Friday, September 30, 2011

My therapist has a great idea...

My recent visit to my therapist was interesting. I seemed to be focusing on breaking out of my comfort zone. I don't know about you but it's become difficult for me in recent years to take chances like I once did. I'm not talking about the life or death type of chances, I'm talking about just taking chances on doing things not knowing what the outcome may be in regards to pass or fail. The fear of failure can be devastating and keep a person from potential greatness. I am organized, detail-oriented and I like to plan things out. I like to know what lies ahead. That's not a bad thing but not necessarily always a good thing either.

My therapist asked me what I'd like to do if I had the chance. I gave her a number of things I would love to do, none of them involved bungee jumping or skydiving thank you very much :D  Most of the things on my list involve intellectual "breaking out" vs. physical. For instance she mentioned whitewater rafting and I thought "well yes that would be nice but in the end I'd just be wet and laughing from having a good time but it wouldn't be as challenging to me as I'd like."  I mean when I think of challenging I think of writing Op-Ed pieces in the New York Times or being interviewed for a History Channel Documentary, or having my own Talk Radio Program. Yeah I don't think whitewater rafting will cure what ails me.

Then my therapist brings up an interesting idea, that I should to stand-up comedy at an open mic night. Now crazy as it sounds, that would be perfect for me. Years ago I watched an episode of the Golden Girls in which Dorothy does stand-up comedy at amateur night just to check it off of her bucket list of things to do. Now I don't really have a bucket list but I think that the idea of doing  a stand-up routine is actually perfect. Oh yes, have I mentioned yet that in all the "Which Golden Girl Are You?" online quizzes I always wind up as Dorothy? Just thought I'd throw that in there. There's just something about getting in front of a group of people and making them laugh that appeals to me and it's not like I don't have any material. If you know my family or have read my blog when I've talked of them you know what I mean. I have the perfect family suitable for mocking on stage in front of a live audience and I don't even think they'd bat an eye (the family that is!). In all seriousness, what I want is to be able to impact people and actually see/hear/read it. If it means making them laugh fine. Now this idea doesn't mean I would want to do this as a career, I just think it would be pretty cool every now and then to stand in front of an audience and completely and totally embarass my family, coworkers and friends for about an hour once every few months. 

If any of you fit into those groups you're obviously already shooting off an an email to me encouraging me to take up the whitewater rafting instead, as you think it would be much more satisfying.  Don't worry, if I do get on stage I promise to change the names to protect the not-so-innocent, but goodness what great material I would have....

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Politics Beyond the Beltway 9/29: Campaign Finance Reform vs. Free Speech (Citizens United vs. FEC)

We've been discussing the pros and cons of campaign finance, the use of hard and soft money and the problems related to the use of soft money contributions in campaigns. Prof wanted us to read Citizens United vs. FEC in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, the group who wanted to air a film in 2008 about Hillary Clinton within a certain number of days prior to the election. It was said to be a violation of the McCain-Feingold Act. This provision that covered this prohibited all for-profit and not-for-profit corporations and unions from broadcasting via cable or satellite communication an ad that mentioned a candidate within sixty days before a general election or thirty days before a primary.

As much as I hate these pathetic attacks on politicians during election season, I have to side with the Supreme Court on this one. Justice Kennedy stated,

"If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech."

We allow a lot of crap to pass as "free speech" in this country so the attempt to silence any group of Americans boggles my mind. I don't agree with the tactics used by political action committees, unions and other entities but if we silence them we could be doing ourselves great harm in the long run. I think they have the right to say what they want.  Can you imagine a time in this country where we would be banned from discussing political issues and candidates on radio, in newspapers or over the internet during a certain window prior to an election?

Like I said, I don't like what the unions and the PAC's are doing but I'm one of those who prefers to err on the side of caution when it comes to free speech, especially political speech. The First Amendment was designed to protect unpopular speech. Much political speech is actually unpopular.  As with everything, we have to take the bad with the good. I always say, it's not a perfect system, but it's the best one we have and works pretty damn well. It also beats the alternative.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Small Businesses outnumber Big Corporations and Capitalism still beats the alternative.

