Thursday, December 20, 2012

American Girls are What Exactly?

For the last few years, my husband and I had a holiday tradition. We delayed shopping as long as we can and then we bite the bullet and run (literally) through a mall the week before Christmas. The primary gift recipients are the nephews and the niece. The 30 second GameStop® to get two Mario games for the boys went well, and then….. We braved American Girl®.  We walked past the cheerleader, the grocery cashier, and the housewife before finally looking at one-another flabbergasted and my husband commenting, “Man what a scam!”
I’m not sure how to describe the look on both my husband’s and my faces while we did the quick hunt around the store for the “phonograph” requested by my niece. Let’s just say that while I think American Girl® has a fantastic layout and brilliant marketing operation, it is literally terrifying to see the images that future women are experiencing. They are truly beginning to resemble a depiction from pre-19th Amendment ideals, through the 1950s myths and even the worst of 1970s sitcoms. The 1930’s themed washing machine, drying rack, iron and an ironing board and the pink cotton apron in one display began to back up the concern that future American women’s basic self-images are regressing very quickly.
When American Girl®s original line came out in 1986; it began with Samantha, Kirsten and World War II Molly.  Shortly after that, Felicity came, then Addy (an escaped slave), then post-Mexican independence Josefina, then Depression-era Kit, American Indian Kaya, Julie and Rebecca, a first-generation Jewish Russian American got a little deeper. Since American Girl®’s themes seem to model after history, could they mull over trying a new historic line of accessories and dolls? What about Clara (Barton) with a period nurse outfit of a long high neck dress? Could Amelia (Earhart) happen in bloomers, a leather jacket and some masculine boots? Perhaps Elizabeth (Blackwell) with a long, plain, dark dress down to the ankles and with a full length, plain white apron and a white cap on her head? Those are old enough references that the current stereotypical look of their other products won’t feel threatened. If they want to go all out, some of American Girl®s more creative product developers could potentially think outside the box. How about Sandra (Day O’Connor), in a business suit under a judge’s long robe? Would Sally (Ride) have enough astronaut accessories to make it worth the investment? How about something really far-reaching like dressing up in a business suit? Or a military uniform (officer or enlisted), or a doctor’s lab coat or scrubs with a stethoscope? 
I am sure that it is not a priority in the American consciousness overall. Still, the longer I see the images being projected all around, the more I believe we are experiencing a rapid degeneration transforming a woman into an unintelligent blow-up doll.  It really does wipe out a huge portion of the efforts of my grandmother’s generation and my mother’s.  To stay more in line with American Girl®’s historic theme, would it be feasible to consider successful contemporary women as models and ponder aspiring to be more akin to Hillary Rodham Clinton and Michelle Obama or even slip back to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis rather than Honey Boo Boo, Cinderella, Desperate Housewives, The Bachelorette, any female Kardashian on TV or Lindsay Lohan? I know that’s an impossibility, but for all of the mothers, grandmothers and aunts like me out there I have one small request: Can we possibly get a few potential gift options for our daughters and nieces that (even if they don’t use them as frequently as the ironing board and the kitchen accessories), can at least be a little less nauseous after granting the Christmas list requests of our newest living American girls?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Legally Forming a More Perfect Union—by Definition

Why is it so complicated to define the rights of “pursuit of happiness” or “liberty”? I found most aspects of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) downright wrong, primarily because of the wide-ranging disparity of definitions given for both what a State is and what it has a right to regulate.

While searching far and wide for any serious phrase defining “State”; the closest I came to was a mixture of definitions provided by The Associated Press, Collins English Dictionary and Webster: “Any territory that became a member of the union called the United States of America”.  Becoming part of any of the 50 states and six major US territories, (as members of that union), certain decisions and definitions will apply to all.  As a nation, we’ve been fighting over different issues and whether each State should have final say or our federal government should.  These distinctions have been debated, fought and fluctuated for over 236 years now. 

By pressing to make DOMA all-encompassing and becoming common law, the advocates for DOMA have no one to blame but themselves for the Supreme Court having to step up and define marriage.  The creators of DOMA had a goal to maintain their perceived moral definition of marriage, but in doing so, correlated legal rights and religious rites.  It is dangerous to define our civil, legal rights by allowing the government to issue a “license of marriage” when marriage is generally a term of religious significance. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equal Rights should not enable a religious ritual. It provides you a civil contract.  The LGBT community would have benefited more by getting the State to make a civil union as binding legally as a marriage license is currently. In fact, it would have been better for all to have simply made the legal adjustment to issue a civil contract and not a religious ceremony. To be thorough, they could even go back and retroactively issue a State contract independently of each and every Church contract in US history more easily than trying to convince any Church to go against its teachings to acknowledge a marriage.

This has always been an issue of semantics, and it could be dealt with very rapidly and efficiently if they simply read the first amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." and if they then remembered that the amendment is not only to keep the state away from the Church in order to protect their freedoms; it also keeps the Church away from the State in order to protect theirs.  If you are a couple, whether recognized by the Church or not, bereavement, leave, wrongful death, inheritance, etc. are generally State issues and rights, not Church issues or rights. Many in the LGBT community are not satisfied with the option of a Civil Union. The primary reason is not because of its irreligious definition, but rather, that it has never been presented as having the same legal weight as a marriage.  Even President Obama had to struggle with the religion aspects, I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.” (- April 17, 2008, while running for president, defining marriage at the Saddleback Presidential Forum); and: “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” (- May 9, 2012, as president, in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News). Millions of other Americans of all types have struggled with it also, due to religious beliefs in contrast with civil rights. More often than not, however, it is the civil rights that are most damaged with the lack of a State legal definition of a union outweighing the validity of a religious ritual.

