Occasionally Standing up for Basic Humanity Does Not Make John McCain a Hero

I am always a little baffled when I read left leaning publications and individuals talking about what a hero and Maverick John McCain is for standing up to the growing white nationalist movement in our country. In his most recent “brave speech” he goes out of his way to not even mention the president, his current Republicans colleagues in congress, or his own personal  involvement in reigniting the “ash heap of history”.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) shakes hands with former vice president Joe Biden after receiving the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia on Monday.

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A Letter to My Congressman Regarding Authorization of Military force in Syria

syriaHere is a link to a place where you can find your Congressperson’s email. http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Below is an email I wrote to my Congressman Jared Polis regarding his pending vote on the authorization of Military force in Syria. Feel free to copy any of this if you have the same opinion and want to save some time sending a message to yours.

Dear Congressman,

The President was right to ask for Congressional approval and now it is your turn to be brave and to what the voters of your district have sent you to Washington to do.

The country of Syria has not attacked the United States of America and I do not support the use of Military force that is not part of a UN peacekeeping coalition. I have seen no evidence to support this administration’s claims that a military attack on behalf of the United States would have any positive affect in the region and I urge you to vote against the authorization to attack Syria.

The results that I am sure of if we go it alone with these attacks are; an escalation of overall violence in the region, an escalation of anti-American sentiment around the world, and even more innocent civilian deaths. I also anticipate continued and increased, targeted terrorism against US citizens both abroad and at home. All this for a military project that will not work and that we simply cannot afford. It makes no sense.

Although the bodies of the dead from our missiles and predator drones will not likely make it to US television news airwaves the way the gas attack victims in Syria did, make no mistake, those images will make the airwaves in other regions of the world, and there will be repercussions for both our soldiers and our citizens.

I have read that this proposed attack is intended to send a message to Syria and others in the region that chemical weapon usage will not be tolerated. Well, if that were an effective strategy, then why did Syria not get the message when we punished Iraq, overthrew and essentially assassinated the dictator for the same thing?

The previous administration’s complete lack of understanding and miscalculation of our enemies in both Iraq and Afghanistan has presented a crystal clear example of how there is absolutely no such thing as a six month military solution in a place like Syria. The fact that our President and Secretaries of States and Defense have not learned from the past is incomprehensible to a good number of voters that thought things had possibly changed.

I agree that something must be done to stop the slaughter of the innocent in Syria. I just completely disagree with the proposed strategy of using killing to promote peace. The only solution to this crisis will be through increased humanitarian aid and through increased international diplomacy and worldwide collective pressure. We need to set an example by leading the world in finding peaceful solutions and by being a productive member of an international peacekeeping coalition.

Instead, the President’s solution is the same as the previous. We cutoff talks and fire rockets as if real problems in the Middle East can be solved using a system of prison justice with the US President serving as judge, jury and executioner for the entire World. Then we wonder why so many want to kill us. Our national defense system must return to a system of actual defense. Not a middle class jobs program that actually puts us in the bull’s-eye of terrorism via the missiles and drones that simultaneously and fictitiously prop up a smoke and mirrors economy.

Enough is enough. If you do not make a clear indication that this is also your understanding with your vote on Syria, you will not get my re-election vote in Congress or in any future political campaigns. This is my promise and I am not alone.

A Sad Defeat in the War on Fear

trayCan you imagine this scenario?

A teenage white kid, walks into an all black neighborhood in the South wearing a country music t-shirt carrying nothing but an iced tea and bag of candy. Seeing this, a middle aged neighborhood appointed black, vigilante immediately grabs a gun, puts it into his pocket and starts following the white teen. The neighborhood appointed black guard then confronts the unarmed white teen and a few minutes later they scuffle ending with the black guard shooting the unarmed white teenager point blank killing him. The white teen has no history of violence and there is no evidence that he was committing or had committed any crime when confronted by the armed black guard. Although no one but the black guard in the all black neighborhood and the dead white kid witness the confrontation, the black guard easily gets off on a self defense, defense. The jury that acquits him does not have a single white person on it. The news media widely reported this scenario as a two sided situation where there was just not quite enough evidence to warrant a conviction of the black guard who seems to just have been protecting himself under a pretty reasonable but unusual State gun law.

Yeah, I can’t imagine it either.

If this court case where based on the evidence I described, you would only have heard about it when Fox News was running biased and sensationalized news coverage of the black guards death penalty hearing and subsequent execution.

Why so many smart people who do not stand for this type of blatant racial injustice stand with (and vote with) those that repeatedly do is beyond me. Until more of socially sane portion of the Republican party take a clear step away from the racists and gun nuts, the laws of the land and the justice system are going to ensure that fearful, paranoid, and increasingly better armed killers like Zimmerman continue to play out their racially charged video game fantasies on our neighborhood streets.

Yes, this verdict and the media circus around it is a clear defeat in the war against fear, but make no mistake, the war is not over. States like Florida and Arizona are slowly but surely isolating themselves from the rest of the country, joining Texas as the laughing stocks of the educated, logically minded, and racially as well as religiously diverse world.

Although this is a defeat in the state of Florida, I anticipate that it will be a pivotal shift in the population’s feelings on race and our nation’s justice system overall. After all, it was not that long ago that a white man killing an unarmed black man for no reason and then getting acquitted would not have even made the second page of the paper in the deep south town that the murder occurred in.

I would love to tell you that this court case is not racially charged and I would love even more to tell you that there is no political element to it. Unfortunately, I can’t. What I can tell you is that the strange silence of the moderates on the right is every bit as loud as the shouting of gun waving racists that they are inexplicably standing with in the voting booth. Sooner or later the so called “fiscal conservatives” are going to have to stand up and take some responsibility for what the other half of their vote represents as well as its result.

Cowardice and fear will not be defeated within the corrupt and racially biased judicial system of our country.  It will only be defeated by the brave hearts and loud voices standing up and saying,  “enough is enough. Put down your guns, allow your fearfulness to subside, and just give peace a chance”.

What is Wrong With Public Education in America – Part II

I wrote my last blog about ideology and misconception and aimed my sites at the general public that is dramatically uninformed and ignorant about actual issues that our grossly underpaid and underappreciated professional educators face. I guess it is good that I buttered them up because for this blog, it is with some trepidation that I am going to turn the table and point the finger at the teachers themselves.