I was involved in a rather heated class discussion with two students who insisted that big corporations employ the majority of workers in this country and that there are more "big" corporations than small businesses in this country. I strongly disagreed as I've always understood that small businesses were really the backbone of America. According to the Small Business Administration, small firms:
  • Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.
  • Employ just over half of all private sector employees.Pay 44 percent of total U.S. private payroll.
  • Have generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years.
  • Create more than half of the nonfarm private gross domestic product (GDP).
  • Hire 40 percent of high tech workers (such as scientists, engineers, and computer programmers).
  • Are 52 percent home-based and 2 percent franchises.
  • Made up 97.3 percent of all identified exporters and produced 30.2 percent of the known export value in FY 2007.
  • Produce 13 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms; these patents are twice as likely as large firm patents to be among the one percent most cited.

Interesting eh? America needs small businesses. America runs on small businesses. Our towns, cities, counties, they all thrive on local small businesses. We hear more about the large corporations because of their influence on Congress and the economy but big corporations can't carry America and can't make it run.

Anyway, the heated discussion eventually veered towards Wal Mart. I am no fan of Wal Mart for a number of reasons. So much of what they sell is from China, much of their product is junk, and for the most part, the customer service sucks. Anyway, the two students argued that Walton family makes a killing off the backs of workers making low wages. For the most part it's true.

Generally Wal Mart pays around $8/hour. How much skill is needed to earn that hourly wage? Aren't wages based in part in part on skill? Availability of workers for those jobs? What kind of skill does it take to be a cashier or stock shelves? And isn't there an overabundance of unskilled people available to work those jobs? I would imagine wages would be lower in areas where there's an abundance of workers and a low or no skills required for those jobs.

If Wal Mart were to increase it's starting wage to say $12 per hour and offer health insurance to all employees, what would that do to its sales? Would Wal Mart then be able to offer the "lowest prices" as they claim? Wal Mart offers such low prices probably in part through keeping its costs down and pushing local and smaller competition out of the market. If Wal Mart had to increase their costs, would they not have to increase their prices? And if so, would the people who are normally able to afford to shop there now, be able to afford the price increases? If these people could no longer afford to shop there,  would business (especially in areas suffering economic hardships) slow and result in layoffs or store closings? Yes, it's possible.

I am not saying Wal Mart should or shouldn't do anything, I'm just saying there's more here than meets the eye. Is the Walton family making a killing? Yes. Should Wal Mart employees receive higher wages? Full benefits? I don't know. I'm not an economist but I have enough sense to know that when a company's cost rises so do its prices.

It's called capitalism and it isn't perfect but it's better than the alternative.

Monday, September 26, 2011

College students and the dilemma of reporting cheating incidents...

Imagine for a moment you are a college student and you witness a cheating incident in your class. You report it to your professor who later investigates it. 

Did you do the right thing by informing the instructor?


Believe it or not some would second guess themselves wondering if it was really that big a deal.

Never second-guess reporting a violation of the honor code. An honor code exists at the College/University for a reason. It is a set of principles which defines honorable behavior within the educational establishment. In order to maintain the integrity of the institution and the learning process, everyone must abide by the code and the person who witnesses a cheating incident and does not report it is just as guilty of violating the honor code as the person witnessed cheating.

Not everything in life is black and white, many times there are gray areas. I can understand where it might be difficult for a student to report unethical behavior among their peers for fear of repercussion. Think about the incident in terms of right or wrong. Do you believe what you witnessed was wrong? Do you believe letting it go unnoticed is right or wrong? If you tell the truth as you witnessed it, you have done nothing wrong. It is up to the powers that be higher up to determine whether or not what you witnessed supports what is deemed as unethical, dishonorable or inappropriate behavior. But at least you have done your duty and upheld the honor code, not to mention staying true to your own personal values and principles. 

Consider this: if cheating incidents go unpunished, students will lose faith in the disciplinary system altogether and it breaks down. If that happens, the honor code system is useless and everyone does what they want knowing there are no consequences for their actions. However, if incidents are dealt with appropriately, it means the system works, the students have faith, they are more likely to follow the rules as well as being an active part of enforcing them.

If your classmates or friends question your judgment for reporting an incident and if they shun you for your actions, then ask yourself if you really want to associate with people who think that it is acceptable to cheat and circumvent the system by taking shortcuts and engaging in unethical behavior? Would you want to have to rely on them in an emergency? Would you want to hire them in your company? Would you trust them with your children? I'm not saying that those who disagree with you are bad people, I'm simply saying that if they think cheating is no big deal, then it should tell you something.

If you witness a cheating incident or other unethical behavior in the classroom, stay true to your principles and be on the side of right. Being on the side of right is never wrong.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Politics Beyond the Beltway 9/22: What if corruption produces positive benefits?

This won't be a long one today. Just some things we discussed in lecture.

