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Bits and Pieces 4

Bits and Pieces 4

Just a few things that have been rattling around in my mind’s attic…

Oh thank you Supreme Court and Fox News for informing us that racism is dead in this country. I’m sure that all those unarmed African Americans who have been shot by white police officers can take comfort in that their deaths weren’t racially motivated at all. And I’m sure Native Americans were thrilled to discover that “Redskin” is actually a name of honor, meant to convey respect to their people and their culture. We sure don’t need those pesky protections from the Voter Rights Act.

So why is it that African American males are involved in police shootings at an inordinate rate? Me, I think they should exercise their Second Amendment rights and start open carrying. Might as well if they’re going to get shot anyway; at least they have a fighting chance to defend themselves. I’m sure though we won’t hear the NRA supporting their Second Amendment rights because, after all, they’re the criminals right?

And while we’re on the subject of open carry, what are these morons trying to prove? And yes, they ARE morons. There is no intelligence being displayed here; only some sort of primal male ego thing of showing what a badass we are. I found the one open carry guy who was robbed of his gun at gunpoint to be one of the most hysterical things I’ve heard recently. Talk about karma.

But I digress. Why do you need to have a weapon on display when you’re walking around? Are you that afraid to go to your local Wal-Mart? Maybe some homeless guy is going to drag you into an alley and rape you right in the tush? Puh-lease. You might as well drive to work in a tank and carry around a bazooka wherever you go. If you can’t make it from point A to point B without a loaded weapon in your belt you probably shouldn’t leave the house. Maybe you should just kill yourself before the criminal hordes come to get you.

Can we take a deep breath for a moment and try not to panic about Ebola? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but for one thing, it’s not coming into this country from Mexico, it’s not a plot from the President and you can’t catch it from breathing the same air as a victim of the disease. It can only be transmitted through things like blood, vomit or feces. If you don’t come into contact with any bodily excretions, secretions or waste, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re still a little shook up, wash your hands regularly. Like more than once a day – I’m talking about after every meal or before and after you go out. Use soap and water or a good sanitizer. You’ll be okay. And don’t travel to West Africa if you’re really concerned. Plenty of people there don’t have the disease and Liberia is claiming it will be eradicated there by Christmas.

Many who know me will tell you that I am not a believer in organized religion. I find there to be too much hypocrisy in the leaderships of various churches. However, listening to Bill Maher’s diatribe against Muslims and then his debate with Ben Affleck made me a little bit uncomfortable. Certainly there are a lot of Muslims who believe in things like honor killings, execution for apostasy and female genital mutilation and those things are indeed barbaric. However, if you look closely at the numbers from the Pew poll where much of this information comes from, you’ll see that the people who believe this are mainly in the Middle East, in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen to name a few; Muslims from Europe and the Americas tend to be against these things. Honor killings predate Islam by the way; Arabs were engaging in that behavior even before Muhammad was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. It’s a cultural thing that should not be tolerated but an entire belief system shouldn’t be torn apart because of some regions where the religion is very strong subscribe to it.

Religious fanaticism is a bad thing regardless of what religion it is. Fanaticism is all about intolerance, a desire to feel superior to others. My religion is better than your religion and if you’re not a part of my religion then you deserve to die. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to have faith in a greater power rather than subscribing to any specific religion. That doesn’t mean religious organizations don’t do a lot of good around the world as they have done throughout history, or provide comfort to those who subscribe to them. That’s all well and good and I would never want to see a world without religion. However, they are also responsible for a lot of bad things, like jihads and crusades and inquisitions and wars. I have always believed that true faith is a subscription to peace and tolerance, allowing all to believe as they wish without penalty.

When you say that Islam is about death, intolerance and ignorance you then have to figure out a way to explain the golden years of Islam when the Middle East was a center for learning, architecture and peace. During the Middle Ages caliphs and imams were far more tolerant than their Christian counterparts and welcomed Jewish and Christian scholars to their universities. I can’t explain how things changed and grew so extreme over the centuries but you can’t say how barbaric the religion is without explaining what it has been.

Social media has become a kind of community in and of itself. It is a means of informing the world of who we are, and yet I think we’ve erected walls around ourselves that are even taller and more impenetrable than ever. We share everything about our lives – what we’re eating, what movie we’re seeing, which parties we’re attending – and yet we know less about each other than we ever have. How often do you really open up and post something about how you feel, and I’m not talking about politics here. I’m talking about YOU, who you ARE, what you’re all ABOUT. What makes you tick? What keeps you getting out of bed every morning? What do you dream about, wish for, hope for?

