Posts Tagged United States

About Face!

Excuse my logic but death stares don’t always mean what you think.  In these troubled times, people from all walks of life are finding themselves beset by problems, sometimes overwhelming ones.  As such, may people whose lives haven’t turned out the way they had dreamed as youngsters will often give off negative vibes.  They may appear angry, tired, sad, disappointed or just downright evil.  Yet I am here to tell you that you should give these forlorn souls a second chance. 

Here are some examples of people whose paths I’ve crossed whose faces belied the soul that was within.

Some years ago, my daughters were in a local softball league.  One of their teammates, a tall lanky girl and quite a good player had a father who would come to almost all of the games. He was a worker for the local parks department so would usually show up in his work clothes.  This you will see later may have factored into his demeanor.  This father always wore a look of utter unhappiness.  As each game of the season was played I would find myself always keeping a distance from this man and praying that he wouldn’t approach me.  Then on one fateful day, he arrived for the game, a little late and walked over to the first base line and stood right next to me.  I could feel my heart palpitating.  About midway through the game, my daughter made a good defensive play in the field.  This man and I had never yet exchanged a single solitary word in all of the previous games.  “Is that your daughter?” he asked.  “She’s good.”

I turned and faced him.  His face had morphed into something completely different than I had ever seen.  He was smiling.  No, it wasn’t a gigantic ear to ear job but it was a smile nevertheless.  We struck up a conversation.  In the ensuing games, we always stood side by side. He turned out to be a really nice guy. I suspect, though I never asked him that he had to work very hard. Remember I mentioned that he always showed up to the games in work clothes.  I believe by the time he got to those late afternoon games he was probably exhausted and as such found it difficult to smile. I haven’t seen this man now in more than a decade but I will never forget him and how wrong my first impression was.

Then there was this woman who worked at an area Dunkin Donuts.  Her name was Ruth but soon after we had encountered her several times, my wife and I had appropriately (so we thought) nicknamed her “Ruthless.”

A typical exchange at the ordering counter would go something like this.  I would ask Ruth for an everything bagel with butter. She would scowl at me and ask in a screechy, cackling, witch-like voice “Do you want it plain or do you want it toasted?”  Now I am in and was back then in relatively good physical shape.  Up to that point in time I had endured my fair share of fights with other guys and usually emerged victorious.  Yet I can tell you unequivocally that Ruth frightened the hell out of me.  It got so that I would send my wife in to order figuring that she wouldn’t attack another woman but might be prone to attack me.

Time passed and we noticed Ruth no longer worked at the Dunkin Donuts. One day we were in a parking lot near that business and we heard someone calling to us. It was Ruth.  She approached us with a radiant smile.  We had never seen her smile before.  She told us how happy she was to no longer work at the Dunkin Donuts because people always treated her shabbily due to the fact that she was a white American working for people from India and some bigoted customers accused her of being some kind of traitor.  She was so gracious to us when she met us in the parking lot that we couldn’t believe it was the same person who had terrified us during so many morning coffee runs.

While on the topic of angry looking woman, there was another woman who always dropped her children off at the grammar school that my children attended.   To say her face could stop a clock was putting it mildly.  I think her expression could have made time march backwards.  My wife and I both agreed that she was scary.  Yet years later we had occasion to sit at a table with her at a school function.  She was extremely personable, self effacing and quite open in describing her life.  When we told her that we had been scared of her she burst out laughing.  She turned out to be one of the loveliest people we ever met.

The last example I offer of the bad face/good guy variety is a man who lives across the street from a woman who I do some part time work for.  He used to always insult the woman’s dilapidated looking mailbox. Also on one occasion he gave me a bad impression when I was bragging to him about the wonderful chiropractor I go to.  He sarcastically observed that the best chiropractor was “staying healthy.”  In the ensuing months I always shied away from this man but then due to our close proximity it became inevitable that we interact.  When he would joke about the old mailbox I would joke back instead of taking it to heart.  Gradually a friendship was forged.  I have learned over time that he endured some tough times during his working years.  I have also learned that he is actually a very nice guy.

This you can’t judge a book by its cover phenomenon in reading peoples’ faces works both ways though.

We knew this young boy years ago who had a very attractive mother.  We liked the mother then and still do.  However one day, the boy uttered a line that I will never forget. We told him how beautiful his mother was and he quipped “Oh sure, but behind all that pretty makeup she can be a real terror!”  Right then I realized the truth to that line which was the title of a successful television show.  Kids really do say the darndest things.     

