit their situation.

During my years of employment in the private sector, and in discussions with small business owners today, health insurance costs is a big part of their overhead, a pain to have to negotiate every year, a distraction from their actual business, and an impediment to hiring new employees. 

Of course, all that assumes that the health insurance industry is forced to offer group rates to all Americans, regardless of the size of their employer or group affiliation.  Yes, forced.  And, it assumes that all people must participate; yes I am in favor of the "Romney" care individual mandate.  Or, as Hilary Clinton might say, the 1990's Republican alternative to her universal healthcare proposals.  And, it assumes that employers will increase the pay of their employees in lieu of the their current health care insurance subsidy. 

You see, I believe in the market place to establish supply and demand for most products and services.  But, as there are exceptions to every rule, health care insurance is the exception to this rule.  If you want to buy a car, you purchase the car that you can afford. But if you are really sick, you need the health care services that will make you well, despite your ability to pay.  Everyone deserves an insurance plan that provides basic health care services with a catastrophic option that prevents bankruptcy, or worse, the necessity of choosing between health and death.  But personal involvement in the coverage, benefits and costs of our own health care and health care insurance may be the only way to break the vicious cycle of escalating health care costs.



 
   

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Past and Present

Our family has a tradition of taking a group vacation every year in the Poconos.   While this year was different in that my dad was not there for the first time in 45 years, my four brothers, one sister, mother, aunt, two sister-in-laws, three nephews, one nephew’s girlfriend,  one brother’s girlfriend, my wife, both my children and their respective girl/boy friend, one cousin and her husband, four nieces, and a sister-in-laws’ two sisters and one brother, were all in attendance, scattered in four cabins on the property.    Add to that the various friends who we see every year in three of the other cabins, and it all adds up to a vacation of family, friends, and fun.  As I write this, it is the last day of the 2013 version of this tradition.

In addition to spending time with all these people, I look forward to reading by the pool, falling asleep in the sun, jumping in the cool water, and starting that cycle over again. 
Apropos to the reading/sleeping/pool cycle, I read the August edition of the National Geographic.  Two articles particularly interested me.

The first was called Sugar Love (A not so sweet story).  It traced the history of sugar, its modest beginning as a spice, rare, and only known to a small group of people in the islands of the Pacific off the Asian mainland.  From there it spread across Asia via the march of the Arab armies in the first millennia AD, and then was introduced to the Europeans during the Crusades.  As the taste for sugar gained traction in Europe and since trade between Europe and Asia did not prosper, new sources for sugar were required, and with the discovery of the New World, specifically the islands of the Caribbean, a source was found.   Here is a link to that article.
Of course, like most people, I was aware of the connection between the expansion of the slave trade and the need for cheap labor.  However, this article provided some details that I did not know about.  According to the article, over the course of a few centuries, over 11 million Africans were shipped to the New World, more than half ending up on sugar plantations.  Perhaps it sounds a bit dramatic to say, but there is a graphic illustration of the bloody and inhumane connection between sugar production and satisfying the sugar cravings of Europe.   A slave of the time, who is missing an arm and a leg, states “When we work in the sugar mills and we catch our finger in the millstone, they cut off our hand; when we try to run away, they cut off a leg; both things happened to me.  It is at this price that you eat sugar in Europe.”  
Well, at least we don’t do that anymore, one might say.  And yes, perhaps we have evolved, as I continually hope, in a manner in which we value human life a bit more highly.  Yet it is still true that workers in gold mines in Africa receive a miniscule amount of compensation for efforts that yield mine operators millions of dollars.  And it is still true that the rulers of various third world nations make deals resulting in lucrative contracts for them and their western business partners, but paltry salaries for the labor force.   And, while some may debate this trend, it even seems true that here in America, the value of labor has been kept artificially low in the past thirty years while those with wealth take a bigger percentage of the pie.

