We Do live in a Nation of Takers – And a Nation of Hypocrits

Louis C.K.

– Louis C.K.

Left and right, young and old, it seems almost weekly, I read some sort of ridiculous ideologically and hate fueled statement on social media from someone who is “tired of working to pay for some lazy person that just wants to mooch off taxpayer funded government supplied charity.” I have read posts about people that have too nice of hair to be using food stamps or how they saw a family that they know gets government aid at a pool all day while they had to work to pay for them. I simply cannot imagine seeing a poor kid at a swimming pool and getting angry about it. Do people have any idea how poor you are if you are getting nutrition assistance from the government? Do people realize how many kids in this country were born into a family that does not have enough to eat? Being born into generational abject poverty is not something that goes away when you simply wake up one morning and decide to go to work. There has to be jobs and educational opportunity too. Right now, for quite a few, this opportunity simply does not exist even if it does for some.

I guess I should not be surprised. Our own Congress has been leading the charge in this type of elitist mentality and way of thinking. I guess what always bothers me the most is that the people like Paul Ryan that are so determined to demonize the ultra-poor as takers were themselves born into a life of ultra-privilege and have spent a lifetime taking aid that dwarf’s any amount of nutrition assistance anyone poor person has ever received in the history of our country. Although, I see these types of messages from all types of people from all types of backgrounds, as usual there are a few critical thinking issues with this type of easily favored and small way of thinking.

Consider this. Every single taxpayer in this country receives some sort of benefit that someone else does not get equally based on the amount they earn. It just so happens that most reading this likely get government aid on April 15th instead of in the form of food stamps.

But realistically, what’s the difference between a poor person cashing in food stamps and a lower income earner cashing in on a lower tax rate? They certainly did not earn this aid by making less money than someone that made more. Or what about the multitude of millionaires and billionaires and even some of the most profitable corporations in all the world that “take” significant tax assistance via subsidization or loopholes? Or what about “taking” unemployment benefits when you get laid off and are in between jobs?  Are all of these people just too lazy to work and pay their fair share? Aren’t they the same as the food stamp takers that have been under assault by the Republicans, Fox News and my Facebook friends for years? A great number of food stamp recipients do have income, just not enough to pay for everything their families need. How is this different than lower tax rate earners that “take” breaks others don’t get and use those breaks for similar purpose?

When you look at it strictly at who is getting assistance you don’t get, and then call that stealing the way so many do with Welfare and food assistance; people who are in a lower tax bracket than me are actually stealing more money from me than zero income earners that get food stamps. A lot more. Should I start demonizing every one of my Facebook friends that gets dividend income or that do not have a household income of at least mine?  It’s not like there are fewer terrorists for our country to kill just because Mitt Romney decided to not find a real job and instead decided to just buy stocks in order to “take” more government aid.

How about the earned income tax credit? As someone that did not decide to have children, why exactly do I have to pay for all these babies? After all, just like I read all the time, I am actually working every day at least some amount of time to pay for these kids. By the way, how exactly can you afford that new phone you are posting on? Probably with that tax break you are too lazy to not “take”. Maybe I should just not work a couple days a week so that I can “take” a free phone from the government like you? If you are saying “hey, that argument isn’t logical or fair”, you are right, it isn’t.

In other words, all of the people ranting every day on social media about how other people need to “stop abusing the system by taking government aid” are not really against taking government aid, they are just against taking government aid that they are not eligible to receive.  Not too many are also demanding that Grandma’s Medicaid get immediately withdrawn or even remotely demanding that they themselves should be paying an actual equal share. Considering the real number of people and especially children in this country that literally do not have enough to eat, it is a real special level of hypocrisy to spend your day accusing a poor person of stealing your money by accepting food assistance while secretly lining your own pocket with the exact same type of assistance in a different form and even greater amount.

Although Welfare as a percentage of our money that gets “stolen” represents an extremely small amount, you sure wouldn’t know it by the hateful, self-centered rants from people that are so thoroughly convinced of their own self-perceived higher authority over someone they don’t even know. Considering the other options available for demonization as a “taker” in our society, the preferred target of the ultra-poor, boggles my mind and saddens my heart equally. Based on my reading of biblical scripture, the American Christian-right in the year 2013 sure is an interesting and hypocritical bunch overall. At least when they step into a voting booth.

The next time you find yourself in line at a big box store, rolling your eye’s at the food stamp “taker” in front of you maybe also consider how much government aid you also “take”. Maybe also consider just how truly lucky you are to be in a place in life where your government aid comes in the form of a sealed envelope instead of an embarrassing public procedure at a busy retail store every time you want to feed your family. It won’t fix the problem of poverty in this country and it won’t get you out of having to work.  But after some time, it might actually make you a happier and nicer person.
Yes, there can and should be reasonable discussion about role of taxation and even government’s role in curtailing poverty. However, the current hypocritical crusade to demonize the poor as “takers” is as sad as any shift in public sentiment that I have seen in my life. I sure hope that changes as the  malnourished and obese stomachs are only as tragic as the ever hardened heart of a growing and hypocritical society of “ME”.

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.

What is Wrong with Public Education in America?

Oh boy, have I picked a fun topic for today’s blog about misconception and ideology. I must be feeling a bit risky too as the number of people that are close to me that I could possibly offend is a little higher than I would prefer. With that said, lets just remember that this is an opinion blog and yours is welcome. Also, as always, with comments about the medical system or even the FAA, and certainly education, my comments are about the system and specifically my personal experience with it. This is not about any individual doing their very best to operate within it while making a living.

I am also making somewhat of an effort to make these blogs a little shorter, although ultimately, I am sure not short enough for most. I guess the people that will not get my points would not get them even if they were smirked by a drunken women from the 1950’s holding a glass of wine in the form of a social media “eCard”. So be it.

Ok, now that I got the disclaimers out of the way, … What is Wrong with the Public Education in America?

Everyone loves to point the finger at standardized tests, teachers, unions, principals, parents, TV, video games, and occasionally, even the dumbass kids themselves, but I really think we need to look at the problem first from the very top. How do we determine what our kids need to know and what methods are used to teach them? Of course the educators that devote their lives to the field of education and that are experts in their field have a large say in the teaching methods, right? What about industry and societal experts that will ultimately be relying on the crop of educated juveniles to fill the countries demand for a skilled and employable workforce. I am sure they are heavily involved in shaping the education curriculum in this country, right? The unfortunate reality is that, in spite of the complicated and ever advancing needs of a modern skilled workforce, and in spite of ever increasing breakthroughs in the field of brain based learning, technology advances, and in spite of the potential positive societal impact that could actually be made with large scale educational reform, the public system is still primarily dictated and controlled by the largely uneducated and ignorant general population of citizen that inexplicably prefer that their children receive the exact same, cookie cutter form of education that they got as kids. Oh, and by the way, they also still seem to believe that a child’s overall future worth to society should be largely determined by how well they stack up against others in a largely arbitrary and biased ABCDF grading system. In other words, if you can’t determine that your spawn is at least better than XX.XX% of other kids then whats the point of procreating, or for that matter, working your ass off day and night so you kid can get into the best possible school.

