Thursday, December 1, 2011

175. Documentaries tell it like it is

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the time to watch a few movies. My wife and I watch a wide variety of movies-save perhaps the action and science fiction films. However, my favorite genre is documentaries. Whether I agree or not with the premise of the writer/producer, I almost always admire the principle and passion. They offer a point of view, and unlike the thirty-second sound bites we see on the "news" channels, they make an effort to prove their case.

Documentaries are often controversial and rarely shown on network television-probably because they often offend network sponsors. Documentaries are "behind the scene" accounts of powerful institutions, systems and corporations. They inform and inspire.

Here are twelve of my favorite documentaries. They are not ranked in any particular order, but I did attempt to cover a spectrum of subjects. I would consider these to be "must see" documentaries, as they provide perspective and present injustice. I also added some others that I enjoyed that are similar to my favorite.

1. The Corporation. This classic documentary tackles the legal and historical aspect of American corporations. It presents ideas about corporate influence, constitutional standing and, of course, corporate power. Others: Roger and Me, Who Killed the Electric Car?

2. Food Inc. This film tackles the world of agribusiness. It is a behind the scene look at how food is produced, those that produce it and the money at stake. It looks at genetically modified food, the ownership of seeds, and the lengths that agribusiness will go in order to protect their financial interests. Finally it presents the deceit offered to the American public-from advertising to perception-of what food production is really like. The family farms featuring red barns, rolling hills of pasture, and happy cows are a thing of the past. Others: Processed People, King Corn, Got the Facts on Milk?

3. The God Who Wasn't There. A controversial look at the historic Jesus. The documentary makes the argument that the birth of Jesus is strikingly similar to other previous mythological figures, such as Dionysus. It also provides a historic timeline, which notes that the Gospels were written considerably after the purported life and death of Jesus. Others: Religulous

4. Sicko. Michael Moore's attack on the healthcare system was the vicious target of the healthcare industry. They were terrified that this movie would inspire the American public to rise up against the financial interest of the healthcare industry. If you do not know what a "dead peasant" insurance policy is, you should see this movie.

5. Forks over Knives. The latest in a series of documentaries to promote the healthy lifestyle of a whole food, plant-based diet. It received mainstream attention and has inspired many to drop meat and dairy from their diet-for not only personal health, but also to reduce the cost of healthcare. Others: Fat Sick and Nearly Dead, Eating, Supersize Me, Killer at Large: Why Obesity is America's Greatest Threat.

6. War on Democracy. This political film suggested that the United States has participated-either directly or indirectly-in 50 government overthrows, many of them democracies, since 1945. A ranting and defiant CIA leader claimed it was all in "national security interest." What he meant was the financial interest of the United States and its major corporations. Others: Capitalism: A Love Story, Darfur Now.

7. Fahrenheit 9/11. Another Michael Moore movie makes the list. This movie attacked President Bush, the Iraq War and the War on Terrorism. Although considered very partisan, it is the highest grossing documentary of all time. Not only was it the only movie I watched in a packed theater, it was also the only time I have ever seen a movie get a standing ovation. Others: Manufacturing Dissent: Noam Chomsky

8. Inconvenient Truth. Al Gore famously takes on climate change in this documentary. While I have criticized Gore for neglecting to mention the biggest cause of global warming-eating meat-Gore did bring a lot of information about climate change to the general public. Others: The 11th Hour, Mann v. Ford.

9. Waiting for Superman. This recent film tackles the American educational system. It looks at the power of the teacher's union and the difficulty of initiating change from a system's perspective. It notes the success of some charter schools and the desperation of some families, in economically depressed areas, to get their children admitted. It is enlightening, even if it ignores the failure of many charter schools. Others: Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk, College Inc.

10. The End of Poverty? One of any number of socio-economic films that notes the disparity between the world's richest and those living in poverty. While people are often aware of these disparities, it is uncomfortable to watch just how poor some cultures are. Equally appalling is the political and corporate abuse of these cultures. For many, just clean drinking water is a luxury. Others: Maxed Out.

11. The Cove. A horrifying and tearful look at the Japanese hunting of Dolphins. It's difficult to even write a couple of sentences in review of this film without experiencing despair and anger. It represents the worst in human treatment toward these beautiful and intelligent animals. Others: Peaceable Kingdom, Fowl Play.

12. Inside Job. Academy Award winning film on the global economic crisis of 2008. It is as disgusting as it is infuriating. Largely non-partisan, it outlines the financial crisis in a way that is easy for everyone to understand. Maintaining a Wall Street v. Main Street perspective, it's a must see.

Each of these films, in their own way, challenges the status quo. The institutions they protest are large and powerful. They exist because either people do not know what it going on, do not care what is going on, or feel powerless to stop it.

In Food Inc., they remind viewers that people can make a difference-"we vote with our wallet." Whether it is the food industry, our education system or the current healthcare crisis, we can inspire change by refusing to support that which is driven by greed or corruption rather than principle. It is on us.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

174. We're bogged down by fear

Recently my wife went out to run some errands. First stop was a popular department store, where she tried to purchase replacement watch batteries. The salesperson asked my wife if she had purchased the watch there. When my wife said she had not, she told my wife that she could not help her. My wife asked why, and she said "liability" issues, "we can't replace batteries because we can't replace the watch if we break it."

Second stop was a home improvement store, where she was interested in purchasing carpet for our living room. The store has a policy that they have to come out and measure the room for a cost of $35-which is "credited" to the purchase of the carpet. My wife asked if we can have the measurements-you know, in case we decide not to purchase the carpet from them. There answer was no. Why? They told her it was because the home improvement cannot be responsible if we use those measurements to purchase carpet from somewhere else and they are inaccurate.

I had to ask, seriously? With the right tools, replacing a watch battery is not exactly brain surgery. Isn't there some insurance that department stores can purchase in case of such a tragedy? Can't department stores make everyone sign a waiver or something? And we have to pay someone to take measurements-a task that mankind has been successfully performing for centuries-and home improvement stores have such little confidence in those measurements that we cannot receive the results?

It made me realize that increasingly, we are living in a scared society.

In addition to being afraid of terrorists, the swine flu, Muslims, President Obama, socialism, taxes and aliens-- we are afraid of being sued.

Actually, corporations are terrified of being sued. Although very few cases actually make it to court, and even fewer win, the threat is concerning enough for companies to implement policies and procedures that both manage their risk and hinder consumers with a landscape of legal nuisances.

Negotiating our way through society is becoming paralyzing. Trying to perform some of the simplest tasks requires that we swim our way through a series of privacy laws, legal waivers, pages of legal documents and the signing away of our rights, such as agreeing to arbitration in lieu of litigation.