 

 

Copyright 2012; Greg S.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Presidential Halo Effect

He is often labeled “The Most Powerful Man on Earth.”  He is also the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize.  Excuse my logic, but seriously folks, are we going to label him Saint Obama?

If the photos tell the story maybe he’s already been canonized.

What I am getting at are photos that anyone who likes to Google can find that show some of our recent presidents with what appear to be halos above their heads.

Upon close inspection the viewer will quickly realize that the “halo” is nothing more than the blurred image of the presidential seal that is hung behind the president’s podium whenever he addresses the media or other official gatherings.

Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now President Obama have all been immortalized with halo photos as shown below.

Now I am really impartial as far as President Obama is concerned.  I am not his biggest fan but then again I am not a detractor. So when I first saw a halo photo last year the skeptical journalistic side of me was fuming that certain liberal members of the media had deliberately shot the photo that way to imbue Obama with divine persona.

Upon calming down over this phenomenon, I started Googling and soon saw that the other aforementioned presidents had also been adorned with halos in their photos.

Once I had the chance to think the whole thing over I must confess that I think the entire staging of these photos may have some positive sides.

We live in what is still the greatest most successful country on Earth. Serving as the president of this great nation is not an easy task.  No matter what he does, there will always be some special interest group, lobbyist group or other naysayers that call him out.

When a new president is elected he rides into Washington on the wave of being picked the most popular politician in the country.  People have high hopes.  So is it surprising or even inaccurate to picture him with a halo?  After all, albeit temporarily, the new president is often regarded as a sort of messiah who will safeguard our freedoms and deliver us to a life of prosperity and security.  Of course, things don’t always turn out that way.

As well with regard to the halo, serving as president despite all the security protection he receives is a dangerous job.  Two sitting presidents have been assassinated and countless other presidents have been the target of thwarted attempts on their lives.

Thus, the office of the president is in my opinion sacrosanct.  To those who diss our country, be they Americans or others, I ask you to consider what other nation on earth has so welcomed immigrants from every walk of life and from every country the world over.  Furthermore, look at countries such as North Korea, Iran, and now in particular Syria.  Their records on human rights are atrocious.  We in America like to complain when one of our civil rights is trampled on.  Yet unlike Syria and other countries our president doesn’t employ secret hit squads to mow down anyone who opposes him.  Here we are free to speak our mind and assemble peacefully to protest that which we don’t like about our government.

In recent years our past presidents and current one, have never been caught being drunk or impaired while on the job. Each of them has had to live in the huge fishbowl existence that the modern day media has created and have all behaved admirably well with grace under pressure.

In short, while someone reading this may not think that our current president or any specific past presidents are holy figures, the office of the President itself is a sacred spot.

Pictured below are some of our presidents wearing halos.  If you want to have a little fun, picture what some of the distant past presidents would have looked like wearing one. In particular, I think Martin Van Buren would have looked hideous with one.

Here’s to the presidency and God Bless America.

Copyright 2012; Greg S.

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As the Earth Gets Sicker, So Do We

Excuse my logic, but with the way we humans have mistreated our environment, should we really be surprised in the huge increase in autism reported last week by the Center for Disease Control (CDC)?  Studies have proven there is some correlation between environmental factors and the incidence of such conditions as Autism, Tourette’s Syndrome and Multiple Sclerosis.

By Federal Law, industries that use and release any of 682 toxic chemicals into the environment must account for them once a year to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The term release means chemicals either escaping from smokestacks into the air, discharged into rivers, lakes or streams or finally those that were land-filled. This blog concerns the latter.

Yes, we may get passing grades for regulating industrial dumping into landfills at the current time, but things weren’t always that way.  However, there seems to be little regulation to what individual citizens dump everyday. 

Consider this.  In our country alone there are some 300 million people. If the average household consists of four people, that means we have 75 million households.  For argument’s sake, let’s say fully half of those households are urban dwellers who use incinerators to dispose of their garbage.  That leaves us 37.5 million households discarding trash that will end in landfills.  I know in my household and some other households of people I am acquainted with we dispose of one 13 gallon plastic bag of garbage every day.  So if we as a country are dumping 37.5 million 13 gallon bags of trash a day into landfills should be surprised by the illnesses that abound?  Just to put this in perspective, I estimate that 37.5 million 13 gallon bags of trash would be about enough to fill Madison Square Garden.  And we are filling our Earth with that amount of trash every day!  Furthermore, that’s just what we throw out at our homes. This isn’t accounting for all the garbage we generate at work, school or other daytime activities.

Yuckkk!

No one regulates the individual and what he throws out everyday.  Styrofoam cups, used oil filters, tin cans, disposable diapers just to name a few are all lethal to the ground we live on. 