What is corruption?  Everyone has their own definition but I suppose a most basic definition is that it is the abuse of public trust for the sake of private benefit. It is the intersection of politics and self-interest.

Is an act of corruption really corruption if it reaps public benefit?  Some students in the class expressed the opinion that if the outcome is in the public's favor then it is not corruption while others such as myself held steadfast that corruption is corruption no matter how much the public may benefit. Once we excuse corruption we've set a precedent. The end cannot justify the means.

Can a corrupt act be solely for public benefit and not for private benefit? Is it possible a politician may commit an act of corruption but not so they may benefit but so their constituents may benefit? Sure. It is possible that a politician who wants the best for his or her constituents may be willing to engage in corrupt behavior in an effort to do good without seeking any private reward. Still it is corruption and that individual must face the consequences for we cannot justify corruption by weighing the positive effects of its outcome. It is either corruption or it isn't. Where do we draw the line?

A civilized society cannot reward bad behavior by justifying it, no matter how much good it may provide. Besides, ask yourselves again if the public doesn't eventually suffer one way or another by an act of corrupt behavior even if there seems to be a positive outcome.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Politics Beyond the Beltway 9/20: The question posed to us: "Was Huey Long Corrupt?"

The end doesn't justify the means.

That's what we say when a person works to achieve a noble cause using corrupt and unethical methods.

Huey Long (the subject of Robert Penn Warren's "All The King's Men") saw himself as a one-man savior of the state of Louisiana. He believed his destiny was to fulfill the highest office int his nation. He passed the bar exam after only one year at the Tulane University Law School, opened up a practice defending those who could not afford representation and he became known as a man who fought for the poor, the hungry, the weak and the downtrodden.

 When Huey Long spoke, you could hear a pin drop, that's how good he was. He rose to power preaching the need for social justice and reform with his slogan "Every Man a King" but he achieved his goals through theft, bribery and corruption.  Sure he put Louisiana on the map but at what cost?  Some say Louisiana still hasn't recovered from the damage done by Long both during his time as Governor and as Senator.
Huey Long accomplished a lot of good things for Louisiana but he did it by corrupt means.  He had  virtual stranglehold on the state of Louisiana for years. He had his own militia, he believed in wealth redistribution, campaigned using class-warfare tactics, he bullied opponents and required every state employee whom he hired to pay a portion of their salary to his political war-chest. At one time it was said he had at least $1 million in that chest. After his death, the "deduct box" as it was called, was sought after but never found. Long also pushed through bills (42 in one Sunday afternoon) and he began one of the largest public works building programs in this country. Long dramatically improved the infrastructure of the state by building roads, schools, bridges, and hospitals. Huey Long also controlled the media, established his own newspapers to bully opponents and he used scare tactics to force his legislation to be passed. All of this made him a  favorite among the poor and the rural folks. In addition to this, Long fought for years with the mayor of New Orleans for control of that city. Long blurred the line between state and local government and wanted to be in control of it all.

Even while he was a Senator in his post-Governorship, he continued with his hold on Louisiana politics and eventually many thought of him as a dictator, a lot of people wanted him dead. There was rumor of the harm he might do should he become President. And there was the very real possibility he could eventually become President given his incredible popularity. He campaigned relentlessly for FDR though FDR wanted nothing to do with him and when FDR took office he tried to no avail to reign in the Senator. FDR believed that Long was one of the most dangerous men in America. Long was a political machine many feared would not be stopped, not until he was dead. They were right because in the months following the assassination, the machine fell apart.

For all his good acts, I can't help but wonder if it was all worth it? Are the good things achieved really worth selling one's soul? Selling out one's ethics and values? Did Huey Long even have ethics and values? Did he really believe in the goods he was selling or was he just blowing smoke because he loved the power?

Huey Long wanted to be President. At the time of his death he'd already written a book titled "My First Days in the White House" and he hadn't even run for President yet. It frightens me to think what he could have done to this nation had he become its leader. Long surely would have stopped at nothing to get what he wanted, while trampling on the Constitution and ignoring the separation of powers.  Huey Long never cared if he broke the law, trampled on the rights of others, or if what he was doing was unconstitutional. If he wanted it, that's all that mattered.

