RJ's Corner

Meet the new workers’ movement that is terrifying the wealthy and the powerful

2015-03-30_09-35-17They aren’t actually anything new, just a variation on long-standing labor-organizing practices that have come back into prominence. “Micro union” is a recently coined term of art for bargaining units that encompass one category of workers at a business — the cosmetics workers at a Macy’s, for example — instead of the more traditional model of organizing all the workers for the business into one single bargaining unit. In 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided a group of certified nursing assistants at a nursing home constituted an appropriate bargaining unit in themselves, in a decision called Specialty Healthcare. In 2013, that decision got the stamp of approval from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In 2014, the NLRB applied its logic to the aforementioned Macy’s cosmetics workers. Since then, union critics and business interests have been scrambling to respond. Retail industry groups told The Hill that the NLRB’s Macy’s decision would “pave the way for micro unions at thousands of retail stores around the country.” Isakson has made multiple attempts to pass his bill rolling back NLRB’s decisions, with the backing of GOP heavy-hitters like Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

SOURCE: Meet the new workers’ movement that is terrifying the wealthy and the powerful.

Micro-breweries are quite the rage right now and I admit I am one of their fans.  When we travel I often order local beers when I come across them. It is nice to see these types of cottage-industries rising up again. It is even nicer to see the micro trends more to work unions. One of the big problems with unions in the last half century or so is that they just grew too powerful for their own good.  They quit looking out for the workers and instead become just anti-owner organizations.

You don’t need giant unions to help you get your fair share from an employer. micro-unions seem to be a natural evolution in employee-employer relationships. But the thing that will make micro-unions effective is that all workers in an indirect way support the right of an employee to address grievances with their employer. They do that by not frequenting establishments that lord it over their workers. They do it by not rushing in to snap up a job after a worker has been fired.  Money talks…

The sad thing in the last few decades is that American business have been thriving with increased sales but not sharing their prosperity with the ones who generate it. We seem to be a owner-society now. Those with the money demand more and more of the pie. I hope micro-unions will reverse this trend…

Fashion is Out….

High Heels 1This is no longer a trend – it is now a lifestyle that is too comfortable, for consumers of all ages, for it to go away anytime soon,” he said. Millennials’ tendency to rent instead of buy is also turning the retail industry upside down.

SOURCE: Rebellious millennials are turning into a huge problem for retailers – Yahoo Finance.

It appears from the above article that millennials (19 -35 years olds) are turning away from “fashion” and its annual almost dictated changes. They are giving up the high heels, yes especially the seven-inch ones, for more comfortable athletic shoes.  They insist on not be dictated to as to what they wear or own.  And to that I say “Good for you”.

I have read elsewhere that the suit and tie standards are dropping rather dramatically across the business world. Marketing is a very powerful force in any capitalistic society. What will happen when most of us become immune to their dictates?

Special courts…

Around the country, special courts are set up for former military members who have been charged with crimes after returning to civilian life, and who may be struggling with PTSD. Judges, lawyers, probation officers and others work together to treat or punish each defendant. Special correspondent Spencer Michels reports on how the new approach can offer troubled veterans a path forward…. JUDGE JEFFREY ROSS: Our goal is to find an outcome which will both prevent recidivism, keep the public safe, keep the victims from being re-victimized, but also deal with the person’s background and the reasons he that he committed the violent conduct that we were just addressing. SPENCER MICHELS: Using federal grants, as well a local funds, courts rely on the VA to coordinate physical and mental care, plus weekly court dates for vets in trouble. It’s up to the vet to comply. KYONG YI, Department of Veterans Affairs: We often meet with the veteran when they’re in custody, develop a plan for where they’re going to go when they’re coming out, especially if they’re homeless.

SOURCE:  Special courts take on criminal cases of troubled veterans.

It is about time our criminal justice system returned to treating those who break the law because of circumstances some say are beyond their control differently.  It is good to hear that many veterans are being treated instead of incarcerated. I’m sure PSTD has deadly effects of some of our returning soldiers. But are the vets the only ones who could benefit from this special judicial attention?

Couldn’t these same sets of parameters apply who those who grew up in abusive families, or those due who live are in areas with destructive gangs. Couldn’t taking into account these conditions also result in less recidivism? Wouldn’t it be great if this new way of looking at returning soldiers’ crimes could be applied to others.

Just giving special attention to someone, rather than just shoveling them through the system, almost always has positive effects.  This phenomenon is known as the “Hawthorn Effect” was discovered almost a hundred years ago in a Western Electric plant near Chicago. Here is a little about that from Wiki:

The Hawthorne effect (also referred to as the observer effect) is a type of reactivity in which individuals improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed

The crux of the message is that if you pay special attention to people they will usually react positively. I am very glad to see special attention given to our very distressed returning vets and would like to see that applied to a much wider variety of our citizens….

