Thursday, December 3, 2015

242. War and terrorism breed war and terrorism

In its simplest definition, terrorism is “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” In this respect, terrorism can cover a lot of situations and motivations, and only slightly differs from war, which is defined as “a state of armed conflict between different nations or states or different groups within a nation or state.”

There seems to be a fragile moral distinction between the collateral damage, that is the American term for the death of innocent civilians in a war between countries, and the innocent killed by terrorist organizations. The latter seems to kill far fewer individuals, but incites panic and instills fear in not only the general citizenry but also prompts well-supported national retaliation. Intentionally, there is something more terrifying about unsuspected violence and knowingly being part of a country that is being attacked.

For example, the Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States led to more than 3,000 deaths. However, the civilians violently killed in Afghanistan in retaliation numbered 26,000 according the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. The same report lists Iraqi civilian deaths at 165,000 for a war started after the 9/11 attacks but still without reason.

As someone who loves my country, and has nothing but the utmost respect and appreciation for our courageous soldiers, I have difficulty reconciling the amount violence and death this country has engaged in, supported or funded over its relatively short history. An unbiased review of American history is troublesome.

To understand the real story behind the country’s founding and subsequent protection of American interest, I would strongly recommend two books: A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and The Untold History of The United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. They are intense and lengthy reads but so powerful in refuting much of the propaganda in traditional text books.

“What struck me as I began to study history was how nationalist fervor--inculcated from childhood on by pledges of allegiance, national anthems, flags waving and rhetoric blowing--permeated the educational systems of all countries, including our own. I wonder now how the foreign policies of the United States would look if we wiped out the national boundaries of the world . . . Then we could never drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, or napalm on Vietnam, or wage war anywhere, because wars, especially in our time, are always wars against children, indeed our children,” wrote Zinn.

American hypocrisy started upon our arrival as colonists to this country were perhaps the original illegal immigrants. The soon-to-be Americans steadfastly took this land from the Indians though brutal wars and broken peace and land agreements.

Zinn noted the atrocities, “Angered when fellow Indians were induced to cede a great tract of land to the United States government, Tecumseh organized in 1811 an Indian gathering of five thousand . . . and told them: “Let the white race perish. They seize your land; they corrupt your women; they trample on the ashes of your dead! Back whence they came, upon a trail of blood, they must be driven.””

Obviously the white Americans were not driven from this land and with them they brought slavery and some of the most despicable forms of human treatment ever endured on this planet.

“African slavery lacked two elements that made American slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture; the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of racial hatred, with that relentless clarity based on color, where white was master, black was slave,” Zinn wrote.

Perhaps the most justified war was World War II, in which the United States was brought late into the war and helped the Russians finish off the Germans and take revenge on Japan. However, the United States, for all the talk of nuclear weapons, is still the only country to drop an atomic bomb—doing so unnecessarily on two Japan cities, killing hundreds of thousands of individuals.

“Most American view World War II nostalgically as the "good war," in which the United States and its allies triumphed over German Nazism, Italian fascism, and Japanese militarism. The rest of the world remembers it as the bloodiest war in human history. By the time it was over, more than 60 million people lay dead, including 27 million Russians . . . ,” wrote Oliver Stone.

Prosperity can be fragile and United State governments, whether run by Republican or Democratic administrations, have been, and continue to be, fully committed to protecting American interests around the world. That protection has included the overthrowing of defiant governments, instilling revolution against those governments or providing arms to those already in rebellion. The amount innocent deaths in the protection of interest are perhaps incalculable.

Zinn likewise comments, “We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things to people in Third World countries whose resources are coveted by our multinational corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism.”

The concerning issue for me is that the United States has been responsible, since its origin, for a terrible number of deaths, including of millions of “collateral damage.” I’ve not even included any consideration of the Vietnam, Korean or many other American conflicts. The war in Iraq has been a global embarrassment, not only by the unnecessary deaths but also the trillions of wasted tax-payer dollars. Yet American patriotism lacks perspective and behaves arrogantly, with some sort of moral superiority, projecting stereotypes and racism on others—as though killing for a distorted view of religion is worse than killing to protect economic interest.

At some point, the world—not just the United States—needs to evolve. War and terrorism just creates anger and inspires more war and terrorism. While war on dedicated terrorist organizations is unavoidable, it should not come at the expense of civilian fatalities. And wars to further economic interests, whether directly or indirectly, to preserve the greed of the wealthy at the expense of the poor in third world countries or otherwise is never acceptable.

Life is precious and should not be discarded so readily. The number of deaths on a report doesn’t tell the story of broken families and shattered hearts.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

241. GOP debates have been a bit of a fiasco

I think it was John Kasich who said in one of the earlier debates that some of his Republican counterparts were living in a fantasy world. He might be right.

I have watched all of the Republican debates thus far and it’s been a bit of a fiasco. From Trump’s repeating rants to the whole lot of them complaining that the questions were unfair, the debates have made for good reality television.

As I mentioned previously, my choice for president is Bernie Sanders. If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, I will probably vote for her. But I am still interested about who will win the Republican nomination. They could earn my vote, but I also want to know where the country is headed if one of them is elected president.

Despite my strong values and opinions, I enjoy the discussion of important issues. I get to test my beliefs and sometimes even change them. I like considering the arguments.

But some of the arguments. Sheesh.

Most want to repeal Obamacare, but other than a “free market system,” nobody seems to offer a solid alternative. A free market healthcare system is ridiculous—this system is so big, convoluted, confusing and intertwined with the protected interest of so many powerful organizations and the government (Medicaid and Medicare) that it could never work. There is only one rational alternative and that is national healthcare. It’s not perfect, but my preferred option.

Of course, any talk of the government getting bigger segues to socialism, a favorite topic in the debates. I am pretty convinced that Republicans still don’t understand what socialism really means (Carly Fiorina kept using crony capitalism and socialism in the same answer) and their political exaggerations only damage the conversation. Several candidates want to cut the size of government (and presumably put lots of people out of work) by cutting departments like the IRS and Chamber of Commerce, while increasing the size of the military.

The military talk is quite frankly a bit frightening. Only Rand Paul called out the conflicting notion of conservatism and small government while increasing defense spending. The “tough talk,” is getting annoying, plays on the fear factor and it seems like further conflict is inevitable. With a military budget that dwarfs the rest of the world (four times larger than China, the next biggest and about eight times the size of Putin’s Russia), I am not sure how much bigger it needs to get.

Taxes. Republicans understand the flat tax as well as they understand socialism. In a flat tax system of 10 percent, clearly it is comprehensible that paying $5,000 on a salary $50,000 has far more of a quality of life impact than paying $1 million on $10 million in earnings. Surprisingly to some, our progressive system is much more fair, everyone pays the same amount of taxes based on earnings—there are just too many loopholes and too low a tax rate on high wage earners. A three-page tax form is a nice thought, but more fantasy—it’s never going to happen. Lower taxes are a great message, I would love less taxes with the same government services—trouble is, as usual, the disagreements are about what to cut.

As for the candidates themselves, the stump speeches are getting repetitive. Donald Trump, who got off to a strong start and has a dedicated base, is clearly starting to stumble. He is vague and rude, and probably lives in the biggest fantasy land of them all. Billions of dollars can do that to a man. He’s becoming a farce and would have done better with a short primary season. I am disappointed in Jeb Bush and sometimes feel sorry for him in the debates. He seems out of his element. For someone so connected and who had two immediate family members serve in the White House, he is surprisingly ambiguous. I would expect that he would lead the conversation with details and experience—as John Kasich has done.

Ben Carson is an interesting person with obvious intelligence. But he also believes some weird stuff and there are legitimate questions about his past. The line about asking what he said in tenth grade was great and applicable, but he still makes me nervous. The vetting process is going to get much more intense. I thought Chris Christie would be more of a factor, but his obsession with Hillary Clinton means it is time for him and the others on the preliminary stage to drop out.

Carly Fiorina may have some talent, but I don’t think she has the demeanor or qualifications to be president. She would do well with some time in a lesser elected position before running for president. Ted Cruz seems to be improving but is another with some weird positions. I think Rand Paul is the most consistent, though conservative, of the candidates— and I respect that.