For consumers, the agreement is usually only on the corporation's terms. There are pre-printed forms, which on occasion even contain illegalities, for which if the consumer does not agree to the terms-there is no deal. There is no bargaining, there is no meeting of the minds.

How many people have read and understand their home loan, insurance policies or even their car loan? We recently worked with a real estate agent who did not understand the difference between a disclosure and a warranty.

Corporations employ an army of lawyers who fight conservatively. Despite the fact that the average Joe rarely defeats a large corporation in court, and only in the most egregious of circumstances, the last thing corporations want is a sympathetic jury controlling their fate.

Professionals, like doctors, fear malpractice lawsuits and often prescribe conservatively in order to protect themselves. If you go to the hospital for surgery, they will ask your name upwards of a dozen times and as well as what part of the body is being operated on. Despite common opinion, malpractice lawsuits are difficult for an injured party to win-however, when they do, the financial award can be significant.

This conservativeness has trickled down through the corporations to their employees. In healthcare particularly, where HIPAA reigns, employees love to tell you it's "the law" or it's a "liability issue." It does not matter if it is silly, unlikely or even untrue. In fact, employees often cannot cite the law, or provide example of the liability, or even know if anyone has ever won a case on that claim.

The problem even exists between companies . . . as many organizations "can't give out that information." Often the most insignificant of information requires parties faxing waivers and releases back and forth. Then they will still have to ask the lawyers if they can provide that information.

Finally, it is not just corporations and employees--it's everyone. I've even seen people at garage sales trying to "protect themselves."

Unfortunately, it is only going to get worse-our society is becoming more litigious, as everything is someone else's fault. The fear of these lawsuits and the reaction to that fear will increase-furthering burdening consumers and patients. The challenge is balancing real and sensible legal concerns with overreaction and irrationality. The challenge also encompasses dispelling some of the legal myths that lead to overreaction-like the infamous McDonald's coffee case.

More often than not, it is a matter of reasonableness. It does not seem to me that reasonableness should be a difficult standard for corporations and professionals. The truth is that anyone can be sued for almost anything-winning is a different matter.

173. Get bothered; break social contract

The documentary "Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk" details many of the things that most people are concerned about in regards to higher education today-student loans, emphasis on sports, cheating, drinking and grade inflation. The documentary offers a nice diversity of perspectives, such as contrasting small colleges with large universities. It follows the paths of several students, some of whom succeed and others who do not.

There is incredible diversity in higher education. Some students are well prepared; others are in over their heads. Some universities offer small classes and personal attention; others allow students to get lost in large lecture halls. Some university professors are concerned with tenure and research; others are working as adjunct faculty at a couple of universities. Some students work full time jobs and study incredibly hard; others are there on their parent's dime and spend their time partying and doing just enough to get by.

There were some overarching concerns expressed in the documentary. One concern was the attention to fundraising, sports and student retention-as a business perspective. Colleges are competing for students and are spending a lot of money on sport complexes, student centers and apartment-like dorms. Another concern was the disparity in effort and expectations. In the documentary it was portrayed as a social contract: "You don't bother me and I won't bother you." It was a perspective that hit home-and it reaches beyond the colleges and into society.

There are many issues inherent in the social contract that says, "Don't bother me and I won't bother you." It is contract that encourages "looking the other way," "ignorance is bliss," "don't judge me," and "mind your own business." School administrators and commentators were troubled with, "a culture that expects little," and that hardworking students were often rewarded with the same degree as those that just got by. In society we witness, among other things, immorality, irresponsibility and hypocrisy--in which whistleblowers, or other informed parties, are paralyzed in conflict, indecision and self-interest.

Unfortunately this social contract eventually crumbles-as we saw at Penn State, the Catholic Church, the Iraq war, with the tobacco companies, in government and, of course, on Wall Street. In each of these cases, abuses and corruption were allowed to continue because nobody was strong enough, early enough, to speak out. We have runaway institutions, in which sports or religion or government or corporations are too big to be held accountable. The result is often a cover-up until it reaches the tipping point, upon which it explodes and people ask, "How did that happen?"

When this contract does crumble, it is often "safety in numbers"--when several people are willing to come forward. The contract may also be challenged when movements are formed such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.

The truth is, in many instances, we would rather not know-or at the least, we would like to justify that it is not worth the fight. And, at the same time, we do not want people in our business. People do not want the morality of their actions challenged, their beliefs tested, or their ethical decisions confronted. We have developed social norms that take politics, religion and money off the table-we just do not discuss those things.

But maybe we need to sometimes break this social contract and be bothered. Whether it is industries and institutions or colleges and neighbors-maybe we need to speak up. Obviously there needs to be discretion-but, at the same time, there are often families and lives at stake. We need to look out for each other and not be so willing to pretend that the things we know are happening--are not. It is difficult and all of us have probably weighed the consequences when we have witnessed injustice--whether it is ruining a relationship or risking our jobs. However, we should not live our lives in the background--happy to go with the flow as long as we get the things we want, or because we can hide behind a legal obligation. Maybe we need to be bothered to develop a new social contract.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

172. Wild animals are not our pets

The nation was stunned and appalled as Ohio again made news when Terry Thompson of Zanesville turned loose a number of wild animals that he kept on his animal farm and then killed himself. Most of the animals were subsequently killed by law enforcement.

Many people who care about animals asked whether the animals needed to be killed, or whether they could have been tranquilized and taken to a zoo or animal sanctuary. While certainly that is a valid question, I will not debate the decision of law enforcement in this circumstance. It's understandable that our modern culture will not, and cannot, accommodate wild and aggressive animals roaming our streets.

However, it doesn't mean that I don't feel for the animals. It actually took me a couple of days to get over this heartbreak, as I continue to be disappointed by human perspective. I don't know what kind of life these animals had on this animal farm, but obviously they lived part of the day in cages. I thought how terrible it must have been for them-they lived their lives in captivity, and as soon as they are released, probably confused and certainly unequipped to handle the local environment, they were immediately hunted and slaughtered. The photo of all these dead animals was truly horrific.

What I will debate is why Ohio continues to be one of the worst states when it comes to laws that prohibit the ownership of "wild" animals. You would have thought we learned our lesson after a bear killed a caretaker in Columbia Station, but Governor Kasich allowed the temporary restriction that former Governor Ted Strickland implemented to expire. Strickland's law prevented anyone convicted of animal abuse from owning wild animals. Thompson had been convicted of animal abuse.