We’re a world of enigmas, everything on the surface is on display but nothing about what’s inside. We can scream and shout about Obama or abortion or whatever the topic of the day is, or get catty about what Beyonce is wearing or who’s playing Batman or what that bitch just said to you. We communicate in memes and soundbites. All style, no substance.

It takes courage to show the world who you are and what you stand for. Not many can. Most of us are too worried about what others think about us to be real. I’ve learned in my years that it’s okay to offend. It’s okay to take offense. Real maturity comes in understanding that we’re not going to agree on everything. Some things about you might rub me the wrong way. Some things about me might drive you nuts. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. There folks in my life who think very differently than I do. They are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, have different personal philosophies of life and/or a different way of doing things. That’s all good. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor does it make me a bad person.

We’re all unique and we should be proud of who we are. There’s no shame in supporting Israel, or in voting Democrat, or in wearing Crocs, or subscribing to Maxim, or following Big Brother. I can be friends with just about anyone as long as they respect who I am and what I stand for and allow me to be who I am. I’d much rather be friends though with someone who stands up and says “I believe differently than you” rather than someone who agrees with me just to avoid conflict. My friends Louis and John, both die-hard conservatives, disagree with just about everything that I believe in politically. We often have heated conversations about it, and while I occasionally will see their point and sometimes change my mind on certain matters, most of the time it’s just stating opposing positions. We don’t always talk politics; I appreciate Louis’ humor and his ongoing friendship and John’s faith and service to his students – he teaches and coaches at a Southern California high school. I’m proud to call them friends. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want them any other way and I respect that they have the courage to say who they are. That’s what friendship is about, isn’t it?

So while they’re tickled pink about the mid-term results, I’m obviously less happy about it. I see a country that has become a shadow of itself. It allows a small minority to dictate terms to the rest of us, while we sit back and play Call of Duty. Yet when that duty calls in our real lives, how do we answer? By not voting. About a third of this country’s eligible voters cast their ballots in the recent mid-terms. Many young voters and minority voters stayed away from the polls. I know some have an aversion to voting, feeling like they don’t understand the issues or know the candidates well enough to make intelligent choices. Others feel that no matter who they vote for, it isn’t going to make a difference. Still others just don’t want to take the time and effort to either fill out a ballot and mail it or go to a polling place. The other 364 days of the year they tend to be the loudest bitchers and moaners too.

I don’t agree that this Republican sweep was necessarily the will of the people, as the Republicans seem to think it is. It is the will of a bit more than half of 37% of the people. That’s about 20% of the eligible voters decided that we’re going to be bearing right for the next two years and that they’re perfectly happy with the worst Congress in the history of this country. However, since 63% of the country didn’t vote, the will of the people turns out to not give a crap. Which is essentially the message we send to those who are running the country.

We are responsible for caring. We owe it to ourselves, our family and our posterity. We take advantage of the freedoms that this country provides and yet we choose not to answer that call of duty when it comes in November. WE THE PEOPLE have to get out of the mindset that our vote doesn’t count for anything, that it doesn’t matter whether we vote or not. It matters. Because the government that makes our lives better, worse or indifferent is elected by those who do care. And if you feel “Well, I’m in a Gerrymandered district so there’s no point,” then make it a point to make your voice heard in other ways. Not just as anonymous posts on the Internet but in concrete, positive ways. If you’re satisfied with things the way they are then by all means, do what you’re doing. If you’re not though, take action. Fight for your country – if not in the military but here at home. It deserves your defense.

Free the Internet

Free the Internet

The Internet can be a pain in the ass. I tend to think of it as an adolescent, like a six year old who is still trying to figure things out. Making it profitable was one of the big things in the last decade when revenues were scarce and mainly came from advertisements which over the years have become more intrusive and more obnoxious. These days, we use the Internet for a significant amount of our purchasing, enough so that it has become a viable tool for most of us. In fact, a real argument can be made that the Internet is driving our economy these days.

We also use it for recreation and information gathering. We use it for socializing. We use it for expressing our opinion, and for posting selfies. We figure out what restaurants in town are getting the best reviews on Yelp, where the best hotel and airfares are on Kayak, what deadly diseases our symptoms best fit on WebMD. We look for discounts on Groupon, stream movies on Netflix, arrange get-togethers on Facebook. We figure out what our friends are up to on Pinterest, do our shoe shopping on Zappos, look up our family trees on Ancestry and check out what our favorite celebrities are saying on Twitter. All of these actions have varying degrees of importance. The most important thing when it comes to the Internet however is Net Neutrality.