It was interesting that Prof asked the question "Was Huey Long corrupt?" I suppose one would have to weigh his good deeds against the laws he broke and the unethical behavior involved in order to achieve those good deeds. In the end, my answer to the question is a resounding "YES" because no matter what good he did for the people and the State of Louisiana, he did it through illegal, corrupt and unethical means.  I have to side with my conscience and values here which have taught me that corruption is wrong. Unethical and illegal behavior within our government is wrong and it cannot be tolerated no matter how much good it might bring. Besides, how much of what he did is really good if it was accomplished by paying such a high price in regards to morals and values? In the long run, nothing good can come of good done through corruption. Long used every trick in the book including bribery, theft, extortion, coercion and lies to get what he wanted. That not only ruined his integrity but the integrity of the offices he held. The constituents cannot tolerate that type of behavior from their elected officials, period. We must be resolved and steadfast in that belief.

I think we should let the political story of Huey Long be a lesson to all of us. Beware the great orator who mesmerizes us with such an articulated use of the English language the people are listening to how the words are being spoken rather than to what is being said. Beware the politician who makes wealth redistribution the end game. Beware the politician who blames big corporations for all the problems in America. Beware the politician who despises capitalism and free enterprise Finally, beware the politician who believes that trampling on the Constitutional rights for some is justified if the result benefits others. It doesn't matter how wonderful the deeds are, it doesn't matter how many poor people wind up sheltered, fed, clothed and educated, if those good deeds are achieved at the expense of sacrificing morals, ethics, values, principles and integrity, then it is most certainly not worth it. Society as a whole will eventually pay a very heavy price.

I keep asking myself:  Surely we can achieve good things in this nation without sacrificing those things I mentioned. Right?

Monday, September 19, 2011

With Solyndra all you have to do is follow the money trail.

It is no surprise Solyndra executives are refusing to testify before Congress, and invoking their Fifth Amendment rights. The investigation into this company is turning up all kinds of smelly, rotten, garbage and when all is said and done, we'll all just likely want to throw up.

The energy department pushed this deal through quickly (the conditional commitment from DOE was made in just two months) and as they submitted their application for the half billion dollar loan, Fitch Ratings assigned the corporation a B+ credit rating while Dun and Bradstreet assessed them as merely "fair".   Now consider that most Americans with a "fair" credit rating can't even get a simple car loan with a reasonable interest rate while a company only four years old gets a half billion dollar loan approved at the drop of a hat with a mere "fair" credit rating. It just makes no business sense does it?

Secretary of Energy Chu spearheaded this process all the while PriceWaterhouseCoopers issued a report stating "The Company has suffered recurring losses from operations, negative cash flows since inception and has a net stockholders’ deficit that, among other factors, raise substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a growing concern."

One of the things many people don't know is that George Kaiser, Solyndra's Chief financial backer (and big donor to the Obama campaign) helped the company raise $75 million in a successful effort to refinance the loan, and that the Department of Energy agreed to the refinance and that in case of default, the company may pay back investors first, before taxpayers. This means the first $75 million recouped goes to shareholders and not the taxpayers who funded the half billion dollar loan. Public money was given to a private corporation who in turn misrepresented itself to get the funds, misused the funds and the taxpayers are left footing the bill.

Even the Office of Management and Budget knew the warning signs. They viewed this loan as a very high risk to taxpayers, in fact they viewed it as a higher risk than DOE did.

At first I wondered why, instead of putting half a billion into one company, the government did not just divide that large sum into much smaller pieces and allot low interest loans for small businesses in an effort to get them moving into the energy industry. See, this would have been taxpayer money going directly back to the taxpayers, so they could start or expand businesses, purchase equipment and materials, and hire workers.  Think of the number of businesses that would have opened or expanded in that industry and think of what it could have done for many regions of the country. The problem is that the "powers that be" who had their beady little eyes on that half billion knew that they wouldn't see it if it were allotted to small businesses. It needed to go to a much larger entity where it would be hidden and hard to track. Big government always has shady ties in big business, it's been like that since the days of Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan. Some things never change.

The big questions are: Why? Who benefited from this arrangement? And who at the top knew about it?  What did they know and when did they know?  I am not saying President Obama knew about this but I will say that someone in this Congress and this Administration is responsible. The "buck" has to stop somewhere.  I just wonder who the sacrificial lamb will be?

Make no mistakes, this was not an unfortunate incident nor was it an unintentional oversight. It was a seedy backroom deal between some very dishonest people. All we have to do is follow the money trail and it will eventually lead us to the guilty parties. I am just sitting back and waiting for the names, none of which I'm sure will surprise me in the least.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

[H]ouse M.D. Season 8 Previews

You know where I stand on what happened end of last season. You can easily click on my tag for "[H]ouse M.D. Season 7" below and read all my posts related to it.