Another big problem is that, unlike my field of electrical engineering, everyone in this country somehow believes they are an expert on education and every citizen also thinks they should have an actual say in the methods, materials and even the fundamental core objective of our public education system. I guess after writing this blog I will not exactly be the exception, but regardless, maybe this is something we should all at least consider. Almost everyone in this country has been through the primary education process and therefore everyone has at least some direct experience even if only on a very, very, basic level as a child-student or a child-student parent. Regardless, based on this alone, a tremendous number of people truly believe that they poses an awful lot of knowledge about both what our kids need to know, and about what techniques the teachers should be using to deliver the info and teach critical skills and concepts.

My wife and I both have college degrees in our respective fields and my wife in fact has an advanced degree in her chosen field of education. We have both spent our entire career working in the same fields. My wife was a teacher’s assistant, a teacher, an assistant principal, a head principal and has since worked in various capacities in educational consulting; all with the ultimate goal of improving the way we educate our youth and prepare our teachers for the challenges of the job. She is dedicated, driven, passionate (far more so than me with my career) and I have never known a harder working person driven towards this one non-monetary pursuit. She has devoted her life to her craft and the depth of her knowledge and the skills she has developed and polished as a lifelong learner, educator, listener, motivator, and coach are, and have been, something for me to marvel at from a distance for as long as I have known her.

As one might expect, with a skill set and background so different, her expertise above mine is strikingly obvious in even the shortest of debates on the subject of public education. However, true to her fundamental belief, I usually come to this realization not by her telling me, but by her subtly teaching me to teach myself. Maybe a seemingly minor distinction but in the reality of a devoted and skilled educator and in a world full of powerful, fixed and limiting beliefs, the difference is about as subtle as an electrical system that works and one that never even powers up. One way works and one way doesn’t, regardless of how painful or laborious the process can be for the educator. It is exactly the same as programming and using the new universal television remote control. Unfortunately for my wife, I am nowhere near as good of an educator as she is.

For some reason, I can not tell you how many times, after learning that my wife is a lifelong public educator, people happily pipe up and explain to her, “I will tell you what is wrong with public education in America”. Then my wife gets to sit there smiling while she gets an earful from someone that has no educational background or experience whatsoever and definitely not someone that has spent the last 25 years of their life learning and working professionally in the field. She gets to listen to all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds make very choreographed and painfully simplistic statements like:

“All we really need to do is get back to teaching the basics and fundamentals in schools.”

Or

“We don’t need computers in school to teach math.”

Or

“Its really just a matter of the parents making their kids turn off the TV and do their homework.”

Or

“We don’t trust the government to teach our kids, we need to educate our kids in the home.”

Or

“Schools need to quit passing kids that don’t learn anything.”

Or

“If teachers want to strike, then just fire them. We can hire new teachers from the community.”

Or

“If a teacher is making $80,000 working part of the year babysitting 3rd graders, then something is really wrong with the system.”

Or

“All this coaching and motivation stuff is hokus-pokus. Teachers and parents just need to raise their expectations.”

Or

“If we want kids to learn then we need to start by putting God back into schools.”

How my wife maintains her composure, at times, is beyond me. I can only imagine if when I told someone that I was an electrical engineer I got to hear statements like:

“The problem with electrical engineering is that we are focusing too much on electrons and not enough on the neutrons”

Or,

“Engineers need to stop wasting time and money with computers, my dad was an engineer an all he needed was a slide-rule and drafting board.”

Or,

“All we really need to do is put God back into physics education”.

Then if these same morons got to vote on how I do my job as an electrical engineer, well, I hope you get my point. More often than not, when people find out I am electrical engineer they instead assume I am some sort of wizard with skills completely beyond anything I ever got at school or learned in my jobs and certainly not someone that needs their advice on basic electronics. They immediately ask me if I can fix their old broken computer or TV as if I carry around an oscilloscope everywhere I go or as if that is even remotely what an electrical engineer does or knows.

If you want an answer to “What is wrong with public education in America?”, this problem is the top of the list. The general public simply does not understand or appreciate what a GOOD professional educator does, or is worth; but for whatever reason, they absolutely think they do.

Sure we can have debate about state vs. federal control of public schools, but ultimately that debate should be about how we go about putting the correct required experts into the correct position, not about ensuring that ideology and mythology remains a staple of our kids education.  Like many other things, education is just too important and complicated to leave up to the direct control of the non-expert voting public.

Can you imagine if the public voted on national defense and had control of those expenditures and issues the way we do for national public education expenditures and issues? What if the voting population of Texas was allowed to launch their own nuclear weapons and they got to decide directly about when and how they were launched and at whom? Well, in my opinion, that is a pretty good analogy of exactly what is happening in our national public education system and with disastrous overall results for so many kids and in so many communities.

What we actually need to do (my turn to provide an oversimplified solution!) is to stop recruiting the middle-bottom of our students into education and instead start recruiting our best and brightest.  Of course, in order to do this, we need to pay them according to the immense level of importance and the difficulty of their objective and student base. Maybe we could pay them at least close to what they could instead make as a middle manager at a giant sugar Corporation instead of a fraction of what that sugar manager actually makes in reality.  In other words, wouldn’t it make more sense to pay our best and brightest minds to teach kids instead of paying them six figures to figure out ways to addict and kill them? Next, we need to treat professional educators like the experts they are, and give them the respect, admiration, accountability and ultimately control of their profession so that they can effectively do their job in accordance with their professional judgement, and expertise.

Amazingly, at this point it seems that the public still heavily prefers and even demands a system that instead trains low paid robots to deliver ideological information in a fixed format. Guess what? It is not working and turning the clock backwards in an effort to “get back to the basics” is definitely not the answer, and neither is slashing teacher pay and redirecting what little resources are left toward private schools. This may seem shocking since the exact opposite plan is reported as “news” pretty much daily on Fox.

We need to knock over the apple cart and start over with public education. Not until we start relying on experts and critical thinking instead of our own fixed and unchangeable belief will we start to see real education opportunity and advancement for children of all levels of society and not just our perfect little upper middle class angels.

(I have a feeling that this blog may have a part two or three parts associated with it, but I am going to make an effort to keep these things a little more manageable in length and cut it off here. Stay tuned)

The Paradox of Eating Horse Meat

Horse MeatWell, as usual, the morning news was a complete critical thinking mystery for me. Headlines today were all about the growing European horse meat scandal. Stories went into great detail about how trace amounts of horse meat have been found in Eurpean beef and about how great it is that DNA technology can now be used to determine if trace amounts of horse meat is contaminating beef supplies. They warned of impending beef price increases as all beef will now certainly have to be screened for trace amounts of horse meat before Americans can eat it.

In addition to trying to figure out why we need beef from Europe in the first place, and wondering if we still make glue out of horses, the part that struck me as mysterious is why we should care that our cow-based pink slime contains trace amounts of horse-based slime. Americans in this country mindlessly scarf down and often throw in the garbage millions and millions of cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, deer, turkeys and just about anything else that walks, flies or swims on earth and that can be captured killed for food. People eat horse regularly across the world and I bet we have been eating it here too whether we know it or not. It is common, plentiful, and relatively nutritious as far as meat goes. No part of the press coverage discussed the practice of eating horse meat from a logical standpoint. It was just assumed that the entire American public audience has already determined that eating horse meat was morally reprehensible. Is it? If so why?