You’ve probably heard the term bandied about and some may wonder what it means. The term originated in 2003 with Columbia University professor Tim Wu as an extension to the existing concept of a common carrier. Essentially it means that Internet Service Providers or governments treat all data equally without discriminating against user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment and/or modes of communication. It is considered a crucial component of an open internet in which all users have equal and unfettered access to all sites.

This past April 23, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a reversal of their previous position supporting net neutrality had been reported to be considering to allow new regulations that will allow content providers to use a faster track to send content which will in essence create a two-tiered system of access. What this would mean to users is that sites that use this faster track will only be available at an additional charge. That means that you will not only pay your ISP for Internet access, you’ll also pay additional charges if you want to use the more popular sites.

This will undoubtedly lead to tier pricing much like cable and satellite television services use, with a “basic Net” access but if you want to access to, say, news sites like The New York Times, Digg, MSNBC, Fox News and CNN, you pay an additional $5 a month, while if you want to use video-streaming sites like Hulu, Netflix, or HBO you’ll pay an additional $20 per month. Interested in social networking on Facebook, Twitter or Match.com? That’ll be $15 every month.

I have no objection to allowing ISPs to be profitable, nor do I think it’s necessarily a bad thing to allow the most popular content providers to allow their services to be directed at people most likely to use them. After all, there was no hue and cry when cable operators began the current pricing structure that is pretty much universal these days.

But cable and satellite systems are a different animal than the Internet. Giving the content providers who can afford it more speed and clearer pathways is preferential treatment. It creates a situation similar to that in the early 20th century when large companies who needed to transport their goods via railway managed to negotiate favorable rates, allowing them to charge much less for their product and price the competition out of the market. John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was notorious for this; eventually his trust got broken up because of his tactics which didn’t allow for fair competition.

So why is this important? Other than raising prices and limiting access to certain sites, why should we care? Well, look at who is going to profit from this – the cable providers who these days control most of the access to the Internet. Folks like Time Warner, Cox Cable, Verizon and Bright House. While to this point they have claimed loudly that they have no intention of charging customers extra for these faster access sites, that doesn’t ring true. Why would any company deny itself an opportunity for additional profit? What makes this shadier is that the Chairman of the FCC is Tom Wheeler – who previously ran the lobby for the Cable Industry. Think he’s looking out for the consumer, or for those who used to pay his salary? Even those large companies who would have that faster access – folks like Netflix and Amazon – have objected to this scheme.

In that sense, the Internet is similar; what net neutrality proponents are fighting for is fair access.  As a content provider myself, I don’t want to see anyone charged for the right to access my blog and I wouldn’t accept money from such charges even if that were an option; after all, the whole point of expressing myself in this manner is that anyone can read it and then either agree or disagree. Blogs like this are the editorial columns of the global newspaper that the Internet is..

And the Internet does fulfill the function that the newspapers once did; we get most of our information from the Net. We find sales and print out coupons from the Net. We check out the classified ads (i.e. Craigslist) and read net comics. Sure, you couldn’t play video games in newspapers nor watch video clips of news events or of cute kittens. There are no selfies in newspapers nor have we ever done any chatting through our newspaper (although we did because of our newspaper – different era) but the basic comparison is sound.

How much freedom we have on the Net in the coming decades is going to be decided in the next couple of years. We have the responsibility to be vigilant and make sure that bureaucrats and corporate and political interests don’t muddy up the waters of the clean and cool stream of information that is the Internet. We don’t want a Net like China’s which is heavily censored, nor do we want one that is controlled strictly by money and political influence. This is OUR Internet and the fight to keep it ours is just beginning. The good news is that you can contribute your voice right now. The FCC is seeking public opinion about this issue and you can state yours here through June 27. However, be patient; a recent comedy sketch by John Oliver on his HBO show Last Night Tonight inviting people to troll the FCC comments site has resulted in a slow down in service. Nonetheless if you can get in, get in. It’s important that your voice be heard.

Bits and Pieces 3

BBits and Pieces 3

Here are a few things on my mind that I really didn’t feel the need to devote a full blog to…

I don’t understand the whole twerking thing. I mean, what’s the attraction? Simulating sex on the dance floor? I mean, haven’t we been doing that for a long while? So what if Miley Cyrus is out there twerking at the VMAs. What’s the big deal? I swear, I think there are more people fretting over her dance moves than they are over the prospect of sending troops to Syria. And you wonder why this country is in such big trouble? Okay, I think I’ve used up my quota for question marks in a single paragraph…

This country continues to wallow in obesity and yet when the First Lady suggests that it might be a better idea if our children exercised more and ate better, she gets outraged Fox News types excoriating her for telling people how to raise their kids. First of all you jerkwads, it’s a suggestion and as it so happens, a good one. Too many of our kids spend far more time playing videogames, texting their friends and surfing the net than they do getting out there playing. Play stimulates the imagination which is good for the brain but it also allows for physical exertion which is good for the body. And since obesity is at record levels among our kids, may I suggest that people who have an issue with anyone telling them how to raise their precious demonic spawn take the Big Mac out of their pieholes, get off their fat asses and have some fun with their kids. And shut the hell up while you’re at it.