To me, It would be better if, instead of (or perhaps in addition to) learning the lessons of economics which includes the desire for cheap labor to provide new tastes, or precious metals, or inexpensive consumer goods, or lower cost energy, we were to focus more on the cost to indigenous populations, local environments, or the imported labor that is exploited to provide that new taste or cheaper energy.  It is all too easy to dismiss the days of forced labor and the toll that unregulated mining and non-existent air pollution controls had on our air and water and land, now that those days seem to be in the past, unless it was your ancestor who was forced into slavery, your land that was mined and left dead, your water and air that was fouled.   So, when we debate the issues surrounding the Keystone Pipeline, fracking, repealing some of the teeth behind the Clean Air and Water Acts, or even the minimum wage, it might be wise for us to consider the immediate cost to the people who risk limb and health for our newest western technology, might be of benefit to include the long terms costs of shooting chemicals into the ground or digging holes in the ocean, perhaps even include requirements to consider the cost of cleanup when that pipeline bursts or that oil rig explodes, as opposed to weighing everything by the short term benefit of some temporary jobs or a few additional percentage points of profit. 
It is said, by some, that man's progress has been marked by upheaval, violence, the suffering of the few for the benefit of the many.  Perhaps that is how it will always be.  For the good of the whole, the few will pay the price.  Whether it be through wars, low wage labor, lack of  environmental safeguards or just plain greed and non-caring, there may always be situations and events that require some people to suffer while others prosper.  It would just be nice, the Christian thing, if those humans on the advantage side were to recognize the pain of those on the sacrifice side as opposed to actively abusing them, and/or consciously developing ways to profit from that sacrifice.
 
The second article was about the Mayan civilization, specifically about their ability to mark time.  I imagine that all civilizations, all people who reflect on their moment in time, think that they are alive at man’s most evolved moment.  Those advanced Greeks who first discussed democracy over 2000 years ago probably thought they were living during the greatest time in history just as the great thinkers and artists of the 17th century Renaissance regarded themselves in a similar manner as did the great inventors and entrepreneurs of the recent century who gave us flight, computers, and instant, global  communication.  But sometimes I think in our mutual rush to glorify our particular time and contributions, we forget that greatness, uniqueness, times of incredible bursts of progress, all build upon what has come before.  Sometimes I sense that we believe that our 21st century condition exists in a vacuum, forgetting that the basics for so many of our advanced technologies were imagined and developed in past times.  Here is that link.

The Mayan article detailed their ability to identify the exact moment each year when the sun was directly overhead.  This twice yearly event enabled them to adjust their calendars which helped them plan for planting and harvesting.  Their advanced understanding of the cycles of the sun and the seasons produced a civilization that lasted a few thousand years despite soil with little moisture retention.  When we focus on their poly-theistic religions, their belief in the need for sacrifice to appease the gods, be it food, animal or human, their agrarian society without industry, we gloss over the simple facts that their understanding of the cycles of nature was perhaps more advanced than our own.  Well, maybe not more advanced, as a hurricane in their time would have most likely been devastating as well as a surprise event, but more advanced in the practical use of the knowledge they gleaned from nature.  They knew the signs of a coming good or bad harvest and took the appropriate measures to feast or conserve.  With all our high-end technology, we seem to act or not act based on economic or political reasons (see the continued debate on climate change) as opposed to what is required for base survival. 
History indicates that the peak of the Mayan civilization was about 650 years, from AD 250-900.  It is also conjectured that the Mayan people existed from as far back as 1800 BC.  By simple arithmetic, we can conclude that these people were present in the area of the Yucatan Peninsula for more than 2500 years.  
As I said before, in an age when one can type an essay from a desk in Perkasie, PA, post it and have it become available to anyone, practically everywhere in the world in an instant, when telescopes have been developed that enable us to "see" practically to the beginning of the universe, when bombs have been created that can be released hundreds of miles away yet hit an individual target the size of a man, it is normal to assume that we believe that we represent the apex of human existence to date.  But perhaps before we rush to judgment we need to survive the test of time, to be around in the year 4000 before we come to that conclusion.   And to more fully understand that we are only us, now, because of the past.
 
   

 

 

 

   

  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Conspiracy (that changed America)

Well, I know it has been a bit since I promised my newest story, but here it is, finally.  Feel free to comment.  Thanks for your continued interest.