Examples of these abound. For one, if one partner dies, the partner is not responsible for the other’s debt. This is not a Church issue, but a State one. In cases of divorce, a State recognizes it legally whether the Church who administered the ritual recognizes it or not. Should a Church define the legal decisions regarding shared property? Deciding custody of a child and child support? What about alimony or protection? No. These are all State responsibilities. Regarding debts, an unmarried partner is not responsible, a married partner is. Which is the State going to benefit from?

Other cases in point, medical situations where the partner of a person is not considered next of kin for hospital visitation and emergency medical decisions, again, a State issue, not a Church issue. Regarding public housing, without legally being a couple, if not recognized and thus denied or disfavored in their applications for public housing it is a higher cost to the State to house two single people individually. So is the State served better by couples living together or being considered individuals being housed separately? Regarding inheritance, it may ultimately benefit the State financially if no unmarried surviving partners are next of kin who can inherit. But the net benefit is unlikely to be much money considering the hassles and expenses of probate court. What about preventing couples from signing up for joint health insurance coverage for themselves and their children/step-children? How about the protection against having to testify against each other in judicial proceedings, or coverage in crime victims counseling and protection programs? Many of these options only help the State while doing no harm to the Church. Filing joint taxes and retirement spousal benefits do not affect the Church either.

So perhaps after tap-dancing around this issue for many years, Justice Roberts’ Supreme Court is finally entering the national debate over same-sex marriage. Agreeing to hear two specific cases challenging state and federal laws that define marriage to include only unions of a man and a woman, we may resolve the issue and our country may finally be able to handle this.

The State needs to provide enough legal pull for a Civil Union to be the law of the land for all couples (supported by DOMA or not); so it is about time the Supreme Court finally defined the State perspective.  They hopefully will provide a concrete civil definition and enable the State to push past the agitation and the parochial definitions of marriage. This could bring about a pragmatic, (and more important legal) precedent. James Esseks of ACLU put it well: “This is it — the Supreme Court marriage moment that the ACLU has been working towards for years.” Hope they get what they think they’re looking for, and that the State will be able to keep it’s autonomy from the Church and the Church can go by Matthew 22:21: "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's".


Friday, November 9, 2012

Joe--Don’t Confuse Red Cross Invisibility with Inactivity, Inertia or Indifference

Mr. Scarborough,

Earlier today I watched your interview on “Morning Joe,” with Senator Charles Schumer (D- NY) where you discussed the pain and suffering of your friends in Staten Island (like my friends and co-workers in Staten Island). You went on to address your perceived failures by the Red Cross both now and in the past, asking, “You'll make sure that the Red Cross does their job that they make the right decisions that they won't store it all in warehouses away from places and then re-sell it the way they did in Katrina?" I am a volunteer for American Red Cross and have been since 2003. I have supported disaster responses during fires, nor’easters, floods, a tsunami, an oil spill, terrorist attacks, 2 earthquakes and I have personally deployed during hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Gustav, Ivan, Irene, Isaac and now Sandy. I think after watching Red Cross get lambasted multiple times on multiple levels,  it is time to clarify for you, and for all media the reality of what Red Cross is doing, what their role is, what their core values are and what their role isn’t—Particularly in addressing the most recent disasters.

First of all, the reason it took three days is the Red Cross to get to Staten Island is that during a Hurricane and afterwards, the Outerbridge Crossing, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the W Shore Expressway were impassable and the ferries were not in condition to run in flooding waters and rapid waves. The added issues geographically and logistically were transportation of the volunteers.  Like the majority of New Yorkers who are not wealthy, most get wherever they are going by mass transit, so deployment became complicated and delayed, while they were dealing with their own power outages, damaged apartments, etc. Despite this, many with extreme effort could and did get themselves to the different shelter sites and for no compensatory goals, provided the basic human needs that the Red Cross purview includes. They are not high paid people who are pocketing donor funds and disappearing to the Cayman Islands or gambling it in casinos, etc.

Despite these limitations, more than 5,800 disaster workers have been sent to the affected areas and since Saturday, October 27, 2012, shelters have provided more than 110,000 overnight stays and there are more than 60,600 people in Red Cross shelters. The Red Cross has served more than 3.2 million meals and provided health services for more than 27,500 people in response to Sandy. 96 percent of us are voluntarily donating our time (after doing our daily jobs, or on some occasions like mine, taking personal leave at my own expense by the way); the remaining 4 percent work for an average salary of between 40 and 50K, do so on call 24/7 and work more than 60 hours per week on average for that salary. So even the few who are paid staff are just as overextended, stressed and as worn out and unhappy about the pace of the recovery as you, Staten Island borough president James Molinaro and Senator Schumer are. However, nobody at American Red Cross is even wired to try to shaft the people affected, the government or the donors. In fact, the majority of volunteers that you see at these deployments spend an average of 50 to 100 dollars of their own money for the gear you see them wearing and pay their own expenses for anything above the same rations, cot and a blanket that the clients receive.
So when you feel the need to make sure that the Red Cross does our job and makes the right decisions, try to keep in mind that after the current 2-3 week deployments of the 5,800 on the ground now, several thousand will be re-deployed again and again in the same conditions for no compensation other than the reward that comes from enabling a person that has lost everything and experienced incredible trauma on multiple levels. You can also be assured that the reward that comes from that is in and of itself sufficient to keep the thousands of Red Cross volunteers continuing to respond, and continuing to give what we can. We do this because it allows us to deeply improve a person’s life, which is a true gift that most of us appreciate enough to even take the bashing we get from people we help, agencies we work alongside, local officials that claim “all these people making these big salaries, these big salaries, should be out there on the front line.”  Frankly, I was on the front line.  So were other volunteers, but like any scenario where there are multiple front lines covering an area of nearly 200 miles North to South and 200 miles from the Atlantic inland. From New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, DC and Virginia among others, whether you saw us or not, we were there and we are there now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Before We Forget And We Fall For Another Timeshare Pitch With A Four Year Contract