For all of you Internet fanboys who had a coronary when it was announced that Ben Affleck would be the next Batman you can shut the hell up too. And isn’t your mom calling you to take out the trash? Jesus, the guy hasn’t even seen a script yet and you’re already demanding that he be fired. Everyone who’s ever done the role has gotten ripped a new one by pimply-faced keyboard jockeys who labor under the mistaken impression that anybody gives a crap what they think. Me, I’m looking forward to it. I may just buy fifty tickets to see it and pay people to come with me and give Affleck a standing ovation every time he comes onscreen. If you’re so knowledgeable about proper casting for a Batman movie, why don’t you see if you can get Warners to give you $200 million to make your version. Since that’s not going to happen, be quiet and let the adults enjoy the movie. Twerps.

I remember when Da Queen and I first got married. It seemed that every unexpected bill we got was for $60. We used to joke about it that we were being skinned alive, $60 worth of skin at a time. Then, when we bought our home, all those little expenses were $200.. That was just 12 years ago. Of late that number has increased to $900. By the time I hit retirement, I fully expect that number to hit $10,000. When it gets to that point, I advocate eating the rich. Not a new suggestion, I know but a timeless one nonetheless.

The execution of a convicted multiple murderer was postponed – so the Attorney General could attend a re-election fundraiser. And the governor approved it – after the execution had been stayed twice previously. I’m not a big believer in capital punishment but if you’re going to do it, get it done. And get this – the Attorney General ran on a platform pledging fewer delays in carrying out capital punishment. Apparently only when it’s convenient to her. Welcome to Flori-duh.

I see that John Alleman, the unofficial mascot of the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, has passed away – of a heart attack. For those unfamiliar with the place, it’s a chain of hamburger joints that prides itself on its unhealthy cuisine – the quadruple bypass burger, which includes four 1/2 pound patties, eight slices of American cheese, bacon and a lard-coated bun, is close to 10,000 calories – five times what normal adults are supposed to consume in an entire day. It also allows customers over 350 pounds to eat free. There are those who are snickering that this is poetic justice although there is evidence that Alleman was genetically predisposed to cardiac issues – his parents both passed away of heart attacks in their 50s. Now, I don’t think anybody put a gun to Alleman’s head and said you MUST eat these hamburgers. That was his own choice. Personally, I think the hamburgers are a bit extreme – but if someone wants to sell them and someone want to buy them, that’s perfectly all right by me. On this subject I’m an utter capitalist – if nobody buys the burgers, they’ll stop selling them. As the Checkers hamburger chain says in their ads, You Gotta Eat.

In the last year or so I’ve kind of gotten fed up with the tenor of disagreements on the Internet. People are getting more shrill and nasty when responding to an opinion they disagree with. I’ve always tried to be as polite as possible when responding and tried to use logic and restraint when explaining my contrasting view. I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who are responding like they’re having some sort of seizure at the very thought of a conflicting opinion do not deserve my civility. So you’ll see me using terms like “dumbass” and “imbecile” more often. In other words, get the hell off my lawn.

Da Queen and I went to see a movie at our local multiplex on a Sunday morning not long ago and as is our wont, arrived half an hour early in order to get the seats we wanted – the kind with rails in front of them so we could stretch our legs. In the particular theater we were in, there are three sets of seats so arranged – one in the center and one on each side. The theater was empty when we arrived so we sat down with our enormous soft drinks and watched the pre-show (Da Queen playing games on her smart phone) when an older couple came in and sat down in the same row next to the seat where Da Queen had put her purse. We exchanged looks but said nothing  – until the guy stood up and asked if we were saving that seat. When we said no, he picked up her purse and put it in her lap, sitting down in the seat next to her. We of course, objected in the strongest terms possible. He said that he needed to put his feet up because of his bad knees. We pointed out that there were other seats where he could do that but of course none of them were in the center. I’m sure that the rude dumbass imbecile (see, I got ’em all in) in question isn’t reading this but I let him have it after Da Queen left the theater. People like that don’t fool me for a second and their age doesn’t excuse inexcusable behavior. It wasn’t like he didn’t have other options and you never EVER touch a woman’s purse without permission, nor do you just assume that if the theater is empty that you have permission to sit directly next to somebody. What I SHOULD have done was shove his bucket of popcorn up his sphincter one kernel at a time, and then use the entire gigantic bucket as a cardboard butt plug and if anyone ever does that to my wife ever again, that’s exactly what will happen. Either that or I’ll just call the cops and press charges of assault against the mother effers. Either one – take your pick.