I just don't understand why we continue to be fascinated with the idea of owning an animal, really any animal, "wild" or not, other than maybe cats and dogs. Cages and other forms of confinement are imprisonment, regardless how much someone loves them. This includes not only lions and tigers and giraffes, but also lizards, snakes, ferrets, turtles, fish, rabbits, cows, pigs and birds. My email signature includes my favorite quote on the issue from Jacques Deval, "God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages."

If anyone has watched an animal in a cage, they will note that many engage in a rhythmic pacing back and forth. Some animals, including many on factory farms, literally go insane. They don't understand why they are in a cage, why they are not prohibited to live as nature intended. They have to deal with all of their suppressed instincts, and it is disturbing to watch.

Interestingly, this latest misfortune occurs just before the release of a new movie entitled, "We Bought a Zoo," featuring my wife's favorite actor Matt Damon. It's not just untimely, it sends the wrong message. PETA has asked director Cameron Crowe to include a warning message in the film and in its promotional materials. Vice President Lisa Lange explained in a statement, "As the tragedy in Ohio gruesomely illustrates, wild animals aren't Disney characters. They have very special needs that all too often aren't met by people who buy them on a whim because they think it would be 'cool' to own a tiger."

We need laws that prohibit the ownership and trade of wild animals.

We're a bored species-one that has time for reality television, Super Bowls and cell phones. Unfortunately this boredom often includes the mistreatment of animals-including even the mistreatment of animals we think we love.

If we really love animals-it's simple, we must stop eating them, experimenting on them, keeping them as pets and ruining their habitats. They are sentient beings, not just here for our convenience, amusement or expendability. They are here to live, reproduce and die, just as nature intended-free.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

171. Job search: Follow the rules?

For many, looking for a job can be a long process-tedious, stressful and depressing. It's difficult to pursue so many employment opportunities, to invest time, energy and hope-only to realize that many are dead-ends. It's difficult to be rejected over and over, especially if the job seeker is out of work and the bills are piling up. It's easy to understand why people break, and find the experience to be quite miserable. I've shared those same feelings.

I am certainly not an expert in human resources or career coaching, but I have made a few observations over the years that might be worthy of consideration.

With the difficult economy, technological advances and global competition fewer jobs are safe for one's entire working career. Many people have second careers-some by choice, some by necessity. To fuel that second career, many choose to go back to school. While I am an advocate of continuing education, I would caution with some realities. Going back to school is difficult. It costs money, time and affects one's family. But more than that, people need to be selective in their course of study. If you've done something for twenty years, you've likely become an expert in that field, and that's where your real value lies-often earning near the top of the pay scale. Switching careers is risky in that you'll likely start at the bottom of the pay scale-and worse, competing against people who may have considerably more experience.

I experienced this after earning my license in healthcare administration. I had learned that there was a shortage of nursing home administrators and worked hard to earn my license. After passing my test, I started applying for administrator positions-but what I neglected was the experience of the other candidates. Many other newly licensed administrators had worked for decades in nursing homes-as nurses or social workers. I had the same license, but my nine-month internship certainly could not compete with their experience.

I have always viewed job openings as a competition. It is not whether an applicant can do the job; it is whether he or she can convince an employer that he or she can do it better than every other applicant- through the limited sample of a résumé and interview.

In applying for jobs, we hear a lot about the rules of résumé writing and interviewing. We love rules, although all I think they really accomplish is separating the people who "know" how to apply for a job and those who do not. In a hiring position, I have seen all kinds of résumés, including many of the "what is he or she thinking?" type. In that respect, I am actually surprised at the number of people who don't follow the rules. Is it disrespectful or refreshing? I would say it depends, we hear that resumes should be one to two pages-maybe three at the most. But employers generally want the best applicant, regardless of how a résumé looks. I roll my eyes when I see a ten page résumé that lists every one-day training someone has attended, or every professional article that was ever published. But employers would probably offer an interview if he or she was one of the top applicants.

For most applicants, the goal of a résumé is to get an interview. The interview is a difficult process, whereby employers ask a bunch of usually scripted questions and applicants are supposed to provide a bunch of scripted answers. In this case, it is often charisma and appearance that separates the applicants.

The New York Times Bestseller "Sway" offers an interesting analysis of the interview process. It quotes Allen Huffcutt and his work on job interviews, He states, "We often base the image of the ideal candidate on ourselves. Someone comes in who's similar to us and we're going to click; and we're probably going to want to hire them." He continues, "Everybody thinks they have this ability to see an applicant and make a great decision, truly understand them."

Huffcutt also recommends that hiring managers restrain themselves from delving into "first-date type questions." Huffcutt looked at the top ten interview questions, such as "Why should I hire you?" and "What do you see yourself doing in five years?" and found them all to be meaningless except for one ("What do you know about our company?" was the exception). One of the least productive, and most scripted, is the "What are you strengths and weakness?" question. Applicants are placed in the position of not answering the question or answering the question absurdly. As the book notes, nobody is going to say that their weakness is staying out too late partying and coming to work late. More likely, we learn that the applicant "takes work too seriously" or "is a perfectionist."

Huffcutt's point, in short, is that most job offers are risky and based on limited information-often based more on the applicant doing what he or she is supposed to do, or due to extraneous factors, such as a "gut feeling." It's a difficult problem, for employers and applicants alike.

My wife and I just watched "The Company Men," which did a nice job of portraying the reality that faces most of us in this economy-the prospect of losing a job and trying to obtain another one. Most American jobs are not safe, and things can change quickly that disturb our lives. It affects our souls, our self-worth and our families. And all most of us can do is try to be prepared, "play the game," and hope for a little luck.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

170. Science is real, not an opinion

AT&T's official policy on global warming is, "Climate change is a fact, and the scientific evidence so far seems to implicate greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, as the cause of climate change."

ExxonMobil admits in its policy statement, "Rising greenhouse-gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems." Likewise, UPS states that, "As a global transportation company, UPS acknowledges that Greenhouse Gas Emissions impact the climate and pose a serious challenge to the environment - and ultimately the global economy."

On and on it goes, corporations conceding what is a near consensus in the scientific community. Their admission, if we need to call it that, seems reasonable and responsible. However, it does not mean that corporations are happy about it.

ThinkProgress noted that these same corporations are also contributing to at least one group who is denying climate change. It found that "a number of these same companies are sponsoring toxic, far-right denial of climate science. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) pushes an extremist denier agenda throughout the United States, funded in secret by corporations."

ThinkProgress explains that, "ALEC denies that global warming is causing glaciers to retreat or sea level to rise. Not only does ALEC deny the threat of climate change, they even argue that ‘substantial global warming is likely to be of benefit to the United States.'"

It is frustrating that these groups exist and disappointing that corporations secretly support them.