My prediction is that the nomination is going to Marco Rubio. Although there are some concerns, he has the charisma and preparedness to win the nomination. He reminds me a bit of Barack Obama and his quick rise in the Democratic party. Sometimes less is more and that Rubio doesn’t have a lengthy record to defend might help him. Others are starting to attack him, so he seems to have gotten their attention. As the field shrinks (and let’s hope it does), Rubio is going to get more time to speak and I think will outshine the others.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

240. Supporting Sanders was an easy decision

Can you feel the burn?

By burn, I am not talking about the anger immigrants feel about Donald Trump, Muslims feel toward Ben Carson, or pro-choice advocates feel toward Carly Fiorina.

I am talking about Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont who is running in the Democratic primary for president. While Republicans are slugging it out, some 18 at a time, there has been a quiet and swelling support for Sanders.

Although Hillary Clinton is the presumed Democratic nominee, regardless of vice president Joe Biden’s interest in running, there has been a progressive, dare I say socialist, interest in Sanders.

Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist, which advocates a democratic political system combined with a socialistic economic system. However, Sanders seems to be really advocating a social democracy, where there is increased regulation of capitalism. Either way, he is the only candidate who really understands that wealthy inequality and a political system controlled by the wealthy are the biggest threats to our democratic and economic viability.

The feasibility of most candidates on the presidential stage is dependent upon the fundraising ability and support of super PACs. The infamous Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court allowed corporations and special interest groups to donate at will, thus providing millions to candidates they feel will protect, or improve, their financial interests. True to his beliefs, Sanders has refused to accept any super PAC money, instead relying on individual donations.

There is a difference between a politician and an ideologue. A politician makes decisions and supports those issues that will garner votes, while an ideologue runs on principle and passion—and tries to inform and convince the electorate of the value of those principles. With Sanders’ passions aligning with my own, my support for him was an easy decision.

What most don’t understand is income inequality is not about envy or jealousy; it is about a moral commitment to make sure the incredible wealth of a few does not push others into poverty. It’s not about everyone having an equal share. There should be winners and losers. Those who work harder should reap greater rewards. What it is about is closing that gap between the winners and losers.

Sanders, who could fill the page with quotes to this effect, said, “A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much, while so many have so little.”

Unfortunately, this is a difficult battle to win. The wealthy have the influence, the middle class is too busy making ends meet, and the poor are rarely heard.

As Sanders said: “The billionaire class fully understands what is at stake. That’s why a handful of them are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the current elections. Their goal is not to strengthen the middle class, but continue the trend in which the rich are getting richer at the expense of everyone else.”

I have heard from many that I am wasting my time because Sanders can’t win.

Maybe not. But his candidacy is raising the issue, and that alone can be considered a success. It’s a movement and we need to get there sooner rather than later, but it is not all or nothing based on Sanders’ success.

Sanders joins Robert Reich and Elizabeth Warren in fighting for economic reform. Americans have been indoctrinated into a capitalist system where they believe that trickle-down economics works, that rich people create jobs, and lower taxes are better for everyone. It’s rubbish and it has created a country with one of the largest gaps in wealth inequality in the world.

For me, Sanders is on the right side of almost all the major issues, but for me this is the dominant issue. I would suggest that Republicans and Democrats alike take a look at Sanders. Listen to what he says and do your own research.

Consider the man who advocates “people over profits.”

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

239. There has to be a better way

Looking for employment is probably one of the most stressful and humbling experiences in life. Unless you are one of the coveted in a particular area of expertise, job searching is a time-consuming, exhausting, and emotional journey.

Unfortunately, I think companies sometimes forget that.

Before I get into the details, my first plea to companies is that if you already know who you are going to hire, please don’t waste everyone’s time posting the position. I know sometimes there are company policies that require such, but each time a job is posted, it is reviewed by perhaps thousands of applicants. If the matter is settled in advance — and I don’t fault companies for hiring or promoting someone they might already know and trust — please be respectful of the time and effort of those who might consider applying for the position.

Many companies require that, in addition to submitting a resume and cover letter, applicants must also apply for the job online. The applications can be lengthy and often ask you to repeat much of what is on your resume. And in some cases, online applications include lengthy tests for candidates. I applied for one job while going to law school and I could not believe the amount of time it required: 10 years of college wasn’t enough, I still had to multitask through some silly email tests and many others. Cover letters are bad enough, more annoying than anything else when you are in a hurry, but the online applications and tests can eat up a good part of your day.

If you’re fortunate enough to get through the application process, you must deal with the interviews. I’ve experienced a number of different interview methods—including one-on-one, group, rotating and multiple interviews. I’ve also encountered more tests and even had to make presentations. What does it say about the quality of colleges and the integrity of applicants that companies feel the need to make applicants take basic tests?

The most worthless of the interview methods are the structured interviews. The pretense is to be objective in the process and give each candidate the same canned questions and evaluate their ability to give canned responses. It’s usually the favorite of those terrified of the legal consequences of favoring one candidate over another (which happens anyway).When I’ve interviewed candidates, I’ve wanted to get to know them. I want to ask them about their values, their experiences, why they would be a good fit for our company. To me, it goes way past the same boring questions. For me, it is the follow-up questions where you get the most information. Some structured interviews only involve people reading questions from a piece of paper and recording the answer. There is no interaction, no getting to know that person. All that is being tested is whether the applicant is versed enough in interviews to give the answer he or she is supposed to give.

It’s actually interesting the weight put on interviews in any capacity. As the American Psychological Association asserts, “For over 50 years, psychologists criticized employment interviews on the grounds that they were subjective, subject to bias, and most important, poor predictors of future job performance. Hundreds of studies of the employment interview had led most industrial psychologists to conclude that they were nearly worthless and that interviews often did more harm than good.”

In fact, they are probably as worthless as contacting references. I would think that a candidate’s resume would be incredibly more valuable than a one hour interview, often in which the candidate is nervous, anxious, and programmed.

Other pursuits of employers now often include a background check, credit check, and review of social media. A background check is vital, and I have no complaint there. Credit checks can be revealing, for sure, but any decision made using credit checks is supposed to be conveyed to the employee, which probably never happens.

Social media is a new component to the employment process, one on which I disagreed with the assessment of Human Resource professionals at a recent conference. I think it is both an easily accessible resource for employers and one that not only allows insight into the applicant, but also subjects them to biases. How easy would it be for an employer to use his or her own social values in making an employment decision? If I were a career coach, I would probably recommend deleting social media accounts until a job is secured.

In an economy in which employers still hold most of the cards, prospective employees are subject, more than ever, to a time-consuming and intensive, even intrusive, hiring process. Employers certainly have a duty to hire the best person for their company, as turnover is a significant cost. However, they also need to be respectful of the stressful, perhaps desperate, situation of job seekers. Some, especially those who are unemployed, may have their entire life — family, house, self-esteem — at stake.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

238. Is your phone changing your behavior?

There can be no argument that technology is changing our world—and our behavior. And it’s not just the habit of obsessively checking our phones—though that is part of it. There seems to be an underlying perception issue of our place in the world.

These perception issues, in my opinion, include a lack of self-awareness, narcissistic behavior, attention deficit, societal disconnect, and the need for instant gratification. My reasoning for each are discussed in turn:

Self-awareness:  My favorite quote of this subject comes from the baseball movie, Bull Durham, “The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness.” Self-awareness, whether is it mired in space and time, perspective or social etiquette, is becoming a lost personality trait. A synonym of sorts is “oblivious,” which is how the lack of self-awareness is often recognized. The more we are wrapped up in ourselves, the more oblivious we become. Some people seem to think that they, and their interest, are the only things that exist.

Narcissistic behavior: A great read on this subject is “The Narcissism Epidemic,” by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. Chapters include the, “The many wonders of admiring yourself,” “The Disease of excessive self-admiration,” and “Hell yeah, I’m hot.” It’s an exploration in self-promotion, materialism and how parenting is leading to the delusional perception that each of us is especially remarkable. Parents coddle and label their children as princesses or stars. When their children fail it is always the fault of others—which result in whining and lawsuits. Through social media and reality shows, many people talk of themselves as being a “brand.” Because anyone can open their world to the Internet, it’s easy to engage into a false sense of relevancy-- and obsessively take selfies of yourself.