To examine the link between environment and autism consider the following.  One area of the country that has emerged as a large spawning ground for autism is an 80 mile stretch of land on each side of the Ohio River betweenMount Vernon,IndianaandHawsville,Kentucky.  In 2009, industries in this belt reported 166.8 million pounds of toxins released into the environment for that year alone.  The literature that I have read suggests a strong correlation between that staggering statistic and the fact that in Evansville, Indiana, the state’s third largest city, 22 percent of public school children were receiving special ed instruction. 

As mentioned previously, industries have not always been held accountable either.  In my own state ofNew Jersey we have concentrations of ground and water pollution in many areas. Mahwah and Ringwood continue to be plagued by ground pollution that was discharged by the old Ford Motors plant in Mahwah. Pompton Lakes and vicinity were victimized by a DuPont munitions plant that generated decades’ worth of industrial pollution in that area. Bridgewater and the Raritan Riverwere systematically being polluted with benzene and other industrial chemicals by the American Cyanamid Corporation.

Elmwood Park’s High School in the 1960s and 1970s had a high incidence of Multiple Sclerosis due to dioxins from the Passaic River right across the street from it.  In Garfield, cancer causing chromium had been leaking for years from a tank at the E.C. Electroplating plant and it spread underground and affected an entire neighborhood of citizens. Teaneck’s MiltonVotee Park had to be closed for a time last year due to highly contaminated soil.

Other sites reported in 2011 by the Bergen Record newspaper included Fair Lawn where it was suspected contaminated groundwater was seeping into homes from a Superfund site that had received little oversight for many years.  In the Rutherford area Meadowlands, a dysfunctional EnCap project that was originally supposed to turn the area into a golf village left the sites more contaminated than before it started its ill advised endeavor.

This is just a smattering ofNew Jersey’s dismal list of more than 16,000 contaminated properties statewide. 

When you stop to consider that there are many other states just as industrialized as our state of New Jersey is, the whole subject of our environment can be mind boggling. 

I for one do have hope however.  McDonald’s recently announced an initiative to replace Styrofoam cups with paper.  Glad, the maker of those plastic trash bags now markets a line of Degradable Plus bags in four sizes.  Furthermore recent regulations now require that a protective layer of non permeable material be placed at the bottom of a landfill to prevent ground and groundwater pollution.  People like Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford lead a growing A-list of celebrities buying up tracts of land to preserve them in their natural state. 

We as individuals, regardless of whether we are famous or not, can all do our share.  Recycle whatever can be.  In particular, oil filters, car batteries and all forms of electronics wreak havoc on the environment when discarded there. When you go to the supermarket, request paper bags instead of plastic.  Instead of throwing out old bicycles, toys and other attic items have a garage sale.  Or just rearrange the junk in your garage or attic rather than discarding it.  Buy morning coffee from vendors who use paper cups instead of Styrofoam.  If you must throw out garbage and we all must, place it in paper bags. 

Another thing you can do to help curb ground and water pollution is to use organic fertilizers when fertilizing your lawn.  Using these fertilizers helps avoid extensive runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus which leads to eutrophication of water and ultimately contaminates the food chain.   

Also, if your favorite organization is involved in a neighborhood cleanup join in.  It’s our Earth and we all have a vested interest in keeping it clean.

 

Copyright 2012; Greg S,

 

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Give Obama a Passing Grade on Fighting Terrorism

Excuse my logic but there’s some talk going around the comments sections to internet stories about President Obama that suggest he is a softie and I would like to refute that suggestion once and for all.

I saw one comment in particular from a writer who said that Iran’s ratcheting up its nuclear ambitions, Egypt putting 16 Americans on trial and increasingly frequent murders of Americans in Afghanistan are all a test of Obama’s mettle.  This writer went on to say that these countries and others think the President is “soft.”

Now I am not one of these people who think President Obama can do no wrong.  However give credit where credit is due.  He authorized the taking out of the World’s number one terrorist Osama Bin Laden.  More recently he ordered air strikes that may have played a large part in weakening Muammar Gadhafi’s position and leading to his capture and execution.

 

Do these two actions listed above sound like those of someone who is “soft?”  I am sure that for thousands of relatives of 911 victims and Pan Am Lockerbie victims, Mr. Obama’s actions have brought a deep sense of relief.

The people who complain about Obama being weak will be the first ones to protest if their children are sent to war.  As well, the people with no children and nothing to lose are always squawking that we should go to war. 