Free-Range Kids??

2015-03-30_08-52-18Peanut allergies are one of the most common forms of food allergy among American children. And the last two decades have seen a dramatic rise in the number of cases. It’s estimated that today 2 percent of all children are allergic to peanuts, four times the number as recently as 1997. And it’s the leading cause of death from food allergies. For parents, of course, a key question, how to avoid the risk to their children. And now comes a new twist. A study published in “The New England Journal of Medicine,” it finds that exposing higher-risk infants to peanut products greatly reduced the risk of developing an allergy later on.

SOURCE:  Feeding infants peanuts could reverse dramatic allergy rise.

I think that when the first two decades of the 21st century goes down into the annals of American history it will be know as the “Age of Fear”. They will describe it as a time when we let fear drive us to a higher degree than any time before (and hopefully since).  Of course that probably started with 9/11. After all it was the first time that so many of our citizens were killed in a single day by someone from beyond our shores.

It seems kind of ironic that our fear that our children might be allergic to peanuts is the reason that so many of them are allergic to peanuts. I’m sure that I, like probably everyone in my generation, was given my first taste of peanut butter as an infant. And I’m  pretty sure that I loved it and ate many PB&J sandwiches before I reached puberty.

Is it now impossible for parents to raise “free-range” kids? Must we protect them from every possible danger out there? I was a free-range kid. I often spent my days roaming the neighborhood seeing what kind of trouble I could get into. :)  I can’t image kids being so sheltered today that they can’t do the same.  It is ironic that what we fear from peanuts we may actually make happen because of our fear.  That is kind of like those folks who refuse to get immunizations for their kids because they fear that it causes other problems.

Fear is a very powerful thing for many I guess.

The Age of Disbelief

My wife is one of those people who if something doesn’t sound logical it must not be true. For example she absolutely refuses to believe in statistics of any form. I on the other hand have a very scientific nature. I am always trying to look at things for different angles. That is a basic difference between us and a very basic difference between many of us in the U.S.  It is nothing new.. Below is an excerpt from an article from National Geographic about this phenomenon.

2015-03-21_13-57-06The world crackles with real and imaginary hazards, and distinguishing the former from the latter isn’t easy. Should we be afraid that the Ebola virus, which is spread only by direct contact with bodily fluids, will mutate into an airborne superplague? The scientific consensus says that’s extremely unlikely: No virus has ever been observed to completely change its mode of transmission in humans, and there’s zero evidence that the latest strain of Ebola is any different. But type “airborne Ebola” into an Internet search engine, and you’ll enter a dystopia where this virus has almost supernatural powers, including the power to kill us all. In this bewildering world we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that. In principle that’s what science is for. “Science is not a body of facts,” says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science,the prestigious journal. “Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.” But that method doesn’t come naturally to most of us. And so we run into trouble, again and again…. The trouble goes way back, of course. The scientific method leads us to truths that are less than self-evident, often mind-blowing, and sometimes hard to swallow. In the early 17th century, when Galileo claimed that the Earth spins on its axis and orbits the sun, he wasn’t just rejecting church doctrine. He was asking people to believe something that defied common sense—because it sure looks like the sun’s going around the Earth, and you can’t feel the Earth spinning. Galileo was put on trial and forced to recant.

SOURCE: Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science? – National Geographic Magazine.

Accepting things that don’t seem logical is difficult for many of us. Who would have believed even twenty years ago that we could put the entire Christian Bible on something smaller than the head of a pin? But that is commonly accepted fact, even though not really understood, today. I am a very techie type person but the things I have seen in my lifetime even astounds me.  Being a scientist I thoroughly appreciate scientific method as being a process and not a body of facts. It is a way to get at the truth and not the truth itself.

There are many around today that doubt almost everything about science but have no problem using the things that science has provided them. I believe a big part of this doubt come from those who cling to a literal interpretations of the religious documents. Much of what they see in those documents has been discounted by science. That is a direct threat to them so they stubbornly refuse to believe anything science shows.

Another big problem for many is that they don’t take the time to learn much of the “scientific discovery” they see is just our 24 hour media outlets trying to find something to report.  They find a small article income obscure place that come to an outrageous conclusion and then report it as fact. It takes work to determine what is valid science and what is bogus. Neither the news media nor many of us bother to discern the difference.

I Am Ashamed Of My Native State…

2015-04-03_08-24-43I am ashamed of the State of my birth and where I have lived most of my life. But, this isn’t the first time. Indiana for most of my life has been a very conservative red State who embarrasses me on a regular basis.  The Republicans now have total power and they are wielding it. The latest “religious freedom” law is just one example. It sounds like we are now going to have placards placed on business doors saying which potential customers are not allowed to enter their business.  It reminds me kind of like my youth when I saw signs saying “No Negroes” when we traveled in the south. That embarrassed me even at that young age but at least I could say that didn’t happen in “my” State.