I honestly think that I hear things during political debates that aren’t the most memorable (because they just don’t resonate more than the most provocative statements); but items that often provide the best insight into people.  Watching the debate at Hofstra University, which made it difficult for even conservative comedians to resist the jokes regarding the extreme demographic blanching of Nassau County, had many noticing the racial demographics. Many publications and programs (from Politico to Reuters to Bill Maher) were writing and tweeting quickly and repeatedly. I figured that was the way things would be and was relaxing with some liqueur while resisting the urge to engage in a drinking game with my friends over the words economy, education, taxes, Libya or the more commonly fun shots being consumed by friends over the words oil, gas and coal.

Instead, the key moment for me, was Mitt Romney’s attempt to a respond to the question: “In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?” While I appreciate his overcoming his team’s assumption that the only ones qualified for the cabinet would be men, and while I also figure that he did indeed make “a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet”.  I think it was first rather sad that he could not put forth an actual response with what he would do, but sadder that he couldn’t resist the CEO-like jibe in his reply and couldn’t instinctively realize that assuming a two income home where a couple are working with or without kids, has a mom who is required to put on her apron and dad who is the primary breadwinner who puts his feet up in front of the TV. Perhaps Romney’s slightly dated perspective is more normal in his circles at Bain or during the 2002 Winter Olympics. I am sure when he became Governor, the women who are high-end enough to be in binders was somewhat helpful, but compared to the deeper issue that Romney needs to work to consciously consider whether a woman is as capable of a job as a man. Unless of course they are not, and they should be home barefoot and pregnant fitting much more neatly in a binder if affirmative action was not getting in the way of Utopia.

I personally would like to give Romney the benefit of the doubt. After all, he is not being slapped around by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops like Vice President Joe Biden for his views, instead, Romney has switched channels enough times, and I am even inclined to believe that Romney will blow off the extreme religious right and take back most of what he promised the extremists should he be elected. However likely that could be though, in a climate where Republican Congressman Todd Akin is even slightly still supported, or where the basic disconnect between funding Viagra and funding Planned Parenthood is even touched upon, women are very naive if they are willing to take any politician at their word, who has not been consistent.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Volunteering Leave to Fulfill Multiple Missions

Volunteering was a natural occupation of my time. I began volunteering in 2003 and continue to do so today. There are many different avenues to go down as a volunteer and every specialty you may enjoy is out there for the taking. Whether humanitarian needs, animal rescue, environmental, academic, or veteran support to note a few; there are basic activities that Americans and others spend a great deal of their personal time giving back to their communities.  The majority of people I worked alongside as a volunteer retired from their former careers and had more the time to donate than many in their 20s to 40s. While that was true before the recession, in the past four years those numbers have moved a great deal toward a younger base. Both people who are unable to get employed and can function more effectively by staying sharp and working while they hunt for jobs, and professionals like myself who know that the need is far larger than the volunteer reserves in the USA if we don’t participate.

 I will the first to admit however; that there are times that volunteering seems to be a daunting task on top of a job, family, etc., and it was vital personally that my spouse and my chain of command were both  supportive in my efforts.  During disaster response, which is my primary specialty, there are hardships that are required. For example, during Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Isaac, I personally spent a great deal of time in a mass shelter on a cot. My back could take it being in good shape and in my mid-40s, but I can’t guarantee that for a 70 year old who has even low levels of Osteoporosis should go that route, but I know many who have and who didn’t regret it.

Multiple medical sources also indicate that Volunteering in general is physically and mentally rewarding overall. Often our personal stresses are reduced when we are working to resolve the stresses or problems of someone else.  It provides every type of worker with more diverse perspective. If the only lens you ever look through is your own, you are a less effective communicator, manager, agent or analyst.

The most prevalent reason however is the gift of truly being able to improve the life of another human being. It often sneaks up on you when you least expect it even during a highly stressful volunteer experience when multiple people are hurt or traumatized and need someone to step up. For the federal employees who spent time in New York, Pennsylvania or DC during September 11th, they already have been on both sides of this. So have employees of multiple agencies affected by natural disasters from earthquakes, floods and mudslides to forest fires hurricanes and even a dangerous storm called a derecho. One additional reward is the knowledge and experience that makes us more prepared during any incident and a more active participant in the solution of any problem. It is absolutely better than watching an incident take place on a television and helplessly wondering what you can do to help at that point.

 Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential. —Barack Obama

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Ultimate Super Pac Campaign

Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert,
First of all, thank you for taking the time to form an exploratory committee to orally examine the exchange of information and funding through available now utilizing the post-Citizens United Super Pac. After your Super Pac made $1,023,121 as of January 30, (I am sure it has gone up even more at this point); I remember you discussed what to do when you determined Mr. Colbert running himself was not a tenable option. So I was wondering if you are trying to figure out where to spend that money in the upcoming weeks (even though the amount in it seems barely consequential considering the $512 million the ad total reached today for the 2012 election). While it would be too partisan to use it for either candidate or party; I think both sides would potentially agree (and do be careful, because both sides agreeing may in fact cause the galaxy to rupture!) on the following proposal.
The Super Pac campaign I’m proposing is simply enforcing the Americans right to criticize, whine, complain, and protest the result of 2012 election by voting. While there’s still time, for voters of all demographics, let's encourage them to take the time to make sure their registration is current, make sure they have an ID and get out there to vote for who they want. Basically tell them; "If you sit on your *expletive* and don’t show up, you are abandoning your inalienable right to b#$%^ about it. If you don’t vote, we don’t want to hear about it for four years!”
Broadcast, print, and non-traditional means such as blogs and social media platforms have already made so much money off of the 2012 election so far that they may even permit the potential people below to participate, (if their acting agents can watch and use it claiming to have been part of it and using the campaign in future schmoozing at a later point). Some who would likely assist you both gratuitously include:
·         Alec Baldwin
·         George Clooney
·         Hillary Clinton
·         Chris Christie (if he can fit through the studio door!)
·         Rush Limbaugh (as above with Christie!)
·         Brad Pitt
·         Angelina Jolie
·         Paul Rieckhoff
·         Bruce Springsteen
·         Martin Sheen or Jeff Daniels (heck, bring along Aaron Sorkin for the ride!)
·         Meryl Streep
·         Tim Tebow (but only if you give Eli Manning a shot too!)
·         Rachel Maddow
·         Seth Macfarlane
·         Clint Eastwood
·         Bruce Willis
·         Will Smith
·         Tommy Lee Jones or Josh Brolin if you want the younger version!)
·         Even Sarah Palin (Heck, have Tina Fey sit in; nobody will be able to tell the difference anyway and she may appear saner or at least smarter!)
To accommodate the lovely 10 states that recently passed photo ID laws; efficiency matters now as there are less than 100 days left for such a campaign any efforts would have a somewhat tight deadline at this point. I also realize that you are both probably going to be a bit busy bouncing around the conventions for the next couple weeks, but if you’re interns have a chance to research whether the Colbert Super Pac funds (in whichever of your control it is although I don’t know if you can confer with one another to ascertain whose role that is now) are allowed to be utilized for such a purpose. Ah well, give it a shot and see what happens!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Is 2012 An Ultimate Political Acquiescence or Inevitable Real Conflict?

As I begin to reach a saturation point from multiple political pundits this month, I have also had the opportunity to be party to multiple conversations providing copious perspectives. Nothing however compared to this past weekend. Republican friends of mine, particularly Caucasian males in their twenties (and even their sixties) who, (although vehemently anti-gay), seemed almost homosexually orgasmic with the Vice President choice of Paul Ryan. The next day, another colleague of mine, was more than slightly amused by the nomination noting, “If the Republican contributors get even a hint that Ryan could be put to the top of the ticket, Romney may want to hire a food tester over the next few months!”

While Republicans appear in high spirits about Ryan, The Democratic Party still seems buoyant rather than anxious about Romney. They seem happy with him as an adversary and some even personally ecstatic regarding the constant favors he seems to bestow upon Jim Messina, David Axelrod and Jay Carney with alarming regularity. They keep receiving metaphoric manna from heaven from Romney through his trying to constantly distance himself from Bain Capital. Rather than standing up to his critics and noting that his job was to gain profit for his investors, he keeps enabling them to slant it on him and doesn’t seem to realize that.  If Romney would get a little more comfortable with himself, he’d do better.  He could have taken on the Bain attacks head-on using a tag-line like: “If America becomes my client, they will profit from that.” Instead, Romney continues the democratic gravy train by allowing his lack of diplomatic prowess to provide gourmet fodder not just for not just for his wife Ann’s horse Rafalca (who ultimately barely reached the top 20 in the Olympic dressage competition); but for Obama’s Campaign staff and policy team as well. When Romney’s lack of tact caused our ally Prime Minister David Cameron to begin commenting on how uncomplicated an Olympics can be; “if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere;” it is not hard to develop an added arsenal for his opponents. Neither is his method of in one fell swoop having our least popular ally Israel amused at our expense while requiring Hillary Clinton’s team to burn up hours on phone lines and email to provide diplomatically triage to the angry Palestinians and numerous others. Whenever Romney (or any other Republican candidate), causes GOP strategist Karl Rove to despondently note, “You have to shake your head," he is going to be having causing misgivings with not only opponents but also supporters. The choice Romney made this weekend is a vice presidential candidate who not only has a more dynamic personality but also is more comfortable inside his own skin. This is not particularly helpful for Romney overall.  In fact, 24 hours later Ryan began to make Romney seem even more stiff and awkward than before Ryan.  
Romney’s campaign manager Matt Rhoades is certainly intelligent and tactical enough to realize that there was no scenario where Ryan’s role of chairman of the House Budget Committee and an economic plan directly accredited to him would not unswervingly encroach upon any discussion of Romney as President. However often Romney wants to claim that he has his own economic plan, until the media and the citizens see some real specifics, they do not generally believe him. Public perspective by and large on political figures and policies is: when they can’t see it, it does not automatically exist. When a candidate cannot at least provide basic talking points with one or two specifics then the man behind the curtain will absolutely be noticed.  A Republican ticket which, to quote POTUS, would “end Medicare as we know it,” but that his own would experience complete nirvana if it could somehow move Ryan into the top of the ticket. Republicans may be assuming that the overall interest in Bain Capital or in the Ryan Plan will die down and they will move back to the economy but they need to be a bit more introspective and more honest with themselves.
Introspection is not merely absent on the Republican side however.  Democrats’ talking points generally assume that Obamacare will solve a great deal of the country’s current problems and in all scenarios improve the economy overall—however slow the progress (and even if in the drips and drabs), the economy currently is (theoretically) moving in the right direction. 
A better question for both of them may be whether any current elected officials understand that their role is officially advocating for the people of their city/state/country who elected them. Do they realize that? Or is election to an office simply the door to entrenching their friends and their own financial future or possibly a simple hunger for power without responsibility? While I hope that Candy Crowley, Jim Lehrer, Bob Schieffer and Martha Raddatz will take the necessary steps to encourage both sides to put their cards on the table on October 16, I’ve held my breath before and nearly suffocated in the past. Maybe if they have been sneaking over to HBO on occasion and considering  potential methods conceived of by Aaron Sorkin and used by Jeff Daniels as anchor Will McAvoy trying to re-define the role Americans have generally perceived the First Amendment to not only provide the media rights, but also responsibilities. 
Simply put, Media's relevance is reduced further every time editors, management and CEOs of broadcast, cable, print, on-line or even blogs like this one fail to base their choices on maintaining their long-term integrity and potential survival rather than looking at merely their short-term cash flow and direct profit. This year that goal should be significantly easier to achieve than in previous elections for any and all journalists; all bloggers and, in fact, all media worldwide. Especially when they consider the multiple income portals and extreme levels of Super-PAC funds and massive increases in marketing profit and insane cash flow they have experienced in a post-Citizens’ United world that has been so momentous that the majority of beltway think tanks are rarely willing to even attempt speculation on what amount of money will ultimately be made in the advertising for all local, state; and yes, the presidential election of 2012. So overall, journalism venues will hopefully become liquid enough to actually enable their anchors, writers and copy editors to revisit being apolitical. At least, they should be able to relax on the obsession for short-term profit for their investors just a bit.