The Conspiracy (that changed America)

As the news reports began to filter across the TV and radio waves, it became clear rather quickly that these were not isolated events.  Twenty-five shot in a supermarket in New Jersey, eighteen shot in a bowling alley in Ohio, thirteen shot while waiting in line at an ice cream stand in North Carolina, thirty-four shot at a community carnival in Wisconsin.  Within thirty minutes, word of shootings, one each in forty states, was penetrating every nook and cranny of the United States via TV crawls, cell phones and computers.  Each new revelation struck the American people like a body blow.  The final haymaker came when the fiftieth attack became public, this one involving eight people at a church in Mississippi; the country swayed and fell to its knees as one. 
Terrorism.

Quickly, the word was on everyone’s lips.   And just as quickly, demands for justice, revenge, and answers filled the air waves.  Some news outlets attempted to secure and include solid facts in their reporting, but many rode the waves of fear and distrust that they had sown for the last dozen years and fed the flames of hatred with unsubstantiated rumor, bias and downright lies. 
In some cases, witnesses who saw machine gun waving Muslims were heard describing their experience through tears and anger.  In other cases, blacks with automatic weapons were detailed as the culprits.  There was even a report that one group of shooters was seen tossing pamphlets in the wake of their attack, pamphlets that one irate witness shook violently at the TV cameraman, pamphlets promoting gay marriage.

While most spiritual leaders called for calm and forgiveness, those with TV and radio shows proclaimed the attacks as God’s punishment, while requesting donations to combat the particular group of people that their God had determined to be evil and who therefore needed to be purged from America.
Within twenty-four hours, bipartisan proclamations were passed in congress condemning the attacks, and a new flag pin was worn to display support for the victims, support for the United States.  Spontaneous demonstrations sprung up throughout the country; anger mixed with tears and confusion.   Many of the victims, those with minor injuries were released and feted at some of these demonstrations but none spoke or gave interviews and everyone assumed it was too early for them to discuss the details.      

Within thirty-six hours it was determined that there were nine hundred and eleven victims of the shootings and a new wave of hatred-filled accusations was launched.  Like a cut across an old scar, old memories mixed with new fear seeped into every conversation at every water cooler and kitchen table, and on every political news show.
Within forty-eight hours, a dozen perpetrators had been identified via various on-site cameras and eye witness descriptions.  No identities were released but various news channels suddenly had unnamed sources revealing details of the men with “Muslim sounding names”.   Calls for retribution and political columns about the growing Muslim threat doubled in number and intensity.  Many more victims were released and America seemed grateful that so many had escaped serious injury. 

On the third day credible information was released indicating that another dozen shooters had been identified, and that like the first twelve all were white males.  This information was used by the far left to condemn the various right wing militia groups that existed throughout the country.  It was equally used by some extremely right wing organizations who called it a fabrication by a White House that hated America and white people.  Neutral news organizations noted that virtually all of the victims of the shootings had now been released from the various hospitals where they had been sent.
On the fourth day all fifty attackers were caught.  Well, not exactly caught, they all turned themselves in to local authorities at or around noon.  All were white, all but five were male.  All were American, born and bred.  All were unmarried.  All lived in the neighborhoods where the shootings occurred.  All brought their weapons as proof, as well as a copy of the plan that each was issued as part of the conspiracy.   

And each had the same name of the man who had created the plan, recruited the shooters and organized the attacks.  Amazingly, this information did not get leaked to any news agency, but every local, state and federal police officer in the home state of the alleged ring leader knew his name.  Unfortunately, more than a dozen innocent men were accused in print and on TV by those with a grudge or just blind with fear.
The following day the named man, following his own plan, surrendered without fanfare to the desk sergeant on duty at a police station he had carefully chosen about a year before.  Like those he had recruited and trained, he was single.  His features were non-descript.  He was 52 years old, college educated.  Those he worked with all expressed complete surprise with the revelation of his involvement.  While both his parents had passed, his two siblings were shocked.  By all accounts, he was an average American.   

Two days later he was dead.  Shot and killed by an ex-Marine who used his military connections to gain access to him during a transfer from one federal facility to another. 
His death was greeted with celebration.  Citizen led parties featuring his effigy burned, stomped upon, ripped apart and destroyed in all manners and with as much anger as possible were featured on TV and the internet.  There was even a contest sponsored by a well-known celebrity to “kill” the man in the most unique and gruesome way. 