I don’t know how big Salesforce company it but once again Indiana is pushing people out by their actions.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said Wednesday that he is helping employees who are uncomfortable with Indiana’s controversial religious freedom law to transfer out of the state….

“I just got an email on the way to studio from another employee who said, ‘look I don’t feel comfortable living in this state anymore, you have to move me out,’ and I gave him a $50,000 relocation package and said, ‘great, you’re clear to go.’ “

SOURCE:Salesforce CEO: We’re helping employees move out of Indiana – Yahoo Finance.

Eli Lilly which practically owns Indianapolis is also stating concerns. I don’t know if Governor Pense and his GOP congress will get the message or not. They just might change the law but that doesn’t mean they will change their attitudes towards those who are different from them.

Maybe I need to consider if I am going to spend my final years in the State of my birth. I know my leaving would not make much of a difference but it might symbolically mean something to me….

Weighing Nuclear Option…

2015-03-16_09-11-08“We were ready to do it”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he considered putting the country’s vast nuclear arsenal on alert to prevent outside agents from stopping the Kremlin’s forced annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine last year.

Putin’s admission was aired during a prerecorded documentary called Homeward Bound, which was broadcast on a state-backed television network Sunday in the run-up to the first anniversary of Crimea’s annexation later this week.

SOURCE: Vladimir Putin Admits to Weighing Nuclear Option During Crimea Conflict | TIME.

During our 30+ years of the Cold War and the nuclear standoff with the USSR a strategy was developed by the west called MAD. It stood for “Mutually Assured Destruction”. It went something like this. If the USSR bombs us with a nuclear weapon we will send off our entire nuclear arsenal on them and that will basically ensure that both countries, and probably the rest of the world, would be totally destroyed. The USSR then said we will do the same to you.  I’m sure that was constantly on the minds of both country’s leaders during those times.

Why do we constantly fear another country, rogue or not getting a nuclear weapon? The sixty year old technology is pretty much known to all the world’s scientists now. It is just a matter of getting the materials together to build one. We need a different deterrent to stop the spread of nuclear weapons than just trade embargoes and such. We need TAD, “Totally Assured Destruction”. That is the statement signed by all, or almost all, countries that says that if you use a nuclear weapon on another country the rest of the world will do whatever it takes to insure that your country is totally destroyed. No “if”, “ands” or “buts”. Your country is toast.

Can you image a hundred war machines immediately charging into Iran for example because they used a nuclear bomb on Israel. Would they really want to use a bomb under those circumstances? Of course part of this new tactic would require that the rest of the world start carrying their share of military might and that the US trim down our totally dominate war machine.  But wouldn’t that be a win-win scenario for everyone.

Let’s enact TAD and stop all these political games of one-upmanship that goes around a country buying aluminum cylinders..  Stop the current stupidity and come out plainly with “You use a nuclear bomb and your country will cease to exist”.

Occam’s Razor is a widely known theory that in its most basic form is “Keep things simple!“. That should apply here. We have prevented possible aggression with NATO in the past. Now it is time for TAD

Enough said….

Tough Love… The Consequences Of Your Actions…

In order to assure his victory Netanyahu flatly said there would be no Palestinian State while he was prime minister. Those words just might result in some tough love for US/Israeli relations. Bibi might finally realize that his actions have consequences.

The current day Israel was at least partially created by a United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 back in 1947 which mandated a two state solution for the Palestinian territory. There have been several attempts in recent years for the UN to once again declare a two state solution to the problem but the U.S. has threatened a veto each time to prevent it from happening.  The good news is that the we might finally back away from that resistance and allow the UN to try to enforce a two State solution.  So, Maybe some good news will result from the recent Israeli re-election. We can only pray that Bibi’s gun is finally taken away from him….

2015-03-20_09-07-51The White House, unmoved by Netanyahu’s effort to backtrack, delivered a fresh rebuke against him on Thursday and signaled that Washington may reconsider its decades-old policy of shielding close ally Israel from international pressure at the United Nations…. Among the most serious risks for Israel would be a shift in Washington’s posture at the United Nations. The United States has long stood in the way of Palestinian efforts to get a U.N. resolution recognizing its statehood, including threatening to use its veto, and has protected Israel from efforts to isolate it internationally.

SOURCE: Obama tells Netanyahu U.S. to ‘reassess’ policy on Israel, Mideast diplomacy – Yahoo News.