Preconditioned Problems

No matter how many advertisements or how much ducking and weaving both sides are doing politically this year, health care and the US economy are both extremely intertwined at this point. Many demographics throughout multiple US voting populations are already in a different nebula than ever before (even compared to the 1930s). In 2010 a friend who was a salaried employee was laid off and became a contractor.  She had Cobra and stayed true to her republican roots telling me that she was a good worker and she would be able to get a salaried position for benefits again. I gently tried to ensure her, but also knew that she was in her early 50s and not in perfect health, so frankly, when her checks from Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) ran out, she had a snowball’s chance in hell of being gainfully hired for a salary even in the ballpark of her previous job when everywhere she was looking, the agencies could take a 22 year old at less than half the price and train them at a lower cost while only being required to provide them hourly rates with no benefits.  Under all scenarios, she would cost more on the books as a salaried employee and now had the most risk taking a contractor role, but would be on food stamps and in section 8 housing if she did anything else. She, like many others who were gung-ho for the Tea party or Libertarianism previously continue their idealism in the abstract, but are a bit more realistic at this point about what they have to lose or have already lost. Don’t allow her example to make you assume that the students are any better off as they get out with a B.A. or an M.B.A. they are in debt for close to 100K for where they are likely to still be paid a pittance and no benefits while basically being told, “take it or leave it.” Obamacare was more likely to get renamed Romneycare the instant the election was over, before Ryan came into the picture, but that will be a harder sell at this point.

The economic trickle down model (as many can infer from the overall aroma what that trickle seems to actually be); only ever worked if there was some long term incentive for the top 1 percent to maintain the peace. It oddly enough would require only a minimal amount of effort. Even Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un seem to grasp where the threshold is before their people have nothing to lose and their economy along with their safety becomes insurmountable. As the Euro jumps through hoops before the inevitable, they are less secure in that the comfort quotient may be even more tenuous before a collapse. The irony is that the America I’ve seen will put up with the hardships and believe the potential for getting rich enough to put up with an awful lot. They are also very brain-washable to a certain degree, but unlike any of the other countries mentioned they are both more armed individually and often do not take things lying down when their patience runs out. How do political or economic analysts determine that the American people will simply lay back in complacency and continue to watch their homes be foreclosed on, their jobs permanently gone, the suggestions by the government to be go back to school and get retrained to do the current trends of work but to do so you need to be eligible for a student loan on top of your current debt with the odds being tenuous that when you get out with that debt, just like your son or daughter, you are unlikely to make enough money to pay that loan off for over 20 years even if you are diligent and frugal from here on out. Topping all of this with an estimated 123,524 Veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf War and of Veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and projections by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government  of 712,551 additional Veterans who are all trained and able to access weapons and requiring medical care to some degree that they are generally not receiving or having to go through enough hoops to further aggravate PTSD and make prior ground operations seem less harrowing, 270 million guns in the hands of United States civilians, it is unlikely to result in a 1789 format where they were in an organized way executing the theoretically elite class in a civil war. Rather, they are more likely to look like a lynch mob. In 1970, when Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster had experienced multiple artists from Janis Joplin to Gordon Lightfoot to Roger Miller singing their lyrics, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose…” I wonder how well they realized that commonly throughout the history of the earth, different people have generally had their majority be complacent until they had nothing left to lose and at that point, the end result of that “freedom” was never submissive and almost always brutal.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Social Media Defining our Personal Standards for Decorum