Fortunately, there are a lot of good, decent people in the world and just when I’m losing my faith in the human race and figure a chance meteorite strike that wipes all life out on this miserable rock would do the universe a favor I run into one – or two- or many. I think it’s this shrinking pool of goodness that is keeping the meteors away because the bad juju is building up something fierce. Still, those who put themselves out there and send out love into the world, who sacrifice for their kids and put the needs of their families and friends ahead of their own and treat their friends like family – well, they’re the reason that the apocalypse has been staved off for now. So if you should see Mike Trippett, Amy Murray, Tara-Marie Buckley, Eric Lison, Jennifer Gorsuch Akers or Ruthanne Drew, shake their hands and thank them. Without their efforts, no doubt there would be rocks falling out of the sky. These are people who have been through some pretty tough times and have managed to do those things I mentioned despite things that would have turned me into an even worse curmudgeon than I already am. They are people I admire and respect and they are owed some good karma, the lot of them. Be kind and generous to them.  They deserve it.

Convergence

We are at a convergence, a place where historic tides have swept us to a place where things can go in either direction. Our vote this November will do one of two things; swing the country into a conservative direction or hopefully, turn the tide back to a liberal path.

I know a lot of conservatives think that President Obama is some sort of anti-Christ who has bankrupted the country with his socialist policies but that simply isn’t so. The facts are there; the economy has improved in his four years – apparently it hasn’t improved enough. It took a hell of a lot longer than four years for us to get into the situation we’re in and it is going to take longer than four years to get us out – then-Senator Obama warned as much during his 2008 campaign which, I imagine most conservatives ignored since it didn’t come from Bill O’Reilly.

We are at a tipping point, not just with our economy but with our environment. The United States remains the lone major global power to have taken no steps to reduce carbon emissions and help combat the climate changes that are now fact, although some conservative pundits continue to deny that it is taking place even as we come off the hottest summer on record, even though the polar ice caps are at 25% of what they were twenty years ago, even though 99% of all scientists who study planetary climate have come to agree that the climate change we are experiencing is largely man-made in nature. Neither candidate seems to be leaning in the direction of joining the world community in trying to preserve our planet for our children and their descendents, which to me is scandalous. It’s outrageous and in fact criminal. I wish there were a gutsy lawyer who would be willing to sue the government for failure to act, naming the United States Congress, the President and maybe a few dozen corporations and PACs who have consistently thwarted pro-environmental legislation. I hear Al Gore used to be a pretty fair lawyer at one time.

Our country needs to get its head out of its ass – not just the politicians but the people. Too many people have no clue what’s going on and get all their information from Fox News, internet blogsites and other spurious sources. As Americans, we have a responsibility to not only vote but vote responsibly. That means taking a few moments out of our busy days posting on Facebook, playing videogames, blogging about nothing and generally wasting time and actually read.

That’s right, read. Use your brain – that big grey thing inside your skull that you don’t like using. There are plenty of places to find information, some of it even broken down into easy-to-understand terms  – sites like moveon.org, facts.org, factcheck.org and whitehouse.gov/omb (the site of the non-partisan Office of Management and Budget which analyses the real fiscal impact of legislation) among others.

But most of us aren’t willing to do that. It takes too much time. It’s inconvenient. I’ve already made my mind up. Yes, all those sixty second sound bites are plenty of information to make up your mind, aren’t they Jethro? But the reality of it is too many people in our country are ignorant. Too many people look down upon education as something to be regarded with suspicions. Too many people think that it’s much easier to be told how to vote rather than to think for themselves. Too many people don’t deserve the liberty and freedom that they have – which is why they are losing it, bit by bit, piece by piece, ay by day.

Well, I deserve mine. I and a lot of people who take the time to figure out who to vote for and not because some talking head on television told us to. I’m not voting for Obama because I’m a Democrat and so is he – I’m not voting for him because Bill Maher said I should either. I’m certainly not voting for him because Fox News thinks I shouldn’t – although that’s tempting.