Spin, Spin, Spin…

2015-03-03_08-42-13Remember when George W. Bush sold himself as a “compassionate conservative”? Of course you do. Now, his brother Jeb is using a similar formulation, describing himself as an “inclusive conservative.” The difference may seem trivial at first, but the Bushes are no fools when it comes to winning elections. And this difference tells us something about the changing perception of the parties, as well as the changing priorities of left and right…. A recent Pew survey found that 60 percent of respondents said the Democratic Party “cares about the middle class.” Forty-three percent of respondents said the same of Republicans, a 17-point gap. But the same Pew survey found that 59 percent of respondents said that Democrats are “tolerant and open to all groups of people,” and only 35 percent said the same of Republicans, a 29-point gap…. This is the latest sign that culture war issues continue to move to the front of our politics, while economic issues take a back seat. Fifteen years ago, the Republican problem was that it seemed to have nothing tangible to offer the poor, blacks, or others on the margin of society. For Jeb, the problem with conservative conservatism is that it is exclusive. Conservatism is for the married, white, Christian, suburban, and exurban. SOURCE: How Jeb Bush is tweaking his brother’s brand of ‘compassionate conservatism’.

I would love to see a poll on how many people today believe that brother George lived out is self-proclaimed label “compassionate conservative” while he was in office.  I suspect that only hard-core Republicans would answer yes.  Maybe I am skeptical here, it wouldn’t be the first time, but I kind of think that this self-labeling stuff is nothing but spin. These guys, and I am talking about all politicians here, think that they can describe themselves as anything they want and maybe it will get them a few more votes for those very naive voters out there.

Having said all that I do kind of wish that it had been Jeb who ran the country for eight years instead of his brother.  George was just not my kind of guy. Too much swagger, too much bravado, too unread, too fixated on sports…  Jeb just seems to be a mellower type guy who would make decisions based on his intellect instead of alway his guts.  This article goes on to say the Hillary just doesn’t wear the “compassionate” label too well either. Her demands for six-figure payments for her speeches maybe show her core values too prominently for me.

But the name of the game in today’s politics is spin, spin, spin.  You don’t have to know what you are saying as long as you say it with authority. That seems to be the mantra for all those yahoos inside the beltway.  They put on masks for each group they want support from. I don’t know if Mitt Romney really believed his 47% rhetoric but it was good spin for the group he was then talking to.  The problem is that video cameras are now everywhere. There are thousands in every major city street corners and in almost everyone’s pocket now. You just can’t get away with spinning to one group without everyone knowing it.

My dream for 2016 is that there is neither a Bush nor a Clinton on either ticket…

The Inequality of the Current Justice System…

2015-02-21_08-56-34I have seen two vastly different examples of American justice in the last few months.

Example 1 – Five months ago it was discovered that an elected official in our county has been stealing funds from us for the last ten years. Since that time she has been free to do whatever she want while the evidence has been gathered. It seems that over the last ten years she has stolen about $400,000 in our very small county mainly by charging totally personal things like food, vacations, TVs to a county credit card. She was finally indicted this week and the trial is to take place in about four months. During that time she is again free to do whatever she wants as she was released on her “own recognizance” meaning no bail

Example 2 – is a person in a large metropolitan area that was roaming the city inebriated. He was quickly gathered up and brought before a judge and was set for a trial in the same four months as the first example. The difference is this person is spending the time before trial in a local jail. He has lost his job and what remains of his contact with his family. His life is basically ruined. Why?? The reason is the judge set a ball on him that required him to come up with $200 out of his pocket. Being unable to do that he languishes in prison with his life ruined because he drank too much one lonely night.

I hope I don’t have to explain to you just how unjust the treatment is between these two cases!! But, I have learned that they are by no means unusual. The well-known, even at the local level often get “OR’ed” while the poor get jail time before they even go to trial.  It is a well know fact that the first exposure to our prison system often taints the person for a lifetime of incarceration.

I am certainly celebrating that recent similar events that have gone national are now showing just how unjust our justice system has become in the last thirty years or so. When Reagan decided that the “bad guys” had to be put in jail to protect us, all the wheels were set in motion for today’s version of justice. When our prison system became “privatized” as he insisted and found to be very profitable it grew almost exponentially such that these private jailers scream for more and more occupants and the judges are certainly giving them what they want.

Our fear, which seems to become endemic during this period now insists that we lock up even those who even “might” do us harm and that includes people who we fear for some very unjustifiable reasons. They are dirty so lets remove them from society by making it against the law to be homeless. They do damage to themselves so lets lock them up in case they might want to do damage to us. Our fear has driven us to be the number one country in the world to lock up our citizens.

The inequality in our current justice system simply reeks of injustice and it is about time that we recognized that fact and quit being so fearful of those who will never do harm to anyone besides themselves. It is time to have some compassion for those who might not be like us. It is time we live up to the last words of our Pledge of Allegiance.

Blessed Are The Peacemakers….

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Of course the title of this post came from the Sermon on the Mount found in the Christian Bible. Many, if not most Christians, believe that these teaching called the Beatitudes are fundamental to their faith. They are one of the primary lessons that Jesus left us on how he wants us to act. Here are all eight:

Blessed are..