In less than 10 seconds, it is possible to undo a decade’s worth of work. When Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou tweeted, “With so many Africans in Greece... the West Nile mosquitoes will at least eat homemade food!!!” the immediate response was being removed from the Greek Olympic Team. The head of the Greek Olympic Mission, Isidoros Kouvelos summed it up: "She showed no respect for a basic Olympic value and unfortunately she is out," told Greek SKAI TV. "She made a mistake and in life we pay for our mistakes." It seems a bit extreme a choice, but it reminds us of the standards that the Olympic Games try to maintain.
My curiosity is: How on earth, if you as a country (or a team) have invested so deeply in these athletes and are already putting them under such constant, extreme pressure already that anyone responsible for their conduct or their media exposure would let any of them near an I Phone or a Twitter account? As much as it seems like a Twilight Zone episode (or a Monty Python short) it is a bit demented that any athlete does not have the frontal cortex ability to not destroy their chance for a gold medal by tweeting something racist, crude, or politically incorrect; or even simply checking off “like” on someone else’s Facebook post or tweet.
There is a certain fine line of diplomatic relations and marketing intertwining for the Olympic athletes. Almost every Olympian has a coach, brander, image consultant and bodyguard. Hopefully they are being utilized.  Even if they are able to do back flips literally on a balance beam, every Olympic athlete must also get a perfect”10” in the sport of balancing in the delicate arena of communications. Whether they are indicating politically benign items like Phelps not liking the US swim team caps, or volunteering personal information akin to 29 year-old Olympian hurdler Lolo Jones telling the world she is waiting for the right man and still a virgin.
Two-time Olympian gold medalist runner and chair of the London 2012 Organizing Committee Sebastian Coe is on-line quite frequently. Coe commented on the social media aspects for London 2012 noting, "I have found quite a close correlation between the number of tweets at competitive times and the level of under-performance."  As 2012 gets closer to being dubbed the “Social Media Games” the simple answer is athletes who can’t score a 10 in the game—should not try to play it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Commanding Camaraderie

Last week, on Hardball an academic pundit Cynthia Tucker touched upon the reference that flashed back to George Bush vs. Al Gore and John Kerry and even Obama McCain referencing camaraderie at the local brewery noting, “Mitt Romney is a geeky, awkward candidate on the campaign trail,” Tucker continued. “He doesn’t project a lot of personal warmth. He doesn’t’ seem the kind of guy you’d want to sit down and have a beer with.”
A friend of mine vented for a good few minutes about it noting, “Why do I want to elect someone I want to have a drink with? I think our primary leader should be a person who is outstanding, not someone who is average in everything!  Isn’t this person supposed to be extraordinary? Our president is representing our country around the world and needs to be competent and practical and on the ball, not merely personable!”
I thought about his exasperation for a minute and was flashing back to numerous times this metaphor has been used in the last 3 going on 4 elections.  Would I rather have a beer with Gore or Bush? What about Bush or Kerry?  How about Obama or McCain? Well, what about a beer with Obama or a club soda with Romney?
While it should not affect whether or not a candidate can do the job, comfort or likeability are important aspects of a candidate. It’s that simple. Romney is a bit more awkward in social terms, but if his campaign manager and a public speaking coach may help him relate better with constituents. Charismatic self-confidence is natural for some people. However, when it isn’t, it is not a skill developed overnight.  It often takes a lot of work.  Romney needs to develop wider knowledge about the common man to be more comfortable before it bites him in the head. Before he begins to look like a parody in song by English alternative rock band Pulp called, "Common People"; Romney’s team needs to understand that jet skiing around looks remarkably out of touch. It was an eerily similar photo/video to John Kerry appearing to be an autocratic windsurfer. To be more effective as a candidate, Romney needs to get his hands more calloused by interacting more effectively on the campaign trail. Like it or not, a candidate owning multiple homes, a vast fortune invested in dozens of funds linked to Bain Capital LLC and who worries about putting an automatic car lift into one of his homes, needs to accept these things about them or they all become weaknesses. If Romney wants to overcome the risk of increased apprehension in Americans currently assessing whether either candidate can relate to them after being elected, he is going to need to be more agile in addressing these aspects of his life. This is no different than McCain or Kerry going through the exact same process. Even if you are in the theoretical oligarchic elite portion of the US, you should simply acknowledge and accept that and not be provoked or reactive to resulting inevitable criticism.
While it is an imperative for a candidate to be comfortable with themselves and what they believe, it is also mandatory to know their audiences. When at his own fundraiser in June, President Obama was booed by his own supporters (who were also Red Sox fans) when he jokingly thanked them for trading World Series champion third baseman Kevin Youkulis to the Chicago White Sox. However, he turned on a dime and went on to smile at them and address the issue saying, "I didn't think I'd get any boos out of here, I should not have brought up baseball.  My mistake. You've got to know your crowd." It ultimately received as much positive press as negative respecting Obama’s refusal to fake allegiance to a sports team for political gain.
Had Romney addressed the NAACP saying, “I have independent plans for improving our future healthcare system;” rather than provoking boos he received with: "I am going to eliminate every nonessential, expensive program that I can find -- and that includes Obamacare" is simply unnecessary. While many pundits on the right are indicating he did it on purpose, I would like to hope that his campaign staff is not that incompetent. There were several sound bites that would have helped his campaign rather than squandering the whole opportunity to have all coverage repeat the negative booing footage over and over as a result.
All of these points are really academic and relate more to technical aspects in public affairs and communications that often trigger my own professional concerns. This presidential race, like the prior two races, resemble a game where professional fielders are make multiple rookie errors during a ball game.  No matter what team I might be rooting for, it is still aggravating to watch blatant incompetence from either side. While the country is very polarized now, I hope that Americans as a whole are not looking for a landslide due to either candidate being incompetent.
Regardless of either Romney or Obama’s political leanings, shouldn’t Americans at least be able to believe that they are both competent? If not, then that is a more troubling issue by far. To be a candidate for President, they should at a minimum, be remarkable people who are professionally equipped to represent the United States. This is mandatory in all scenarios, whether with our allies or our opponents; in the economic, diplomatic, or political arenas; or in times of natural disasters, wars or economic collapses. While it is absolutely essential that every American internalizes that they too can become President of the United States, it should also be expected that any candidate from any party become exceptionally educated, experienced, worldly, diplomatic and competent—and not merely become someone I can have a beer with to do so.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Real Quandary of the Second Amendment