Attention deficit: On the show Brain Games, they conducted an experiment in which young adults we told they were part of a focus group. They were to watch a video and offer their feedback, but in order to get paid for their participation they had to put their cell phones away. Brain Games faked a problem with the video, left the room and reiterated that participants could not use their cell phones. As you might guess, within a matter of minutes, these adults could not resist and started checking their phones. Despite being paid not to check their phones, the need for consistent stimulation was too overwhelming. It was too much to suggest just sitting there quieting, or gosh, even maybe talking to each other. Our technical world is creating a population that has the attention span of a goldfish (which is about 3 seconds, I looked it up!).

Societal disconnect:  Carrie Brownstein said, “I think that half of us feel fraudulent in our lives anyway. There's that strange disconnect of not really knowing what we're doing sometimes, or why it matters. It's our existential crisis.” Thus, for the things we do know we ignore the consequences of our actions through justification or assumed disconnect. For the things we don’t know, we choose to act out of ignorance rather than make an effort to understand why things are the way they are. This disconnect is widespread and now includes most human endeavors—such as politics, religion, economics and nature.  We seemingly can’t pay attention long enough to make the connection.

Instant gratification: Now is not soon enough anymore. From materialism to education, it’s about getting what you want when you want it—usually as soon as possible.  Credit has allowed people to buy things they can’t afford; colleges keep shortening the time it takes to earn a degree. Adora Svitak commented, “We're used to the characteristics of social media - participation, connection, instant gratification - and when school doesn't offer the same, it's easy to tune out.” Once out of school, there is an impatience to work up the corporate ladder. The lack of self-awareness and narcissistic delusion creates unrealistic expectations.  And the need for consistent stimulation and individual reward has come at the expense of community and reflection. Judith Wright relates, “As we get past our superficial material wants and instant gratification we connect to a deeper part of ourselves, as well as to others, and the universe.”

We live in a competitive world—one that is shrinking—which may be partly responsible for the attention to self-interest. That the Internet has offered a voice to those who would otherwise not be heard is not necessarily a bad thing. And, there is certainly nothing wrong with working hard to be the best you can be. However, social media and our obsession with glamour—sports, music, wealth, image—has created a lack of perspective. Maybe we need to make more of an effort promoting qualities such as unselfishness, consideration, kindness, understanding, patience, reflection and humility.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

237. Questioning credit to God after Charleston

It is hard to find words to describe the senselessness that occurred in Charleston, South Carolina. Such tragedy often brings out the best and worst of people. While those with political or religious agendas rush to find a way to connect the dots to blame their enemies, it’s always amazing and uplifting how communities can come together to support each other.

Tragedy often leaves people looking for answers, and that search often leads people to their religion. In the juxtaposition of tragedy with an all-powerful god, it’s remarkable that god is given glory for any splinter of joy but escapes blame for the terrible suffering. I know it is not polite to say, especially in the face of tragedy, but even as an ideological contention, it is logically preposterous.

This ideological contention includes several incidents of the credit given to “divine intervention” in regards the Charlestown shooting.

Almost inconceivably, three persons involved in the incident found a way to give god credit following the shooting that took place in god’s house, of all places, and during a Bible study class.

One person who normally participates in the Bible study, Reverend Brenda Wilson, was absent on that fateful day. Apparently her air conditioner broke and she did not attend the Bible class in hopes that someone would come to repair it. While I would regard this as truly fortunate timing—fateful is even a stretch—she attributed it to god.

“What we saw as an inconvenience we know now by our faith, in our faith and through our faith that it was god’s divine intervention” she said during a CNN interview with Erin Burnett.

That statement was even more incomprehensible when she followed it up with, “Regardless of what happens, that God is truly in control strengthens my faith.”

Does she realize what she just said, what she just implied? If god was in control, why did the tragedy happen at all?

Felecia Sanders had to experience the calamity with her 11 year-old granddaughter, but responded as a heroine would when she pulled her granddaughter down with her under a round table in the fellowship hall.

However, in surviving the event, she gave credit to god, claiming that “it was the hand of God that put me under the table.”

Doesn’t it seems a bit arrogant to think that god saved Sanders and her granddaughter but allowed the others to die—including Sander’s own son?

When the killer failed to kill himself as planned, he escaped until noticed by Debbie Dills on her way to work. She led police to the killer, but likewise she gave all credit to god.  “It wasn't me, it was God. He used me as a vehicle. If anyone is a hero, it is Him. I feel like God had his hand in it. I feel like he had me where he needed me to be,” she said.

While I appreciated her humility, does it occur to anyone that it would be much easier for god to prevent the killing than to arrange for a broken air conditioner, guiding a potential victim under a table and leading someone to notice the South Carolina license plates? Why not just have the killer stuck down by a lightning bolt or have the gun backfire? Why not have an off-duty cop attend the Bible study on that day? Or maybe the killer’s car breaks down on the way to the church? That seems simple enough for god, and would make a case for true divine intervention.

Better yet, why not inspire the killer to change his viewpoints about racism and lead him to embrace all of humanity.

Not all religions believe in divine intervention, but if yours does, how can you not question the lack of intervention amidst a terrible, unwarranted tragedy—and then give credit to god when others are left to pick up the pieces?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

236. Overdue for a long sabbatical

When you think of a sabbatical, one usually associates it with college professors. Typically granted it is often a paid leave dedicated to travel, research or writing a book.

However, anyone can take a sabbatical, as it can be further defined as a “break from one’s career lasting usually up to one year.” This extended leave is likewise usually attached to a goal, often travel, but could be anything—such as reenergizing, or caring for a family member.

Last spring, in addition to my full time job at the Alcohol and Drug Board, I was the working president of a greyhound rescue, coaching high school baseball and writing for two newspapers. It nearly broke me. My health quickly deteriorated, I was tired, anxious and generally in a stress-induced bad mood. Trying to do everything, I didn’t do anything very well.

Later that summer, I was miserable and my wife said I should leave everything. Take a break; get my life and health back on track. Not ready to leave my job, I took a two week vacation and left the greyhound rescue organization. It didn’t help. I was still physically tired and mentally exhausted.

As many know, the trouble with vacations is that you spend extra hours at work preparing for your time away and then extra hours catching up with work after you return. And travel, even to the nicest places, can likewise be stressful—and expensive.

At that point, we decided that I needed (and later my wife as well) to make a major move. We sat down and looked at the situation. We tried to anticipate the future and analyzed our financials. The two biggest reasons most people don’t take extended breaks is that they can’t afford it and they can’t leave their job (and hope have it when they return). Good jobs are still difficult to find, making leaving one a risky proposition.

For us to be able to afford it, the stars needed to align— and we needed to make some changes. In addition, and far riskier, we had to look at using our retirement—something that almost everyone, including myself, would not recommend. If we could reduce our monthly expenses, we could afford a temporary hiatus.

I created a 12 month plan, which honestly I never really thought would come to fruition. I have been working multiple jobs and/or going to school since being an early teenager. Could I really just quit my job? Did I really want to use my retirement money?

The answer soon became, can I afford not to? My health and mental well-being was heading toward a desperate level. I kept coming back to: What good is retirement savings if I don’t live to retirement— or if I am too unhealthy to enjoy it if I do live to retirement?

In doing a little research, I was surprised that there was support for the idea.

Clive Prout, a Washington state life coach who helps people plan sabbaticals, said the most fundamental question is why?

“Some people I see just want a longer vacation. They like their jobs and want to come back to them. Other people aren’t happy with their work and want a break for as long as possible. And if they can return to something else, that’s even better,” Prout said.

Elizabeth Pagano, cofounder of said, “The concept of working for 40 years and then retiring is outdated. People should be able to inject bursts of time off into their career paths.”

I’ve maintained for a long time that Americans work too hard—sometimes out of ambition, but often out of necessity or fear. There is nothing wrong with had work, but I think we need more balance. Recognizing the value of time away, a surprising number of companies now offer paid and unpaid sabbaticals ranging from a few weeks to a year.