….the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
….those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
….the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
….those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
….the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
….the pure in heart: for they will see God.
….the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
….those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And here is a little about what Wiki says about them:

Each Beatitude consists of two phrases: the condition and the result. In almost every case the condition is from familiar Old Testament context, but Jesus teaches a new interpretation. Together, the Beatitudes present a new set of Christian ideals that focus on a spirit of love and humility different in orientation than the usual force and exaction taken. They echo the highest ideals of the teachings of Jesus on mercy, spirituality, and compassion.

As typical with so many of his teachings Jesus brought a new meaning to an Old Testament lesson. That lesson here is that war and warriors that were so common in the Old Testament are now to be superseded by the peacemakers and a “turn the other cheek” philosophy. That is a hard lesson for many to learn especially those who still cling to only an Old Testament version of these things.  Jesus told us to be meek, be merciful, be pure of heart, and to be peacemakers. Almost everything the current Israeli Prime Minister says and does fails to live up to these principles. His only solution to the “Iran Problem” is overthrow or total annihilation. His only solution to the “Palestinian Problem” is dominance and “you kill one of us and we kill fifty of you”.

There are many in this country who call the U.S. a Christian nation but then seem to align only with Old Testament solutions to the world’s problems. As a matter of principle I will not be one of those who listen to the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech to the U.S. Congress tonight. Sadly, I already know his solutions to all of the conflicts around him.  Isn’t it about time that this “Christian nation” gave Christian solutions a chance and  firmly tell Mr. Netanyahu that there are other options.

The primary underlying firebrand that ignites so much of the Middle East turmoil is the Palestinian problem. Until that is resolved there will NEVER be peace in the Middle East. Maybe it is time to tell Israel who we give billions of dollars in weapons annually that their solutions have not worked for the sixty plus years of their existence so to now we insist that it is time to get out of the way and give the peacemakers a chance….

Our Most Deadly Trait…

2015-02-23_08-14-51While being shown around, Uyanwah asked Hawking which human shortcoming he would most like to change, and which trait he’d enhance.

Hawking chose aggression and warned that a nuclear war could end civilization and possibly the human race. We need to replace aggression with empathy, which “brings us together in a peaceful loving state,” he said.

SOURCE: Stephen Hawking Warns That Aggression Could ‘Destroy Us All’.

I want to admit up front that I am not much of a fan of Steven Hawking. Maybe it is his avowed atheism or maybe it is because most of what he says is really without any provable foundation, it seems it is all pretty much speculation. But I will admit that the guy has overcome some extreme obstacles in his life and I greatly admire him for that.

When I read that he thinks our human aggression is the deadliest of human traits I had to yell “Right On”.  We are a testosterone driven society, well actually world. There is way too much chest thumping and too little empathy about us. That is one of the reasons I wouldn’t mind if women took over all the leadership positions in the world!  There are too many people who celebrate a person who got such a rush in killing hundreds of people from afar that he signed up again and again so he could continue to do just that.  We should be celebrating the peacemakers not the warriors and certainly not the most extreme “rush” seeking warriors.

I simply can’t understand why empathy is such a hard sell to many in today’s world.  It is such a fundamental part of me I just can’t see how anyone can lack empathy for their fellow human beings? I would love to have a choice of candidates who I can vote in national elections but since the GOP is just so filled with those who seem to be either indifferent or ambivalent to empathy that brand is often not available to me. Without empathy what are we but a bunch of narcissists out totally for ourselves.

Thanks Stephen for bring up this topic. Maybe as a result a few others will finally understand that empathy is important…

America doesn’t trust its experts anymore

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It’s healthy to question expertise, but we need actual experts. The brilliance of the Fox News motto, “We report, you decide,” is that it encourages our vanity that we can know as much as anyone else, we can be experts, given a stream of carefully curated facts and opinion. MSNBC, which has a similar business/editorial model, is stuck with the less-empowering “Lean Forward.” There are a number of ways forward for expertise in America. We can become increasingly mistrustful of scientists, doctors, professors, bureaucrats, bankers, and other experts in their fields; or we can find a better way to filter out the would-be experts spreading misinformation; or we can continue disregarding all experts who don’t confirm what we already believe. Perhaps we’ll all suffer because we didn’t heed our experts, or perhaps our experts will win back our trust. SOURCE:  America doesn’t trust its experts anymore – The Week.

Experts are someone who has spent sometimes years studying a particular part of life. They have looked at it from many different angles and views. They have studied the background information that made this topic what it is.  There are also experts who bring us the goods and services that we so need in a modern society and some that we don’t need but insist on having. I spent thirty years becoming an expert in my field and would like to think that I contributed to society by my contributions.