No, I’m voting for him because I’ve taken the time to look up what he’s accomplished, what he wants to accomplish and what he might have accomplished had not Republicans turned his first term into a filibustering circus, blocking bill after bill, many of which would have created hundreds of thousands of jobs. I’m voting for him because Romney and Ryan’s plans – those of them they’ve chosen to share – are going to be devastating for the middle class and for the environment. The jobs that Romney intends to create will be at the expense of the environment. He intends to do more drilling, particularly in places where drilling is forbidden, for oil. That will create thousands of jobs all right – and wipe out entire national parks. And when that oil runs out? We’ll still be in the energy mess that we’re in now, only worse – we’ll have lost valuable time to develop clean, environmentally friendly renewable sources of energy. Even worse we’ll have gone past the point of no return when it comes to saving our planet from climatic disaster.

We have reached a convergence of points and everything points to election day as a day that will have dramatic ramifications on generations to come. But don’t listen to me – decide for yourself. That means not listening to the other side either – go and search out the facts for yourself. Besides the places I’ve mentioned, there are plenty of non-partisan think tanks that have websites that will give unbiased analysis of the positions of the candidates and what they think the ramifications of those policies will be if enacted. You might open your eyes – and you might just start doing something no government really wants its citizens to do. Think for yourselves, that is.

2010: A Face Oddity

Another year comes to an end and all that’s left is to count up our cuts and bruises and tally the score. We are told that the recession is over; it ended, in fact, last year. Really.

It may be for the corporate bigwigs who have seen their profits amped up back to pre-recession levels for many industries. However, that hasn’t translated to most of us – unemployment continues to be in the double digits, meaning that one out of every ten Americans remains without a job. With the Republicans threatening to pass on extending benefits for those who have been out of work for a long while, it could very well be a very cold winter indeed for the American working class.

Homes continue to be foreclosed upon in record numbers, thanks in part to predatory mortgage companies who despite being given Federal money to help homeowners stay in their homes, instead mislead and stall consumers, giving them false information, then denying that they’ve received crucial paperwork and even returning checks so that the homeowners go into default and foreclosure proceedings can begin. The dirty little secret here is that not only do these mortgage companies get tax credits as well as government assistance they are also free to go after the original homeowners for the amount they’ve already been compensated, garnishing wages and raiding bank accounts. If there has ever been a class of businessmen more rapacious and dishonest in the history of this country, I honestly can’t think of any.

Greed and corruption rule our country. Our government is essentially in the pockets of big business and has no interest in improving conditions so that the general public isn’t continually raped by greedy corporate interests. In fact, it’s in their best interest not to change things – re-election funding comes largely from large corporate donors and lobby groups.

And yet the public continues to allow it. Our apathy is monumental; few Americans have more than a cursory understanding of current events and generally form their opinions based on sound bites or sloganeering done by either their own political party or by a media entity such as CNN or Fox News. Newspapers, once the watchdog of government, are mostly owned by big businesses now and run puff pieces more than serious news. The only time the public seems to get any sort of interest in a news item is if a celebrity gets into trouble or dies. Then the internet goes crazy with people looking for information anywhere and everywhere and accuracy becomes a secondary priority.

You only get the government you deserve, and there’s a ring of truth to that. However, it has to be said that while we have been as docile as sheep being led to the slaughter, we have also been led by those who were supposed to protect us – the legislators who dismantled laws and agencies that protected consumers from rapacious corporate greed, the businessmen who put profits ahead of reason and sense and the media who were supposed to watch out for interests have instead been watching out for their bottom lines.

There are those who cringe whenever the word “socialism” is used. “We’re in a democracy,” they thunder, “and socialism is the next step to communism. Socialism is how our liberties and freedom are taken away.”

Bollocks. Countries like Sweden and Canada have some of the greatest amount of freedom of any civilized nations on earth. And as for the great democratic freedoms that our country is supposed to give us, has anyone notice how they have slowly become eroded away? In the name of Homeland Security, law enforcement agencies can seize and hold people without charging them. Assets can be seized, people suspected of terrorism can be – and have been – tortured.

It also should not be discounted that the fewer economic opportunities you have, the less freedom you have and economic opportunities are shrinking in this country. Jobs are going overseas for the simple reason that paychecks are smaller in India, Mexico and China. They don’t need to pay for health insurance or benefits; there are no unions. It’s a win-win situation.

Except in the long run, they will lose. The American middle class is disappearing, right before our very eyes. Soon, we will be either rich or poor. There will be no in-between. There will be no consumers. All the money, all the power will rest in the hands of a very few. In point of fact, it already does.