What corporations are essentially saying is that we know global warming exists, it would be embarrassing to suggest otherwise, but if we can convince others that it is a controversial subject, one not yet decided, and we can save some money, then it is on them. After all, they might conclude, it's your planet, and if your religion or desire for cheap products or political viewpoint, outweighs your value of the Earth's sustainability, then who are we to stand in the way. Our shareholders appreciate your support.

Finally, the ALES notes, "There is no ‘scientific consensus' that global warming will cause damaging climate change."

ALES statement about scientific consensus is actually accurate; there is no consensus. Unfortunately, rarely is a scientific consensus reached, for there are still people who do not believe in evolution and there are even a few members in the Flat Earth Society. The Flat Earth Society makes the bold claim that not only do they not believe that the Earth is round, but that "scientific data and measurements back up our claims." Sigh.

Of course, that perspective reaches politics when Republicans serve the interest of corporations. Jonathan Chait noted in 2007 that Republican members who understood climate change were shunned when they sought a seat on the committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

"Reps. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), both research scientists, also were denied seats on the committee. Normally, relevant expertise would be considered an advantage. In this case, it was a disqualification; if the GOP allowed Republican researchers who accept the scientific consensus to sit on a global warming panel, it would kill the party's strategy of making global warming seem to be the pet obsession of Democrats and Hollywood lefties."

At some point, we have to set financial interest and politics aside to move beyond a "deny and destroy" society. We hear a lot about the debt we do not want to leave our children, but we seem to have no issue with wasting resources and destroying eco-systems.

Climate change is not a policy statement to be secretly undermined to preserve financial interest. Nor is it a political issue that can be bullied about. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson made an interesting point recently when he said that Congress is too convoluted with lawyers-and not enough scientists and other professions. Lawyers, he notes, are paid to argue either side of an issue, like members of a debate team. They get paid to argue a particular side of an issue, whether it is right, wrong or absurd. Not surprisingly, lawyers have a strong bias in favor of those signing their paycheck (or making campaign donations).

We clearly need to reintroduce science into our society-our schools and our culture. It is not a dirty word, it is not religious propaganda of the left to be "believed or not believed." Science is real, we experience the luxury of it every day, and it is not a belief system to be bantered about-politically or secretly.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

169. Senate bill 5 is politics as usual

It is a rare occasion that State Representative Boose and I agree on an issue. Usually I find his interpretation of the issues to be intellectually insolent to those who follow politics. In the past, he has demonstrated the unique ability to take the most debatable of ideology, insert the word "taxes," and spin it into the most inexplicable of fabrication.

However, the sea has parted, and we finally agree on an economic philosophy-most specifically on his final point in his July 27 letter to the Editor. Like Boose, I wholeheartedly support "largely eliminating the disparity between the public and private sector." It does sound a little socialistic to me, but let's consider the arguments.

President Obama in his position as President of the United States, which represents the executive branch of the most important country in the world, makes $400,000 per year. His private sector counterparts, such as Philippe P. Dauman of Viacom made $84.5 million in 2010. Ray R. Irani of Occidental Petroleum made $76.1 million and at number eleven of the top 20 CEOs was Howard Schultz of Starbucks who made $21.7 million. Consider for a moment that the CEO of Starbucks, who does not do much more than sell overpriced, calorie-laden coffee-like drinks, made $21 million more than the president of the United States.

It is interesting to note that Starbucks is doing well, recording record third quarter profits. Of course, this comes after major layoffs in 2008 and 2009 when Starbucks terminated an estimated 18,000 jobs. Record profit, in the midst of employee layoffs, seems to be a common business practice these days. But I digress.

In comparison of private and public sector jobs, there is clearly a higher upside in the private sector. The public sector, by itself, does not create millionaires and billionaires. In terms of comparing middle class salaries, many public employees leave for the higher private wages-though to be fair, it is on a case by case basis and often by occupation. Obviously, there are not a lot of private firefighters. However, public benefits are often superior to private benefits-many times simply because of the reluctance of private companies to provide them.

But maybe the answer is not reducing public wages and benefits but raising private compensation. Maybe we should spend more time trying to raise the minimum wage, rather than eliminate it. Maybe more time should be spent paying American wages to American workers, rather than exporting them to countries whose workers will work for pennies on the dollar. Maybe private companies should stop paying their CEOs, lobbyists and shareholders millions of dollars that could be used to hire new employees or give raises to their current ones. Or, maybe, just maybe, we need more unions in our private companies-to promote worker interests and ensure they are paid as well as their public counterparts.

But if Boose and I are now partners in the disparity elimination business, and it seems that we are, clearly the largest disparity is not between the private and public sector but between the upper class and the middle and lower classes. The numbers just keep getting worse; in fact, 2007 data showed that the top 10 percent of Americans control two-thirds of America's wealth. As a Mother Jones article entitled it, "It's the Inequality, Stupid."

In our collective expedition to end the disparity, I expect that Boose will now support higher taxes, as well as the estate tax, on the wealthiest of Americans. This revenue can not only be used to help reduce the deficit, but also pay fair wages and stop the layoffs of public employees. As that money is reintroduced into the economy, there will be more for the middle class, and more for social programs-inspiring the economy and creating jobs in both the private and public sector. I am glad that Boose now recognizes the socio-economic plight of the bottom 90 percent and is committed to spread the wealth.
I guess it is off to the Batmobile for Boose and I-now firmly united as disparity crime fighters!

In reality, and although there are parts of Senate Bill 5 that I agree with, the idea that it is pro-middle class is a disconcerting proposition (some might even say an inexplicable spin of fabrication). Senate Bill 5 is about politics as usual-power, fundraising and reelection. Terrified of upsetting big business, and the wealthiest of Americans, Republicans have turned their attention to the teacher, police and fire unions-seeking to limit the very thing that created the middle class in the first place . . .the right to bargain collectively.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

168. No one gets credit for this

When I think about a financial recovery, the things that excite me is the millions of previously hard-working people who would go back to work. I would be excited for their families, and what an economic relief it would be for them. Families could again have the essentials-maybe even a few luxuries or take a vacation. Children could afford to go to college; even retirement would be a possibility. I also think about the communities-working people means more tax revenue, and more tax revenue means better streets, schools and increased safety.

Perhaps way down the list in my excitement, if at all, would be the realization that a financial recovery would mean that President Obama might get reelected.

Don't get me wrong, at this point, and considering the current list of Republican nominees, I am hoping President Obama is reelected next year-but I would never sacrifice a financial recovery, if there was one to be had, to ensure it. Whatever happened to "team players" and "I don't care who gets the credit"? The current bunch of political leaders, on both sides, are so worried that an opposing idea might succeed that every idea is met with discontent, spin and stalling.