My goals include not only getting healthier, but enjoying life a bit. I am looking forward to reading some books, watching some Great Courses lectures, writing, playing with my dogs, photography and spending time with wife. I am looking forward to a lack of structure.  One goal would be to write a book, but only if it happens organically.

I was surprised with the support I received from others. Many said they wish they could do the same; others were supportive but couldn’t imagine taking an extended leave.

One colleague summed it up by quoting from a poem by Mary Oliver, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

After all, that is the point. As far we know we only get one chance at life. Tomorrow is not guaranteed and there no sense in reliving the same miserable day again and again. The anxiety in me fears everything that could go wrong—and plenty could. But maybe things will be okay.

Dan Clements, the author of Escape 101: Sabbaticals Made Simple, offers this advice about doubt.

“Don’t let the uncertainty of a sabbatical stop you from taking one. The best sabbaticals are taken with a dose of faith. Learn to trust that things will work out. They almost always do, and there’s no return on thinking otherwise.”

Monday, July 13, 2015

235. 'The Donald' is horribly refreshing

Have you heard, Donald Trump is running for president? Of course you’ve heard because “The Donald” has wasted no time making news expressing his opinions and suffering the consequences of those perspectives. His comments about Mexican immigration have led to the loss of several business relationships—including NBC, home of The Apprentice where he popularized the phrase, “You’re fired.”

In typical Trump fashion, he has doubled-down on his comments and threatens to file lawsuits against dissenters. One hilarious Twitter comment offered that Trump would solve the problems with ISIS by threatening to sue them.

One nice thing about Trump is that he will offer, and stand behind, those opinions. In a political landscape where it is often difficult to get a straight, uncalculated answer out of anyone, it is sort of refreshing. As scary as it might be, he is willing to say what a lot of conservatives and the wealthy actually believe. And while he has been berated in the media, in polls since June 20 he has finished second in the crowded Republican field.

Whether or not Trump is successful in his campaign for the presidency, he has already remarked that this endeavor is bad for his brand. The more Trump makes incendiary comments, the more he alienates potential sponsors, business partnerships and customers. In that respect, many groups will act together in disaffecting itself from Trump business.

In addition, running for president includes having every aspect of your life dissected and torn apart. With a long accounting of business records and Trump’s willingness to speak his mind, there is a lot of history that may come back to haunt him. For example, when he criticized gay marriage, it was quickly noted that he is on his third marriage.

Another example is a recent story that noted that Trump’s 401K plan was comparatively employee unfriendly, rating low against similar corporations. That’s pretty disappointing for someone who boasts about his wealth being around $9 billion. It’s also difficult to connect to the struggling middle class when you are part of the problem. The hypocrisy, as many know, is that his corporations have declared bankruptcy on a few occasions—without much of personal impact.

How any of things shake out is anyone’s guess—it’s sometimes amazing which stories stick and which pushed under the rug—but the point is that Trump will be asked about these things and much more. It is yet to be seen how his ego holds up against intense personal and professional scrutiny.

In a stifling era of political correctness and being held to the worst thing you have ever said or done, Trump has to learn that while he can freely express his opinions, he is also responsible for them. While money can be used to leverage and even intimidate others in the business world, politics is supposed to be about serving everyone. If Trump is more interested in making this about him and his money and continues to be unafraid of offending others, he will suffer the consequences—his business partners simply cannot afford to have their interests damaged by his association. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

234. No the rules of grammer? Their easy

On many social media conversation threads, there is someone who takes the role of grammar/spelling police—often to discredit an opposing viewpoint. That’s not me-- although there are times when I chuckle at the “Your a idiot” comment. I think ideas are more important and I understand that typos and auto-correct may account for some of the mishaps.

Of course, I place some value on using proper grammar and it does help your point if you sound well-educated.  There are some often repeated missteps and idioms that I notice more than others. Here are a few of them.

The first is one of the most common. It’s “I could not care less,” not “I could care less.” The second doesn’t even make sense—especially in the context that it is offered. “I could not care less” means you don’t care about the subject matter you are discussing. “I could care less” means that you care some and misses the point.

Another is the word “irregardless.” Although some will argue that if a word is used and has an understood meaning, then it is a word. Reminds me of the “Ain’t ain’t a word” rebellion some of us had as a kid. In this case, all one has to consider is what “regardless” means and wonder how it is different than “irregardless.” The prefix “ir” means “not,” and better suited for words like “irresponsible” and “irrelevant.” And, “regardless” sounds much better.

While most are familiar with the misuse of “to, two and too,” and “you’re and your,” I am surprised how often I see “than” and “then,” mixed up. In fact, I was just reading a published paper by a veterinarian that used it incorrectly. “Than” is most often used in contrast or comparison—“I would rather have a dog than a cat.” “Then” is used in progression or as a function of time—“I am going to the store then to the bank.”

A mondegreen (or eggcorn) is a commonly misheard phrase and the one I hear all the time is “for all intensive purposes,” The original phrase makes more sense as “for all intents and purposes.” I am guessing that those who were not familiar with the phrase repeated it, in which case the words ran together creating the more popular mistaken phrase.

If you have ever seen the movie “Finding Forrester,” you might recall the distinction between farther and further. As the student enlightens the teacher, generally farther refers to distance, further is a definition of degree.

There are some other phrases and idioms that have been around for a while even though they may be grammatically incorrect. The one that comes to mind is “to each their own.” The grammatically correct version would be “to each his or her own.” It is clumsy and the use of “their” to an individual subject is a common mistake in all forms of writing.

Redundancy of ideas is normal in passionate writing or social media comments, but sometimes there is redundancy even within a sentence. In sports, it can be heard that a team “won the last five games in a row.” The “in a row” part is obvious and unnecessary.

There are plenty more and a quick Internet search will reveal numerous lists of common mistakes. Apostrophes seem to give folks problems and I do not even trust myself with “effect” and “affect.” A frequent error that I see in professional writings and emails, even with spell check, is “alot.” It is two words “a lot.” I do not know why loose and lose is such a problem, but they are often misused. My only punctuation note is that the period at the end of a sentence with quotes goes—almost always—inside the quotes. 

When it comes to spelling and grammar, I was not an English major and I do not like to correct people—even when they ask. It can be uncomfortable and some people take it personally. There are many rules and everyone makes mistakes, and I see them everywhere—including marketing materials and professional printing.

 After all, not everyone is fortunate enough to have a great editor!

Friday, May 1, 2015

233. Mythical Independents aren't really the 40 percent

The political argument is often stated as the fight for the middle, those often regarded as Independents.  

Last year, John Kasich defeated Ed FitzGerald by a 63 to 33 margin. In a disastrous run by FitzGerald, it is amazing that he even received 33 percent of the vote. Did one in three voters really feel comfortable with him governing the state?

However, such lopsided defeats are rare in diverse areas. To win a race 55 to 45 is to win pretty comfortably. In most instances, each candidate starts with 40 percent of the vote—those who will for him or her based on political party alone (though gerrymandering is creating larger margins, lowering that total to maybe 35 percent). Either way, the battle, or where all the money is being spent, is usually on the 20 percent who could vote either way.

A recent poll indicated that the number of Independents is at a record level, 43 percent.  I think much of this is baloney, as many like to identify themselves as Independents because it allows them to portray themselves as fair, just and non-partisan. They see themselves as balanced and objective. Instead, I think in many cases, it’s a lack of self-awareness, politically unprincipled or being uneducated on the issues.

I once had a discussion with a newspaper editor who claimed to be Independent. He explained, as many often do, that he had people on both the right and left upset with him. That is probably true, for example many on the left are upset with President Obama from time to time, but it does not automatically make them an Independent. In fact, more delusional than Independent, the editor believed it to be true simply because he said so.

If one is particularly principled, it’s difficult to understand how he or she might absently float in the middle. The parties are further apart than ever. While certainly there are some overlapping issues, one with a defined beliefs and values will likely tune in to one party over the other.  Weak values make for wavering support.