So we slogged through 2010 the same way we did through 2009 and we’re no better off. Not that we expected to be; we do have a new healthcare act which the Republicans are promising to dismantle. We do have tax cut extensions which the Republicans, who are so concerned about the deficit, extended to the wealthiest class as well – in fact, had the Democrats not caved, they would have allowed the tax cuts to expire at the end of the year. Ask me again if the GOP gives a crap about you.

Do I sound bitter? Yup, it’s true – I am angry that so much pain is being levied on people who don’t deserve it so that the rich can get richer. I’m bitter that nobody in this country cares enough to take it back from the people who have control of it.

But being bitter is a waste of energy. Staying angry is pointless. The world will turn with or without my help. The words of one blogger aren’t going to change a hell of a lot. Still, there is much to be thankful for. I have my wits, a roof over my head and people that love me. What I have in my heart, I keep no matter what. It can’t be taken away from me and it can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

Yes, there is injustice but there has always been. There is greed but that’s nothing new. We have the option of letting it defeat us, or overcoming it. That is our choice and our challenge. It is this choice that makes us who we are and what defines us. In 2011, it is my choice to turn away from greed and anger and turn to love.

I will make more time for my friends and family this year. I will turn away from things that aren’t worth my time. I will aspire to inspire through my words and deeds. I will show love to all those who are willing to receive it; I will show compassion for all those who need it and I will be present when I am needed.

I may rant now and again about things that bother me but what you see on this page is about as angry as I intend to get. I will treat all those with respect that I can and those I cannot bring it into my heart to respect I will say nothing about. I will try to move through this world and spread only happiness and good cheer around; I will try to leave every place I visit, physically and digitally, better than I found it.

I will try to be a better husband, a better father, a better friend, a better man. These aren’t easy tasks, but they are doable and even if I’m not formally labeling them as resolutions, I am nonetheless resolved to do them. This is my covenant with myself; to let go of the bitterness at the things I see and slay the dragons of greed with words of kindness and love. It is a good year for love – the world sorely needs more of it.

I will think of myself less and of others more. I will stand with those who stand for right and oppose those who stand for greed. I will reach out more, listen more and interrupt less. I will hug more, kiss more and flirt…well, about the same. I will plant smiles like Johnny Appleseed and leave them everywhere I go, online and offline.

In 2010 my face was often in a scowl; that ends here, now, tonight. In 2011, a scowl will be less common. I intend to redecorate my face with smiles and urge you to do the same. It is time to throw down against the angry and meet the world with open arms. It is time to hope and dream and start anew. It is time to make this truly a Happy New Year.

Defending the President

Taking potshots at the president is as American as fast food franchising. Regardless of the party of the Commander-in-Chief, whoever is in office can be assured that those on the opposite side of the aisle are going to find fault with whatever he does, no matter how beneficial it may be. The only exception is in cases of national tragedy, when solidarity is the word of the day – and the politically astute thing to do.

After all, the office of President is fundamentally a political office, although in many ways, it is becoming more and more of a business than an office. Think about it; another way of referring to the president is as the Chief Executive. In every way, the president is the CEO of America, Incorporated.

I am all for criticizing the actions and policies of the president; in fact, it is one of the basic rights of this country, one which separates us from a lot of other countries on this rock where criticism of the person in charge can land you in a very nasty prison cell for a very long time. Here, that kind of thing can get you a talk show on Fox News.

As far as our sitting president is concerned, I am not fully satisfied with the job he’s done. I truly believe that he has compromised too much and tried to win friends on both sides of the aisle. He’s bent over backwards to try to give concessions to the conservatives, who have responded basically by blockading all of the legislation he wants enacted.

The president’s job is not to please the other side of the fence; his job is to get things done, to make the country a better place for its citizens. How he goes about doing that as well as his definition of a better place has more to do with his political philosophy – that’s what we vote on. It’s also what we expect him to act on once he gets elected, and my main criticism of President Obama is that he hasn’t gotten the job done on really anything; yes, some groundbreaking legislation has been passed but the reality is that the healthcare plan he put in is a mishmash of compromise and concession that pleases nobody fully, although it is better than nothing. I didn’t vote for him to give us better than nothing.

Likewise, the economy remains in shambles. His jobs bill has helped but he obviously has a long ways to go; people are still hurting. The economy needs stimulation, and the best way to do that is to promote new technologies. Alternative renewable fuel sources and environmentally friendly products would seem to be the way to go right now; incentive programs for businesses and universities to research and develop these things should be a major priority.