That said, anyone who knows Hugh Laurie knows he never gives anything less than his best at anything he does and his performances as our favorite misanthropic world renowned diagnostician  in Season 8 should be no different. But Hugh shouldn't have to shoulder the burden of carrying this show through its final (hopefully) season. It takes great acting, writing, producing and directing to make a great show and in Season 7, while we saw terrific acting and some good writing, overall the plots just failed.The show lost Lisa Edelstein and now Olivia Wilde, the latter in my opinion being insignificant in both seasons 6 and 7, and they've brought in two young actresses Odette Annable and Charlene Yi. Shore plans to avoid creating any love interests for Gregory House (thank you!) and he's going back to the roots of the show.

Huh? Returning to the roots? Now? You say?

Fans are asking themselves why now?  Why suddenly are they going back to the "roots" of the show now? Given all he's been through in the last eight years, why couldn't House evolve in earlier seasons? Why couldn't he be redeemed sooner? What's changed to all the sudden make House see the light at the end of the tunnel? Could it be losing Cuddy--the love of his life, the one woman who really understood him (yes Stacy did but I don't think he ever really forgave her and I think he was really hurt that she wanted to be with him but would not divorce Mark). Remember Wilson told House he (House) was afraid that if he couldn't make it work with Cuddy he couldn't make it work with anyone.

One of the 8x01 teasers asks if House's biggest mistake could be the key to his redemption. Now that Cuddy is gone, how is he supposed to redeem himself? He wronged Cuddy and redemption can only come from making it up to Cuddy. Doing his time, owning up to his responsibility, getting therapy for his serious emotional problems (and God knows he has plenty of them!), apologizing to Cuddy, and making changes in his life, positive changes would have been a step in the right direction in seeking redemption. But alas, according to Shore's theory, House can't change and if he can't change, he can't redeem himself. House is House, I believe he feels remorse but as with everything else, though he feels it but he just can't show it on the outside. He can't let anyone break through those walls and see who he really is and until he can really do that, he can't even see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So where am I going with this? I have no idea. :)

Season 8 begins with House serving a year in prison for running his car into Cuddy's home then fleeing to some tropical paradise for three months. He's offered early parole for good behavior and because the prison is overcrowded. He's got five more days to make it till he gets out but he has to steer clear of trouble. Problem is that his arch nemesis in lockup, leader of a neo-Nazi gang demands he pay an exit fee of "twenty vicodin" before he gets out.  Now I know something about prisons, no I haven't been incarcerated but after he retired from 27 years with the phone company, my dad trained for a second career in the Florida Department of Corrections and eventually promoted to Lieutenant, almost making Captain till he retired early. Now dad and other officers have told me stories about life in state and federal pens so it'll be interesting to watch this and see how they've depicted so-called prison life for House.

Moving on, from the looks of things it seems that Foreman is going to own House's ass now. Foreman is likely the new Dean of Medicine, the one to arrange House's parole and the one who can send him back to prison if he screws up. This could be interesting because everything Foreman knows about Diagnostic Medicine he learned from the master--House. Foreman may have once said he doesn't want to be like House, but in some ways he is like House. Remember his short-lived stint at New York Mercy? Like House, Foreman will do anything to save a patient...well almost anything. That's one of the things House likes about Foreman and so it will be interesting to see how, if appointed Dean, Foreman is able to balance his Houseian diagnostic techniques with the need to adhere to guidelines and follow protocol.  Cuddy was the only person who could ever keep House in line and that had a lot to do with the nature and the long 20+ years of their relationship. Foreman does not have that advantage.

In regards to Wilson, it seems that Wilson may have severed relationship ties with House but House is going to try and win back their friendship. Can Wilson ever forgive House for nearly running him over in Cuddy's front yard? Can he forgive him for destroying Cuddy's home, nearly hurting Cuddy, ruining the relationship between the three and being the reason Cuddy has left Princeton for good? Wilson has always forgiven House but will he this time? Seems that in the past Wilson has needed House's friendship, always being there to save his best friend but this time he wasn't able to save House from prison and maybe he didn't want to. During the Tritter arc, Wilson wanted House to own up to his actions but House wouldn't do it. Now he has to...well at least he has to be punished for his actions, finally. I recall the episode where Wilson talked about his brother Danny and I always thought afterwards that one of the reasons Wilson clings to House is because he's afraid that if he turned his back on House, something bad would happen as it did with Danny. Wilson never turned his back on Danny,  he just chose to put himself first and he's felt guilty about it ever since. I wonder how Wilson will have changed when House sees him for the first time in over a year?