Why exactly does the mere possibility of trace amounts of horse meat in imported Swedish meatballs create public outrage worthy of the top placement in national news for Americans? I have spent quite a bit of time contemplating this and I have yet to come up with one critical thinking justification. Is it because some people keep horses as pets? I guess that could be it, but not all that many people today keep horses as pets. People also keep pigs, sheep, rabbits and even deer as pets. Just about any animal can be domesticated but that does not create any sort of issue for most Americans eaters. Pigs are the perfect example. They actually have been bred so that the wild characteristics are completely absent in the animals we eat. In the right environment, they would actually make great family pets.  They are extremely smart (smarter than dogs or horses), loyal, and they are capable of complex emotions such as grief, sadness, fear, aguish and terror. They are also capable of bonding with a human being exactly the way dogs and horses do.horsemeat2

Why are we not outraged that millions of pigs have been found in our supply of pork?  Why is a horse considered sacred and a pig is considered a food staple of the proudly unconscious and unhealthy American diet?

I read an article and the author sums this paradox up pretty well in my opinion.

We continually draw distinctions between what’s dinner and what’s trash, who our pets are and who our meals are. We live with cats and dogs we smother with love and affection, yet other animals live miserable lives and endure horrific deaths because we’ve decided their lives are only worth the price of a fast food meal. But if we then accidentally eat a part of the animal we’re not accustomed to, it’s the end of the world.

 

Part of the success of fast food companies lies, of course, in exactly that: distancing ourselves as much as possible from what we’re eating. If we knew the sickening conditions animals in factory farms are subjected to (or, for that matter, the slavery-like work conditions forced on human beings who pick the under-ripe tomatoes and grow the iceberg lettuce for fast food hamburgers), we wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I guess it’s true, as Paul McCartney once said, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”

 

The fast food system – cheap food prepared quickly, eaten quickly, forgotten quickly – hinges on one slim peg: wilful ignorance. When incidences like this crop up, they slam right into what we don’t want to know. So we get outraged. But obviously the real scandal is that we’re allowing ourselves to fall for this great lie in the first place: that what we eat doesn’t matter, that it arrived in our hands magically, and that there are no consequences to our diets.

So how do we make the distinction with the horse? Considering how many other choices we have for eating, does the mere thought of consuming the tortured flesh of such a beautiful, majestic, and noble creature simply disgust you to the point that eating it would not be a choice even if it were the most delicious meat you have ever tasted and even if everyone else around you thought it was perfectly acceptable?

If so, congratulations on your first steps down the path of becoming a conscious eater. Now, expand your new style of thinking and start to actually listen to your logical brain instead of listening to fixed self-serving, logic-less, ideology that was planted in your brain the first day you mindlessly devoured a plate of bacon. Is it really that hard? From a logical standpoint, is that pulled pork sandwich any different than a pulled horse sandwich?

As a person that no longer eats mammals or foul of any type, people often ask me how I am able to resist a delicious steak or a good burger after years of consuming and enjoying them regularly. For me the answer is exactly the same way that the American public can now instantly refuse a perfectly good piece of horse after they have been consuming and enjoying it regularly for years. It is simply a matter of conscious versus unconscious decision making.

Just because the unconscious mind creates habits that are hard to break, make no mistake, the conscious mind can easily regain control if allowed! I know for me personally conscious eating was a spring board toward a new level of awareness that is still growing within. I became aware of decisions that I previously did not even know I had and more are revealed every day. Conscious eating is not a matter of mind-over-matter or extraordinary will-power. It is just deciding that horse meat is wrong to eat and then not eating it.  How hard is that?

When the conscience is the guide, there is really no need for dieting, will power, or DNA testing of meatballs that we ship from overseas to line our big box retail stores and arteries. We can just go to a farmer’s market instead! Best of all, if you get freaked out by all of the people swarming around you in the farmer’s market it is a hell of a lot easier to get out than when you are at IKEA!

Guns, Balls, and Batman

nerfgunI think I feel like writing this blog about as much as I did the blog about the fiscal cliff or about Chik-Fil-A. I don’t anticipate changing anyone’s mind although I am completely unable to not sound off.

Months ago, after the shooting near my home in Colorado, I questioned on social media why we so desperately need semi-automatic assault rifles available to the public with little or no background checks or screening. My other specific area of concern was the previously illegal magazines that carry hundreds of rounds of ammunition and allow a shooter to continue shooting without reloading. I realize that a lot of people might not know, but for a decade there was a ban on the exact ammunition used to kill masses of people both in the theater in Colorado, and again more recently in the elementary school in Connecticut. The ban was overturned. Another in a long list of disastrous moves by the recent Bush administration.

Even though I never even suggested banning any gun, I guess I was not surprised in the least that the overwhelming response from my “friends” on social media was to blast me for my statement about gun control laws.  Although I was not surprised that people disagree, I was entirely surprised about the reasons that came out so freely and honestly. I expected semi-rational statements about the 2nd amendment and the rights of hunters, sportsmen and people generally concerned about preserving individual civil liberties or constitutional rights. That is the argument I have heard in the past and what I expected. No, in 2012, what I got from those that were staunchly and dramatically opposed to any sort of gun law reform felt that way because they were genuinely fearful for their lives and safety.  They feel that they honestly need quick and easy access to all of these weapons and extreme ammunition because they believe that there is a very good chance that they will need to use them to protect themselves from a mass murderer or even more possibly, our own government or police. This was news to me. I guess I knew of paranoid people like Timothy McVeigh and others that insanely believe that they are in danger from the government and I have long suspected that this was the sentiment behind quite a few of the “sportsman” in the NRA although no one really admitted it. Somewhere along the line, as a society, I guess we stopped having to pretend that we were not scared out of our minds and crazy like McVeigh. That is what surprised me the most.

Although I do realize that it is not productive, whenever I hear or read the rants of gun nuts, my initial gut reaction is to just marvel about how truly child-like a great number of the minds in our society are. There is absolutely no logic between that belief system and reality. None. Your chances of being killed by a gunman, terrorist, or the government in this country are still very, very close to zero although it does go up slightly if you are carrying a weapon yourself. That is reality. Then again the people of our country will spend 5 billion dollars this year for individual 1 in 175,223,510 chances to win money in Powerball, so I really shouldn’t be all that surprised.

Just one question for all of those that are preparing for the government that is going to try to disarm you.  If the government does decide to go rogue and disarm the citizens, are they going to send someone to your door with small arms, or are you going to simply find yourself an unrecognizable pile of rubble that is spread out about 1000 feet in all directions before you even realize that you are no longer watching the gun and knife home shopping show?

I think it is also very interesting to read the recent stories about Israel and the “Iron dome” that protects them from missiles and what a giant success it has been based on the number of missiles it has shot down. Maybe we should all just move to Israel and hide with them under that protective dome. On second thought, maybe I will pass on that idea. If you look at the number of missiles and bombs that have been launched at them and that are reaching their target during the same time you really have to scratch your head and wonder how someone comes to the conclusion they do looking at the exact same set of stats as someone else.

Through my wife who is a former elementary school principal, I also know first hand about school safety programs, and the mandatory intruder and security lock-down drills they all now practice as a result of Columbine and others school shootings. My wife has actually been “the gunman” and she has had to comb the hallways of the school she worked looking for weaknesses in a lock-down scenario drill. When I hear her tell about this and how stressful this can be, it sure is hard for me to not think now about just how many times the real “gunman” in Connecticut sat hiding under his school desk during a gunman intruder drill over the last few years. Maybe it is time that Israel and our upper level school administrators do a little critical thinking around this issue before coming up with any additional knee jerk efforts to “protect” people.