But there are some who absolutely refuse to recognize expertise, especially in the areas that they think they know better. My wife, bless her soul, is one of those people who refuses to accept any validity to statistics. She thinks none of it is valid. Unfortunately there are those, who are usually Fox News viewers, who think their opinions are worth as much or more than those who have spent much time studying the subject.  There are just too many of us who think we know it all but in reality have much of it simply wrong.  We seem to cling to our prejudices instead of knowledge in too many areas of life. We need trust experts to help us understand things they we don’t have the time to spend to study them ourselves.  But then again there are some areas that where we need to rigorously question even the experts.

I find it unfathomable how many people think our military is the most trusted institution in America.  I kind of think this poll represented one portion of our population more than others. Trust in our institutions has been constantly decreasing for several decades in America and one of those institutions that is falling out of favor is organized religion. Forty years ago more than two-thirds of us had a total trust in it. Now that number has decreased by more than a third. Less than half of us have much trust in organized religion and that is tragic. A big part of that lack of trust is likely due to the political allegiances of so many in those institutions cling to.

 

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We just don’t seem to be able to know who to trust anymore??

Going After the Money…. We Can’t..

Made in China - inscription on Red Rubber Stamp.In this age of electronic banking the way to shut down any organization is to go after their access to money. It looks like that is just what is currently happening with North Korea at least to an extent.

“We need to step up and target those financial institutions in Asia and beyond that are supporting the brutal and dangerous North Korean regime.” When challenged by Royce about “a number of small banks” still doing business with North Korea and the need to choke off the country’s access to hard currency, Glaser replied: “That’s exactly what we are trying to do.” Royce said he hoped a bipartisan bill he sponsored that would label North Korea “a primary money laundering concern” would be passed by the Senate this year…. The country’s main economic ties are with China and, according U.S. government reports, its tiny economy has supported itself with money-making scams ranging from counterfeiting $100 bills to illicit arms and drug sales. SOURCE:  U.S. takes aim at North Korea’s remaining financial links – Yahoo News.

Being a simple guy I just can’t understand how we can give China so much power over our day-to-day lives when they support those who would love to see us annihilated from this earth. I don’t know about you but it seems everything I buy almost anywhere today comes with a “Made in China” tag. It is about time we started putting conditions on transferring our wealth to that country. Millions of good paying jobs have disappeared to be resurrected in mainland China at pennies on the dollar and the primary purpose is to provide more profits for their most often times very rich stockholders..

I know doing something about this problem will be a hard-sell for the Republicans in congress. They simply believe that what our corporations do to make their profits is their own business and the government should stay out of it. And again if Obama comes out for it they will naturally be adamantly against it whatever it is. I think this same thing would be happening no matter who the Democrat was that occupies the Oval Office. Its pure politics and it is getting uglier by the minute. But I am getting off topic here.

How can we allow China to help North Korea with their illegal schemes and not suffer any consequences?  Of course part of that reason, maybe the biggest part, is that we are already so deeply dependent on China that we simply can’t afford to confront them. If they for whatever reason decided to stop sending us the products they now make our economy would likely collapse. How did we get into this type of arrangement is of course because of greed. When a bigger profit can be made using Chinese labor at pennies per hour as opposed to dollars per hour for home-grown labor greed will go off-shore every time. But I kind of think that even those who made these decisions to move their production to China are surprised at the speed at which the total transformation occurred. They all seemed to rush there without really considering the consequences.  But then again greed has never been much of a forward-looking thing…

Choosing Between the Pope and the GOP…

2015-01-23_11-40-13The problem is simply that Francis has broken from too many elements in the Republican Party platform. First there were affirming statements about homosexuality. Then harsh words for capitalism and trickle-down economics. And now climate change. That, it seems, is a bridge too far. Francis has put conservative American Catholics in the position of having to choose between the pope and the GOP. It should surprise no one that they’re siding with the Republicans.

SOURCE:  The Week – The Republican Party’s war with Pope Francis has finally started.

Yeah, Pope Francis does seem to conflict with many of the current foundations of the GOP. He simply cares too much about the poor and economic inequality. Being a Franciscan priest who spent much of his life among the poor in South America I am not at all surprised. He cares too much about climate change and being responsible stewards of the earth. He cares too much about loving each other. So, with a battle looming of allegiances between their religion and their politics which way will  the average GOP conservative go?

According to this article they, for the most part, are choosing their politics and like the NYPD, are turning their backs to this new pope and that in my mind is a total shame. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised though but I am definitely disappointed and I hope that it isn’t a broad thing among American Catholics. As a whole Catholics tend to vote Democrat but that is primarily because a significantly larger number of non-white Catholics skew the results that way. In my mind this is the most relevant pope in my lifetime as far as obeying Jesus’ command to love each other.

More Money for the Library When There is not Enough to Fix Potholes??