Separately, I would offer several words of caution for all you hawks who think we should decimate Iran.  I know a young man from Iran who is fairly intelligent and not prone to exaggeration.  He says in a ground war, the U.S.would sustain many casualties, probably many more than in Iraq because the Iranian soldiers are very adept fighters and are known for being willing to fight to the death. 

 

 Copyright 2012; Greg S.

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Has the Postal Service Lost Its Zip?

Excuse my logic but it’s not surprising that the United States Postal Service has been forced to close many facilities recently.  Don’t misunderstand this blog. I am not gloating.  As a kid I greatly enjoyed collecting plate blocks of commemorative stamps and also First Day covers, which were special editions of new issues mounted on decorative envelopes.  My memories of collecting stamps with my father and grandfather are cherished.

Yes, I think it is sad that just like newspapers, the venerable Postal Service may be put out to pasture.  Yet, in many ways it has only itself to blame.

True, the advent of Email, Pay pal and other electronic methods of transmitting information has greatly dug into the Postal Service business and it can’t be blamed for something it had no control over.

However, there are glaring problems with the Postal Service that it does have control over yet continues to ignore.

It has huge overhead to pay because of gargantuan pensions it must pay former employees.  From the mid 1900s until recent years, everyone wanted a postal job because they knew how lucrative the retirement package was.  These former workers are living longer putting a drain on the already cash strapped agency. 

Second, my own experience with the Postal Service on many occasions has shown me that it is not as reliable as it once was (unless when I was a child all this was going on even then and I just didn’t realize).  People call printed mail “snail mail,” and oft times for good reason. 

Here are some cases in point.

One time I walked out of my side door and past my front lawn and there was a large stack of mail (about 20-30 pieces) lying on my grass.  It wasn’t mine. It didn’t even belong to anyone on my street. It had just been dropped there very carelessly.

I am constantly (I mean at least once every two weeks) getting mail delivered to my house that is not mine.  Sometimes it has a completely different address which makes it ludicrous.  Yet even when it has my address but is for someone other than my name I find it rather curious. You see when I mark this kind of mail “return to Sender” and re-mail it at my post office often times it comes back to me two or three times.  Can’t these people read?! 

Is this eagle an endangered species?

 

Then I can recall how I lost a great deal of business thanks to USPS.  My Dad and I were under contract with a textiles company to get them government contracts.  We needed to get at least $500,000 worth of business for this company in our first year in order to be renewed.  There was this state government bid we were going after.  It was in one of the southeastern states as I recall.  We put our bid package together and I brought it to the Post Office.  I clearly asked the clerk if using express mail when it would arrive at the bid room.  He guaranteed two days. I only needed it to arrive in three.  It arrived in FOUR.  We were disqualified. The most upsetting thing was when they tallied the bids, our bid would have been the lowest.  It was a $240,000 contract.  Because we lost that contract, we didn’t make our quota with the textile company and it ended what could have been a successful business partnership.

Did I mention that my postman always seems to be talking on a blue tooth when delivering my mail? Shouldn’t his mind be on his work? Maybe that’s why I keep getting other peoples’ mail as mentioned before.

Then there are the lines at many post offices.  This is not the poor postal clerk’s fault. It’s management’s.  Be that as it may, when you make working people wait twenty, or twenty five minutes to be served, they’re going to become disenchanted with your business.  If you ever want to hear a wide array of muttered curses and catcalls, just go to your post office during lunch hour. If it’s one of the crowded ones you’ll get what I mean.

This cranky old blogger’s last gripe concerns something that took place about 15 years ago.  I was driving my relatively new minivan down a side street and suddenly a postal vehicle just pulls out of its parking spot and side swipes me.  I mean the driver couldn’t have possibly looked out her side view mirror for she would have seen me.  I called the police. They came and I said I thought I smelled alcohol on her breath but they refused to issue a breath test.  They acknowledged that it could have been her fault. Here’s the kicker though.  At least at that time, under some provision of Title 19 from the Code of Federal Regulations, the Postal Service vehicle was not liable for damages caused by an accident, even if it was the postal worker’s fault.  So I had to shell out nearly $1,800 for repairs.

Through it all, I hope the Postal Service survives.  However, I hope they get their act together or it may be a short lived encore.

 

Copyright 2011; Greg S.

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Funny Pharms

Excuse my logic but why is it that a package of three condoms costs between $5 and $6 yet you can buy a bag of 50 balloons at the dollar store for $.99?  Oh I get it, it’s the latex.  Now that I’ve got your attention, I’ll get right into the meat of the matter and it does relate to those aforementioned overpriced condoms.