It had been one week since the shootings, and in that week America had experienced incredible sorrow, then shock, then elation.   One week of the most intense emotions as could be remembered in United States history.  One week that most Americans thought might never be matched in terms of the roller coaster of emotions that this man had created.
A day after his death, it was revealed that each shooter had another piece of the puzzle, non-sensible to each shooter, but when combined they revealed the thinking of the man, the reason for his actions.  Information was also released which indicated that each of the fifty shooters had a police record including at least one felony charge.   Those news outlets that had so vigorously been condemning Muslims and their religion shifted their fervor, now targeting the non-religious, the forces that had removed religion from America, those they said denied the Christianity of our founders and of the nation.   

On the tenth day after the shootings, the combined text of the man who had coordinated the worst domestic terrorist attack in United States history was printed in almost every newspaper in America.  It read as follows:
If my plan was successful, it is likely that these words will be made public, and the citizens of America will be seeking an explanation for my actions.  First, I send my deepest condolences to those who were hurt in any of the shootings.  My instructions were very explicit as to the location and number of those to be injured, and if they were followed precisely there will have been no fatalities, no loss of limb, sight or sense,  and all the victims will have been released from the hospital by now.  Of course, I know that their mental anguish may take time to heal and for that hurt I take full responsibility and accept the judgment of my country and my God.

Of course, you want to know, why?
For the last five years, there has been a concerted effort by various forces in this country to scare the citizenry into believing that their freedoms were at risk, and that only through the ownership of a gun could freedom be safeguarded.  While I acknowledge that some of those responsible were acting from a sense of patriotism, truly believing that our founders penned the second amendment to provide everyday citizens with the right to arm themselves against tyranny, foreign or domestic, it is all too clear to me that much of this effort is either politically or racially motivated, or worse, being spurred by an obscene grasp for profit.  It is no coincidence that gun and ammunition sales have skyrocketed since the election of our first African American President.  

As a result, any rational, sensible attempt to ban those guns which have only one purpose, to kill as many people as possible, have been met with millions of dollars of donations from the coffers of those benefitting from the pretense that our rights were at stake.  Using cute slogans, sound bites, and distorted facts, this group has managed to paint those favoring gun control as anti-Constitution, bribed and threatened our elected officials to vote their way, and helped make short work of even the most basic of regulations despite the desires of the American people and in face of the multiple deaths in places like Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.  So, taking my cue from the old adage, fight fire with fire I devised a plan which I hoped would show the folly of more and more guns, the gaping holes in our current system for background checks, and the ease in which weapons of mass killing can be purchased in America.
First, I recruited fifty individuals who were unmarried, perhaps even without siblings or much of a family, and who were willing to sacrifice their freedom for a bigger purpose.  Each had to be born in America, with no ties to any radical "ism" or foreign government.  And each had to be a convicted felon.  Then, after studying both the federal and state laws governing each of the 50 states, I worked with each of them to purchase an assault weapon, in their own name.  No third party purchases, no fake ID’s.  Many used gun shows where ID was required but not researched.  Some did so via the mail within the borders of that particular state.  And many purchased their weapon at a gun retailer, but in each case, they found a willing supplier for their weapon with very few questions asked.

This was not an easy plan to execute.  Unfortunately, much of the difficulty came in locating the people willing to be the shooters.  There is one thing that I cannot argue with those who claim that America can be a violent place and that owning a gun can make one feel safer.  Those men and women who turn to crime and are arrested and incarcerated are condemned to a world of violence.  Finding fifty felons for this plan was simple, finding fifty felons who were willing to injure only was not so easy, but finding fifty felons willing to go back to jail once they were caught was borderline impossible, so strong was their fear of going back to that violent world.  Unfortunately, once I had my team in place, getting them weapons was the easy part of the plan.
I do not hate guns.  I realize that a gun is only as good or as bad as the person holding it.  I support any American citizen wishing to purchase a gun for self-defense, for hunting for food, for security in a neighborhood that is not safe.  But we have lost our perspective on the purpose of a gun, lost our ability to distinguish between a right to own a gun and a right to take a life, lost our humanity when we think killing another human being somehow preserves our freedoms.  Killing should be the last choice of conflict resolution yet through a misplaced devotion to bearing arms and the tendency for our culture to use violence to solve our problems we have convinced ourselves of the glorification of vigilantism, have accepted the ridiculous notion that we need more “good people” with guns, and have equated the right to protect ones material possessions with the right to maim and kill anyone trying to take them.