Your chances of dying in a car wreck or being killed by your wife, husband, or your own child are far better than dying from a random act of violence. It is just the truth plain and simple. Heck, your chances of dying on a ski trip to Colorado, or being struck by lightning are actually significantly higher. I am not even going to get into the danger to your life that arises from the Marlboro you are sucking on, or the can of Diet Coke you are sucking down, while you rock back and forth clutching that AR-15 in fear. Stress and anxiety have been known to shorten a few lives too. The statistics behind that are not exactly insignificant either.

After I am done scratching my head and done contemplating how small a mind would have to get before it ceases to exist, I am usually then struck by a bit of pity. Yes, I feel for those that have lost their lives or loved ones in tragedy, but even more, I feel pity for the unbelievable number of citizens in our country that live with never ending fear and anxiety. Like most, I have had times in my life where I have battled worry, and anxiety. I know it is not fun at all! But when I replace that work or school deadline that has generated so much anxiety for me, with the thought of a mad gunman breaking into my home and mutilating my entire family in front of my eyes, I begin to have, at least somewhat of, a better understanding of the fears we are facing and why they are so powerful.

I understand the emotion associated with tragedies like these and why they generate such personal feelings and irrational fear. So many parents send their kids off to school with the deep belief that they are safe. Whether or not that actually changes in reality is sort of irrelevant.  When we see tragedy we put ourselves in the place of the victim, we embody what they are going through, their thoughts, their feelings, grief, and fear. We see our children among the faces of the dead and the rush of emotion overwhelms us. The 24/7 media circus also disproportionately and strategically highlights specific tragedies that will be emotional to us in an intentional and unintentional plot to increase ratings and public hysteria.

I am also, always so confused as to how a person can put themselves so completely and fully into the lives and reality of an unknown child or parent in Connecticut but the same person can still be so 100% completely immune and disconnected to a news story of a baby that’s head was blown off by a predator drone launched from our own military. How about our soldier that snapped and killed 17 innocent civilians including children just a while ago in Afghanistan? How many of these innocent victims were memorialized nightly on our evening news? Are those babies somehow less human to us than the ones in Connecticut? Are the same tears streaming from Barack Obama’s eye’s when he reads of the innocent people killed by an attack he ordered? I am aware of the casualties inherent in war, but I also am aware of the dangers of living in an open and free society. How are some so completely personally ambivalent to one scenario, while completely emotionally invested in the other? Our minds sure are amazing, complicated, and dangerous.

I use to love to go to the movies. I loved the superhero movies and I could sit all day and watch Han Solo, Superman, or Batman save humanity from Darth Vader, Lex Luthor, or the Joker. As a child I could literally place myself myself in the hero position and I could follow up a good film with about a 1000 hours of play with toy guns, imaginary hostages, as well as make believe gunfire and explosions that I could create very well with my own voice and mouth. The thrill of re-enacting these scenes in my mind was absolutely exhilarating. I would wear costumes and even become the characters, heroes or villains I saw on TV and in the movies. My parents allowed me to indulge my fantasy play, but at the end of the day, it was time to put away the toys, take off the costumes, and return to reality. They were not overly impressed or threatened by my love of make believe and the line between fantasy and reality was fortunately made very clear to me early on. As I got older, I noticed that in school, it seemed that some kids never put away their toys at the end of the day. They really sort of lived their lives as GI Joe, even at school, and even relatively late into middle school, high school…and for many, it appears even later. I sure do see quite a few young GI Joes, Batmen and Princesses all over the place today, and what I see with at least some, is that the line between fantasy and reality sure seems paper thin.

I don’t really go to the movies anymore or watch television dramas. Occasionally a flick will peak my interest and my wife and I still do rent a movie or two now and then. However, the current set of blockbuster films and popular network television shows just do not resonate with us in the least. The “Dark Night”, and other films I have seen parts of do not even resemble the types of movies I watched years ago. They are long, dark, complicated, violent, realistic, and the story lines closely mirror the types of real life situations we see glorified in the news everyday. As I watch these films and see their audience, I realize that these are not kids movies in the least. They are written to draw in the same kids that were enamored with the same types of movies that were made for them as children years ago. For many adults these movies are merely a two to three hour exciting break from the reality of life just like they were for them as a kid years ago. However, for a few of the GI Joe’s or Jokers in our society, it seems the line between fantasy and reality is no clearer now for them as parents as it was when they were kids themselves. Throw into the mix, a decade of real warfare and terror, realistic virtual reality video games, and a handful of pharmaceuticals and we really don’t need six different versions of CSI. We can just watch CNN.

So what do we do about this from a societal standpoint? Yes, I support gun law reform such as ending gun show loopholes and limiting the type of mass murder ammunition that is manufactured and sold to the public, but no, I do not ultimately believe that this is the answer to our problems. Just like drug laws, if you deal strictly with the access to the substance and not the chemical imbalance behind the need for it, then we are shooting ourselves in the foot; or in the head 100 times in only a few seconds, depending on how you look at it. Just the mere anticipation of gun laws and reform causes gun sales and societal paranoia to go through the roof.  We have to make sure that the ideology that we have and the gun laws we do pass do not have the exact opposite effect on the intended outcome they way we do with our current drug laws.

Guns and gun ownership is such a macho thing in today’s society. Isn’t it interesting that the ones that need the most are also, quite obviously, the biggest fearful cowards. I also find it funny that it seems a lot of the extremely paranoid gun owners live out in the middle of nowhere where they stockpile “protection” from a madman that they invent with their own fear. Others like myself have Crips and Bloods competing nightly for painting space on our trashcan but we really can’t even envision needing a can of pepper spray.

Yes, ultimately, we do have to get a hold of our own societal fear and collective paranoia but it has to start from the top. Just as some individuals in our society think they are Batman, so do quite a few in our Federal government. If Obama, or others in government want to truly help the people of this country then they need to do exactly what all the parents of this country need to do. Grow a set of BALLS! Realize that your fear and paranoia is putting a bulls-eye on our countries back, and our kids’ heads.

Instead of looking to imaginary superheros and weapons of mass destruction, we need to look to the true men and women of bravery and courage in our society and in history. Look at Rosa Parks, Gandhi, the Buddha, Jesus, Mother Teresa, MLK, or that student that stood fearlessly in front of that tank in China. These men and women are examples of true courage and true bravery, and these are the people that actually make a difference in the world and that are worthy of hero worship! Not fearful cowards like Tim McVeigh, George W. Bush, or anyone that believes they need an assault rifle with a 100 round magazine in order to protect children.

As frustrating as this issue can be, I do firmly believe we are finally hitting societal “rock bottom” when it comes to fear. I believe the shift is coming and I can literally feel the warm blanket of love and bravery hovering above us, although just out of reach! Can you feel it too?

Yes, make no mistake, it is just exactly the same for a vicious killer pitbull, an Islamic terrorist, or a mad gunman. It is our collective fear and paranoia that creates them and gives them power, not what stops them. The sooner we realize this and actually start reading and understanding our scriptures instead of demanding that others do, the sooner the killing and fear will end, and love will reign over all.