I previously wrote a blog criticizing the medical community for taking pretty much zero responsibility for their own societal wellness failures. I pointed out that in my field of electrical engineering I really don’t get the option of throwing my hands in the air and saying, “sure, that airplane system doesn’t work, but I tried. The task was just too hard and your airplane wiring was pretty screwed up to start with.” I actually think I tried that one a time or two and you can imagine about how well that went over with my customer. As laughable as that sounds coming from an avionics electrical engineer, that is pretty much the exact thing I see and hear from multitudes of teachers and professional educators all over social media and on the conference calls with schools that I find myself one desk over from while my wife coaches and patiently teaches.

I recently read a published letter entitled “Teachers aren’t the school problem.” It is written by a graduating high school senior that has a pretty strong but obviously fixed belief system and he describes why he would not go into the field of education. He goes on to state:

“I feel if a teacher presents the information in an effective way and thoroughly explains the information, they have done their jobs. It is now the student’s responsibility to receive the information. If a student still does not understand a concept, it is the student’s responsibility to set up an arrangement for further explanation. What is school without work? There should be an equal amount of effort.”

I guess I am not surprised to see that a teenager has such an ideological and simplistic view about the role of educators, but what surprised me is the amount of attention and accolades that this article has gotten from the teaching community. If you are a teacher and you believe that whether or not a student “receives the information” is completely outside of your job description, then you are certainly in the wrong field. I think we already have enough D’Marqus Jamal Forbes’s in education and enough limiting beliefs. I personally am pretty comfortable that young Mr. Forbes has chosen another line of work. It takes a lot more to be a successful teacher than a strong interest in the subject matter and a desire to help kids. You need to actually like kids too.

I can just imagine if I took that approach with my dogs. Hey, I delivered all of the information, but ultimately my dog just didn’t choose to receive the information. Not my fault, and after all, I really don’t like dogs that much anyway. Good thing there is a shelter nearby that will take him so that I can buy another dog and try again.

No one is successful 100% of the time at anything, but you will not be successful even 1% of the time if you start with an expectation of failure or apathy. This is just one of those great little nuances that make the journey of life interesting and difficult. If only we spent a little more time hammering this fundamental principle home to our kids instead of hammering home the ability to do long division by hand then I think we would have a very different crop of graduating students each year, and a different world in general.  Unfortunately, limiting beliefs with an expectation of failure and blame of others is a rampant problem in education and the world. Regrettably, I also find myself in this trap far too often.

How do we stay focused on what is best for the kids? If there is one term/question that has been drilled into my brain from listening to my wife work over the years this would be it.  I have said before that my wife is the best educator I have ever known or seen in action and I believe that her fundamental core belief system is what sets her apart. She is not the most polished public speaker, and she is not the most well read or highly educated University fact-filled, elitist. She is also not the most entertaining carnival act although I have heard her use her love of puns to regale more than a few stuffy rooms full of high school math and science teachers.

What my wife does have more naturally than anyone I have known, is an unwavering belief in the inherent potential of every single person that she has ever worked with from the neediest kindergartener to the crustiest, old school superintendent.  She has never met a bad kid, and never encountered a single child (or person for that matter) that isn’t worthy of at least her belief that they can change and learn. This is as solidly a part of her belief system as her belief that gravity will hold her to the earth when she steps out of bed and it is definitely no act she is putting on.  I know this feeling well because it is exactly the same feeling I have about every dog I have ever met or worked with in my life. Sorry humans, I am still trying to catch up to my wife’s level of enlightenment, but I am just not there yet. I have seen her put on an act to satisfy a job requirement and I have seen her teach/coach. The difference is strikingly obvious just like when I try to pull that dog and pony show stuff while training my dog Rufus.

However, if that student/client shows my wife even a glimmer of a belief that they might also share her opinion about their own potential ability to learn and change, then they are off on a journey with her that seems a lot more like what I think teaching should be than the fixed instruction that I received for most of my educational career.  If however, she enters a room and finds “limiting beliefs” lingering like a cloud of smoke over all, then she instinctively locks on to that sense of pessimism like a cheetah locking on to the jugular of a gazelle. Usually, good things happen educationally as a result, regardless of what is being taught or my wife’s own personal expertise in the subject matter. I think the difference between an educator/coach and a subject matter expert is a distinction that not too many people in our country realize although I sure wish they could. It is kind of like the difference between a wellness coach and a medical doctor. We need them both, but they are just not the same job, regardless how many people believe they are, or how many people believe that one has extreme value over the other. In my opinion, human medical doctors and educational subject matter experts are sort of a dying breed with a limited future in our society. At least that is with respect to dealing with patients/kids.

With advancements in technology including things like Webmd and the unthinkable amount of “subject matter” that is at the fingertips of pretty much everyone today and everywhere we go, why do you really need to drive in a car, sit in a room and wait for someone to tell you what the bump on your leg is when you can probably just figure out what it is and what to do about by using the internet.  Sure today, there is some risk involved, but I have news for you, there is also some risk associated with believing your human doctor’s assessment and treatment plan. And besides, just because there is risk associated with that type of self-diagnosis today, I bet there won’t be in the future. A simple scanner will tell you exactly what that bump is with a great degree of accuracy right in your own home. Doctors can go where they belong, behind a door and working on science and making money, not trying to connect with an actual human being. Similarly, I am not sure I see the value of driving a bunch of kids to a building every day so that someone can tell them that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States. By the way, I should probably have known that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States by memory, right? I am sure I have been thoroughly educated and tested on this subject matter during my primary educational career, correct? Well, guess what, I didn’t remember, but it took me about 2.5 seconds to figure it out using only one of the three computers sitting in front of me right now.

If you are laughing at the number of spelling errors or grammar errors in my blogs, well you have absolutely no idea what my blog looks like before I run the computer spell check. You would probably think I was a third grader although I was pretty much a straight A student in Spelling and Grammar in school. At this point I am just waiting for spell check to get better, and to be honest, sometimes I am just lazy. Go ahead and give me bad grade and smirk.