An article recently caught my attention which makes my point. The headline read, "Get Ready for a July Rally," written by Jim Jabak of MSN Money. In the article Jabak looks at the trend of July stocks and projects a July increase, which initially offered some hope. But then Jabak looked ahead and wrote in projection of next year's global economy,

"I expect this to be a wild year as politicians from Washington to Moscow to Beijing vie to buy popular approval (if not actual votes). We've got a presidential election in Russia -- think Vladimir Putin won't do everything he can to make sure that voters are happy? We've got a leadership transition in China -- think Xi Jinping and the other new leaders jockeying for power as Wen steps down won't do everything they can to make sure that China's economy doesn't falter?"

Then Jabak tackles the United States,

"And we've got a presidential election in the United States. This is a huge wild card. Yes, the incumbent will do everything he can to make sure unemployment falls and growth speeds up, although it's not exactly clear what President Barack Obama will be able to do with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives. Republicans have a vested interest in seeing the economy continue to struggle. At the least, they'll be tempted to block anything that might give the president an economic success to talk about in his campaign."

Michele Bachmann, who is somehow emerging as a serious presidential candidate, said as much when she said that she hoped that higher unemployment would improve her chances of winning the presidential election. Do you think Bachmann is going to do anything now that would hurt her chances of winning? What she should have said is, "I hope the high rate of unemployment decreases as soon as possible, too many people have suffered for a long time, but if not, then I hope my ideas can help if I am elected."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell essentially said the same thing, "I refuse to help Barack Obama get reelected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy." What McConnell really said, ignoring of course that President Obama inherited a failing economy, is that a bad economy is good for Republicans-people, and their families, can wait.

It interesting that Republicans, who often do a better job of spinning political issues, is on the wrong side on the debt ceiling issue. Their staunch defense of tax reductions for the top one percent, which is jeopardizing the United State credit rating, government payments and social programs is nearly indefensible-and showing the true colors of many in their party.

Republicans and the Tea Party have tried making this an ideological argument about not raising taxes and job creation-but the public is finally seeing through this, especially when the taxes being argued about are only those in the top one percent. Republican defense of the top one percent, those making almost two million per year, is clearly about political support, fundraising and the taxes they pay, not about improving the American economy and not about the middle and lower classes. Government has gotten smaller, hundreds of thousands of the public jobs have been lost, yet the private sector has been slow to add them-waiting perhaps until after the election.

Jabak anticipates that any recovery will be fragile, "What really worries me is that governments and central banks, having spent much of their ammunition on the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 - and not having produced the economic growth necessary to reload their weapons-will have less, much less, to throw at any crisis that emerges in 2013."

I think Jabak is right on point here. The stimulus package did more to save jobs than create them. The unemployment rate over the last couple of years would have been a lot worse had the stimulus package not been passed. However, even as companies recovered, even prospered, as many have, they have refused to hire new employees-or even bring back some of those laid-off. They've realized that fewer employees, plus increased sales, equals more profit for them and shareholders.

The economic future of the country continues to be of real concern, and I for one do not care whose plan works in initiating its recovery. If a Republican can lead us to prosperity, I would gladly support him or her (last year I voted for Republican Tom Williams for county commissioner). What I do think is that it is time for the wealthiest Americans and corporations start pulling their weight and start giving back to the country that has given them so much. So far, Republicans have not embraced that ideology.

A shared sacrifice, regardless of who get the credit . . . what a noble concept.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

167. Bullying has become a way of life

I admit I like the show Glee. My wife and I enjoy the singing and dancing, silly story lines and variety of characters. We also enjoy that the show tackles some social issues, such as religion, prejudice and bullying.

Deservingly so, and not just on Glee, we've heard a lot about bullying lately. It comes in many definitions and types and can affect children in different ways. There is physical and mental bullying as well as cyber-bullying and psychosocial bullying-probably just to name a few. Surprisingly, perhaps, one of the groups on the rise is girls bullying other girls. The efforts set forth by many to reduce it, or react to it, is commendable and many entities offer good advice to that end.

However, if we look around, we might find that bullying is not just a thing that children must deal with. In fact, if we are objective, we might consider that bullying is a learned behavior and children are learning from the world around them. We might even consider, and make the somewhat facetious argument, that learning how to deal with bullies is a valuable asset for children and they will be better adjusted when they are bullied as adults.

The adult world is full of bullies and similarly they come in many diverse forms. There are political bullies, economic and industrial bullies, corporate bullies, media bullies, religious and intellectual bullies, and military bullies-just to name a few. They are not all physical-in the traditional "might makes right" sense-but they are just as aggressive and have the same ability to make people uncomfortable and affect lives.

Not only Americans, but also many parts of the world felt the Bush-Cheney administration bullied their way through American politics-with the war in Iraq, tax cuts for the wealthy, the justification of torture and the Patriot Act as just a few examples.

The political bullying has not ended, however, and the easiest and most recent example has been the assault of the right of public employees to bargain collectively. Insulting almost everyone along the way, politicians such as Wisconsin's Scott Walker, Ohio's John Kasich and New Jersey's Chris Christie have ignored large-scale protests and avoided any public discussion to bully through their political agendas.

But it is not just politics. Many would make the argument that corporations are indeed the ones running this country-by holding states and communities hostage, being able to pressure legislatures (even more so now with the Citizen's United decision) and demanding public bailouts. Corporations are so intimidating that whistleblowers statutes have had to be enacted to ensure the safety of informers.

Oil companies continue to raise prices, rake in enormous profits and somehow loophole their way out of paying corporate taxes. We are at their mercy. Other companies are reporting significant profits, yet refusing to hire more employees. Factory farmers are working in several states to make it a felony to record the atrocities that take place in their businesses. Pharmaceutical companies have bullied the United States to become one of only two countries that permit prescription medication advertisement on television.

The financial industry further bullied the legislatures and American public into public rescue as being "too big to fail." Wall Street arrogantly, and still defiantly, made bad business decisions-ruining the lives of millions-and not only escaped accountability, but also continues to flaunt larger profits and bonuses.

Religion often bullies its beliefs on not only its followers, but also into society. Portraying discourse as offensive, it chastises those that do not believe or believe as they do. Furthermore, it acts to control societal change by, for example, working to cut off funding for contrary viewpoints like Planned Parenthood and banning gay marriage.

There are many more examples across a spectrum of perspectives. Adult bullying is perhaps a bit more subtle, but no less uncomfortable and harmful. People often feel powerless to fight against those much stronger than they are. This strength, however, comes in many different forms-though it typically occurs as a financial occurrence or social pressure. It follows the simple golden rule, "He who has the gold, makes the rules."