Prescription drug and medical supply prices are forever climbing.  I remember several years back I was prescribed Imitrex for my daily migraine headaches.  When I saw the price my headaches got worse!  $16 per tablet!  My insurance wouldn’t cover this medication and as such I was forced to seek alternate remedies.  Now it is true that you can get lower priced generics for this medication but their overall potency may be called into question.  Furthermore some companies are even selling the generics for $10 a tablet.  Imagine that we’re asked to pay $10 for a little dose of chemicals that doesn’t even weigh a gram. It is sinful.

Just as an aside, I currently take another medication for other issues and it costs a whopping $18 per tablet.  People who rely on year round doses of medication for such conditions as diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease, etc. know first hand how expensive medicines can be.

Then pause and consider the actions (or actually lack of action) on the part of the large pharmaceutical companies concerning the “cocktail” they possess that can help AIDS patients to survive.  Some of the larger pharmaceutical companies, given their vast resources have the ability to save millions of Africans and other peoples if they would make the low cost AIDS fighting cocktail available to these people.  It has been proven that AIDS sufferers can extend their lives many years by use of this cocktail.  If the Big Pharm companies were to work with our government they could probably even write off such a gesture as a humanitarian exercise.  However, there’s no actual profit to be realized in such charity so the AIDS drug stays on the shelf and less fortunate people are forgotten and left to suffer a wretched existence.

There are a variety of dynamics at work in the ever changing world of prescription drugs.  For starters I have been told by some people in the business that in this day in age, many doctors get a commission from the pharmaceutical companies for every prescription that they write for a drug that the pharmaceutical company sells.  As such it is prudent for someone suffering from an illness, whatever that illness might be to read up on the recommended course of treatment. In short, when doctors can expect commissions for writing prescriptions they may be trigger happy and start writing you out prescriptions for meds that you don’t even need.  This is not meant to be an indictment of all doctors – many are still caring and honest – but as in any profession, there can be unscrupulous players.  As such you may be spending more and more on drugs that you don’t even need.  The only way to be sure you are not being pumped full of unnecessary drugs is to do your own research.

There seems to be a pill for everything

 

As well, the reason I believe that there are doctors on the pharmacy company payrolls is based on something I witnessed some years ago when I would sit waiting to be seen by my doctor.  I would wait incredibly, sometimes two hours past my appointment time to be seen by him.  During that interval of time, it seemed like a virtual parade of guys in suits would filter through his office.  They were all pharmaceutical sales reps. Judging by the quality of the clothes they wore, they were all getting quite rich.  And samples?  This doctor had the equivalent of a large walk in closet worth of sample doses of hundreds of different medications.  It looked like a Walmart for prescription drugs.

I am also told that many of today’s pharmaceutical company reps are young attractive women.  Would a person go to Hooters if the waitresses weren’t attractive? Same holds true in this biz.  Even analytical well trained doctors can be influenced by a nice pair of legs.   

I’d like to conclude this blog with a theory I have about the pharmaceutical industry. 

We as a society (and I mean the worldwide society, not just the United States) are enamored by the idea that we can pop a pill, gulp down some water and presto-change-o, our symptoms will go away.  Somehow, it is so much easier to pop a pill than it is to do yoga or exercise, plan a healthy diet, or quit drinking and smoking.  If you were to try and calculate just how many pills the human race takes on just a single day, the figure would be off the charts.   The Big Pharmaceutical companies love this. You never read much in the mainstream media about pharmaceutical companies’ earnings.  I think they try to keep it hush-hush. I believe if the public ever knew the staggering profits these companies were reaping there would be a massive outcry for reform of the system as it is now.  I believe some of the big pharmaceutical companies have earnings that would even dwarf those of IBM or Microsoft.

Now that this is all said and done, I think I’ll take a tranquilizer.

 

Copyright 2011; Greg S.

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Money and Power – Dollars and Sense

Excuse my logic but I am not crazy about that old adage “money is power.”  I do think that money can produce power, but I don’t think that power is as absolute as some other types of power referred to later. Having money may give someone a modicum of power but the magnitude of that power is sometimes far overstated.

I think money power can be broken down into at least four categories (and probably even more for those who are extremely analytical).  Those categories are Good Money Power, Bad Money Power, Money Power Gone Awry and Money With No Power.  We will briefly examine each of these.