How about the four semesters of Calculus I endured as the building block of my electrical engineering career? Today, I could not pass a single calculus test that I have ever taken including a high school calculus test. Maybe other engineers have very different jobs than I do but I sure don’t see how studying that subject to that degree was necessarily critical for the vast majority of us engineering undergrads. For whatever reason, education seems stuck in a world that does not have computers and technology. Instead we say that spending hours and hours learning mathematical computation is teaching fundamentals. To some extent I see the value but the balance between theoretical and practical is way off in all levels of our education system and I believe this is a huge setback to the advancement of civilization. What we have is a population of students that know very well that Albert Einstein was a physicist who was responsible for the theory of relativity. They can also complete a few simple math computations using E=mc2. But unfortunately, at the end of the day, neither the student or even the teacher in a lot of cases have much of an actual concept about what the theory of relativity really is, or how it affects our entire perspective of reality, let alone the mathematics behind it.

What we need to be doing instead is specializing more based on interests and talents instead of using a generic education system to figure out who is mentally strong enough to store the most amount of information that they have no interest in pursuing other than because they were told they have to get a good job. Enough of my rant about school curriculum that probably should have been a separate blog, back to the point of this blog.

Coaching, on the other hand, is teaching a person how to unlock their own internal, self-guided, interest-driven potential, and the unbelievable power associated with belief in oneself and belief in one another. Unfortunately, we haven’t even scratched the surface of what could be achieved through the relatively new field of educational coaching or the power of positive thinking. If we could combine that with mindfulness training and teaching kids how to first and foremost learn to approach life with a calm, confident and stable mind there would be no limit to what these kids could achieve. Although coaching as a field or segment of education is relatively new, plenty of teachers like my wife have been using these techniques for decades.  Only back then it was just called being a good teacher. An awful lot of teachers now seem to take a far simpler view of their job by believing that whether or not a student decides to come to class or decides to apply themselves is not a part of their job or a reflection of their skills as a teacher. Maybe it’s not, but it sure should be.

Some would say that what I am talking about is the difference between an elementary educator and a high school or college educator. I disagree. Just the techniques differ. When I was in college, I had two types of professor. Professor A had absolutely no attendance policy and his lectures were packed every day. Professor B had a big policy requiring attendance and that was outlined in the class syllabus and strenuously highlighted on the day one introductions. I could tell within the first half hour of professor B’s first lecture why there was an attendance policy that was attached to my grade. I usually then spent the second half hour calculating exactly how many of professor B’s classes I could skip before dropping a letter grade.  Then I would get a head start on tackling the intriguing assignment that I just got from Professor A’s class even though it was not due for a week.

We can have debates about teaching techniques all day. I can see and understand legitimate arguments for tough love, and increasing standards and I can also see argument for my wife’s preferred method of coaching and making connections and gaining trust and trying to light a spark of interest from within. I think it depends on the student and teacher more than anything and adopting a one size fits all approach is a mistake, just like with dogs. Regardless, kids are a lot like dogs.  If you know me, you know I actually believe this is a compliment.

With dogs, one of the training challenges but one of their crucial instinctual developments and useful skills in working situations is that they don’t respond well to acting. You can do every single action, command, and training technique by the book but you will NEVER be successful until you, yourself become an unwavering believer in your dog’s ability to carry out your expectations. I believe I can speak for my wife by saying that kids and adults that you are teaching/coaching are no different.

Our fundamental belief is far more powerful than the actions of any individual or information they know. There have been many books written about this fairly well proven phenomenon, the Bible being the one that comes to mind first from someone of my background. A good number of people sure do interpret this book’s message differently than I do. Not the first or last thing in life like that for me.

My wife and I both cringe every time one of our educator friends posts a “look what my dumbass student said or did” status update on social media. I have even seen photos of dumb test answers complete with belittling comments written in red ink along with a poor circled letter grade for both the student and all of their hundreds of friends to see, laugh at, and comment on. But it is certainly not the teachers fault right? A teacher can’t make someone want to learn, can they? The truth is the good ones do every day. It is as if a lot of teachers actually like to brag on social media about how bad they are at their job and how funny it is that their students don’t respect them. Is that something to brag or laugh about if your actual job is the exact opposite? They then usually follow this up with a rant about how screwed up the system is because it is going to force them to pass this dumb kid on to the next grade even though they didn’t manage to teach them a thing or motivate them at all in the past year.

I think I would drop dead if I ever saw or heard my wife say that it is not her job to  try to convince a kid to turn her homework in on time or achieve according to his potential. Likewise, I am pretty sure my wife would drop dead if she ever found me posting a “look at what a crazy, dumbass my dog is” status update photo. It won’t happen because that is not part of our belief system and also because we realize that what we are experiencing is much more a reflection of us than our own dogs or students.  Not because our dogs don’t do some crazy dumb stuff and not because my wife has never had a completely ridiculous kid or teacher to deal with.  It is just that we both happen to have enough experience to know what works and what is a complete setback and obstacle in a world that is going to provide enough obstacles to last a lifetime without the teacher piling on.

I admit, I have a hard time criticizing the public school teachers of America even though they do at times make it hard not to. This is primarily because they have the very easy argument of saying “oh yeah? well, I would like to see you do my job.” I guess to that I would say, I am already aware that I am not near bright enough, talented enough, compassionate enough, or dedicated enough to tackle that job and that is why I went into electrical engineering. I am afraid there are probably a few too many teachers that, like me, aren’t really cut out for the job either. A lot of people think that you deal with this problem by busting unions and firing teachers that don’t stack up and by pushing kids toward private school options.  I would argue that there are a few logistical and equitability problems with this approach and I think I covered that pretty well in my last blog.