And if Independents were truly so, it’s likely that we wouldn’t see the disturbingly low turnover among incumbents—especially at a time when so many are unhappy with our government. It’s somewhat obvious that many Independents vote simply on name recognition or political climate (as they did in 2014).

Finally, political campaigns are spending more money than ever. This money is noticeably spent on the middle—as it is perceived as a waste of money to spend it on the base. They spend this money because they are counting on a middle that doesn’t do their homework. Those who can be influenced by often misleading commercials and literature are probably not spending their time digging into the candidates or the issues. They can be won over by a gimmick or a negative campaign assertion.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some true Independents—and I respect them. They are those who are educated on the issues, particularly economic issues, and do consider the competing arguments. They are, however, nowhere—anywhere— near 40 percent of the electorate. 

In my case, I consider myself liberal first and a Democrat second. More importantly, I have my personal values and beliefs on how government should operate. There is nothing magical about being a Democrat, it just happens that their values align with mine more than Republicans. Just as I don’t think Republicans go far enough on many issues, there are times when I think Democrats go too far. Unfortunately, Republicans have this dual attraction of fiscal and social conservatism, neither of which I share a favorable opinion. But, there is an obligation, as in the case with Ed Fitzgerald, to make the best choice—regardless political affiliation. For me, integrity is perhaps most defining.

I would love to see more voters in the middle, truly in the middle. I would also like to see more choice—that is, additional political parties so that candidates would cover a spectrum of values and political ideology and not operate in silos, obsessed with fooling the so-called Independents.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

232. Stewart's common sense will be missed

After a long day of news, in which we are overwhelmed by network and cable programming, newspapers, blogs, Facebook posts and Twitter feeds, the world seems like a crazy place. There are many opinions out there, and for each one of them, someone is “outraged,” or “appalled.”

Every day feels like a culture war, and it’s exhausting. On one side it feels like progress is slowly being made; on the other, my mouth drops open at some of the things that are said by politicians and other cultural influences. Although I understand that the competition to be heard is considerable, which inspires bold statements and ideas, it’s unbelievable that some people continue to get publicity for the crazy things they say.

For them, the antidote is Jon Stewart.

For me and millions of other fans, Jon Stewart provides a sense of order in a world of chaos. Wildly talented and entertaining, he takes to task those things that drive me and other mostly liberals crazy. Though fair and willing expose any instance of hypocrisy, inconsistency or insanity, his targets are often those on the right—particularly Fox News and Republican politicians. He also tackles critical social issues with humorous segments designed to expose inconsistency and ignorance through absurdity.

There are a lot of writers and personalities which I share a kinship. I have quoted them quite often, those such as Sam Harris, Bill Maher and Michael Moore. As much as respect all of them, they often have ideologies for which I disagree. Harris can go too far sometimes, Maher has this weird obsession against vaccination and Moore dislikes animal compassion groups. But I cannot recall a moment where I have disagreed with a stance taken by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

Part of that reason, I believe, is that he presents his arguments with proof. His segments include video clips and other media to prove his point. He doesn’t sit upon a pedestal and spin his case—rather he makes his case by showing the errors of others. And he makes it entertaining, a little less inflammatory than something you will see on the news stations. He’s a dose of common sense. Fortunately, politicians and conservatives provide plenty of material. Critics claim that these segments are taken out of context. Sigh.

For example, one recent episode zinged Republican Thom Tillis, who makes his political appeal through his dedication to free markets. Tillis was apparently proud of himself when someone tried to test his anti-regulatory stance by asking whether restaurant employees should be required to wash their hands. Tillis responded no, as long as restaurants were required to post a sign that employees didn’t have to wash their hands.

To this, Stewart responded, “You do realize that’s a regulation, too, right? That’s not getting rid of regulation, that just makes you an inconsistent ideologue with a light fecal dusting in your latte.”

In this way, Stewart is adept at pointing out that sometimes people have no idea what they are talking about.

With such fondness for Stewart and the little bit of relief he adds to my week, I was obviously disappointed when he announced his retirement from The Daily Show. For many years, he has fed my sense of justice. Heck, he helped me get through the Bush years. And I am going to miss his Mitch McConnell turtle impersonation. 

Stewart said, somewhat jokingly, why he is leaving, “Take it from someone who’s been watching what they (conservatives) do for a blessedly almost over 16 years or so. Their chronically angry war for ideological purity, where every aspect of life becomes a two dimensional battle for America’s soul—it ages you. Even watching it is killing me.”

Me too Jon, me too.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

231. Big business should pay big taxes

It’s a simple game, really. Despite the constant noise about lower corporate income tax, corporations have found creative ways and maneuver nice sized loopholes to protect their earnings.

Multi-national companies often take revenue earned from American consumers to off-shore countries to avoid paying American taxes. They use these profits to reward CEOs and shareholders. They also use these profits to hire lobbyist and financially support politicians to protect their interest in not only making future profits but also ensuring corporate tax loop holes stay open.  It’s a vicious but profitable circle.

Corporations whine about the high US tax rate, but their effective tax rate is much lower—an average of 12.6%. Many pay no taxes at all. In 2012, I paid more taxes than Pfizer, Microsoft, Bank of America and Citigroup combined!

People get seriously upset when a teacher gets a raise or someone receiving food stamps owns a cell phone, yet these corporations make billions of dollars in the U.S. while receiving millions in subsidies and government contracts. They lay off American workers and outsource production to third world countries to further increase profits and avoid reasonable worker labor laws. Their CEOs make more in a day than teachers make in a year.

If that is not enough, they have created a working class environment which pits public worker vs private worker, middle class vs the poor, union vs non-union—all to keep the attention off their massive wealth and ownership of America. Tax-dodging corporations contribute to our immense federal deficit, which results in cries by conservatives to cut government jobs and services.  Corporations, shareholders and politicians win; the working class loses. What politician would cut off the hand that feeds them?

One of the few politicians who is fearless in her criticism of corporations, banks and Wall Street, Elizabeth Warren said, “Look around. Oil companies guzzle down the billions in profits. Billionaires pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries, and Wall Street CEOs, the same ones the direct our economy and destroyed millions of jobs still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.”

But the story does not quite end there. When the corporations are stuck with all of this overseas cash—they cannot bring it into the country without paying taxes. The solution is to ask for a repatriation tax holiday to bring in the money at a discounted tax rate. Granted in 2004, companies promised job growth (all politicians fall for the job growth angle), but companies such as Pfizer and HP delivered lay-off notices, and bought back their own stock or paid out dividends.

Trickle-down economics, in all its forms and consequences, is the biggest pile of garbage ever sold to the American public. If corporations are taking their profits overseas, not paying their taxes and laying off American workers—what exactly is trickling down?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

230. Three TV shows that annoy

Over the course of 12 years now, one thing is for certain, I am easily annoyed. Most of the time it’s politics, economics, science or the way we treat animals. However, my annoyance is widespread in society and here I share my opinions about three television shows that continue to draw my ire.

There of course is a difference between shows that I just don’t care for, or aren’t that good, and ones that actively drive me crazy. These get me talking to myself.

Let’s start with Celebrity Apprentice. Right off the top, there’s “The Donald,”—and really that’s enough to get on my list. Despite realizing that the show exists mostly to fuel his ego, I actually tolerated it in the beginning—when it was just “The Apprentice.” Back then, real life individuals, soon to be reality stars, competed in a number of challenges as kind of a “hands-on interview” to get a job with one of Trump’s businesses. It reminded me a little of our MBA program, where we frequently did group work. The show also started with two of his most trusted advisers/managers by his side to help evaluate the teams.

Although he quickly wore me down with his contradictory advice and inconsistent decisions, it took a turn for the worse when he started to regularly use “celebrities.” Apparently it wasn’t entertaining enough turning reality stars into celebrities. That took a little tie and effort by the audience.

Now the show has devolved into celebrities often trying to raise as much money as possible by calling other celebrities. The losing project manager usually gets fired—and seemingly the only entertainment value is waiting for a washed-up celebrity going off the deep end. Trump has replaced his advisors with his son and daughter. His son, while sometimes reasonable despite his privileged position, spends his free time killing large animals for fun.  The only bright spot left in the show is Trump’s daughter—who is more than quite attractive.