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed always sounded pretty simple to me.  It had one straightforward purpose. Citizens have the right to keep weapons in their homes to protect their properties, primarily to protect the nation from possible corruption of government leaders causing law enforcement or military to be corrupted also and potentially enable repression to turn a democracy into a stratocracy military dictatorship even tyranny. Now that all the buzz words are on the table for the legitimate reasons for the second amendment, it may be good to understand the key distinction compared to the remaining nine amendments in the bill of rights. Most amendments indicate responsibility. For those who don’t have time to go look them up on Wikipedia®: The right to say what you want without being criminally, (not so much litigiously) responsible for what may ensue as a result; not being required to house soldiers; not being searched; not being required to say what will incriminate you, right to speedy trials, right to a jury when it is a civil case, right to bail, additional rights and everything not addressed be left up to the states, or to the people rather than the federal government). The second is the only one enabling citizens to have the right to own or possess something they are able to kill other people using, without requiring them to have any knowledge or responsibility for learning to use them. If I am over 21, I can go purchase a handgun and keep it in my home and all’s well. In some states I can carry them openly in a holster on the street (or even in a bar while drinking); in others I cannot do so but still am not required to know how to use it in order to own it. With situations like Florida's law to stand your ground law, would it infringe on those rights to require a person who owns a method of killing someone to be required on a Federal level, to learn how to use it? The overall prevention of multiple errors causing accidental fatalities and the overall public good brought about by a learning permit/license to carry seems like a viable option that even the NRA might be able to support. It is not a way to prevent 2nd amendment rights, but a way to facilitate the overall security of them. If we developed a federal law signifying that while everyone of legal age can go purchase a weapon, before they use it (on a deer or a quail or a person) they need remedial training to keep it loaded in their home or carry it on their person. This could prevent a great deal of the incidents that put the 2nd amendment at odds politically and philosophically to the degree it seems to be currently. Whether I’m in the middle of Montana dealing with animals attacking me or in New York City where they from time to time consider auxiliary law enforcement and others being allowed to carry, this would simplify and facilitate gun ownership while reducing the potentially fatal calamities that can occur. Without prohibiting ownership, but instead requiring the conscientiousness to learn what a weapon does in the same way Americans are required to know how to use an automobile before driving on public roads. All of us of driving age can currently get a license and drive a car as soon as we learn to use one. What we cannot do is drive while intoxicated or recklessly use it. We also are vulnerable to both punitive measures and litigation if we do either of these. Would it really dissolve the second amendment and its intended role, if a gun were treated similarly?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What is a Pro-Choice Woman?

It does not matter what political party you belong to, what your age is, or what your other demographics are. The past year has been a surreal experience for any US citizen with two x chromosomes in their body. When pundits go all over about democratic strategist Rosen's remark regarding Mitt’s wife Ann Romney, "has never worked a day in her life” rather than considering that an attack on every woman who had a child. To understand the real life issues, it may be better for candidates to realize more than the fact that all mothers are working extremely hard jobs in and of themselves. That is a given and nobody in any party is debating that—not even mothers with the uncommon luxury of enough income in a one income household. It may be better to distinguish between a mother whose husband was laid off of a middle management job (and is now working 3 minimum wage jobs at 70 hours a week) and who is babysitting her friends’ kids and her nieces during the day while both her friend and sister work hourly jobs during the day. That is hard work as well. Again this is not the key argument of either party, or of men or women in the workplace or at home. Instead, let’s distinguish between the argument that a mother who deals with the financial dilemma of whether to put a car elevator in one of her homes, and is still crying foul about being undermined as a mother. It is not about her mothering skills. It is not about her womanhood. It is about the confusion among the majority of Americans (male and female) about wealth and gender and the political issues of each of them.

The gap between the age of U.S. women suffragists in 1913, which was when my grandparents were both in diapers and through the passing of the 19th amendment in 1920; (which up until the mid-1980s  boys and girls actually knew about due to Schoolhouse Rock! Programming between shows on Saturdays) was only seven years. Women alive then remember both rather well and remember what it was like previously. When Roe vs. Wade happened, not to encourage women to get pregnant and then cease a pregnancy, but to maintain the right to privacy under the 14th Amendment’s due process clause. It even went on to balance that against the rights of States to regulate the process after a certain point of the first trimester. It is another occasion where the confusion among the majority about wealth and gender. There are more options with money including disappearing to an island and returning allegedly never having been pregnant, or (if their religious beliefs or personal ethics encouraged them) to have a child and give them up for adoption. This was doable without the ostracism of society and family and so the choices being made were a lot more informed and encouraged if there was a secure family or network. Let me also clarify what my understanding of pro-choice generally means to those who try to elevate it to political dogma. To me It means that whatever I believe regarding terminating a pregnancy versus having a child, (to simplify it for readers, from adolescence to not, I always would have gone to term despite medical concerns and other issues); but I do not believe it is my place on any level to tell another person the choice they should make about their bodies or their lives.