Although I fully admit that I don’t have what it takes to be a teacher, I certainly wish I did. My Mom is another lifelong educator that is talented, dedicated, and patient beyond anything that I can comprehend in my life so far.  Although she is not a University degreed teacher, she has worked in schools and with kids for decades as a multi-handicap aide, a teacher’s aide and as an elementary librarian. I have watched her my entire life as she makes friends with and ultimately positively influences the lives of a multitude of kids with all sorts of challenging backgrounds. Like with my wife, I have never once heard an inherently negative comment from her about one of her student friends. I simply cannot imagine her saying, “hey, I read that book perfectly to those kids. It’s not my fault that their parents let them watch TV so much that they can’t sit still or focus on reading.” She could have made more money doing something else or by getting a degree, but true to her fundamental belief, she has preferred to stay focused on the kids, and her family, and on enjoying her work instead of chasing dollar signs and then resenting it. Although I have witnessed it my entire life, these are virtues I have yet to achieve. Her talents and ability to connect with and make a difference in a child’s life make me feel very proud even though she is far too humble to toot her own horn or publicize her success. Her lifetime work and even the subtle impact that she makes every day is a far greater accomplishment than any degree, job title, or paycheck that I have ever received, thats’ for sure.

I can only imagine how it must feel to get the kinds of letters and feedback that my wife and mom get from now adults that credit them for forever changing the course of their lives by doing nothing else but believing in them, and listening to them, and by being their genuine friend and mentor, even when no one else would. They don’t write letters thanking them for teaching fractions or the Dewey decimal system, although no doubt they did that too. Unfortunately these types of rewards and accolades don’t come along with engineering jobs very often. Or, in my experience, at all. The fact that I yearn for these rewards is probably the exact reason they are so elusive to me. It is not really about that for my wife and mom.

As professional educators continue to be marginalized by the community and media and as teachers get further and further fed up with the bureaucracy that surrounds them,  I would bet that fewer and fewer of these types of letters are getting written every year. That is a shame for sure. What you are left with is class full of students staring at a clock and wishing they were just about anywhere else but in that classroom and a teacher that feels just about the same. I use to get that feeling in my gut quite a bit during my educational career. Just writing this will probably cause me to have one of those; I skipped a class and missed a final types of dreams. I just hope I am not in my underwear. Regardless, I can tell you first hand that not a lot of learning goes on in this environment of mutual misery and general disinterest between student and teacher.

Teachers of America, I realize your job sucks and that you are underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated, but really, the next time you have had it with your job, your boss, the board, smartass disrespectful arrogant kids or other challenges, try spending just a minute refocusing on “What is best for the kids”. Isn’t that why you got into teaching? I know you didn’t think you were going to get rich. While you are thinking, maybe also consider what an unbelievable opportunity you have to make a positive difference in the course of another human being’s life. Maybe also think about how you can be a coach and friend instead of just a subject matter expert and drill sergeant. Trust me, opportunities like that don’t come along for most of us very often as we sit inside of grey cubicles, staring at computers screens, filling out TPS reports and pondering the possibility that this is all there really is to life. If you can’t make a difference within the school or administration you are in, find one where you can, or start your own revolution of change. Or, you can just do like I did and take the lazy road of being a corporate slug and griping about what is wrong with the world in a blog. It is really your choice but the future of the entire world is in your hands and the pliable targets of opportunity are all around you. Just don’t act or go through the motions. That is a waste of everyone’s precious and all too short time.

Hucking the Fiscal Cliff

I guess it is time for my blog to address the economy and the looming fiscal cliff. So far, most of my posts have documented my dissatisfaction over why the economy has been the only focus of political discussion and public interest. But, with another deep recession looming, it is time for Congress and the government in general to get to work and solve this crisis. I think one of the reasons I am hesitant to write this blog is that I just don’t know where to start as there are so many factors and issues at hand. Some of my readers are probably very up to speed on the issue, some are not and still others are people from other parts of the world. Even though the numbers are small, I really like that there are people that I have never met actually reading this on the other side of the globe. Or at least a few are visiting my site and returning. So writing a readable blog to that audience on this subject has admittedly been a challenge that has been on the unfinished blog plate for a while now.

Since this is an opinion blog, I guess I will start with a very quick synopsis of the issue as I understand it. We have a “fiscal cliff”. In other words, there is a law that says that if we don’t come to an agreement on some budgets and deficit items by the end of the calendar year, then automatic across the board cuts will automatically go into place based on this previously signed law.  All analysts agree that unless an agreement is reached, the automatic cuts and tax increases will likely send our economy back into another deep recession. Seems like a good idea and an easy way to ensure that congress will have no choice but to compromise. After all, there is no way that Congress would allow the nation to intentionally fall into another deep recession based solely on political ideology would they? Oh crap, I again forgot about the Tea Party. They have done it once, what would stop them from doing ti again?

So both sides say they are willing to compromise, but for some reason we have a stalemate. The stalemate that looms is over two issues. The Democrats do not want the burden of the debt to be settled on the backs of the less fortunate of society in the forms of cuts to Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid or otherwise known as “entitlements”. The Republicans want the cuts to come from raising the retirement age for eligibility and from privatization of those “entitlements” which would favor the wealthy. Once again, these types of “reform” have zero impact on the upper class but huge impact on the lower and middle class.

Tragically, meaningful defense spending cuts are not on the table for either party as apparently the war machine is an upper middle class jobs program that neither party is willing to touch.

Yes, something has to be done to address the crisis in health-care costs, but is this the only solution to take it out of the hide of the less fortunate, poor sick, elderly, and children? The Republicans on the other hand are not willing to compromise on raising revenue in the form of additional tax to the wealthiest among us. As a way to raise revenue, Obama and the Democrats proposed a compromise that consisted of allowing the Bush Tax Cuts to expire, but just for the wealthy, or those making over $250,000/year. The tax rates for these people would go back to the modestly higher levels that they were during the Clinton Administration.  The lower and middle class people that unarguably have been hit harder in the recent economic downturn would still retain the lower rates associated with the current plan.

First, let’s discuss the Republican line in the sand which is tax rates for the wealthy. First of all, why exactly are so many Republicans willing to lay it all on the line for a bunch of rich guys? Sure they may lose the vote of the people making over $250,000/year, but how many votes are we talking about there – not many. Sure the rich minority does have all the money, but they do not have all the votes. What is Trump going to do then? Vote for Obama or a Democrat? Not likely. What do they have to gain? Or lose? If they give in to Obama and allow the tax rates to go back to where they were, do they really believe that the economy would simply collapse under the burden of a few percentage points for this group?