One of the most ridiculous shows, which I believe is still on television (it’s not worth looking up) is Undercover Boss. The repetitive plot goes something like this: The CEO of a company, who really seems more interested in making sure his high school friends know he succeeded in life, goes undercover as a new entry-level employee to learn more about his company. He spends some time learning how difficult the job is or how tough circumstances are for those employees who earn minimum wage-like money.

Then there is the punch line. With grandiosity, he reveals to the employees he worked with that he is not the bumbling idiot he portrayed himself to be, but he is actually the boss (the reveal sometimes takes place in the boss’s mansion). Ha, ha, ha, joke is on you! Then of course, now that the CEO has had his company embarrassed and the way he treats his employees exploited on television, he gets upon a white horse and pays for college or something for the lucky employee (and nothing to say about the other employees). It’s an absurd notion—really, who doesn’t know that people making low wages have tough lives?

Finally, one of my wife’s favorite genres is the home improvement/real estate shows. I can often tolerate these shows, especially Property Brothers, but it depends on the family the show is working with. There is something about a young couple buying a $500K house that drives me crazy. Where did they get all that money? Do they work for their dad, did they inherit it? But it is not just that, it’s the lack or perspective that accompanies the whining and crying to get their “dream home.” I know these shows actively set up drama, but a 24 year old complaining that a mile walk to the beach is just not acceptable, is hardly endearing.  Regardless of how they got wealthy beyond their years (dream homes are for people in their 40s and 50s), do they have to go on television to show to the world that anything beyond an open concept kitchen and granite counter tops is capable of bringing them to tears. Finally, there is the negotiating. Many couples embarrass themselves and their real estate agent when they make absurd offers on the property they desire. Annoyingly spoiled and apparently absent of perspective, they’ve lost touch with how most people live.  

I acknowledge that my annoyance is primarily based on the haves and have nots. And my bias is amplified when it seems that the haves need to flaunt it and make sure that others are entertained by their success. Sometimes enough never is.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

SPECIAL REPORT: How climate change is affecting our towns

While many acknowledge that climate change is a serious issue for the future, and on a global scale, some might be surprised that its effects are already being felt in Northeast Ohio.

To consider those effects, Case Western Reserve University held a symposium entitled “The Impacts of Northeast Ohio’s Warming Climate” to discuss this local impact from a variety of perspectives.

The six member panel included David Beach, director at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History; Aparna Bole, a pediatrician at University Babies & Children’s Hospital; Bryan Stubbs, executive director of the Cleveland Water Alliance; Dave Spangler, president of Lake Erie Waterkeeper and charter boat captain; Marnie Urso, senior program manager with the National Audubon Society; and Joanne Scudder, director of sustainability with the Cuyahoga County Fair.

With about 150 people in attendance, Beach got straight to the point: “I think climate change is the most important issue facing humanity. Climate change is not some hypothetical problem for some distant future. It’s real, it’s here today and it’s effecting us in Northeast Ohio today. It’s affecting our health, wildlife, agriculture, economy, infrastructure, [the] Great Lakes, and a host of other things.”

Climate change has a significant impact on our health, particularly for those with allergy and asthma problems, Bole said.

The changing climate has resulted in worsening air quality, an increase in heat waves, more droughts, higher carbon dioxide levels, and a lengthened season for ragweed pollen. Greater Cleveland was ranked as having one of the highest rates of asthma prevalence.

That makes climate change one of the most serious health threats facing our nation, yet few Americans are aware of its consequences for families, Bole said, quoting American Public Health Association director Georges Benjamin.

“For me as a pediatrician, the impact on children is of particular concern. Children represent a particularly vulnerable group that is likely to suffer from the direct and indirect adverse health effects of climate change,” she said.

A common concern among the panelists was the effect climate change has on one of the area’s most precious resources — Lake Erie.

Spangler, who is in his 23rd season running charters, said heavy rains that have resulted in nutrient runoff into the rivers are creating an algae situation in the lake.

Algae systems only need phosphorus and warm water, and when they thrive it enables more undesirable fish to flourish, he said. That has created a dead zone under the thermocline in the Great Lakes that is over 3,000 square miles and getting bigger every year.

“Lake Erie is the walleye capital of the world. Just sport fishing in Lake Erie is a billion-dollar industry and supports 20,000 jobs. It is also the most valuable commercial fresh water fishery in the world. The lake water temperature is staying warmer longer, well into October. I cannot find clean water to catch the fish,” Spangler said.

Algae blooms also affect drinking water and have resulted in local water bans.

“In 2013 we were told for the first time, ‘Do not drink the water.’ I’m shocked, upset. Are you kidding me? I can ‘t drink my water — how can that happen in this day and age?” asked Spangler.

Stubbs said water is an under-appreciated asset to the area and a significant driver to our gross economic product.

Heavy rains associated with climate change have resulted in more basement and street flooding. The rains are becoming more frequent, with three “100 year” storms in the last 10 years.

Warmer atmospheric temperatures can hold more moisture in heavy rain events and is one of the most measurable changes of climate in Northeast Ohio, said Bole.

“Way back when, one inch of rainfall was a biggie, today we get five to six inch rainfalls all the time,” Spangler added.

Climate change is also responsible for colder temperatures and heavy snowfall, which is counter-intuitive. But don’t confuse weather with climate.

Bole pointed to research that has indicated the melting of Arctic ice can destabilize the polar jet stream, allowing cold air to wonder south. And when Lake Erie doesn’t freeze, it loses water through evaporation, which results in more lake effect snow.

Agriculture also has a vested interest and reliance on local climatic conditions. Paradoxically, it is also a significant contributor of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere.

Scudder reported that conventional farming and food production accounts for one-third of all environmental pollution originating in human activity.

“The accelerated pace and the intensity of projecting climate change require major adjustments worldwide. For years we’ve been saying, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming.’ Now it is time to stand up and take notice,” she said.

Climate change affects which crops can be grown locally, dependent upon temperature, rainfall, frequency of drought, length of growing season, and insects.

“Related to the livestock issue one of the most important personal choices we can all make to reduce our personal carbon emission is to eat a more vegetarian diet,” Beach said.

The event was sponsored by the National Audubon Society, who has for years been tracking the impact of climate change on birds, with annual counts in Wellington and other areas of Lorain County. Changes include migrating birds arriving earlier, wintering birds shifting north, and the potential extinction of local species.

“Birds are finely tuned to a set of environmental conditions. Everything about its physiology, behavior, and genetics allows it to be successful in that environment. A changing habitat means new competition for food and resources as well as new predators,” Urso said.

Climate models by the Society indicate that those in danger include the bald eagle, burrowing owl, common loon, and Baltimore oriole.

Civic involvement was a consistent recommendation of the panelists for those who want to institute change.

“It’s a matter of choice. We can choose a more sustainable world if we want to, we can imagine it and we can demand it from our elected officials. All we need is to be more political. We have the technology, we know how to fix things, we know how to design a society that is in sync and harmony with the rest of biosphere — it’s the old fossil fuel politics that is transforming the society,” Beach said

“Talk to your elective officials. Keep the politics out of it. The lake doesn’t know blue from red, it just doesn’t want to be green,” Spangler said.

229. The health care system is broke

The American healthcare is so overwhelming and so polarizing that it is a difficult subject to tackle in a short column. However, it is so awful that it needs discussion and cannot be ignored.

It doesn’t matter how you look at it—before Obamacare, after Obamacare, or maybe even after the repeal of Obamacare—our healthcare system is a mess. It’s confusing, expensive, profit-driven, unorganized and political. Despite the hard work of many healthcare professionals, the system itself is about everything other than humanity.

A good place to start is an article I’ve had on my bookshelf for a couple of years entitled “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” by Steven Brill. The article caused such a stir that he recently finished a book with a similar title, “America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System.”

It’s a must read and considers the simply ridiculous billing practices and medical costs of medical providers. From $83,900 for a cancer treatment plan and initial doses of chemotherapy to $1.50 for a single Advil or $74 for a roll of gauze, we’ve probably all looked with disbelief at the billing detail and are thankful that we have insurance.  It’s absurd to the point that almost everyone must have health insurance—which is dedicated to negotiating a “reasonable” rate.