The sad truth is that I have become as guilty as those I condemn.  After the failure in the spring of 2013 by Congress to pass any meaningful gun control law, I gave up on the legal, more desired approach and meticulously planned the injury of over 900 fellow Americans as a way to demonstrate the folly of the belief that assault weapons and multiple clip magazines somehow make America safer, or preserve our freedoms. 
Below this text is a list of the Senators who voted last year against those bills to improve the background check process, to ban assault weapons, and to ban multiple clip magazines.  
Next to each name is a dollar figure, the amount of money donated to each of these elected officials by a gun lobby or gun manufacturer.  These numbers are not made-up and can be easily confirmed by accessing donation records and bank receipts.  Happily, not all of those voting against those gun control proposals received overly generous donations, but sadly most of them did.  The number at the bottom is the total donations, the amount of money it took for this particular piece of legislation to be defeated despite the overwhelming support of the American people.  It represents the most recent price paid to buy our democracy.

Below that is a list of all members of the House of Representatives.  Each name has two columns beside it, one which also shows recent monetary donations to their campaigns from the gun lobbies, and the second which lists the reps “Brady Campaign” Score.  For those of you unfamiliar, the Brady Campaign is an advocacy group that works to pass gun-control laws. The organization assigns lawmakers a “lifetime score” based on how they voted on gun-control measures.   A score of zero represents those voting against gun control legislation, up to a score of 100 which indicates a willingness to vote for more gun control measures.
I am fully aware that my name may become synonymous with treason, perhaps replacing the use of Benedict Arnold in our references.  It is also possible that my name will be used to advance future gun control laws, as there may be some who while decrying my methods, advance my cause.  My preference is to be forgotten.  But what I hope will not be forgotten are the names of those legislators who voted against the interests of America and for the profits of gun manufacturers, and that those men and women be removed from office in the upcoming mid-term elections. 

I will not insult you by asking for forgiveness.  I willingly sacrificed my life for my beliefs, just as my co-conspirators have sacrificed their freedom.  If you disagree with my perspective I accept your condemnation and hatred.  But if you agree with my end result, my Machiavellian plan, I urge you to wrest American democracy from control by the biggest wallet or the most outrageous misinformation network by wielding the most powerful weapon  you have, more powerful that the biggest gun or fastest firing weapon. 
Your precious right to vote.

Vote for those people who understand the dangers of more guns and rapid fire weapons, and the proliferation of those who believe in shoot first, ask questions later.     
Vote for those fellow citizens who respect the right to bear arms but respect more the right to a life without fear of being mowed down like so many targets at a shooting gallery. 

Vote for representatives who are not afraid to sacrifice their jobs by supporting gun control regulations that will put them on the various “hit” lists that those with the money and power use to intimidate those who disagree with their agenda.

Vote for the men and woman who actually live by the teachings of Jesus who was big on forgiveness and mercy and love and not an advocate of revenge and murder and violence.
And if those elected officials do the bidding of those who profit from the deaths of American citizens, vote for someone else the next time.   

 ------
Ten days later, a group of victims of the shootings created an organization advocating the election defeat of those identified as pro-gun.  A smaller group of victims attended NRA rallies as proof that more guns were needed in America. 
On the forty-fifth day after the shootings, a little over a month after the conspiracy and its creator were revealed by the printing of the text above, the mid-term elections of 2014 were held. 
Of the 46 Senators who voted against the amendment to merely expand background checks, who also voted against the amendment banning high capacity magazines and the amendment banning assault weapons, 28 were up for re-election.  Thirteen lost.
Of the 435 House of Representatives, those with monetary donations in the top half of the group, mostly Republican, lost 5 times as often as those in the lower half.
Similarly, those with Brady scores above 50 were almost universally re-elected while 43 representatives with Brady scores below 50 lost their re-election bid.

On the forty-sixth day after the shootings, NRA President James Porter resigned his post.