I am sorry but I actually graduated from college in 1998 when businesses were subject to the crippling Clinton tax rate and I attended a few job fairs in that time as well. Luckily for me, Best Buy was not the only company recruiting Electrical Engineers like they are at those same job fairs today. I am just not sure I buy the argument that this is all about protecting small business and ensuring job and employment growth. The numbers don’t add up and neither does the rhetoric. Nope, for the Republicans, once again, this issue is about ideology and big, big corporate money. The problem is that there are just not enough rich people to provide voting numbers to ensure that this agenda for the wealthy gets through. That is where Grover comes to the rescue.

Grover Norquist is a name that some people know and one that some people probably don’t.  Whether you know the name or not, his impact on the course of the world is undeniable. You see back in the “read my lips, no new tax” days, it was a very popular thing for Republicans to declare during a campaign that they promise or swear that, under no circumstances, will they vote to raise taxes in any way. Grover and his political cronies jumped on this movement and created a generic no tax pledge.  A lot of big money then poured into a strategy to make sure that only Republicans that sign this pledge could get elected. In other words, they go around with this pledge and basically get right in your face and say if you don’t sign this then we will go after you with all of our power and money and make sure you don’t get elected. If you break it, we will see to it that you never get re-elected as you will be shunned by the party. This is exactly what happened to the first George Bush when he broke his “read my lips” pledge. So in spite of the fact that both Reagan and Clinton successfully used tax increases to assist in deficit reduction and recession mitigation, pretty much every GOP congressman in the last two decades since has taken and held this pledge. We are currently living with the repercussion of this peer bullying.

This reminds me of similar pledges that were thrust upon me in high school asking me to sign all sorts of pledges. Under heavy pressure, I signed a pledge of devotion to Christ, chastity until marriage, and to not try alcohol or drugs. After all, if I didn’t sign it, I just made a public admission to my friends and family that I am aligned with Satan; I plan to have premarital sex and plan to use drugs and alcohol. Wasn’t high school great?

Well, this bully strategy is exactly the strategy Grover Norquist and his supporters have been using for twenty years. Exactly like those pledges in high school, they may work for a while, but make no mistake, eventually you are going to have unplanned babies coming out of your ears and no strategy to pay for them as the drunk Prom King breaks all three of those pledges in approximately 23 seconds of earthly debotury.

I also really, really love the pledge that is the center of this controversy. Here is the actual document that every single top Republican was bullied into signing and adhering to with no possible exception.

If you are reading this and thinking that it looks like it was written for a person with a 5th grade education, well, you are actually correct. This is presented to people across the country and especially those with lower education levels and lower levels of understanding of it actual ramification. The Tea Party crowd for instance can really get behind a candidate that “ain’t going raise taxes no more”. Unfortunately, if a student created this pledge and turned it in as their solution to an assignment on “how to fix the economy”, an eighth grade civics teacher will probably justifiably laugh and give an F.

So, for example, under this pledge, what happens if an elected Republican official is faced with a need to send troops into war for an entire decade? How can they do that and still cut taxes and uphold their pledge? Or what about a bill to fund the ever increasing number of troops now coming home from years of war and in need of employment and ongoing financial and health assistance. Well currently, these Republicans have two choices. Vote for the new tax to pay for the war and properly support those they send to fight it, or vote to keep their own job and screw veterans and the entire World economy in favor of elitist ideology.  So far, it seems the decision has been pretty easy for most Republicans in Congress and their presidential candidates.

To be fair, the Republicans are willing to compromise on the new tax. What you are going to hear on TV and the Sunday talking heads is that they are willing to agree to the same level of revenue increase but not in the form of an across the line tax rate that would cause them to break that brilliant pledge they all signed. They want to do it in the form of elimination of tax loopholes. I am in favor of elimination of loopholes as part of the revenue plan, but it has to be combined with a minimum tax rate. Let’s further examine why, from a critical thinking standpoint.

Warren Buffett, the only non-greedy Billionaire in the entire world has proposed a brilliant and simple solution in a recent NY Times Column that includes a minimum tax rate for the wealthy that ensures millionaires and billionaires do not find ways to scam the system by paying little or no tax the way they currently do. Unfortunately, it will never work and here is why. First of all, there is too much money and greed behind that pledge. Second, the reason the GOP is so insistent that the cuts be from loopholes is once again so that they can be in control of just who gets hit and how hard.  In other words, the loopholes that keep Exon Mobile paying close to zero tax are likely firm, but the one that fund Planned Parenthood, NPR, and PBS can be easily chopped as the pending filibuster count grows exponentially along with the advancement of a very certain and obviously biased social agenda. Meanwhile, the economic gap continues to grow exponentially as well. The Democrats and Warren Buffett are right on this one. Generic elimination of undefined loopholes is not enough. The statistics in Buffett’s column that show the recent rise of the wealthy is simply sickening when you consider where most of the country has gone over the same period.

Enough is enough! The wealthy should not be sitting on a golden pedestal and it is up to individual citizens to dictate political policy not Grover Norquist and his corporate backers.

Let’s move on to the entitlements which are the Republicans sticking points. Democrats have taken Social Security off the table and justifiably as it really has had no impact on the current deficit problems and cutting it to save them is not good policy and certainly not the will of the majority of the electorate that put them into office. The ridiculous rise in healthcare cost does have to be addressed as the Medicare/Medicaid system cannot continue to fund it at the current rate of expansion. Once again the solution is promoting and increasing funding for wellness programs to cut into the high and growing cost associated with illness care, but once again, the only solution acceptable to the GOP is cutting funding and basic protection for those that are most vulnerable. It is simply mind-boggling.

Like in the tax issue, the compromise also has to be fair to the working class. People are living longer and the entitlement period is extended and the expense of the healthcare is growing as well. It makes sense that we have to increase revenue into the program and raising the retirement age sure seems like the easy an obvious choice. As someone that will likely be dealing with these new age mandates, excuse me if I do have a few concerns with this typical ideology and talking point. One concern is that a person’s retirement age is not always their choice in today’s working environment. The current private employment structure leaves little job security, pension plans, or the right to collectively bargain. So simply choosing to work until you are 70 or 75 is not exactly going to work for a great number of people and especially those in the working and middle class. You can work giving your heart and soul to a corporation for 30 years and you may still find yourself out on your ass the first time that company needs to trim the bottom line by cutting the high salaried and slowing down old guys with limited skills with lighting fast new technology. I am really looking forward to finding a completely new career and healthcare plan at age 65, that should be fun!