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.

 

It’s the end of America as we know it…And I feel fine! (Part Two)

I had a hard time coming up with the Title for yesterday’s blog right up until the REM song that came on Pandora, got me quickly to the “Publish” button in WordPress. Sometime later, as I thought about the title, and the song, I realized that I may have not written the correct blog for that title. Well, this is the correct blog.

Before I owned my own business I worked as a direct employee for a few different engineering companies. I was constantly frustrated with continual threat of impending layoffs, not enough work or too much work, and a steady diet of poor decisions by others that were affecting my own professional reputation and ability to do my job successfully.

One day, I distinctly remember stopping in at a bar after work with a colleague. We were surprised to find our department’s VP with another department’s VP at a table by the door as we walked in. My friend and I both looked at each other half hoping we did not get caught slipping out of work at 4:45pm and half wondering if the VP’s even had a clue who the two low level guys from sector 8 were. To my semi-surprise they did recognize us and even asked us to join them. We sat down, ordered a drink, and began to have an eye opening conversation with a couple of guys that probably were a drink or two beyond control of what they should have been saying, and to whom. As I polished off my first beer, I distinctly remember realizing that in addition to drinking the mug of beer, I had also just made more progress in 25 minutes toward advancement in my company than I had the entire four years busting my butt in that grey cubicle! I thought about how cool it was that with my new friends, I would finally get some recognition for what I have been doing all this time. By the end of the third beer I was starting to feel a little nauseous, but it wasn’t from the beer.  I was realizing what it really took to get ahead in “good old boys” world of corporate America. My friend decided to stay and have a fourth beer, but I decided instead to leave that bar… and quit my job. I did, and a decade later, that has been the best career decision, I ever made.

At first, things went very well. It was early in 2000 and the economy hadn’t started to tank. I had enough contacts in the industry and a good enough reputation that my phone immediately started ringing with offers from other companies to go work for them. I decided I could support them all instead of just one of them. And so just like that, my consulting business was off and running.  I incorporated a year or so later and started occasionally hiring subcontractors to complete larger projects as my small business grew along with my income.

I started off in my home with the plan of growing into a larger company with maybe a few employees or more. However, I soon realized that my talents and even interests were definitely not in running a large business or being a personnel manager. I prefer the engineering design tasks and not sitting around a conference table hammering out a budget. Anyway, I was clearing six figures and still got to sneak out for a weekday afternoon round of golf every now and then. I didn’t have to tell a sole or answer to anyone. Life and career were good!

Then, the housing bubble collapsed, the stock market crashed, and the recession ensued. I think everybody remembers well enough how that whole thing went down.  In fact, my company’s business reports pretty much follow the exact same lines I see on graphs of the economy overall during that time and really even today. Business hit a low point a few years ago. For the first time in my entire life, I had to sit down and make a decision about which of our bills I was going to skip payment on this month. I am sure I am not the only one reading this who knows how bad that sucks. Luckily, like I touched on before, we had good credit, so I transferred a couple of high rate cards to low intro APR card and we managed to weather the storm with only a few late fees, and no hit on our credit, barely.

Like for the country as a whole, the recovery for my business has been way too slow. Even today, although steadily employed and even though signs say things are improving, the hourly rate that I am able to command for my services is approximately 40% less than it was not long ago, as is my income. I guess I should be furious at Obama. The industry that I work in certainly is. There is no doubt that the world of corporate aviation has been turned upside down as have the lives of a heck of a lot of us that work in the industry. It certainly did not help when the entire group of bank CEO’s showed up at congress to beg for money each arriving in an individual private jet. They still got paid and Obama and the Democrats pounced. Just like that, the life of an average-Joe corporate jet engineer changed in a political instant.

I had to get creative, I shifted my business focus away from jets and picked up some work in the general aviation and helicopter markets although they pay quite a bit less. We also adjusted or budget. I brown bag it a little more often, we have kept the same vehicles, and old countertops, and unfortunately we have had to cut out a scuba diving vacation or two. I also often find that my mid-week round of golf is at the muni with a coupon if I can find one. Tough changes and cuts to make for sure, but to be honest even describing this makes me feel a bit uncomfortable and selfish.

Where Obama-care is the rallying cry for most, “User-Fees” are the rallying cry for the angry righties in my world.  You see, under Obama, the government proposed a $100 fee, per flight, for all corporate jets. Because, as we know, the government is broke, this was an effort to help offset the cost to airports, air traffic control, and the impact to the environment when you have a relative few people zooming circles around the rest of us packed liked sardines in a 747. Makes sense I think, but the CEO’s and giant companies don’t seem to be as comfortable sacrificing as my wife and I. As you can imagine, asking millionaires and billionaires to pay a little more has caused quite the commotion. So, just exactly like the healthcare industry that has been in trouble long before anyone signed Obama-care, User-Fees were the ammunition that my industry used to rally the foot soldiers into believing that Obama and his crippling new tax were going to shut down the entire industry. My email inbox and professional publications wanted to make it very clear that the slowdown of my industry has nothing to do with the economy, nothing to do with the wars, nothing to do with the stock market, and nothing to do with the incredibly deep recession the entire country found itself smack in the middle of. Nope, for us it was these $100 User-Fees. And every mechanic in my industry that got laid off became very familiar with the term as well as Obama’s part in it. Like Obama-care this hasn’t even gone in to effect but the shear threat of it was enough to feed the hungry fear monster. I guess I should be outraged as well right? Obama and these taxes are killing those that could be creating jobs for me. Nice try.

User-Fees, like Obama-care, have absolutely nothing to do with the overall issues we are facing. Once again, the numbers simply do not add up. These words are just the sword being used. You see, I am a critical thinker. I am not saying that a $100/flight user fee is not going to have some impact on the bottom line for more than a few companies. I am sure it will. Sorry if I don’t drop on my hands and knees and cry, “oh the humanity!”, but at the same time I am also certain that more and more private jets at major airports do affect the bottom line of the government run air traffic control system as well. Why shouldn’t they be asked to pay more tax as they ask more from the government? I guess maybe unlike others, I have also spent a bit too much time watching $15 million dollar business jets burn $100 worth of jet fuel just idling on the taxi-way while the mini-bar is restocked.

So I guess maybe this is why I am so sensitive about all of the whining and complaining I see on social media from people that have wealth many could only imagine.  My family has taken a pretty substantial hit in the income department in recent years. But for some reason, instead of crying about how my six figure income is no longer even close to six figures, I decided instead to write a series of blogs about just how damn lucky I really am to have any figures at all, and I meant every word I wrote.

I probably am too harsh on my friends and the whiners in this country. Yes, it is frustrating when your work and the economy suffer, and yes, making sacrifices in life is not always easy. Neither is seeing your candidate loose. Trust me, I know very well what 2004 felt like.

I believe that a lot of what we are actually seeing is back lash from the fact that for the first time in the history of this country, white men are finding themselves not quite as high on the old totem poll as they once were. White men in the country have a pretty long history of getting what they want at any cost. Just ask the Native Americans. In recent years we have also not been asked to sacrifice nearly as much as minorities, women, and certainly not as much as the rest of the world as the economy dips around us. At least not the men of my generation. The voting numbers in the last two elections have pointed out a pretty interesting shift. I think way more than anything, the social media rhetoric, the all-out, full-force cries about the death of America, and the finger pointing actually point to one simple explanation. White men are losing their power in this country, and they are freaking out about it in one pretty furious, big baby fit.