As to Cuddy, what more can be said that I or anyone else haven't already said? We lost our favorite Dean of Medicine, an integral part of the great triumvirate of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. We lost a great dynamic of the show when she left. Only time will tell if towards the end of the series she'd return for some closure, positive closure I would hope, to sort of bring things full circle and end on some kind of positive, yet quite Houseian note.

It's my opinion (and the opinion of many longtime fans) that the series could have ended on a successful note at the end of Season 6 or even at the end of episode #22 "After Hours" in Season 7, which ironically was originally intended to be the Season 7 finale until Fox told David Shore they wanted one additional episode.  That's right, episode #23 "Moving On" was created just for that reason. Season 7 was never intended to end the way it did.

Makes you kinda wish Fox would have kept its big fat mouth shut eh?

Anyway, below are the first four promos for the 10/3 premiere of Season 8's "Twenty Vicodin" as well as some excellent advanced reviews of the episode:

No worries, this promo is in English...

What happens next is anyone's guess. The critics are writing up their reviews of the screening of episode 8x01. Check them out by clicking below:

Anthony Ocasio at Screen Rant

Mindy Peterman at The Morton Report

Adam Wright at TVDoneWright 

Magali Levet at the VoiceofTV.Com

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Politics beyond the Beltway 9/13: Corruption

At every level of government exists corruption. Why is there corruption? Corruption exists because of individuals with a personal interest and politicians willing to sacrifice the integrity of their office and the public trust to get something for themselves, something more than that office intended.

When we vote, we vote for people who will get things done. We elect politicians into office who we believe will benefit us and do the most good. If a particular politician promises to build more schools in our overcrowded school district, aren't we more likely to vote for him or her? If a particular politician plans to widen the congested roadways in  our city isn't it likely we would support that especially since we commute daily? We're not exactly innocent here. We expect that when we vote them into office, our elected officials will thank us by giving us what we want. That's not easy though, our wants and needs come with a price. Are we willing to pay that price?

Politicians are supposed to act in the best interests of the people they represent. To get that something, the politicians make deals and some of them not so kosher. Where I think it goes wrong is when the politicians  put their personal interests and well-being ahead of the public in the course of carrying out these deals.When politicians begin receiving money or special favors in the course of their dealings, that's where things start to go wrong.

An interesting question was posed by Professor today, "Have the American people ever benefitted from corruption?" (or something to that effect). Interestingly enough, the answer is yes. Take the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska for example. Look at both sides of the issue. On one hand we had a bridge that cost millions of taxpayer funds linking to an island with very few inhabitants. Some people made a killing off of that project. But aside from the corrupt politics, who else benefitted? Construction workers who built the bridge, the local economy of the island, the companies that supplied the materials,etc. The ends do not justify the means but it was something worth throwing out there.

We complain about corruption and we feel that there's little we can do about it. There's two types of government corruption--individual, which is easier to remove and systemic which is more difficult because it involves a larger entity. Systemic corruption is more than just a few corrupt individuals or situations, it occurs when the system is dominated by corruption, both individuals and groups. Many countries around the world suffer systemic corruption, where one cannot even begin to figure out where to start in annihilating it, it's so deep and so interwoven between layers and layers of bureaucracy.

Next installment: More on corruption and abuse of power...stay tuned!

Bystanders lift 4,000 pound car to save motorcyclist in Utah!

Remember that whole "There are good people doing good things" I was talking about yesterday?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The world is full of good people doing good things...

There are as many negative aspects of the internet as there are positive but I try to look on the bright side of things and one of those is that the internet has surely brought people together and it has made the world a slightly smaller place. Yes that is a good thing. Through the internet we have been able to share information, become active in causes and meet people we never otherwise would have ever had the chance to meet. The internet is what you make of it. It can be a bad experience or it can add to the quality of your life. It's up to you.

I was prompted to write this when I recently came across a tweet by a woman named Charlene who has a lovely dog named Bear who is undergoing chemotherapy for canine bone cancer. Charlene is a single mom on a fixed income and wanted to find a way to get her beloved dog the expensive cancer treatment. I read Bear's story here at  

It is wonderful how many people have donated to help this little guy. She's not begging, she simply put forth her case to the folks at GiveForward, they researched and validated it and posted it on their site. Nobody has to donate, people do it because they want to help. Millions in private donations has been raised via GiveForward for thousands of people and animal related causes. This money was donated to people like  you and me by people like you and me who read a story that touched their hearts and wanted to help in whatever way they could. 