Unfortunately, bullying is a part of our entire lives. Bullies exist because they know their reasons and arguments often fail and need to resort to pressure and influence to get what they want. Bullies usually make the calculated assumption that people will give up, accept it or move on with their lives. However, one of the best ways to deal with societal bullies is to outnumber them, stand up to them and fight back.

Surprisingly, they often back down

Thursday, June 23, 2011

166. Entire college system is broken

This is not just a Terrelle Pryor problem, or a Jim Tressel problem, it is a NCAA problem.

Don't get me wrong, I was not fond of Pryor, something I asserted even when he was beating Michigan and winning bowl games. From his LeBron James-type "decision" in which he chose Ohio State to the NCAA infractions--this kid has demonstrated not only excessive amounts of arrogance but also a complete absence of perspective.

That lack of perspective was on display in 2009 when Pryor wore "Vick" eyepatchs to show his support for convicted dog killer Michael Vick. Afterwards, he said, ''Not everybody's the perfect person in the world. I mean, everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever. I think that people need a second chance.'' Seriously, he played the "everyone kills people" card?

It's perhaps a bit ironic that now he is the one asking for a second chance.

His arrogance continued when he recently said in a statement, ''In the best interests of my teammates, I've made the decision to forgo my senior year of football at The Ohio State University." So I wonder, was it about his teammates when Pryor's actions, in part, launched a NCAA investigation that got him suspended, inspired the termination of his coach and brought national embarrassment to the university? I would say that is an interesting way of acting in the best interest of his teammates.

It is easy to see what Tressel saw in Pryor. His talent level was off the charts, and he was the next generation of college quarterback. He saw multiple national championships in Pryor and he was willing to sell his soul to win them. Some will say that Tressel was acting to protect his players in lying about his knowledge of the NCAA infractions. Maybe he was, but he was also acting in self-interest. As much as I generally respected Tressel, he was a guy that supported the awful BCS system. This support was hypocritical in the sense that Tressel made his name in college football by winning I-AA championships--which is determined by a playoff system. Tressel had it all figured out--play seven home games a year, win one or two tough games (including Michigan) and he would be in the running to play for a national championship. Why would he want a playoff system--where he would have to win four tough games in a row. I found that perspective to be a little cowardice.

The question is now whether Tressel will get a second chance--like the morally repugnant, Pryor and Vick.

However, the real problem is the NCAA. As sportswriter Jason Whitlock wrote, "The system is broken. No one believes in the integrity of the NCAA rule book. Most fair-minded people don't believe the athletes are getting a fair shake. Many of them are unprepared to be educated in college, and the demands on their time compromise their ability to catch up or keep pace academically."

Whitlock further notes, "Because of technological advances, video games, online shopping and the explosion of sports-related TV programing, NCAA schools now collectively derive billions rather than millions from college football and basketball."

There is no doubt about it, college players are exploited for profit. Rules are broken and then selectively enforced. It is all about the money. That's why the BCS system exists, and why we have March Madness. It's why Cam Newton and Terrelle Pryor were allowed to play in the bowl games. It is not about fairly determining champions or acting with integrity or producing student-athletes; it is about making billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, there is no recourse; the NCAA is essentially self-governed. The NCAA has no competition, and fans are not willing to sacrifice their enjoyment to force the NCAA to make changes. We can be as outraged as we want to be, but as long as we keep buying tickets, supporting sponsors and watching games-things will not change. Players will continue to exploited, and they will continue to break the rules. And coaches will do whatever it takes to win a championship. And that includes knowing when to look the other way or get out of town.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

165. I know a man; he's just an anomaly

In defending many minority perspectives, I spend a lot of time listening and considering counterarguments. Though there is a formal approach to argumentation, primarily through the rules of logic, there is also political and social argumentation that is based on passion and conflicting data. These are arguments that extend beyond the normal process of presenting episodes of effective reasoning or formal debates. Often they are philosophical or theoretical in nature--such as capitalism versus socialism.

Too often, these debates result in defending a default position based on personal preference or emotion more than the serious consideration of the merit of the argument. There are different types of arguments in that defense, and something like the "slippery slope" argument is a perfect example. For example, this is often used to defend the prejudice against gay marriage. The argument that is usually made is that if gays are allowed to marry, what's next-allowing people to marry their animals?

Another popular argument is what I refer to as the "I know a guy" argument. There might be a formal name for it, but basically it is the premise of discounting an argument because someone has first-hand knowledge that, in his or her opinion, disproves the argument.

The classic example is made by smokers in regards to the argument that cigarette smoking is harmful to one's health. Despite overwhelming evidence, someone who smokes and does not want to give the habit up will often rationalize, or counter argue, that their "cousin's uncle smoked three packs a day and lived to be 95 years old."

I am hearing this argument a lot now in the area of vegetarianism/veganism. It seems like many people knew a vegetarian who ran twenty miles a week and died at 34.

Are people lying, or exaggerating? Maybe, but not necessarily. They might indeed know someone that has lived to be very old smoking or eating meat and dairy. Or someone who lived a healthy life and died very young. But maybe, they are hanging onto the hope that what they really know is true, is not. Or, and perhaps most likely, it's a form of justification--providing a reason not to change or a way to sleep at night.

Ultimately, our lives are so personal that I think sometimes we lose perspective and neglect the principles of research and statistics. In the world of statistics, an outlier (or data in the tail of the bell curve) is perfectly normal, even if there are no other factors affecting the result. And whether vegetarians/vegans live longer or smokers die younger, it is not determined on an individual basis, it is based on the normal distribution of that bell curve. Thus if you plotted smokers and non-smokers on a bell curve according to the age of death, the mean score (age of death) of smokers is much less than non-smokers.

On the individual level, and in this example, there are of course a number of factors that can determine how long someone lives. However, knowing someone that differs from the premise being made, does not, in itself defeat the premise. In fact, it's a terrible argument and it's surprising how many people view this as a some sort of trump card.

While I've provided a simple common example, if you listen to conversations--the "I know a guy" argument is more prevalent than it may seem. Although perhaps not as directly related to the bell curve, I heard the argument a lot in the healthcare debate, the "I know a guy from Canada and he had to wait six months to get a surgery he needed." It is also often extended to someone who is personally involved or offended. Consider, for example, the proposal that children of single parents are at a higher risk for drug use than a two parent home. I'll hear, "Well, I'm a single mom and my kids have never done drugs." Or I'll hear it associated with inside personal information, such as "farm animals are not mistreated because I know a farmer and he takes good care of his animals."

The world is a big place, and in the grand scheme of things, we are extraordinarily average. We, and the processes around us, are also very predictable. Though statistics can be difficult to understand, in almost all instances we fall within the normal distribution of a bell curve--falling within one and certainly two standard deviations of the mean.