I think everybody loves the idea of democracy. “One vote one person” is exactly how it should be, but for quite a few in this country, it seems the love affair with democracy may have hit a roadblock. The once almighty and all powerful are finding themselves a slight minority. What is best for the majority of the country, for the first time, may not be what is best for Mr. Pearly White. Previously, when a recession hit, or layoff numbers shot up, for the most part, Mr. White experienced only a minor inconvenience while others, with a little less collective power took it a little harder in the rear. Since, I am part of that new minority, I guess I should be upset or scared too. I am not. Like I said in my title, it is the end of America as we know it…and I do feel fine. You see, I have found that life does not work very well when I don’t feel fine and when I think in narrow self-focused terms. If my country or a majority of people in it are suffering, who am I to believe that I should not suffer along with her taking the lumps I have coming?

To be honest, I am not real certain what the next decade has in store for us and I would not be entirely surprised if things do get even worse. It certainly doesn’t help to shiver in fear, or cry about how unfair things are. Take a look around you. When has life ever been fair?

If ten years from now, my wife and I find ourselves living in a van, down by the river, I will feel fine then too. Instead of yelling out the window about how my situation is someone else’s fault, I will be writing a note about just how lucky I am to have that van, my wife, compassion, love, and my clear and present mind. I will mean every word I write, and on that day, as I am today, I will be the wealthiest man in the world.

It’s the End of America as We Know it…And I Feel Fine!

A day after the election, the doomsday nuts are out in full force, more than I would have even guessed. On Facebook today here are just a few of my personal favorites:

  1. “America will never be the same. We are so screwed”
  2. “I’m convinced that America as we’ve know her died tonight”
  3. “America is officially dead and will never be strong again.”
  4. “America died last night. And my grandchildren will never know how great we once were.”
  5. “Guess I better plan on going back to being an “employee” of someone rather than running my own business. Depressing!!”

The first four were cracking me up, but I think #5 is the most telling. Sure he was kidding but still, in response to about how business is today, the answer in another post was “Our business is fine and going strong.” As an entrepreneur that also has a business that has been “fine” and “going strong” under Obama’s first term, I think this perfectly highlights the unbelievable high level that the rhetoric has reached. Given the sheer numbers actually out of work and suffering in the recession, I simply cannot imagine being so crass. I think the biggest irony is that every one of those came from self-proclaimed Christians. What would Jesus think? I think he might tell them they are being a little self-absorbed and then leave to help the poor and to spread the message of love and compassion.

As usual, and I guess not surprising, is that Obama-care and welfare in general is still the resounding rallying cry of the right. I am always surprised that this bill has generated this amount of focus and public attention. Yes, you can debate the relative worth, but when you hear the rhetoric about how it will bankrupt the country, and end life as we know it, you have to scratch your head because the numbers simply do not add up. That is usually when I flip on Fox News and realize, oh, I forgot about them.

As a self-employed entrepreneur, I have been purchasing my own health insurance on the open market for the last 10 years or more.  The amount that I have paid monthly into the system over that time is tremendous. I went to the doctor one time a few years ago to have a boil lanced but I did not come close to exceeding my deductible for that year. I did get some form of health care from a guy that helped me devise an exercise program to help me with the genetic lower back disorder I inherited. None of that was covered by my insurance and I paid it all out of pocket. The surgery that I am working hard to try not have in the future will be covered 100% and I am sure they could happily be slicing and dicing me in under a week, no questions asked. I guess I should be happy that I am protected by the greatest health-care system in the World. My back is a little nervous about that though.

I also pay for a yearly blood test out of pocket and I am in perfect health, except for my back. I am meticulous about exercise, diet and wellness and my wife and I have both taken advantages of alternative care and wellness services so that we can stay as healthy as we can, as long as we can. Again, all out of pocket and not covered by insurance.

So, what I would like, is for someone to explain to me why exactly I should be outraged about Obama-care? When you consider just how much money I have forked out for health-care in the past ten years for medical care I did not receive, why exactly should I be more outraged about having to pay for a surgery to save the life of a poor lady that got hit by a car, than I am about having to pay for a surgery to make it physically impossible for a wealthy fat lady to eat five Whoppers? And when you consider that I already am paying for the care of the uninsured poor lady on the back end with my ever increasing insurance dollars, and that the lady, that was already too poor to buy insurance, is now going through an expensive public bankruptcy process, the outrage becomes even more of a critical thinking mystery. Unless I guess, you are hoping the uninsured just don’t bother going to the hospital to save themselves. In that case you are correct, the current system probably does save a few dollars. I guess that is better than socialism?

In a world where most people get their health insurance through their employer as a benefit, I think it is difficult for them to understand how much they each already are paying for socialized health-care for, pretty much every single citizen less the few that Obama-care picks up in an effort to curb the cost we already pay for the uninsured. If people had insurance expenses taken out of their paycheck like I do instead of off the top as a company “benefit”, I think the obvious path toward a public option would face little opposition.

Only in a public option framework can we then move toward a more reasonable and productive system where health-care providers are not compensated by the number of procedures or drugs they sell, but instead by the number of procedures or drugs they help their patients avoid. They wouldn’t be penalized for treating ill patients but there would be an incentive for patient wellness where there simply is not in the current system. And if as a patient in a public system, I have an option to meet wellness goals to lower my tax that might work well for me too. In fact, the incentive is actually the opposite for for-profit health-care providers. With a little new motivation, I have a strong feeling that quite a few health-care providers will start finding surprising new ways to motivate their patients, and quite a few of those “last resort” bariatric surgeries might not be needed; and neither will a good number of the dollars I currently spend paying for them. In a for-profit entrepreneurial reality, those bariatric surgeries are an absolute gold mine. That is just one example. Please feel free to do your own critical thinking on other scenarios.

Is this line of reasoning that difficult to accept on a critical thinking level? What exactly am I missing? And sorry, your answer cannot be “Obama-care is Socialism” or “Obama-care is killing America”, although I do realize that limits your options.

An Election Day Walk

On Election Day 2012, I started my day, as I do most, with a cup of black coffee and a little morning news. But this morning, I also had another task of filling out my election ballot. You see, in Colorado, we have this crazy thing called mail in balloting. Many years ago, I went online and changed my voter registration preference to “always mail”, and ever since, my ballot arrives in the mail, and I can either mail it back or drop it off at my convenience and after I have a chance to research all that I am voting for. No cumbersome absentee process, voting booths or hanging chad. It is very simple and it makes me wonder why morning news headlines are still detailing voting issues across the country. How stupid? I am pretty familiar with most of the ballot issues and candidates so the process is more of a formality for me than a big new deliberation. There was a time in life when I took this less seriously and when I tended to read ballot issues for the first time standing behind a curtain, late for work.

As I opened the ballot I was at first struck by the fact that the entire ballot was printed in both English and Spanish. Although it may have been the case, I don’t recall this before, and I thought for a minute about just how angry this will make some people in my state. I then replaced that with a thought about how good it feels to instead be happy for the fact that a larger number of citizens will be able to intelligently exercise their right to vote this year. I also thought about how not long ago, I was not even aware that I had a choice about how I feel, and that my reaction can actually be a conscious decision, and not a selfish, thoughtless reflex.