According to, a site which reviews startups and websites, GiveForward is a totally legitimate company which verifies requests before posting. Check out their review
GiveForward located at is a startup that is focused on making it easy for people to have fundraisers to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses as well as pets medical expenses and other causes. The company has claimed to help raise over $3.5 million so far (since 08?) for families with out-of-pocket medical expenses. The company has investments from Tim Krauskopf, Ed Chandler, New World Ventures, David Cohen, Social Leverage and Excelerate Labs. GiveForward is located in Chicago, Illinois.

Why It Could Be Big:

There are plenty of people out there who are having trouble with outrageous medical expenses for life-saving surgeries that may not be covered by their insurance. If GiveForward can help people with these expenses during tough times it can help a large number of families and become a stable business at the same time. At this point they charge a 7% fee which may seem a little high but does include the credit card fees of 2.5%+ as well as SSL encryption and more. The amount they take is less than most traditional charities and having stable revenue will let the company expand with more options instead of having to scrape by and end up closing like many in this space have.

GiveForward looks to have a good plan in place to verify campaigns which would be one of my main concerns when donating money. They verify personal information as well as talk to references and do their own research. There is typically no fool-proof model to completely stop fraud but the process they have in place should weed out almost all. Overall GiveForward could be big if they can continue to make it a simple process to start and manage fundraisers while adding in social aspects to help it spread through Twitter and Facebook.

This is not just about the people who have helped others through GiveForward, more than that it's about the human spirit, about the fact that even when times are tough in more ways than one in this day and age, people still find the time to be nice and do good things for each other--and not just people they know but quite often for people they don't know and have never met. There are millions of wonderful people out there in this world who, whether they are rich or poor, want to try and help others as best they can, in whatever way they can. Some people give money, some donate goods, and yet others give of their time. These are no small numbers either. For the pessimists out there, understand me clearly....people do care. Right now a lot of people are going through tough times, facing some sort of stress or challenge in their lives yet despite that they still find a way to make a difference. I've noticed that at least for me, when I do something nice for someone else, even if it is something as simple as offering a smile or kind word, not only does it make them feel better, it makes me feel better too.  I know I am not the only one who feels this way.

Ultimately, what you do to help others and how you do it are up to you. Even something as seemingly insignificant as a smile can brighten someone's day and who knows what that person will, in turn, do for someone else and so on and so on. It pays forward. 

Think about that and let me know how it goes.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Politics beyond the Beltway 9/8: State vs. Local Sovereignty

It's amazing how much you can cram into one fifty-minute lecture but Prof never ceases to amaze us. Of course my philosophy is that it's not the quantity of information that matters but the quality. Prof's lectures never fail to both inspire and at times, amuse us. While Prof touched on certain points, I am going to elaborate on those points through a little research on my own. May I just add that Prof's bow tie was particularly awesome today. Apparently he wears a different one to class every day and never wears the same one twice!

Author's Note: Sending a big shout-out to Margaret who knows who she is and who is hopefully reading this. She inspired me because even with our age difference, we seem to think alike in our view of politics. We both share the common sense view of things. Our conversation the other day was both refreshing and enlightening and I am looking forward to more.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, today we discussed state and local government sovereignty. Now while the US Constitution is not clear on the boundaries of federal and state government, there is no doubt as to the boundaries of state and local government. It's very clear. The state has total and complete authority over local governments. There are approximately 90,000 local governments in the United States and they all exist at the whim of the State. Local governments exist not for the convenience of the people but for the convenience of the state. In a sense, the State giveth, the State taketh away. There is no "right" to local government. States grant cities their charters and the powers in those charters are the extent of the power of local government. As Prof puts it, "local government is legally and constitutionally totally dependent upon the state."  Understand that local government exists because the state allows it to.

In our discussion of state preeminence over local governments, we discussed the 1868 case known as "Dillon's Rule" or Clinton v. Cedar Rapids and the Missouri River Railroad  in which Judge John Forrest Dillon ruled, "Municipal corporations owe their origin to, and derive their powers and rights wholly from, the legislature. It breathes into them the breath of life, without which they cannot exist. As it creates, so may it destroy. If it may destroy, it may abridge and control."