Unfortunately, even though it may be to some degree counterintuitive, you may indeed know a guy, but it proves nothing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

164. Respect everyone's graduate

Very recently, I had the privilege of attending my sister's college graduation at the University of Akron. Like many adult students, she has worked very hard--balancing classes, work and family. The graduation ceremony is a chance to be recognized for that hard work by family and friends. It's a chance to close a chapter in one's life and look forward to the future. Finally, it's a chance to say goodbye to professors and classmates.

Individuals celebrate the ceremony in different ways, as some react with relief, others jubilation. Most are at least a little emotional, some very. Many people invite only close family members, others share the occasion with as many people for which graduation tickets can be obtained. Some graduates enjoy the moment formally, in suits or beautiful dresses, others in shorts and flip-flops. Whatever, it is their graduation.

The ceremony itself is often traditional--with moments of reflection, inspiration and aspiration. It can be rich with majesty, though some are kept simple. Admittedly, the ceremony can run long--very long, as each graduate gets his or her individual moment to be announced to the crowd and walk across the stage. And, to ensure that each graduate enjoys that moment--when his or her name is proudly projected onto the gathering-graduation officials kindly request that applause and yelling be held until the end.

Unfortunately, many people in the crowd simply cannot control themselves. Whether this action is now marked in tradition or as a measure of defiance, it's not long after the names start to be read that people start yelling . . . "Way to go Sally!" Then, of course, the next family can't let anyone think that they love their graduate any less and yell something like, "Way to go Mary, we love you!" And away we go.

Some graduation officials just accept it as part of the process and simply wait for the hooting and hollering for individuals to end before reading the next name, others are annoyed that people can't follow simple directions and request that the crowd be more respectful. It doesn't work, the yelling and screaming quickly resumes.

In keeping up with technology, the University of Akron asked that people put away their cell phones. They asked that they not only turn off the ringer, but also that they refrain from texting, playing games, etc. Of course, asking people to sit patiently without using their phones for two hours borders on absurdity. It is far too much to ask people to sit back and just enjoy the moment on behalf of their graduate without an addition form of entertainment. The request was respected for about half an hour (about our attention span these days) before the audience was littered and lit with people on their cell phones.

However, what was probably most annoying were the people who could not sit still for the ceremony and those that left early--after their family member had been called. The audience was packed with long rows of people filling E.J. Thomas Hall and each exit imposed on every other person in the row. While obviously there are some legitimate reasons for exit, some acted as if they were at a ball game and seemed to leave every few minutes on a beer run.

Each graduate enjoys about twenty seconds to be individually recognized on stage. And my niece, armed with her camera and ready to catch that moment forever on film, waited anxiously for her mom's name to be called. However, she recognized that with our name near the end of the alphabet, more and more people were exiting. Normally calm and laid back, she leaned over and whispered to me that if someone is exiting in front of her when her mom's name is called she was going to be very upset.

And that is the whole point, it is about respect--about allowing others to enjoy the moment as you wish to enjoy it. It's also about being kind and considerate, about being willing to endure a bit a sacrifice as to not ruin the occasion for others. It never ceases to amaze me (obviously, as I continue to write about it) that some people do not seem to consider how their actions affect others.

I'll always remember my sister's moment on stage, and how hard she worked to earn that right. Unfortunately, I'll also remember the cell phones, the mom interrupting many others as she allowed her child to literally crawl down the long aisle, and the people who almost ruined the occasion for my niece, our family and the families of many others.

Finally, I'll remember the woman who yelled at the top of her lungs and from the top row, "I love you Danesiha," at least four random times throughout the ceremony. In my opinion, it is a shame that she and others who acted as she did needed to engage in such a public interruption to "prove" her love for their graduate. And, it is more of a shame that no respect is offered to others wanting to share in that same love for their graduate.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

163. End the suffering; boycott veal

Veal has always tested the ethical boundaries of meat production, so much so that even many adamant meat-eaters will not consume it.

To tell the story once more, veal calves are the product of the dairy industry in which predominantly male calves are raised and slaughtered at a very young age for their meat. These calves are the offspring of dairy cows, which must be continuously bred in order to be lactating (produce milk). While the female calves often become dairy cows themselves, the males are usually destined for a short stay on a veal farm.

What is offensive to many consumers is not just the young age in which the claves are slaughtered (usually 16-20 weeks), but also how they live their short lives. Veal calves can live up to ten weeks of their lives in veal crates so small that they cannot even turn around. One reason this method is imposed is to restrict movement, so that muscle does not develop--keeping the meat tender. Amazingly, much of the public remained unaware of these conditions until the 1980s when pictures first surfaced showing veal calves tethered in crates. This awareness decreased consumption, but did not change the unethical treatment of calves.

In 2009, Ohio voters installed an Ohio Livestock Standards Care Board to "create state standards for the care and well-being of livestock in Ohio." As I have mentioned several times, this is a fallacy and the Board was in fact created to preempt animal welfare groups from setting humane farming standards--securing farming profits based on economical rather than the ethical treatment of farm animals. The plan failed when Ohioans for Humane Farms collected enough signatures to put potential anti-factory farming laws on the ballot. In response, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) settled on a number of standards to be jointly recommended to the Board.

The Board has adhered to all of the recommendations--until now. One of the recommendations made to the Board, and part of the joint agreement, was that veal crates would be banned by 2017. The Board, seemingly influenced by a small number of veal farmers, and despite a large amount of evidence to the contrary, has now provisionally voted 6-5 to ignore the agreement made by the HSUS and OFB and not ban the veal crates. Interestingly, the American Veal Association itself has announced that they plan to phase out the use of crates--recommending that the entire veal industry "convert to group housing methodology" by December 31, 2017. Something smells about this vote, and it is not just the cow dung.

The truth is that many animal advocates were not even incredibly pleased by the original agreement, because it does not help any veal calves born within the next seven years. It's like an agreement to end slavery in five years--it's great that the suffering will end, but what about those suffering now? And, it does not address the short lives of veal calves, or the despicable nature of the dairy industry.

Upon the provisional vote, the public was able to officially comment from March 2 to March 16. The final vote on the measure is scheduled for April 5-and many animal advocates will be making their way down to Columbus to express their displeasure with removing the ban on veal crates--and the disregard of the original agreement. The public can also comment directly to

However, the simpler solution-the one that does not involve meandering through the political and corporate backdrop of the Board or that does not rely on influencing an unelected Board who has no accountability to the public--is to simply stop purchasing veal. The public needs again to be made aware of what it is supporting when they purchase veal--because it only exists if we allow it to exist. If there are no consumers, there is no suffering.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

162. Tragedy shows good in people

We always hear how precious and fleeting life can be. While clichés run rampant, usually in regards to taking time to enjoy life and not to spend time worrying about the little things, when misfortune happens-the clichés suddenly seem somewhat insightful and not so ambiguous.