I also just love the fact that the majority of the white baby boomers that are the ones demanding these entitlement reforms, also always include the caveat that these changes will not affect their generation. Thanks guys. You are the best!

Ultimately, I do believe that most of the fiscal cliff stuff is posturing and I believe some sort of agreement on spending cuts combined with increased revenue will be made or the issue will again be postponed. I don’t actually anticipate a fall off the fiscal cliff. Regardless, it is about time that Democrats, Republicans, and high school students band together and take a solid stand against bullying and these childish lifetime pledges like the one Grover and his cronies have been shoving down our throats all these years.

Congress, rip it up and make a pledge to yourself to use your own brain to do your own critical thinking! That is really the only true solution.

 

Our Thanksgiving Feast

My wife and I love to cook together. This is especially true when we do not have time considerations hanging over the process. This Thanksgiving Day should be fun as it is just the two of us and we have an ambitious menu, a bunch of wine, and all day!

Although not a strict vegetarian, Thanksgiving Day, has become a tradition of going veg at my house. Not only do we believe that it is a great way to say “thanks” to our earth, the whole day has become a giant reminder of just how many animals are slaughtered in order to “nourish” our nation’s population, or to satisfy its gluttonous, medieval, compulsion to dominate over all that walk the earth, depending on how you look at it.

Can’t imagine Turkey Day without Turkey? Well Here is our plan of attack Courtesy of our favorite vegetarian cooking inspiration resource Vegetariantimes.com. Because of alcohol, and because I also love to torcher my detail oriented wife, we won’t likely follow these recipes exactly. Regardless, some version of what is below will be what is on our plates tomorrow and resulting in another tradition we like to call “Dinner nap”.

Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Shepherd’s Pies

wild mushroom and caramelized onion shepherds

Click Here for Full Recipe!

Fruit and Toasted Almond Stuffing

Fruit and Toasted Almond Stuffing

Click Here for Full Recipe!

Roasted Green Beans with Walnuts and Rosemary

Roasted Green Beans with Walnuts and Rosemary

Click Here for Full Recipe!

Layered Sweet Potato Torte

Layered Sweet Potato Torte

Click Here for full recipe!

Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Dried Cranberries

Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Dried Cranberries

Click Here for Full Recipe!

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Click Here for Full Recipe!

Hope everyone has a great day!

 

My Blog made the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine!

I recently read an excellent article in Rolling Stone Magazine about Mitt Romney, his background and the type of business he ran. Although Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital should be a must read for any potential voter in the upcoming election, I am not sure I want to spend today’s blog on this particular topic. It is kind of a long article anyway and my brain is mush from watching too much of that ridiculous Republican convention on TV this week. For some reason, instead of writing an insightful blog on hypocrisy, I feel more like writing a dumb one and then going to buy a gun.

For my dumb blog, I would like to focus on a single line in the article where Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi writes thin-lipped, Whitest Kids U Know penny pincher” as a description for Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan. I guess this struck me as interesting because I myself wrote “Not just a handful of thin-lipped white guys that like to sip scotch at country clubs and play Russian Roulette with the lives of actual working citizens.” This was on August 13th and well ahead of when the reference in Rolling Stone was published. I guess I thought I penned an original with my use of “thin lipped white guys” as a derogatory description of greedy Republicans, but apparently not.

So is this a common slang term for greedy GOP that I just picked up? Or did we both just happen to come up with the same observation at the same time? I have to admit I believe I first heard Republicans referred to as “thin lipped white guys” from a sassy neighbor of mine during a backyard political discussion. But at the same time, I did spend some time doing various Google searches, and I could not find any other published reference to this term used in the context that both myself and then the Rolling Stone writer recently used it in.

Rather Matt Taibbi actually stole the reference from my blog or not, the truth of the matter is, we are actually both open publishers of racist slurs. After all, saying the exact opposite of “thin lipped white guys” certainly would be. Luckily, this is one of the cases where we are both off the hook for our racist comments because we are actually the real “thin lipped whitest guys” you know. Regardless, make no mistake about it, I will certainly not be voting for the thin-lipped whitest guy that most looks like he could be my uncle during this election cycle!

So, usually, this is the point of the blog where I like to put on my critical thinking hat and go to work. However, in honor of the Republican’s big week, I think I will instead pour myself a celebratory scotch and settle into the “me” portion of my brain for a moment or two.

There could only be one explanation for the similar reference in our articles! Matt Taibbi from Rolling Stone Magazine is one of the two readers of my blog that is not my mother! And he was so impressed that he stole this line from me! So in a way, I was actually published in the cover article from Rolling Stone F***ing Magazine! Yes, you can call me Dr. Hook if you like! Feels pretty good since I just started writing about a month ago!

Also, in case you are chuckling under your breath that the third reader of my blog is probably my wife; well smart ass, you are wrong. She has only read part of one of them. YOU are actually the third reader! Thanks!

 

If you are basing your vote on which party was successful carrying out their goals for the past 4 years – vote Republican

As I watch the endless political spin and over the top promotion of the largely ceremonial Republican National Convention, it seemed like the perfect time to again visit the political debate. Even before they air, we have already been spoon fed the message that the GOP intends to hammer home tonight and every day and night until the election. With vigor and conviction, they are going to “prosecute” the president and hold him accountable for the promises he failed to keep during the last campaign. And as they deliver the seemingly endless list of horrific failures of his first term in office and as they repeat the failed goals that he stated enthusiastically during the campaign, the GOP will no doubt be able to prove that, unfortunately, Obama has not made good on a number of his election goals.