The argument that came up repeatedly since Roe vs. Wade is very simple. The right of a person who is still in fetal level of development is a concern to society as a person, a future citizen and a future taxpayer is valid. However, the argument gets a bit blurred when the person is born. The collective message that American society seems determined to maintain is 1) to discourage contraception, condoms and responsibility, while telling the women the instant they do give birth that they are now on their own; 2) In the same breath that government officials and clergy are determined to have full term pregnancies, that there should not be government programs to help single parents and that their mother’s choice of mate is their fate. There should be no encouragement of enforcing child support and if you can eliminate section 8 housing and daycare programs for single mothers, so much the better.  They should have thought it through before getting pregnant and once they were, if they don’t have the financial support from family or father, that’s again their fate and their fault. America should not have to take care of them or the baby. As a cousin of mine once indicated, she deserves credit for being born in the right womb and thereby disserves the multiple social, financial and other advantages that she has received as a result.

Many are on the same page as Foster Friess and his comment: In my day, women "used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives." While my mother later explained to me that in the early 20th Century (very early) that phrase was a metaphoric joke that my grandmother may have known; (and apparently, Friess was old enough to remember also).

Ultimately, the options for women in the current political environment are, abstain and let all of the gentleman whose Viagra is covered by Medicare and who should take care of the resulting symptoms within four hours somehow (possibly in a rubber doll or a prostitute that they are careful to not impregnate or get a sexually transmitted disease from while still not using a prophylactic to not commit a greater sin). This should be done in parallel with women keeping their knees together until it’s officially time for them to do their civic and religious duty and be the incubator for the future. Is it any wonder why men and women are all in turmoil about what the basic choices to any of us actually are?

What American women of every demographic really need to decide during this election is actually whether they should thoroughly research and consider what the implications are of each political alternative open to them before they vote and then making those choices by actually voting and not sitting it out to make a point. Both women and men are being told by pundits, politicians and media that they are ignorant and capable of be manipulated by strategists into making choices. Are American voters really incapable of rationally making conscious decisions? If they are incapable, after making those decisions are they are still entirely responsible for those choices once they are made? American women (and men) need to stop allowing their opinions to be manipulated and encouraged to vote impulsively based on the personalization of very specific motives of different political parties who both are catering to each party’s most extreme political viewpoints. No matter what women’s issues are brought forth in the upcoming months, the most undisputed American right is the right to chose who each of us individually wants to elect into office. If men and women both look not at the most recent advertisement slinging mud at each of the candidates, and take the time to learn about the different perspectives out there on multiple decisions that are going to coming soon for us as a nation, we will be more successful in doing what is best for all of us in November 2012.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Voluntary Expectations

Non-profits, NGOs and Charities are all experiencing a massive deficiency during this recession. While the HR folks and the managers of operations and/or development folks all tried their best, they really didn't understand the financial requirements for riding out a recession like 2007. So they are suffering an enormous 'skills shortage' and are still unsuccessful in recovering and reactivating volunteers. I think many non-profit agencies fell into the old school economic philosophy assuming that when folks are out of work, they volunteer.
Alas, unlike the past couple, this recession really is an anomaly and in the current financial climate, not only is the supply of wealthy donors going down substantially, but volunteering is just not a tenable option for many that would and have done so in the past.  Retirees that had their IRAs tank and students who are now graduating with their average student loan debt burden topping $25000 are all required to pay off debts and (by necessity) require employment. So the two key volunteer demographic pools are now looking for work or delaying retirement and staying at whatever job they can get longer and are simply no longer financially able to volunteer. I have friends who were in finance, PR, social media, academia and management who are now working up to 3 online jobs or minimum wage work full and part-time as contractors all over the place (which makes it unviable for even the most civic minded or altruistic, to actively volunteer.
For the few that are determined enough to still take the plunge and try to volunteer while working and or job-hunting, it is critical that they are welcomed, appreciated, and not regarded as a potential threat to a paid employee for any non-profit or NGO. If you are middle management and paranoid of the rising entry-level employees, you will generally bring about your own phobia. Many do this by stifling volunteer and employee initiative and enthusiasm. This often occurs because many fear it will highlight their own deficiencies. That never works in the long run for middle management especially at non-profits.  The best way to preserve talent is to mentor and appreciate it, rather than simply squeezing the maximum amount possible out of everyone while assuming that as an organization, the hungry professionals out there will replace the current ones immediately the instant you have completely burned out the current paid employees while undermining the current volunteers.
Non-profits should not confuse themselves with corporations or private sector companies. While the more profitable corporations know that the best way to retain talent is to treat them well and they suffer far less turnover and ride economic waves better; a corporate manager can get away with treating employees shoddily and many middle managers are allowed to treat employees like cattle and can lay them off at the drop of a hat. They know however that they are quite capable of experiencing the same fate themselves. Volunteers are a volatile commodity that if unappreciated can (with clear conscience and no hesitation) walk out the door and go to another non-profit that day. When volunteers are treated badly, it definitely gets around. With the competition for the few able to volunteer in the current economy, it can severely damage future choices by potential volunteers. The ultimate reality is that many former volunteers still enjoy giving back to the community and helping others. They want to improve the lives of people in need. However, most former volunteers were not looking to be undermined or abused by an organization.  Many already experience enough ill-treatment where they are required to work in order to put food on the table, and (fortunately), very few feel the masochistic psychotic need to experience additional exploitation in order to volunteer.