On February 8, my family was involved in the house fire that occurred in Sheffield Township. My wife and I purchased the house in 1998 and her family has lived there since then. In the fire, Tom, my brother-in-law died from smoke inhalation and my mother-in-law lost her home. Remarkably, her dog and four cats all survived and are all now snuggly living with my mother.

While we will never know what happened for sure, we believe that the fire started up in Tom's bedroom. Tom then ran downstairs to open the front door for the animals before going back upstairs to try to put out the fire. It's a natural reaction, and a mistake that many people make-one that I would probably make, especially if one of our animals were at risk. Unfortunately, smoke inhalation can be deadly. The fire investigator told us that he has seen people go back into the house for something as insignificant as a cell phone, only to be overcome by smoke.

For us, it was a normal Tuesday. I had just gone through a workout and then went to dinner with my wife. We came home, where I was hurrying to get to my on-line class when we got the message. The rest of the evening was surreal and several times my wife and I had to consider whether this was reality or just a bad dream.

When we arrived at the house, there were several fire departments and their personnel everywhere. The fire had already been put out and Tom had been taken to the hospital-where my mother-in-law was also. We did not know for sure, but all indications were that he did not survive. The Red Cross was on the scene and was very kind in letting us know how they could help. After speaking to the firefighters, who were brave and courteous, we got the dog and one of the cats and headed to the hospital. I'd have to return later in the dark frigid cold to find the other cats.

Unfortunately, the difficulties have not ended for my mother-in-law. On a trip to Aldi's with my mom, she fell on the ice and broke her wrist. Employed as a restaurant server, she cannot work with a broken wrist-and because she would not be able to work for four to six weeks, her employer promptly fired her. And, she's been in the hospital twice this month with pneumonia. In a month, my mother-in-law has lost her son, her house and her job-and nothing but time to sit around thinking about it. Can you imagine?

As a social critic, I often struggle with a world that I think could be much improved. However, my family and I were completely overwhelmed by the support we received from our families, friends and the local community. People donated time, money and food to my mother-in-law, who probably won't be back into her house for at least four months. Friends and family we haven't seen for years, you know, those friends you keep saying you're going to have dinner with, stopped what they were doing and reached out to us. We could not be more thankful.

We'll miss Tom and any number of life quotes seem applicable. We never know what tomorrow will bring. Tragedy can strike anyone on any day. It is important to plan for the future, but we should make a point to enjoy each and every day. It's true we sometimes take life for granted, and get bogged down worrying and arguing about the little things-those things that at the end of the day are meaningless. While some days in our lives will clearly be more important than others, we might want to steer clear of those routine days-the ones that have the potential to turn into years. In that respect, there's nothing wrong with getting an early start on that bucket list-just in case.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

161. Politics heading the wrong way

Since sometime in November, around the time when the "tax deal" was made, I began my political vacation. Not so coincidentally timed with the actual holiday season, I needed to take a break. I haven't written a political column or posted a political tweet or Facebook status. I even walked away from email debates with friends. I had had enough.

The tax deal was certainly part of my despair. It has become increasingly obvious that the wealthy will always get what they want. For some reason, the poor and middle classes and those that are supposed to represent them, always cave into the demands, or the whining, of the wealthy. I don't know if it because they think rich people will suddenly start giving their money away or because they don't want to be heavily taxed when they become a multi-millionaire. Either way, they should understand that both scenarios are unlikely.

At least, through it all, President Obama can no longer be called a socialist, because a socialist would never agree to such a disproportionate distribution of wealth. In fact, the extension of tax breaks for the wealthy was a sad endorsement of our capitalistic system-and its excessive rewards. And, understandably for the representatives that voted for it, now that corporations have a free rein to influence elections, what politician would want dance through a minefield of angry rich folks?

But, it's more than the tax cuts. The political rhetoric has become unbearable. From angry conservative name-calling to liberal pompous mockery, both sides have deviated from constructive communication. It's rarely about principle, it's more often about financial interests and winning elections. The rhetoric ranges from the absurd to offensive. And Americans continue to accept it-as either ignorant or indifferent. Instead of standing up and saying "enough with the crazy talk," people dig in, like a cornered animal-defending their views.

Unfortunately, the tragedy in Arizona could not be ignored, and it has dragged my attention back into the political spectrum. Barely after the dust settled, the left pointed to this as an incident of an angry, brainwashed conservative, and the right formulated an array of some of the most ridiculous political spin that I have ever heard. The debate has taken on an oscillating exchange of blame and denial.

And speaking of blame, I do not blame Sarah Palin, this individual obviously had a lot of mental issues, and it seems that he could have targeted the community college that suspended him just as easily as the political meeting. However, Palin needs to realize that her constant references to guns, and reloading, and shooting animals, and placing crosshairs on a map-while it might be metaphoric, or symbolic, or makes her "cool" with the guys- can influence a troubled individual to act dangerously.

Thus, whether or not this incident was politically motivated, it is clear that American politics are moving in the wrong direction. As voters, we can keep voting in and out representatives, but it is futile if the game doesn't change.

I am as passionate as anyone when it comes to the issues that matter most to me, and I may be guilty of emphatically arguing my position at times-but there is a difference between a well-reasoned distinction in opinion and the intent to deceive. I want people to read my argument (Consider this . . .), and then do their own research, ask their own questions, weigh both sides of the issue against their own values and then, and only then, come to a reasoned perspective. If you agree, great, if not, let's talk about it.

However, politicians and political pundits continue to bet on the idea that Americans will react emotionally- based on where they fall on the political spectrum-and not do their own research. Ignorance and indifference are now part of political playbook. People do what they think are supposed to do and believe what they are supposed to believe. Politicians believe they are not going to be re-elected without venomously attacking those on the other side of the aisle; pundits worry that they will not get the ratings they need without testing the emotional boundaries of their viewers.

Above everything else, it might be this appeal to emotion that is responsible for the events in Arizona. Emotion can easily turn into anger and hate, which, when combined with mental illness, can have tragic consequences. Instead of blaming the other side, politicians and pundits need to look in the mirror and take it down a level or two. I read that FOX finally asked their commentators to tone it down in the aftermath of the tragedy-I hope that's true.

Unfortunately, it might get worse before it gets better. On the political horizon is healthcare, and now maybe gun control. These are two topics that, in the past, have proven to be less than rationally considered.