The thing I have also been keeping a critical thinking eye on is the goals of the Republican Party since the last election. Without a Filibuster proof majority in the Senate and as the minority in the house, compromise was the only possible way that any solutions could come from Obama and the Dems.  The crown jewel, Obamacare, is the perfect example. One of the stated goals of the campaign was to get millions of more Americans to have healthcare. Obamacare was a far cry from what Obama, or almost anyone outside of the insurance/pharmaceutical industry really wanted. It was a complete appeasement and bare minimum modeled after Republican Romney’s own state run plan. But it didn’t matter. No bill with Obama— anything was going to be supported by the GOP and that was part of the party game plan from day one. They quickly spent an unthinkable amount of money and launched the “Obmacare is Socialism bandwagon”. Oops Roberts rained on your parade and foiled the plan! Poor people getting free health insurance! The horror!

Although Obama did have some lofty goals for quick recovery from some of the disastrous previous economic policies, the GOP had some lofty goals as well. They decided from day one that if they were completely combative and uncooperative, they could keep the president from accomplishing any of his economic and employment goals for the country. With the country in a sputtering economic recovery they could easily recapture control of the White House in as short of time as possible. Mission Accomplished! High fives all around for the GOP!

So yes, if you are looking strictly at how a party has accomplished their goals during Obama’s first term you probably should vote Republican. If however, you intend to do any critical thinking while listening to the over the top indictment from the political party of George W. Bush, you may see things differently.

Also, as you watch this week, judge for yourself, are they really enthusiastic about the future? Or are they simply ecstatic about having accomplished so many of their goals over the last 4 years? And has the accomplishment of those goals helped you or the country? Or has it just promoted the specific agenda of a privileged few?

What I Learned in Life from Dogs and Golf

I believe that if I ever write a book or autobiography, this would be the title. This is not meant to devalue primary education or even an expensive college degree or the important parental lessons. Instead, I see it simply as a way to easily nail down the most important lessons to two very sensitive energetic barometers that also happen to be my passion – dogs and golf.

Everything in life is ENERGY and everything about dogs and golf is clearly energy too. This is not a new age counter culture hippy proclamation, this is physics. But don’t take my word. You can study Einstein yourself; that is not the point of this blog. Actions are simply that and so is matter. They exist and don’t exist but really have little value or importance without an energetic guide. Anyone can teach or learn facts. There is no real mystery there.

If you really want to know about the importance of energy, pick up a book from Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, or Tiger Woods about how to play the game of golf. You have a detailed manuscript on everything you need to know to master the game from the best that ever played it! Spend however much time you think is necessary to master the skills. Now go hit the course and do exactly what they say and what you learned. Well, anyone that has ever attempted to play golf or get somewhat serious about getting that little white ball in that little white hole can tell you, without a doubt, that there is quite a bit more to mastering golf than the physical skills needed to play the game. The beauty is that this fact is also exactly when the actual valuable lessons of the game just begin.

Same applies to man’s best friend. Anyone that has ever owned a dog can tell you that there really is no magical formula that makes these creatures operate and behave. You simply have to master a simple set of rules and repeat them until the outcome is programmed. Just like golf. But also just like golf, the simple skills and techniques only get you so far, and if the correct energy is not applied, those techniques have absolutely no value.

The game of life is no different. It is simply a set of simple choices and decisions and there are countless manuscripts available with everything you need to know to master it. So why then do so many people struggle?  Well, the answer is the same answer as why do so many people have uncontrollable dogs and suck at golf. Yes, the basics and skills are essential, but ultimately, the really good stuff happens when you learn about energy, the human mind, controlling fear and the incredible power of expectation and belief.

Our bodies have an absolutely amazing ability to meet the predetermined expectations that the mind creates.  Regardless of how many repetitions I complete at the driving range, or what new state of the art technology I have in my bad, when I step on the golf course, the only truly valuable weapon I have (or sometimes shackle) is my brain and the fear and energy it creates. The reason that golf is so challenging, rewarding, and also valuable is that it is a microcosm of life. Most people have heard of the “golf gods”. They are a mysterious karma or energy that governs the game. Those that have never played may believe that the golf gods are a fantasy that humans have created to justify why we get random bad breaks or make inexplicably terrible swings. Those that have played the game and especially those that have played the game at a high level know this force very differently. Just ask any pro why they would disqualify themselves from a tournament costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars due to a rules infraction that no one could have possibly known about but the player. On the other hand, on those fleeting days, when mind, body, energy, and the golf gods are working together in harmony, not even the worse swing you can imagine will send the ball off line.  Those in sports call it “being in the zone”. Michael Murphy has written a few very good books on this phenomenon including his most famous book Golf in the Kingdom. For me, golf is not a game, it is not a pass time, and it is not a way to exercise and get fresh air. Yes, it is all of those things, but it is actually much more. Golf is life. Golf is the struggle between fear and bravery and also between expectation of success and failure. Mastering these lessons in golf has a direct translation to life and vise versa. Just ask Tiger Woods.

Anyone that knows me even casually knows that in addition to golf, my other passion is dogs. Like golf, nothing in life has been more challenging or rewarding than my relationships with a canine. I have already established that I believe that energy more than anything else is responsible for a desired outcome. Dogs, like people have brains and those brains seem to help them as much as they hinder them. Like in golf, most of the readily available dog training instruction seems to primarily focus on the techniques used to program the dog to act the way you want. The reason that these messages fall on deaf ears so often with dogs is because the energy and expectation that is delivered is so, so much more important than the actual message and technique. Dogs are energy! Connecting with a dog in an unspoken energetic manner is so crucial! Dogs are our energetic barometer and they are so sensitive to vibes and emotion.  I know for a fact that the exact moment when a dog’s behavior actually changes, is the exact moment that my expectation for that change occurs. I am also 100% convinced that my expectation is what changes the behavior and not the other way around.

Here is an example. When I can, I like to do some volunteer work at a local animal shelter. Unlike with my own pets, there I get to approach a dog without predetermined expectations of behavior. Or more accurately put, without predetermined expectation of poor behavior. At the shelter, there are a few regular volunteers and staffers that like to “warn” the more casual walkers about what the dogs are capable of on a walk. Well, all I can tell you for certain, is that a dog walk that is preceded by a warning of this type usually spells trouble. On the other hand, I cannot tell you how many times I have checked a dog out, walked it for 20-30 minutes with absolutely no incident, only to be met at the shelter by a group of people that were simply dumbfounded about how I was able to get that dog to walk on a leach that well.