You’ve probably noticed that medical providers won’t even give you a glancing smile until you’ve turned over your medical insurance card. Next, they have to update your information—they need to know where to find you to pay what insurance doesn’t.

Medical decisions are made in conjunction with insurance providers who make those decisions from behind a desk and according to the patient’s health insurance plan. It’s not always whether a patient needs a test or procedure, it’s whether an insurance company will approve it.

Hospital CEOs often make seven figure salaries, with a conscious that somehow reconciles the humanity of healthcare and those in need, and the well-being of their employees, with their own greed. They whine about uncompensated care, while protesting Obamacare provisions that require everyone to carry health insurance.

If you have good insurance and can afford to pay your premiums and deductibles, the insurance system is manageable providing that nothing really serious goes wrong. However, for the poor and underinsured trying to navigate the health care systems can be devastating. The Brill article notes that medical bills are responsible for a significant portion of personal bankruptcies.

I had two relatively small medical procedures late year that combined were billed for over $5,000. In addition, physical therapy was billed at a ridiculous $185 per session. Insurance companies negotiated a rate at about 80% of that and my costs were a few hundred. The uninsured, however, would have been on the hook for the entire bill, close to $7,000. Few can afford that.

Brill also journeys through the healthcare system from a “follow the money,” perspective. Ridiculous medical costs are a result of profit-driven system supported by lobbyists and political interest. Healthcare lobbies, such as those for pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and insurance companies pollute the system at the expense of sensible, affordable healthcare.

This cost trickle down to employers, who have now have a legal responsibility—depending on size and revenue—to provide health insurance to employees. Obamacare makes it more difficult to dodge this responsibility, despite the threat from employers.

However, just as car insurance is not meant to pay for oil changes, healthcare insurance was never meant to pay for every blood test. But the out-of-control costs of medical services have left this burden on employers as the only feasible payer source for the majority of Americans. Healthcare costs are out of control.

In its current state, it’s an unsustainable system. If everyone played fairly, and was willing to earn a modest living, there would be no need for Obamacare. However, there is not enough money to protect everyone’s financial interest. Employers cannot afford to pay rising insurance premiums—neither can average citizens. Employees are not receiving raises; that money is going to cover the cost of health insurance premiums. Hospitals, doctors, insurance providers, medical equipment manufactures and pharmaceutical companies are absorbing employee raises.

The only reasonable solution is national healthcare. One insurance system, with profit largely removed from the equation—with reasonable salaries, consistent and fair services and fewer burdens on employers. For many countries, it works just fine.

Conversely, the scariest future is the obsessive Republican intent to repeal Obamacare. And then what—back to what was even worse?

I have long favored national healthcare. It’s about people and being there for each other. If I were so blessed to never need my medical insurance, I would be glad to continue to pay my premiums to help others. That’s the way insurance is supposed to work.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

228. There's no "team" in these sports

As football fans settle in to watch the Super Bowl in a few weeks, they will be watching not only one of the most popular sports, but also the most popular team sport.

We love our teams, and beyond sports many other professions, particularly businesses, have taken to the team approach. We need team players, they always say. We need people who are willing to do not only their part, but also make personal sacrifices for the betterment of the team. It’s “next man up,” when a teammate suffers a setback. There are many values that we can learn from the team environment, whether it is sports or business. We are all familiar with the lessons.

A while ago, I had a conversation with a very successful high school and college wrestler who I was working out with. We talked about the similarities we shared in our experiences when it comes to competing in individual sports.

Individual sports are dynamic in that it is you out there alone. And while there is nothing worse than feeling like you let down the team, there is something different about knowing that success or failure is completely up to you. It is both liberating and terrifying.

Individual sports reveal character. There is not a team to hide behind, to blame, or to ride the coat tails. In individual sports, you are accountable for your performance. If you lose, it can be humbling and you know you need to work harder. If you win, you get to celebrate your effort and the accolades are yours alone. If you quit, you quit on yourself—and you know it.

Individual sports also build character. It is not easy losing, and it is not easy losing to friends or foes—or in front of your fans.  It teaches you how to be a good winner—there is far less “showboating” in individual sports. Sure, there are cocky players and athletes, but usually there is also great respect between competitors—and a shared love of the game. If you act like an idiot each time you win or lose, you will lose that respect and will be shunned by other players. Win or lose, you learn how to shake hands at the end of the contest.

I also think that individual sports build work ethic. In individual sports, the competition is the field—you against everyone else. There is a tremendous burden to work harder than all of the other athletes. In other words, if you know that one competitor is working out three hours a day, then there is pressure to work out three and a half hours a day. If your competitor is running five miles a day, then you have to run five and a half miles a day.

You also learn how to deal with expectations. Most athletes in individual sports start on the bottom and work their way up. They start as an underdog or unknown—without expectation. However, with success comes expectation and for those that make it to the highest level, the pressure can be difficult. Not only do friends, family and fans expect a certain level of performance, but your opponent is able to compete without anything to lose—and everything to gain.

Individual sports are a lot like the “real” world, in which you are on your own—and you are competing against others for jobs, spouses, etc. To get a job, you have to be better than every other candidate that applied—sort of like winning a golf or tennis tournament. There is only one winner. Of course, once you get the job, then you become part of team.

These tribulations can really help prepare teens and young adults for some of the challenges they might face in life. It takes real commitment—and while it can be “all about me,” it can also be the antidote to narcissism. Not everybody gets a trophy.

There is perhaps no better feeling than winning as a team and sharing that success with teammates. But being the best is pretty cool too.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

227. How Bailey became family

His official name is “Bump” Bailey, playfully named after the somewhat fictional character in the baseball classic, “The Natural.” He is also known as “Tater Tot” and our “Itty Bitty Pitty.”

Bailey is our newest dog, arriving in late April under unusual circumstances.

Last year I served as president of Erie Shore Greyhound Adoption of Ohio (ESGAO), whose sole purpose is to place “retired” racers into loving homes. While we fell in love with dozens of rescues, we knew that we could not take on a third dog. Our beloved bulldog mix, Petey, has cancer and we wanted to wait. We’re a two dog household, it just works better—though we’d have a dozen or more if we could.  We gave the same spiel many times and looked forward to the day we could add another greyhound to the family. Sky, our current greyhound, is just such a beautiful and wonderful dog.

Twice a year, April and October, ESGAO hosts a membership event on a beautiful farm in Medina. We have games, silent auction, vendors, refreshments, raffle and greyhounds—lots of them. It’s a busy day, which requires lots of preparation and set-up.

For our April event, we went the night before to set-up. The farm also has a kennel, where the owners care for and train dogs. During our entire two day visit to the farm, we could hear one dog in the kennel just letting out the largest and saddest cry over and over. Though we didn’t know his situation, and as heartbreaking as it was, we assumed that his family was out of town and would come back to get him Monday. We tried to ignore the whining.

As luck would have it, we were just about to leave the event when my wife asked the farm owner about the dog in the kennel. She told us that he was a stray that she had picked up. She said she checked everywhere, such as local vets and dog shelters, looking for his owner.

However, the farm owner and her husband were battling health issues and were not taking borders. Therefore, this sweet pup was in the kennel, alone, for four months in the big barn, without sunlight, the entire time. She was so kind to save him and care for him, but that was his reality.

We weren’t home a day and my wife just couldn’t get him out of her mind. And I could still hear the cries in my head. A few days later, my wife could not handle it and off she went to get the dog.

As sweet as he can be, the all black tiny pit bull mix of about two years, spent the first couple of weeks in our garage. We got him fixed, of course, and made sure he was healthy and healed. Each time we peaked in the garage, he came to life running and jumping, as he now had someone to play with him.

We had hoped to find him a home, still believing that we’re a two dog household, but it was a losing battle. He playfully leaped into our hearts and we made only a halfhearted effort to really find him a home.