Dillon's rule makes these three points:
  1. Local government has only the powers explicitly granted in their charter.
  2. If whatever the issue is, is necessarily and fairly implied, the city can do it
    1. An example of this is the charter grants the local gov't the power to create a fire department, that is explicit. However the charter does not have to list every single thing the local government is allowed to do to create that fire department. As such point #2 would include things like procuring land for the fire department, procuring equipment and hiring personnel.
  3. If there is a dispute over or if it is not clear as to whether or not local government can carry out any particular duty, and that duty does not meet the above two points, then it is explicitly denied. 

There are of course a few exceptions, and this brings us to "Home Rule". Home Rule is basically the ability of a city to create their own charter and enact laws within that charter such as codes, ordinaces, resolutions, without having to seek state approval. The city is also allowed to make changes as necessary as the city grows. In carrying out Home Rule however, the laws a city enacts cannot conflict with state or federal laws.  

The Florida legislature adopted the "Home Rule Powers Act" in 1973. Article VIII, section 2(b) of the Florida Constitution states,

“Municipalities shall have governmental, corporate and proprietary powers to enable them to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions and render municipal services, and may exercise power for municipal purposes except as otherwise provided by law.”  

The root of Home Rule comes from the need for local governments to be able to govern without the cronyism and corruption that takes place at the state level. For example, during the Progressive Era at the beginning of the 20th century. The Progressive movement was especially important because it was an era of grassroots organizations and reform. Individuals tired of the cronyism and corruption were spurred into action to fight poor working conditions, class warfare, low wages, lack of women's voting rights and the problem of rapid development and industrialization and a whole host of other problems.Those who called themselves progressives sought to clean up the corruption at all government levels. Much of the reform came at the local level by electing individuals into local government who considered themselves reformists.  The best way to clean up the government was to start at the most basic level which was of course local and then work upwards. The thought was that if a charter could be written locally, and approved by the local citizens, it would be absent of the corruption which so prevailed at the higher levels. This ability to write one's own city charter empowered the people and made their elected representatives accountable. 

And so there's a bit about state & local sovereignty and home rule.  Next week....Corruption!

Friday, September 02, 2011

"Here's what I suggest, if you hear something's happening but it hasn't happened, don't always believe what you hear."...President Barack Obama, August 2011

Ok, let's see where we can go with this...

1) The Weather Channel reports a tornado watch in your area. This means conditions are favorable for a tornado but one has not yet been spotted. Technically if you apply the President's philosophy above, since no tornado has actually happened, don't believe the hype! Send your kids out into the street to play and go ahead and hang laundry or jump on that John Deere and get caught up with your lawn mowing! 

2) We're told that global warming will put an end to mankind as we know it. But since we haven't been put out of our misery by it yet, I say screw it. Throw caution to the wind. Rip out the catalytic converters, the hell with emissions, let those babies burn. Let's churn some serious smoke out of those factories, keep digging for oil and coal and just have at it. I mean so far we're still here and as long as we are burn baby, burn.

3) You hear that your company is downsizing due to the economy so you begin planning ahead by saving money and looking for a new job. Based on Obama's philosophy, why should you bother? Really. I mean damn, just because the economy is tanking and your company is losing millions doesn't mean a thing. Do you think a company losing money is really going to lay people off? Who are you kidding? So you hear times are tough, just ignore it, it'll all go away. I mean after all, if it hasn't happened yet it's not likely to. Don't worry about making plans, just enjoy the moment.

4) The doctor tells you you're dying. You have a few months left to live. You have so much to do and you have to get your affairs in order, but seriously, you haven't actually died yet so what's the point? If it hasn't happened, chances are it's just not true right? Your oncologist is probably an idiot anyway. I say go out and live your life, don't make a will or lay out plans for your funeral or your estate.What's the point?

5) Your candidate for President gives you a message of "hope and change" and you're excited about it, new blood, new life in the campaign. You're anxious for this personable, friendly, charismatic man with the gift of gab and the pretty family to take office because he's going to have the most transparent government in American history. Things are going to change. Business will profit, people will be employed, the infrastructure will be repaired, children will be educated, the homeless will be sheltered, things are going to get better for everyone. You just have to believe. In his third year of office he announces he's running for office again. Now of course you're asking yourself where the hope and change went because you don't feel any different than you did he night before you heard he was running the firs time. You know you should give him a chance but then you remember his words:  "if you believe something's happening but it hasn't happened, don't always believe what you hear."

PS..just so it's understood, if George Bush had said this, I would have been all over his ass too.