I actually had an easier time voting for Obama this year than I did four years ago. No, I am not satisfied with the state of our country’s economy or government and I am definitely not pleased with the Democratic Party. But unlike most of the US that seems to just knee jerk, and always kick the current guys out when things are tough, I actually watched the last four years very closely. I watched the actions and the rhetoric of the President, and I also closely watched the actions and rhetoric of the Republicans in congress as well as those working on that GOP machine. I watched a concerted effort of large scale, and considerable money to undermine any, and every, effort the President made to govern. It reminds me a lot of the end of Clinton’s first term. I, and all my conservative friends and family, were just outraged and astounded that Bill Clinton and his radical socialist agenda could possibly be re-elected. Exact the same message you can hear about Obama within 5 minutes of flipping on Fox News today. All the while, we were bathing in the glory of a remarkably good economy, relative world peace, and an unprecedented balanced budget in government that was a marked change from the Republican he replaced. Oh the humanity. Clinton was the worse president in history. At least that is what I always heard on the radio and TV at the end of Clinton’s first term. Sounds familiar doesn’t it.

To be fair, left wingers did exactly the same. They warned of incompetence, cronyism, and complete disastrous repercussions if we elected Bush. Two illegal wars based on false pretense, unthinkable death, destruction and murder, mystery weapons of mass destruction, unjustifiable tax cuts to the wealthy, constitutional bans on gay marriage, no child left untested, 911, government sponsored torcher, botched Katrina, housing market collapse, worldwide financial system meltdown, bank bailouts, unemployment and job losses going to record levels, deep recession. Good times and memories! That was a hell of an 8 years for the GOP. Especially considering where they started. Oh, but I forgot, Clinton and Obama are radical socialists.

In addition to the President, I marked the ballot for state officials, congressman and judges.  I also voted on issues to fund our public school system to add back previous unavoidable cuts in the arts. Even though I do not have children, I voted in favor of additional taxation upon myself for education spending even for expendable pursuits such as the arts. Not because I think that public schools are doing a great job, and that they should be rewarded, and not because I think my taxes are too low. I do it because I am more than aware that the public school system needs more resources; not a redirection of resources away, toward private schools that favor the wealthy. I am also very aware of how the long term benefits of public educational spending outweigh the short term penny pinching excuses for why education spending today is somehow excessive.

Like a few other states, I also voted on a Marijuana legalization measure. In my state, like many others, we already have legalized medical marijuana, but this amendment seeks to further legalize and regulate the sale similar to laws in place regulating alcohol sales. This amendment also sends the first 40 million of tax revenue directly to our public schools. I also support this measure as well as almost any grass roots effort to challenge the archaic Federal laws that affect an individual’s civil liberties and that perpetuate the failed drug war. Outdated drug laws also mire our penal system and needlessly ruin countless lives in an endless cycle of unthinkably expensive insanity that also severely jeopardizes the security of our nation’s borders. The opposition said that medical Marijuana legalization would bring crime and chaos to the city streets of Denver. We now have medical dispensaries more common than Starbucks and the threats and fear campaign against, just did not turn out to be true in the least. This is one of the few votes I cast, that actually felt very nice and easy. Not an ounce of second thought.

As the sun warmed the day, with my ballot in hand, I decided, as I did on Election Day 2008, to walk the mile or so to my nearest ballot drop off location on another mild fall day in Denver. As I did four years ago, I walked alone. No wife or dogs and not a word said. I also made a specific commitment to stay in the present during my trip. No background thoughts about the work email, or phone call I might be missing. No bitter feelings toward any ridiculous Facebook propaganda a friend recently forwarded and no excessive dwelling on the past or future for more than a second before moving on. I walk my dogs nearly an hour every day so the neighborhood, sights and sounds are not exactly new, but as it did four years ago; my neighborhood appeared quite different to me on this day.

I passed by my local elementary school and I considered all of the teachers and students that pass through those halls and the immensely important and often insurmountable challenges that they face every day. I thought about the fact that almost every parent I know, with money in my neighborhood, drives their kid to a private school farther away. I thought about how much better this school would be if that were not the case and if instead, those parents were active in making their public school better. Those, like my wife and my mother, that dedicate their career to making a difference for children that have absolutely no connection to them, are the true hero’s in our society. They are the ones that must be the priority of our government. Educators are the true job creators and where our economic stimulus dollars should be focused. The attacks from the right against teachers, unions, and public education have been hard for my wife and me to stomach. I moved on and thought about my wife, my mom, and my own elementary school experience.

I walked near the ever expanding hospital complex and watched as huge cranes erect ongoing large scale expansion near my home. I marvel at a private corporate capitalistic business that, unlike most in this country, is booming and expanding at a furious pace. The expansion has also brought these great new “parks” adjacent to the hospitals. They are large grassy areas complete with benches, and doggy cleanup stations. Only these are not public parks, they are owned by the private hospital, and part of the agreements they have with the city as part of the expansion plan. Unlike the public funded parks nearby that are underfunded, uncared for, and infested with stickers and weeds that stick in my dogs foot, these parks are lush, green, and in perfect condition. The hospitals have a lot more money than the government in my city. I guess that should be argument for private healthcare, but as much as I like these hospital parks, I am not so sure I like what it actually represents. At least my dog can crap without standing in a patch of thistle. I guess this is the way of the future where private companies do what the government use to do. It is hard to ignore the potential down side of this type of arrangement.

This leads me to think a second about the increasingly poor health statistics that unfortunately fuel this unprecedented economic growth in the medical, hospital industry. I also think for a moment about those lying in bed on the other side of those walls. As if catastrophic health problems are not enough, it is hard not to think about just how many are also dealing with the reality that their health problems, and lack of insurance, could very well, financially cripple them and their family, irreversibly, for the rest of their lives. That is, if they survive, or even bother to go to the hospital in time. I can only imagine. How can they erect new buildings research centers and parking garages if they keep treating the uninsured for free? Not my problem or responsibility right? Those people should have chosen to buy health insurance for $500 a month like I do. What is that matter with poor people anyway?

I also wonder just how many patients suffering from pain and nausea are being drugged and are starving to death, in a complete stupor, with such extremely addictive and powerful drugs as opiates and morphine while others, just blocks away, are in an all-out war trying to ensure that the same patients do not have access to a natural, harmless, plant-based, home remedy that could absolutely provide meaningful relief, with far fewer harmful chemical side effects, and at a fraction of the cost. But then again, how can they erect new buildings research centers and parking garages if people could simply grow their own medicne in their back yard. I moved on, both physically and with my thoughts.

I walked a bit further and paused while a watched group of men tearing a whole in the street in an ongoing effort to replace all of the aging gas lines from the road to thousands of houses in the city of Denver. I recognized the same guys working as the ones that were doing the work at my house a couple of months ago. Steady job it seems. Seeing how far they had gotten, for a moment, I had a sheer understanding of the enormous complexity and unbelievable and impressive capacity of our public works and infrastructure system. I thought about how all the neighbors have been complaining about the inconvenience of parking, and dirt, and road closures. And about having to pay tax. I thought about all of the anti-government propaganda from all of my Facebook friends about how government is the problem and that we have to eliminate it or privatize the function. Then, for a moment, I considered the alternative, and I felt bad for just how much we take for granted during our everyday lives as US citizens. Yes, we pay too much tax and yes, our government is often dysfunctional with spending, but do we ever appreciate what it does provide ,or do we even have a concept of how often it does not fail, even on some fairly complicated endeavors? What would life be like without government in a system where everyone pays their own way? How many miles of aging gas lines were replaced this summer in Denver with only mild disruption to the hundreds of thousands that live here? I moved on, although slightly out of my path to avoid the damn construction.