Shortly thereafter, we couldn’t imagine life without him. We introduced him to Sky and Petey with minimal complications. It turns out everyone loves this cute little energetic dog. He’s small enough to be a lap dog, barely—though playing is a full time gig. My brother said he is the happiest dog he’s ever seen.

His youthfulness and spirit is new for us—we’ve rescued mostly adult dogs in the past. He wakes up every morning like it’s the best day of his life. Knowing how happy he can be, and how much he seems to enjoy life, it makes us sad to wonder how he got through four months of isolation.

Life is sometimes most fun when it doesn’t go the way you plan. We’re lucky to have Bailey—and I think he likes it here.

But our next dog will be a greyhound. I’m certain.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

226. Clinging to the Browns and memories

As I get older, it’s more and more difficult to spend my free time watching sports. It’s not that I still don’t enjoy sports, I do. There is something about competition, training to be the best and working as a team that appeals to me. It is a part of my childhood and something I enjoyed with my family and friends—particularly my father.

Today, you can see almost every game your favorite team plays.  I remember back when not all Browns games were sold out and the games were blacked out locally. I used to spend Sunday mornings with my Dad trying to get our roof antenna, rabbit ears and aluminum foil aligned perfectly to get just some reception out of channel 13 in Toledo.  I also recall staying up late to watch the tape-delayed Ohio State games on the 19 inch television I proudly saved up to purchase.

While I enjoy and supported the Cavaliers, Indians, Ohio State and Duke basketball, the Browns have always held a special place in my heart.

The Cavs have given us some great moments. I recall the Miracle of Richfield, loathed Michael Jordon during the Mark Price era and enjoyed the time LeBron was here. But I readily admit that I am a fair-weather Cavs fan. When they are bad, I do not watch them.

The Indians were special because baseball was the sport I played from little league to college. The 1990s were a magical time—made more special because I got to shared it with my wife. We started dating in 1995 and married in 1997. We spent our honeymoon in Florida at the same time the Indians were battling the Marlins. However, the lack of a salary cap and watching our best players leave year after year wore on my support for the Indians and Major League Baseball. It was too much like real life—the haves versus the have nots. To compete, the stars need to align perfectly for the Indians.

Ohio State may have provided some of my fondest moments as the only home team to win a championship in my lifetime. I watch most of the Ohio State football games, but college sports have become dysfunctional and self-serving in many ways. And Ohio State only plays three to four games a year that they could realistically lose. There are only a couple “big games” each year.

But the Browns, they are the exception. I rarely miss a game—and one of the few times I actually sit still through the whole game. To the annoyance of my wife, I like the pregame shows, watching other relevant NFL games and often listen to the local sports talk shows.

The Browns were special growing up—in particular because they were good in the late 1980s when I was in high school. It was a family affair often shared over mom’s homemade pizza. My Dad and I took a bus to Miami in 1985 to watch the Browns blow a 21-3 halftime lead in Kosar's first playoff start. My brother and I spent the night at the stadium in 1986 to get AFC championship tickets and witness "The Drive." The last game I watched with my Dad was in the hospital, the Browns first victory as the “new Browns”—on a Hail Mary pass.

We have had great moments, and we have had more than our share of heartbreak.  Either way, it was exciting and emotional.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the same since the Browns returned in 1999. Over the 15 years since their return, the Browns have made the playoffs once and have had only one other relevant season.

The consistent turnover of management, coaches and players—particularly quarterbacks—has resulted in nothing but disaster. Each time, fans get their hopes up—thinking maybe things will turnaround.

In fact, in the NFL, it is statistically difficult to be bad that long.

I won’t share the almost unbelievable list of negative statistics. Fans all heard them—the awful second half of seasons, 22 different starting quarterbacks, the terrible drafts. It’s been dreadful, even appalling football at times—when simply completing a pass is a challenge or when coaches can’t figure out the math behind calling time outs.

The way this season ended is indeed “the same old Browns.” The lack of maturity displayed by their most hopeful prospects is disrespectful for anyone who makes a living at a real job, at a real wage. It alienates fans who cannot understand the arrogance.

Jimmy Haslam and the Browns get one more year to turn this around. I don’t need a Super Bowl, but I do need entertaining and competitive football. I am tired of the drama. I’ve been a loyal and faithful fan well beyond the definition of insanity. I’ve done my part; It’s time for them to step up.

My father passed away in 2000 and remarkably, when it comes to the Browns, he has not missed a thing—except maybe mom’s homemade pizza.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

225. What should the oppressed do?

Recently our country has been riveted with lots of protests, and protests of the protests.

Protests are nothing new in the quest to initiate change or express dissatisfaction. It’s usually reserved to issues where people feel powerless or change through legislation has been unsuccessful or slow. As public displays, they come in many different forms and may be peaceful or violent. They may be directed at countries, governments, corporations or individuals.

Among other forms of protest, there is rioting, picketing, strikes, boycotts, marches and civil disobedience. Sometimes they are meant to shock the public and gain media attention; other times, it is to affect those being protested either through fear of bodily harm, property damage or financial impact. The form depends on the issue and unfortunately, unless it is really capable of instigating change, it is useless.

Occupy Wall Street, in protest of social and economic inequality, eventually attracted widespread media attention, but fell far short of making a significant impact. As far as wealthy individuals, corporations and banks were concerned, Occupy Wall Street could protest all they wanted, but as long as they controlled Congress, no reform was forthcoming.

Conversely, the Earth Liberation Front, used property damage against corporations they felt was not listening to their environmental concerns. Through illegal actions, it was successful, in part at least and certainly more than its legislative efforts, in getting the attention of the companies it targeted or even shutting them down.

Of course, there are many others. Caesar Chavez, through years of hard work, led the efforts of farm workers through successful boycotts of companies that engaged in unfair labor practices. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA, employ—sometimes controversially— a wide variety of protests to gain media attention and embarrass companies and individuals who needlessly harm animals.

Much attention has been given to the widespread protest of the police killings of young black men across the country recently. The protests have been largely peaceful, but there have been episodes of violence and property destruction. “No justice, no peace,” is sometimes the mantra.

Rioting is often a little like terrorism; it usually affects people who have nothing to do with the perceived injustice. It serves little purpose and often turns public opinion against the protesters.

I always favor non-violence over violence, fear or destruction. I think economic protests are often quite effective, but it requires a significant effort enacted by a lot of people for a long time—often against their own personal interest. Even with social media these days, it is very hard to organize and sustain.

So what if an economic boycott does not work? How do you demand the accountability of a police force? How do you stop a country from engaging in war? How do you boycott diverse a multi-national corporation? How do you financially impact a billionaire or Hollywood star? In these cases, it takes more.

This is where I think we enter a gray area. What are the oppressed supposed to do? Most Americans feel pride in its revolution, in which protest turned into a war for independence. Many also believe that the country’s civil war was a worthy cause as a measure against slavery. Unfortunately, the issue was resolved through violence and the death of thousands.

It’s a shame when change cannot be initiated on its own morality. It often takes committed radicals, willing to make personal sacrifices for their cause. In this regard, I am an admirer of Saul Alinsky and his methods of community organization as described in Reveille for Radicals. An expert in understanding human nature and how to get the attention of oppressors, he did not identify himself with Republicans or Democrats, Christians or Muslims, Blacks or Whites; for him it was the “haves” and “have nots.”

It basically comes down to “hitting them where it hurts” to commence a climate of change or negotiation upon those imposing the injustice or immorality when legislative or voting changes are unlikely to make a difference or be realized.

Alinsky wrote, “From a general point of view, liberals and radicals desire progress. In this they differ from conservatives, for while a conservative wishes to conserve the status quo, liberals ask for change and radicals fight for change. They desire a world rid of those destructive forces which issue war. They want to do away with economic injustice, insecurity, unequal opportunities, prejudice, bigotry, imperialism . . . They want a world where life for man will be guided by a morality that is meaningful—and where the values of good and evil will be measured not in terms of money morals but social morals.”

In a way, America was built on protest. We are defined by our freedoms—the most precious being the freedom of speech. We are afforded the right to speak out against immorality, oppression and injustice. And, we have the right to act as radicals, to protest in its most effective form, when those who carry out those injustices turn a deaf ear.