One particular example was with a dog that had not been able to leave its cage for months due to fear and shelter anxiety. I naively walked into the shelter after a few months off, saw the frightened dog and thought, wow, she looks like she could use a walk! I got the leash on her and wisely took the back exit and we had the nicest, happiest walk imaginable. Upon returning, much to my dismay, I was met with a hero’s welcome by staff that had been really distraught about this poor girl who’s behavior immediately retreated to fear. How in the world did I convince her to get out and walk for the first time in months? Well, I didn’t convince her to walk, I expected her to walk! And I did not feel sorry for her, I felt lucky to have the opportunity to share a walk with her. She felt the energy too! I also had a pretty nice couple of walks with “Sarge” the Doberman before I was warned of danger and all of the stiches he gave the last volunteer that tried walking him. That incident led to his quick demise and eventual untimely death. I believe firmly that the expectation of the shelter workers killed Sarge, not his behavior.

Fear is the biggest obstacle that a person has to tackle in life. Rather it is your first day of kindergarten, a pit bull, a t-shot over water, or you last moments on Earth; we are in a constant battle to stay on top of this fine line. This may sound silly to some, but for me, dogs and golf are the tools that I am using to learn to face those challenges every single day. I am sure others have their own valid tools and still others probably think I am full of it.

Some seem to believe that the answer to life’s challenges is to tremble in fear of God. I simply refuse. The lessons I have learned in life from dogs and golf tell me that life does not work very well at all operating from that place.

For me, dogs and golf are my religion! And it is through my relationship with dogs and golf that I am learning that the power to overcome all of the mysteries, obstacles, and fears in life are already inside of me!  The energy required to navigate a difficult eighteen holes or train a “vicious” dog to behave is the exact same energy required to navigate life. Anyone that has seen me play golf or watched me wrestling with one of my rescue dogs knows that not all days come with the same level of success as others; same as life. Regardless, I have already learned the most valuable lesson. The struggle over energy is without a doubt the key. The sooner society can learn how to transform their own energy from fear into expectation, the closer we will be to seeing so many of the World’s problems simply vanish.

Someday I WILL play the perfect round of golf. I WILL also train the perfect canine companion. And likewise, someday, I WILL DIE WITHOUT FEAR. These may seem like random unrelated goals, but make no mistake about it; they are not unrelated to me!

I am a far Right Wing Ron Paul Radical

If anyone is actually reading these blogs they may be thinking that I am a far left wing liberal. I guess I am not sure what exactly that even means but I am not sure if I am or not. I am definitely not a democrat. I did vote for Obama over McCain and I don’t regret it. I also am 100% certain that I will not vote for Romney in the upcoming election. Whether or not I vote for Obama likely depends on how close the race is in my state of Colorado. If it looks certain that Romney will not win my state I may very well vote for and not against for the first time in my life. If I do, I am certain there will be candidates on my ballot that are more consistent with my personal beliefs and views than either of the two main parties. To be completely honest, if Ron Paul were to run as a third party candidate he would likely receive my vote over either Romney or Obama regardless of how close the race is. I don’t necessarily agree with all of Ron Paul’s policies and beliefs and I certainly don’t agree with all of either of the other guys. I think he is a little too far in some things such as elimination of social services. It is not that I don’t believe that his policies might actually work; I think some of these policies pay too little attention to the impact of real people living in present time, including children. We simply cannot turn our back on those we have already screwed with our current policies.

The main reason that I would absolutely vote for Ron Paul is due to his belief about the office he would be elected to hold. He has been outspoken about the misuse of presidential authority in military affairs and also about the real necessity of deep cuts in defense spending. He has also been outspoken about his opposition and desire to end the War on Drugs. These are two of the single largest issues for me and they both also have an extremely large impact on most conservative’s main issue which is the economy and size and reach of government.

The following is a quote from Paul regarding the war on Drugs:

I think the federal war on drugs is a total failure. You can at least let sick people have marijuana because it’s helpful, but compassionate conservatives say, well, we can’t do this–the federal government’s going in there and overriding state laws and putting people like that in prison. Why don’t we handle the drugs like we handle alcohol? Alcohol is a deadly drug. The real deadly drugs are the prescription drugs. They kill a lot more people than the illegal drugs. The drug war is out of control. I fear the drug war because it undermines our civil liberties. It magnifies our problems on the borders. We spent, over the last 40 years, $1 trillion on this war. And believe me the kids can still get the drugs. It just hasn’t worked.

The last sentence says it all. IT JUST HASN’T WORKED! I really could not agree more on this one. All of the ideology and propaganda in the world does not make something work.

The second issue that would also single handedly give my vote to Paul is his position on national defense and presidential power and federal spending on policing the world.

Here is an excerpt from his political website:

Today, however, hundreds of thousands of our fighting men and women have been stretched thin all across the globe in over 135 countries – often without a clear mission, any sense of what defines victory, or the knowledge of when they’ll be permanently reunited with their families.

Acting as the world’s policeman and nation-building weakens our country, puts our troops in harm’s way, and sends precious resources to other nations in the midst of an historic economic crisis.

This is a bit oversimplified, but I am also in 100% agreement. I have no idea why he considered himself a Republican; he is so far from anyone else in the party today.

No, I don’t think Ron Paul would agree with my belief in increased regulation of the food industry. But on the other hand, I am not sure that his opinion would be that crucial in this matters as President anyway. He would say that it is state’s rights and I agree with that too.

The actual issues that a president can have an impact on should be the most important issues for the election. Unfortunately, the election will eventually be decided by how much people associate with a candidate or how many similarities they have in belief about a bunch of issues that the president has little, if any, influence over.

I wish others would consider the main issues that the president will actual have power over. Not a bunch of propaganda and ideology. Make no mistake about it, if we start evaluating and electing the politician that is the best critical thinker instead of the flashiest salesmen or sleaziest rich guy, regardless of ideology, that is when we will start to see real change in the executive branch.

Maybe I am not a left-wing liberal. Maybe I am a far right radical that is so far right that I have made my way around the globe and am now closer to the left hemisphere? Maybe I am just an individual citizen with a voice but really no realistic representation in government. I hope to see that change in my lifetime as I am certain of one thing;

The two party system has failed.