My redirection passed me by my neighborhoods’ “Senior Support Center”. The typical long line out front is usually an image that us city dwellers have become immune to, but today, I spent an extra second looking at the wrinkled faces standing in that line, waiting for a handout. I thought about who they were, how they got there, and what life for them must be like as they age and as their health begins, or continues to fail. Obviously these are part of the 47% that are not the concern of Romney and his camp. Mooching off the tax payer and living the good life of free food and medicine. No one can convince them to “take responsibility for their own lives”. Funny, but the looks on the faces in that line sure didn’t reflect any great option I could see.  I thought about how thankful that I was that my parents and grandparents are not the ones standing on line outside, in November, at a senior support center to get food, clothes, or medicine. I pictured what life would be like if they were. I thought about for how many, this is the reality. I shivered as I humbly moved on.

I passed a couple of Mexican guys working on a car. I always find it funny that no matter how big and tough or tattooed or serious some of these guys look; they almost always are playing this very loud carnival like Mariachi music. I smiled and said hello as I passed and again smiled as the thumping base of another passing car playing gansta’ rap caused my heart to stop beating momentarily. The black driver was wearing a hoodie. I shook off the effects of the bass. I watched as another guy rode by on an undersized bike, holding a baby under his arm like a football.  I am sure such a scene makes some people cringe. It makes me feel at home, as does the broken bottle of King Kobra Malt liquor that I ignored and stepped over as I moved on.

As I walked, I glanced down an alley and made very momentary eye contact with another gentleman slowly pushing a shopping cart full of aluminum cans and scrap metal. I recognized him like I do many of the transients around the neighborhood. We have names for them like “Blue Sweatshirt” and “Shifty Eyes”. I feel guilty as I contemplate how not human they are to me on most days. Shifty Eyes looked more human to me today, as I moved on.

I passed a soul food restaurant that was packed full of white businessmen scarfing down pork bar-b-q and collard greens. I passed my fire station and I thought momentarily about the terrible tragedy on the east coast and the heroes that make a difference for so many.  I thought about how often I see that fire station but how little it actually affects my life. Usually only when all the fire house guys are at the grocery store stocking up on corn chips and animatedly yuckin’ it up with the staff and store patrons. Watching the news reminds me of how my relationship to those guys could change in an instant, as can my life and health. I moved on towards my destination.

I watched a young lady sprinting full speed about two blocks trying to catch the light rail train that slowly pulled away as she pounded the side of the closing door, cursing breathlessly. I considered how crucial public transportation is to some, and what a nice clean feature a light rail system is for those in urban settings. I also thought about how crazily desperate that lady seemed to be about getting on that train. I checked around to make sure she wasn’t being chased, and when I didn’t see anything, I complimented her on her speed and agility. She smiled and slumped down onto a bench dejected, and I presume late. I thought about the fact that my wife and I should use public transportation more often than we do. I thought about my SUV parked at home and my wife’s car parked, like it is most days, unused at the airport parking lot while she is away for work. I thought about how lucky we are, as I moved on.

I noticed the rack of red city bikes on the corner. We have this great city wide program where all you have to do is swipe a credit card and you can check out a pretty nice bicycle for a reasonable daily or hourly rate. The first hour is always free and you can return it at any station around town. Pretty cool way to get around the city, although it is somewhat controversial because only people with money and credit have access to the bike program. In other words, guys like me with two cars are the ones that end up using them to ride to a baseball game for $8, cheaper than parking, but for the people that really could use them in their daily lives, those red bikes might as well be Mercedes Benz’s.

Next, I passed a medical Marijuana dispensary with a big green cross and bright red “Open” sign. A guy walked out with a brown paper bag full of schedule one illegal narcotics and committed a felony under Federal Law. He got in his car and drove away. He was a middle aged white guy with a golf shirt tucked into jeans. A peaceful transaction in broad daylight and in plain sight of a policeman in his car parked only blocks away. State taxes were collected on the sale and state and federal taxes were paid on the generated income from a plant grown organically, and then sold and consumed locally. All against the law of our Federal government. And best of all, unlike the weed most people buy and smoke in this country, no Cops in Mexico got their head chopped off in order to make this transaction possible.  I wondered if the full legalization amendment on the ballot will pass and what that might lead to if it does. I moved on.

Finally I arrived at my destination, the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, where, like four years ago, I cast my vote for the first African American President in our country’s history. I took a moment to contemplate this as well as how far we have come in race relations in many parts of this country, and how far we still have to go in others. I also contemplated the brilliant and important role public libraries have played in the advancement of our society and the education of its citizens. I wondered if this library was a place for African Americans to do research, or if it was a place for everyone to research African Americans. Based on what I have seen, it is a little of both.  I thought about my mom who is a librarian in a public elementary school, and I felt proud.

As I dropped my ballot in the box, I also considered how truly lucky I am to live in a neighborhood where black and white, Hispanic and Asian, young and old and even rich and poor live together in relative harmony. There are no large gates separating the million dollar homes from the subsidized housing, and likewise there is very little animosity or conflict between races or classes. I have spent enough time in other parts of the country to appreciate how unique this is. Traveling outside of the city limits of Denver by even a mile seems to cause this formula of harmony to break down very quickly. So many of our country’s political, international and even economic problems could be solved if people just let go of their fear and judgment of those that are different or unknown to them. I am confident my vote is a vote forward for our country toward the type of racial and class harmony we enjoy in the city of Denver and away from division, segregation, and the fear based hate that I see so commonly in other regions.

As I complete the process for yet another election, as usual, I am more confident that I made the right vote than I am that either candidate will have success moving the country forward in a meaningful manor. With the help of the conservative justices on the Supreme Court, the corporate money and influence will not dry up, and neither will the associated all-out efforts of one Party to undermine the other. With insane no tax pledges, and under new well timed Filibuster rules in Congress I don’t see much getting done.  Clearly, compromise in Congress has been relegated to political history and my primary voting concern is that we don’t launch any new wars.

I also realize that community involvement in politics does not start and stop on Election Day. I like too many others have spent much of my life on the sideline in political debate, crippled with fear about who I might offend and simply going along with the crowd, and popular propaganda. I intend to continue my change, away from silence and fear and onward and forward, regardless of whom is elected or whom I offend. I hope others do the same, as make no mistake, if we stay silent in political discourse our silence and subsequent thoughts will be replaced by the hypnotic message of corporate influence and big money propaganda. As difficult as the political discussion and discourse can be, the alternative is government, not by the people with the most reasonable argument, but instead, by the corporation with the most money to back up its agenda. It is not just our vote that can make a difference, but also our intellectual curiosity followed by brave voices that will bring about the change we all desperately desire.

Election 2012 is over. I moved on, and so did the world around me.