I do like some of the things he has done; I believe ending the combat mission in Iraq is the right thing to do at this time. We have been there long enough and further military presence there seems to me to be non-productive. It is time for the Iraqi government to stand on its own two feet and begin the business of being their own country; not that we shouldn’t render them the assistance they need in terms of resources or manpower to restore their infrastructure, but I think that the Iraqis need to be on their own to develop their nation the way they see fit. It’s like a teenager having their parents looking over their shoulder; they act differently when we’re around than they do on their own.

I also agree that the commercialization of space should be the way to go rather than funneling everything through NASA. NASA should be all about exploration and science; getting business up there will further stimulate the economy and give us new products, new technologies and most importantly, new jobs. I’m hoping within the next quarter century we’ll start seeing significant commercial presence in space, from manufacturing facilities to research and development labs to hotels for tourists.

So I guess it’s fair to say that my opinion of President Obama’s performance so far is mixed at best. However, I must say that my blood boils when I read posts from people talking about him being a Muslim as if that should disqualify him from the presidency. That kind of thing is just American ignorance. Folks, let’s get one thing straight – the people who want to tear this country down are the entire Islamic faith, just a few hotheaded extremists. There are plenty of Muslims on this planet who are believers in peace and prosperity for all. Not everyone who believes in the Koran wants to put women behind veils and party like it’s 999.

There are people who talk about the deficit like it is entirely the doing of Barack Obama. Once again, these are people who apparently slept through the Bush presidency (the second one). George W. Bush had a major surplus when he came into office; when he left we were nearly $6 trillion in debt according to the Office of Management and Budget. Ahhh, some conservative political pundits might say, but in Obama’s first year of office alone the debt soared to $7.5 trillion and is expect to near $10 trillion this year.

Let’s understand a few things about that debt. One of the biggest contributory factors to the debt was the war in Iraq. It was the largest single expenditure that the government was making. Let’s not even get into the spurious reasons that we got into that war in the first place, the phantom WMD and the excuse for Big Oil to raise their prices through the roof; that was a war that Obama opposed and that Bush initiated. That aspect of the debt is all Bush’s, even that which was spent during the Obama presidency. Many of the bail-out programs that also contributed significantly to the debt were initiated by the Bush presidency as well.

Of course, Obama could have acted earlier to stymie both of those hemorrhagic costs, but he didn’t and so spending went through the roof. Now, he has a healthcare system which is due to take effect in 2014 that will be a major expense; however, I put it to you that I’d rather spend money saving lives rather than taking them. I’m kind of funny that way though.

Some people are downright psychotic when it comes to Obama, on both sides of the fence; Obamanauts who think he can do no wrong, and their opposition who think he can do no right. The truth is somewhere in the middle; he has done some good things, some not so good things but in the end I tend to support his viewpoints more than I did Bush’s which I thought were ruinous to the economy and tarnished our image around the world. Can we ever take the moral high ground again after we willfully tortured prisoners from Iraq? That didn’t happen under Obama’s watch, my friends.

There is certainly some who are judging the current President based on the color of his skin. I don’t think disagreeing with President Obama makes you a racist; however, it can also be said that some of those who disagree with the President are racists. In fact, there is no doubt about it; the vitriol of the hatred directed at him indicates to me that these people are the same sorts who in years past would have worn a hood and burned crosses. Maybe some of them still do.

But I wouldn’t tar everyone with that same brush. Some Obama-haters do so because they really think his policies are ruining this country and turning us into a socialist state. Frankly, I think that after years of rampant capitalism to the point of abusiveness, we could use a little socialism to balance out the big business gone wild kind of atmosphere we have now. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the individual citizen who needs protection from the excesses of corporate greed that helped start the economic meltdown in the first place. My problem with Obama is I’m not sure he’s been the protector of the citizen I would like him to be; big business needs to be reined in and regulated since they have proven beyond any doubt that they cannot regulate themselves, and the President hasn’t shown any signs that he’s willing to do that. If he doesn’t, conditions will pretty much continue the way they are indefinitely.

To think that Obama is in some sort of conspiracy to destroy America is absolutely ludicrous and absurd. There is absolutely no evidence of that other than the sorry manufactured factoids that rightist bloggers and pundits have formulated, scare tactics to alarm those who are looking for an excuse to find fault. I wonder if we had elected a white president with the exact same policies would we be hearing the same types of things. Probably to an extent we would – as I said, taking shots at the President is an American tradition, but I bet that there would be no Hitler comparisons on billboards if he were white. That’s just disrespectful, not just to the man but to the office. At least let’s agree that if you don’t like the man, you respect the office and act accordingly.