People such as the late Andrew Carnegie and more recently the late New York Society Fashion Mogul Milton Petrie are two shining examples of Philanthropic giants.  In more recent times, Musician and Promoter Bob Geldof, and Microsoft’s Bill Gates also stand out as extremely giving money men. These men are examples of how money can be harnessed into Good Power.  In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Carnegie poured huge sums of money into libraries, schools and universities in theU.S.,U.K.andCanada.  For his part, Petrie donated much of his wealth to many universities and cultural institutions and also set up lifelong trust funds of $20,000 per year to people such as Marla Hanson, the model who had her face slashed and New York Police Officer Steven McDonald who was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty.  Petrie also set up such funds for two widows of slain New York City Detectives killed in action.  Mr. Geldof networked a wide array of big name recording artists and used his own capital to organize the star-studded musical group Band Aid preceding his hugely successful fundraising concerts Live Aid and later Live 8 which gave hope to starving peoples in Africa and elsewhere.  As for Bill Gates well, his generosity in terms of dollars given is practically off the charts.

As for Bad Money Power I do not wish to castigate specific individuals by naming names.  However, I will point out several anonymous examples of what I feel is Bad Money Power.  I know of someone who travels in circles of the affluent and there are two different remarks my acquaintance told me of that were made by people with money.

The first remark came from a multimillionaire who said “If you’re not worth at least $20 million you’re nobody.” Okay. I guess this man thinks that 99.9 percent of the human race is comprised of nobodies.

My acquaintance also related a story about a different man, also wealthy who was confronted by a person advocating that the rich should make greater efforts to spread some of their wealth amongst the poor.  This man reportedly stated quite emphatically “There are rich people and there are poor people. It has always been that way and will always stay that way.”

PerhapsIndonesia’s late President Suharto,Egypt’s deposed leader Mubarak and now Gaddafi, the pariah ofLibyaall felt that way. By now it has become clear that their vast fortunes were no match for the will of the people. 

Which brings us to Money Power Gone Awry.  In recent years we have seen time and time again where grotesquely large sums of money were thrown at a problem with no positive net results.  When George Bush Sr. was president he allocated extraordinary sums of money to his self-proclaimed war on drugs.  The drug problem in this country ebbed slightly for a time but in the long run it spiked dramatically.  More recently, our country has poured hundreds of billions into wars inIraqandAfghanistanand yet both countries continue to be in a state of turmoil. 

So all of this considered, is money really power?  As the above shows, Money can display positive, negative or misguided power. 

Some money has the power and some doesn't

 

That leaves us with Money that has no power.

Consider that there are remote places on our very planet where money won’t get you anything. In some tribal-controlled regions in Africa, South America or the far reaches of the Sahara Desert, all the money in the world wouldn’t necessarily keep you safe from violent cultures. In fact, an open show of opulence on a rich person’s part could get them killed in these places. 

Many years ago, I was planning to take a cruise down the Amazon River with my then business partner.  The travel agency running the tour told us his secret for successful trading with Amazonian people.  He didn’t tell us to bring a big sack of money.  He told us to bring several cartons of Marlboro Cigarettes and some pairs of Levis Jeans.  He said the natives in the Amazon jungle would give us practically anything we wanted of theirs in exchange for those two commodities.

I also submit to you that the possession of great amounts of money may actually reduce an individual’s power.  Sometimes great wealth weakens amongst other things, an individual’s moral fiber, self control and judgmental powers. My parents once knew a multi-millionaire who came to their Halloween masquerade party.  People were playing the popular Halloween game “bobbing for apples,” the idea of which is to bend your head down into a barrel full of water and grab as many apples out of the barrel as you can using only your mouth. No hands allowed. This rich guy when he thought no one was looking started grabbing the apples with his hands. Unknown to him he was being videotaped at the time.  It became a standing joke in our family that this is how this man got their wealth, namely through ignominious means.

I believe really great power can’t be quantified in the way money can be.  I believe it can take many forms.  There have been documented cases of people seeing a child pinned under a car and lifting the vehicle off the child with their bare hands. Likewise, who hasn’t heard of someone being given six months to live only to confound the experts and live for ten years?   So is money really power? Yes it is. But I wouldn’t trust my life to it.

 

Copyright 2011; Greg S.

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Earth to Government – “Come In!”

Excuse my logic but if other areas of our nation are in as much trouble as mine (Bergen County, New Jersey), our country is in deep doo-doo.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Submitted for your viewing and consideration are the dismal images below, all vacated buildings that once housed thriving businesses in Bergen County.  It is interesting to note that historically, Bergen Countyhas always been considered one of the more affluent counties in the nation.  Some of these businesses probably went belly-up.  Others probably saw that this area just wasn’t as much of a choice location to be in as it once was. Either way, it’s time for our government to take notice, and all parties to put political differences aside.  Businesses are failing at an alarming rate. Foreclosures are soaring.  The percentage of people living in poverty in this country is at an all-time high. It’s time our elected officials start working for all of our peoples.