I recently read an article in my small town newspaper that our local library is getting ready to sell a $2,000,000 bond to increase  and modernize its building space. This took me somewhat by surprise. In the age of budget cuts and downsizing it seemed strange that a library would get more funding when they say we don’t have enough to even fix our potholes on my county road. But then again bonds are something to be paid off in the future so the current public office holders don’t worry about them much.  In this electronic age where Wikipedia is a couple of button pushes away and e-books are now outselling the paper copies aren’t libraries kind of like horse and buggy shops of a century ago? I have to admit that it has been several years since I have been in our local library.  But when I started investigating, on-line of course this topic I learned some new things.  Here is a little about what Wiki says about the trends in library usage.

2015-01-19_08-32-59With over 17,000 libraries and 2.5 billion materials circulated annually in the United States alone, libraries are frequently used and highly valued by the public.  However, as libraries modernize, they face an increasingly harsh budget environment, as well as technological disruption in media, scholarship, and education. The political, social and technological environment is one of transformation and uncertainty…. Concerns about a general decline in library usage have proven to be unfounded. Instead, the impact of technology on libraries has been mixed. While usage of some library services, such as reference assistance, has declined, there has been a well-documented increase in the usage of public libraries in the U.S. and Canada over the last decade. Most libraries have added services such as public computers, free wifi, and digital materials such as web sites and e-books, leading to higher overall usage of the library. Counties and cities also continue to invest in library infrastructure. As of 2012, library construction and renovation has remained steady…… SOURCE:  Trends in library usage – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

It sounds like libraries are morphing into more of community resource centers than they are about housing dusty old books. For my local library in particular, a big part of it is about providing Internet access to over 60% of our county population.  AT&T, which is the primary internet provider in our area will not spend the money to upgrade infrastructure that would allow more of our citizens Internet access beyond a snail’s pace.  That is one of the things I really hope gets implemented in President Obama’s State of the Union address. Let the FCC force all those communications providers to give us folks in rural areas Internet access similar to what they have in the cities. It is probably the only way it will happen.

Getting back on topic, I kind of think the word “library” is too 20th century, we should start calling them community resource centers? It does have a nice ring to it doesn’t it?

Cutting Out the Middle Man….

2015-01-02_08-41-50Concierge care was originally conceived before Obamacare, and it revved up in response to the Great Recession as an escape hatch for doctors fleeing the status quo. The existing fee-for-service system pays caregivers a certain amount for each test, diagnosis and procedure–which, according to critics, encourages overtreatment instead of preventive wellness care. Qliance, along with a growing number of similar operations, aims to be more than an escape. It seeks to be the answer to the quest of health care reformers: healthier patients at a lower cost. Fix the way primary-care doctors are paid, the Blisses argue, and we can cut unneeded tests, premature procedures and excessive ER visits. The driving insight here is that primary care and specialized care have two very different missions. Americans need more of the first so they’ll need less of the second. And each requires a different business model. Primary care should be paid for directly, because that’s the easiest and most efficient way to purchase a service that everyone should be buying and using.

SOURCE: Medicine Is About to Get Personal | TIME.

I don’t think I am the only person who believes that insurance companies stand between me and my doctor and tell us both how we will do business together. Of course that business is keeping me healthy, or at least as healthy as I can be given my circumstances. The above article is several thousand words long so it was difficult to pick just a few of the words to illustrate the change but I tried to compress it here.

Doctors are leaving primary-care practices in droves. They don’t like being told that they can only spend 11 minutes with a patient and that a major part of their practice is geared toward a massive amount of paperwork to the insurance company to justify what they are doing.  The solution to this problem is to cut out the middleman. That is to remove the insurance company from this interaction. That seems to be just what Dr. Bliss has successfully done with over 35,000 patients in the State of Washington. Instead of paying an insurance premium you pay a monthly fee directly to your doctor and he can then significantly cut his costs and spend whatever time is necessary with each patient.  As a result his patients only need to buy a much less expensive hospital and speciality doctor insurance policy.   It is a win-win situation for both the doctor and the patient.

We definitely need something to change in our current U.S. healthcare industry and this might be that accomplishable change. It would be great if we could finally get into a single payer system much like the rest of the world does and how we in Medicare are currently getting our healthcare needs. But until that time comes cutting out the middleman seems to make a lot of sense.  If you are interested in this sort of thing I would advise you to click on the source above to get more details.

About Those Greeks…

I see where the Greeks elected a new government this week to help them reduce austerity that was forced upon them by the European Union bailout.  This reminded me of a book I read a few years ago entitled “Boomerang” by Michael Lewis. One chapter in the book was about Greece. The book is very enlightening and well written. Here are some selected snippets about Greece.

The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year…. The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something.  The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as fifty-five for men and fifty for women . As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than six hundred Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on…. The Greek people never learned to pay their taxes. And they never did because no one is punished. No one has ever been punished. It’s a cavalier offense— like a gentleman not opening a door for a lady.” The scale of Greek tax cheating was at least as incredible as its scope: an estimated two-thirds of Greek doctors reported incomes under 12,000 euros a year— which meant, because incomes below that amount weren’t taxable, that even plastic surgeons making millions a year paid no tax at all…. The problem wasn’t the law there was a law on the books that made it a jailable offense to cheat the government out of more than 150,000 euros but its enforcement. “If the law was enforced,” the tax collector said, “every doctor in Greece would be in jail.” I laughed, and he gave me a stare. “I am completely serious.” One reason no one is ever prosecuted— apart from the fact that prosecution would seem arbitrary, as everyone is doing it and that the Greek courts take up to fifteen years to resolve tax cases.  Lewis, Michael (2011-09-28). Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World – Norton. Kindle Edition.

The quotes above give you an idea as to why Greece might be in the troubles it is. As the book implies actions have consequences and Greece apparently needs to learn that lesson.

Greece is the birthplace of democracy so let’s end this post with a quote from the ancient Greek philosopher Isocrates:

“Democracy destroys itself because it abuses its right to freedom and equality. Because it teaches its citizens to consider audacity as a right, lawlessness as a freedom, abrasive speech as equality, and anarchy as progress.”

Sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it?

What Wealth Does To Your Soul – Part 2

2015-01-02_09-01-08

With this post I will conclude my discussion about what might make the wealthy among us seem so callous to others needs. The source for these posts came as a surprise to me. Here is some more quotes from that article.

A UCLA neuroscientist named Keely Muscatell has published an interesting paper showing that wealth quiets the nerves in the brain associated with empathy: If you show rich people and poor people pictures of kids with cancer, the poor people’s brains exhibit a great deal more activity than the rich people’s. (An inability to empathize with others has just got to be a disadvantage for any rich person seeking political office, at least outside of New York City.) “As you move up the class ladder,” says Keltner, “you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and to be tightfisted in giving to others. Straightforward economic analyses have trouble making sense of this pattern of results.”… THERE IS AN OBVIOUS chicken-and-egg question to ask here. But it is beginning to seem that the problem isn’t that the kind of people who wind up on the pleasant side of inequality suffer from some moral disability that gives them a market edge. The problem is caused by the inequality itself: It triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains. It causes them to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen…. There is a growing awareness that the yawning gap between rich and poor is no longer a matter of simple justice but also the enemy of economic success and human happiness. It’s not just bad for the poor. It’s also bad for the rich. It’s funny, when you think about it, how many rich people don’t know this. But they are not idiots; they can learn. SOURCE:What wealth does to your soul – The Week.

I’m still not convinced that the lack of empathy is a result of a chemical change in the brain but it is interesting to think about that possibility. What happens if the rich person looses all his wealth? Will empathy come back? I kind of believe that it is more of a learned thing or maybe one of a rationalization based on greed. Yeah this is kind of chicken/egg thing. Which came first the riches or the lack of empathy?

My empathy is such an important part of my life I can’t imagine someone who doesn’t embrace it in themselves. It just seems too cold and callous to think only of yourself. To me that wouldn’t be a life worth living.

The gap between the rich and the poor grows daily now and since the rich have consumed almost all of the political and economic power it will only get worse unless something radical changes it. Wall Street is driven almost totally to providing profits to their share owners. There is little regard for workers in today’s world. As the highlighted area says I don’t think the rich are idiots but I can’t fathom why they don’t understand that when you put a stranglehold on consumers by not letting them share in the prosperity you endear you are drying up the well that give you your wealth.

They Got Hutzpah….

2015-01-14_08-10-09New Charlie Hebdo Issue Sells Out Charlie Hebdo’s defiant new issue sold out around Paris on Wednesday, with scuffles over copies of the paper fronting the Prophet Muhammad. The issue hit newsstands just as the Yemen-based branch of al-Qaeda officially claimed responsibility for attack

SOURCE: TIME – Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews.

I gotta hand it to the French. They might be arrogant but they got hutzpah. They definitely fit the moniker that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. If what happened in France last week had happened here we would all most likely be hiding in fear of going anywhere near Charlie Hebdo’s stuff.  I kind of wish we had that level of hutzpah too.

Instead we would likely be doing one of two scenarios. One, we would be assigning congressional committees to study on how we can prevent it from happening again. And of course that action would result in a coupe billion more bucks in the NSA’s pocket. The second scenario would be assigning another committee to determine why Obama recklessly allowed it to happen.

Maybe the French are just more grass-roots than we are. They take it personally when they are attacked and line up in defiance of the terrorists. They refuse to be stricken with fear as they know that is what the terrorists are trying to accomplish.  Here is to you France. I will gladly go to lunch now and get a big order of french fries to honor your guts in this matter.

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