Hackensack Pathmark

 

Former Best Western Motel, River Edge

 

Staples and Tiger Schulman's, Paramus, NJ

 

The Forum Diner, Paramus, NJ

 

The Computer Learning Center, Paramus, NJ

 Is any business safe? Who’s next?

 

Copyright 2011; Greg S.

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Pensions Rising

Excuse my logic but when considering the current quagmire known as the U.S. Economy, we must take a long hard look at one aspect of the pension system that has burgeoned to astronomical and gargantuan size.  Namely we need to question pensions for one or two term politicians.

Now don’t get me wrong, the pension system isn’t the only economic ill.  For starters, as I am fond of explaining to some people I know, in one single fateful day known as 9/11, the stock market lost 50% of its value which translated into something like trillions of dollars in value.  People go around blaming then President George Bush for ruining the economy and he may have helped, but he didn’t fly those planes into the twin towers.

However, what I find incredible is the amount of fat in the nation’s pension system. The average worker working in the private sector say for 40 or 45 years can expect to draw a social security check of say $1,500 to $2,500 a month.

That’s peanuts compared to the pensions some public employees reap. Now please understand, my main objection is not with elected officials such as US senators or congressmen who serve the country for say 3, 4 or 5 terms. Some of these individuals could have earned much more in the private sector but opt for a career in public service as a way of giving back to the community.   

My objection is with elected officials who serve say 4 or 6 years in the government and then upon reaching age 62 are awarded pensions that equal or exceed the amount our private sector worker mentioned above earns out of social security.  Should a retired governor or U.S. Senator who served one term be receiving $30,000 to $40,000 or more per year for life?

Now consider the layers upon layers of government we are surrounded by.  We have a president and a cabinet.  Like his senate colleagues, a retired president draws $90,000 a year or more for his pension, which in most cases he doesn’t even need because of all the company boards he will sit on, speaking fees he will earn etc., etc. Then we have the  Supreme Court. Senate and Congress.  Governors and their huge staffs. State Senate and legislature.  County government including such people as Freeholders and Surrogates (What do these people even do?).  You have county authorities.  Just recently it has been making news in my state of New Jersey how the Passaic County Sewerage Commission had more than 80 people making $100,000, a year or more, many the benefactors of nepotism until Governor Chris Christie pulled the plug on them. Imagine the pensions these guys would have been pulling in someday.  Again, if a person makes a lifetime career of public service, give them a pension.  But for the one and done crowd or people looking to get rich easy, I say tough luck.   

As I began formulating the ideas for this blog, I answered a question for myself that I was planning to pose in another blog to be published at a future date.  In that blog I was intending to put forth the question “Why do we have multi-millionaire and even billionaire businessmen and celebrities spending tens of millions of dollars to run for an office that only pays several hundred thousand a year?”  In a good many cases, these individuals have altruistic motives. They want to help the country and give back to the people.  However, in some cases, I believe the answer lies in the pension.

In this era where we watched the Bernie Madoff debacle unfold in the news, the bulk of many multi-millionaires fortunes are invested in all kinds of hedge funds, bonds, and other high risk “growth” funds such as Madoff’s.  So yes, at this moment, the multi-millionaire guy is worth say $100 million.  Yet things being as sketchy as they are, in five years he could be broke.  Look at Mike Tyson. At his height he was worth a whopping $300 million!  He’s not worth that today.  Where did it all go?

So getting back to our multi-millionaire businessman, he knows instinctively that by the time he retires, he could be worth significantly less than he is in his current financially bloated position.  So he runs for office.  He knows if he wins and completes his term, he’s got a guaranteed middle to high five figure income stream for the remainder of his life which could be 20 or 30 years.  This gives him leverage.  He can keep playing with his fortune trying to increase it many times over with the security of knowing if it all goes bust he will still have a guaranteed income for retirement.

Now I am not saying every rich guy who runs for office is guilty of this.  I think for example, H. Ross Perot who volunteered to work as president for no money captured the spirit of public service.  He really wanted to help this country turn things around.   He was worth just so much money, that he probably could never have run out and would never have needed the pension.

H. Ross Perot

I don’t advocate complete elimination of pensions.  Many people work 20, 30 or 40 years and deserve a secure retirement.  Police officers, DPW workers, teachers and other hard working individuals deserve to be compensated upon retirement.  However in the case of politicians who are one-termers, there was probably a good reason they only served one term. In most cases it’s just plain simple that they didn’t do a good job.  In the case of these individuals I think we need to keep their hands out of the cookie jar. 

Copyright 2011; Greg S.

 

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When Weather Kills

Excuse my logic but is it a crime to be poor?  For many of my fellow Americans they must think it is.  This blog is about neglect of people by our own political and government systems.  This neglect touches people here from many different nations and of many different, colors, and creeds.  The one thing they all have in common is they are low or lower middle income. 

I’ve been meaning to write this particular blog for many months now but always had it on the back burner. Then today, someone I was speaking to asked me a rather obvious question, one I’ve asked myself countless times.

Why do we let people remain living in substandard or even dangerous living conditions which could actually cause their death in a country as prosperous as ours?

To sidetrack for a moment. Did I say we are a prosperous country?  Damned right. I recently read somewhere that our GDP or GNP is seven times that of China, the country that everyone runs around saying will one day own us.  If these figures are correct it looks like that time is a long way off.

So with all the money we have for bank bailouts and corporate CEO buyouts and new multi billion dollar sports stadiums that are dripping with opulence, we allow many of our country folk to live on the precipice of serious injury or downright death.

Cases in point:

Hurricane Katrina – A year before that tragedy, people were already talking about a possible breach of the levies.  Nineteen hundred lives lost.  Most or all of those people could have lived if appropriate precautions had been taken.

This year’s tornadoes across the Midwest and Southeast – Hundreds or maybe even thousands have perished. Why in the world in this great nation of vast economic resources, do we allow people who live in these regions to live in mobile homes or homes with no foundations?  Against a powerful hurricane or tornado, if you live in this type of dwelling you might as well live in a cardboard box. Let me expound on this point.  Some years ago, a powerful tornado swept across a town in Florida known as New Smyrna Beach.  I am familiar with the goings on there because I have a relative who lives nearby and I at one time lived there myself.  This tornado hit two cement condominium buildings known as Diamond Head straight on.  It blew out windows, but not one person perished.  The point is that these buildings were strong enough to protect their occupants.  Can the same be said for a mobile home?  Of course not.

Joplin, MO.

Locally to myself, New Jersey to be exact, I watch with sadness each year as the Saddle River in Lodi, NJ and surrounding communities overflows its banks and destroys peoples’ basements, automobiles etc.  It is well documented that even before Hurricane Floyd way back in 1999 the Army Corps of Engineers had been warning the Federal Government, namely Congress, that work needed to be done on that river to prevent drastic flooding.  Still every year it floods. I don’t know if any work has been done, but it’s a low income area, so as I asked in the beginning of this blog, does that make these people criminals, unworthy of even some consideration by Washington, DC?

Also local to myself is the town of Lincoln Park in Morris County, NJ.  The Morris Canal zigzags its way through a hodgepodge of low lying streets in the area close to Wayne, NJ.

Some of these houses are one story affairs, so their gutters may be estimated to be ten feet above ground level.  I have seen that canal, so docile looking in fair weather, swell up so deep in bad storms that the water reaches the gutters of these homes. 

Needless to say, every time this happens, many possessions are ruined and many peoples’ lives are turned upside down.  Once again, many of these peoples’ only crime is that they are low income.  This is their best shot at home ownership – buying houses that can probably be purchased at bargain basement prices (ie. under $150,000 in a county known to feature high home prices).

When these homes flood out, disaster lurks in several corners.  People could drown. People could be electrocuted as water floods over active power lines.  

This is not just rhetoric designed to instill unjustified fear.  When the above-mentioned Hurricane Floyd hit, the downtown section of South Bound Brook, NJ was inundated with flood water.  The downtown caught fire and basically imploded.  One news caster termed the downtown of that city as a “write off.”

What are we to do?  One possibility lies in massive relocations of people from danger zones to safe zones.  A November 17, 2010 article entitled “Seven Towns Where Land is Free” by CNBC.com writer Colleen Kane is just one example that comes to my mind.  Yes, there are places in this country where they will give you land to put up a home, free, with few or no strings attached!  I would bet the farm that the government has many habitable land areas beyond just these that could become sanctuaries for displaced homeowners.

I would also not be surprised to find that there exist even now 15 years later, huge amounts of unoccupied condominiums and other domiciles in multi-family buildings leftover from the infamous S&L crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.  I can remember driving the coastline in parts of Monmouth County, NJ back in the early 1990s and being absolutely awestruck by the thousands of empty condominiums that had been put up in this era of reckless financing. 

Similar overstock of unsold condominium housing may exist in many areas of the country.  Isn’t it better to put people in these units than to leave them gathering dust and rotting from the inside?

I don’t have all the answers. However I do know that in this so called “land of opportunity” we need to get back to recognizing the sanctity of each human life.

 

Copyright 2011; Greg S.  

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