Archive | May, 2013

My Town

25 May

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Hello…welcome to my town, Toms River, NJ, located right about in the middle of New Jersey and just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean. If you were from around these parts you might tell folks that you lived off exit 82. Strangers might shake their heads and wonder where that is but plain folks from Jersey would give a chuckle and know exactly where we are.

We’ve got a main street that runs right through the middle of town, just like most towns do and the railroad tracks cut right across main street…although no one uses them anymore because trains have long since gone out of style. Most people prefer to drive their cars to get from this place to that. In fact the kids can’t hardly wait to grow up just so’s they can learn to drive too. Funny thing is though that people in this country have over 10 million automobile accidents a year…but that don’t make em’ want to stop drivin’. Nope, they just patch their cars up and themselves too if they need patchin’ and off they go again.

Of course we have rules and regulations and licenses and  laws for learnin’ how to drive. Cars have to be inspected and registered too even tho I suspect it’s the drivers and not the cars that do the real damage…but anyway not a year seems to go by without the fellas up in Washington comin’ up with new rules to try and make cars and driving safer. I guess they feel that every life is an important one.

Anyway, not a person in town that I’ve ever met can say that they haven’t had a car accident. Fact is most folks have been in several and some have lost kin in those automobile mishaps but still..we here in Toms River…and New Jersey especially…love our cars and drivin’ in em’.

We’ve also got guns in my town too…but when it comes to ownin’ guns most folks have got different opinions. The great constitution of the United States says that people have a right to own them… so I guess it’s OK… but still folks got different opinions on the matter. If you were to look up the figures you’d find that we have enough guns in my town and in our country so that every man, woman and child could have one of their own but what most folks don’t know is that  gun ownership is actually on the decline.

Yep, it’s true…The long-running General Social Survey, maintained at the University of Chicago, has been asking citizens about gun ownership since its inception in the 1970s and It has found that the number of people who say they have a gun in their home is at an all time low – hovering around 30 percent, from a high of 50 percent in the 1970s…folks don’t need to hunt anymore unless they want to and we’ve seen a big increase in single-adult households where it’s a safety issue…and overall there’s been a drop off in crime in my town and in most other places too.

But don’t tell that to my friend Charlie up the street because I guess he’s making up for me..you see I don’t own a gun and never have…but good old Charlie has 8 or so of this kind and that and he once told me that he had over 1,000 rounds of ammunition just in case.

When I laughed and asked, “In case of what?” Old Charlie just said, “Someday You’ll see and best that you don’t go tellin’ anyone that you don’t have a gun in your house, else the robbers and the rapers will be over in short time to have a go at you and your family.”

Of course here in my town we don’t get much robbing and raping or home invasion. Oh we have our share of crime don’t get me wrong, but most people like to go about their business and keep to themselves and are generally the friendly sort…you know, just like I expect it is  in your town. Anyways, sad part of the story is that Old Charlie got even older and went into the nursing home where they don’t let you take your guns…funny thing…all that ammunition for nothin’…

I suppose guns have their usefulness although they can be the source of an awful lot of tragedy. Across the road a ways a little boy of 4 went inside his house one day and came out with his father’s gun to show his 6 year old neighbor. Well, you know how excited boys can be when it comes to guns and war and shootin’ and through a very unfortunate accident that little 6 year old boy was shot and killed…

Sadly enough over 31,000 people are killed by guns every year and about 9,000 of those unfortunate souls are the victims of homicide, which means someone meant to kill em’ but for the other two thirds…well even more sadly to say about 19,000 of those were the victims of their own suicide…and it happens like that every year. I didn’t think the number could be that high but thanks to my friend Jae I looked it up and sure enough, it’s true…but that still leaves 3,000 others who were the victims of tragic accidents like that little boy who lived across the street and just around the corner  in my town.

If you don’t believe my numbers well you can always Google it, as we like to say here in my town, and you’ll find that the FBI and the UNDOC and others will back me up…and according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health of all 50 U.S. states, there is a mighty powerful link between rates of firearm ownership and suicides. Based on a survey of American households conducted in 2002, researchers found that in states where guns were prevalent—as in Wyoming, where 63 percent of households reported owning guns—rates of suicide were higher. And the opposite was also true: where gun ownership was less common, suicide rates were also lower…so I figure that counts for something.

But getting back to those 3,000 innocent victims of gun violence every year… just a few months ago there was a horrible tragedy in a place called Sandy Hook just two states to the north of here. Seems that a disturbed young fella of about 20 or so stole his mother’s guns and went to the local grammar school where he shot and killed some teachers and little children for no apparent reason at all…but I don’t suppose one could ever have a reason to do something so horrible as that.

So you would think that those gentlemen up in Washington would come up with some new rules or regulations to help protect them and maybe make it safer for a little child to grow up in my town, and your town too…just like they’ve been doin’ with all of those automobile rules and regulations that you remember I mentioned earlier.

But when those Congressmen and Senators got together to decide on what to do guess what they come up with? Why, they decided to vote to not even talk about it at all. Imagine that…little children and teachers…sons, daughters, mothers and wives all…gone and they don’t even want to talk about it let alone do something?

But in my town and in towns all across the country regular people do want to talk about it and over 90% of us want to see something done to at least try to make everyone safer, especially our children…and we don’t see how it could hurt to even try. Don’t we owe it to those children to at least try? I think that deep inside we all know that we do.

And  now here’s somethin’ that I bet you don’t know.

Since 1993, the United States has seen a drop in the rate of homicides and other violence involving guns, and that’s according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and you can look it up… “Firearm-related homicides dropped from 18,253 homicides in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011,”…”and nonfatal firearm crimes dropped from 1.5 million victimizations in 1993 to 467,300 in 2011…even though our population here in my town and all across the U.S. has increased since 1993…go figure.

But all of that is the good news — because many Americans don’t seem to be aware of it. Only 12 percent of Americans believe the gun crime rate is lower today than it was in 1993; 56 percent believe it’s higher…and you can look that up too. But…

There’s more bad news however, because even though the homicide rate and violence rate has fallen in my town and yours too the number of gun related deaths in America has remained just about steady at around 30,000 over that same period of time. So even though people aren’t shootin” each other on purpose as much as they used to, they’re still shootin’ as many of themselves as they always have… now how do you figure that?

Maybe someday researchers will figure it all out and maybe someday we’ll all get on the same page when it comes to guns and how we use them and regulate them and protect each other, and especially our children, from violence…but right now it’s getting late and it’s time for me to go. So when you’re relaxing in your easy chair and settling down for the night in your town, just think about this one true thing that all these important numbers and studies are tellin’ us…

If you own a gun today, then you and your family are in much greater danger than if you do not. So take very good care and use your freedoms wisely and always remember that in my town, just like in yours, it’s never too late to learn something new…and tryin’ to get along with one another every day is always worth the effort even though it sure can make a person feel like they need to lay down and get a good rest every so often…

Well, It’s time now for me to take a rest. You get a good rest too…

Safety First

23 May

Almost every day, and today was no exception, I receive an Email in my inbox alerting me of sex offender activity in my neighborhood and this message…

“Learning the truth about who lives near your family can be shocking and disturbing. By proceeding you agree to utilize Kids Live Safe solely for informational purposes and to protect your children and loved ones.”

So I have thought to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if I could receive an alert every time one of my neighbors bought a handgun, rifle or weapon?

“Attention: Your neighbor bought a gun and or weapon so your children might be in danger because 70% of all gun deaths are the result of accidents, suicide or the miss handling of a gun. We are only telling you this so that your kids might live more safely.”

Okay, relax all of you gun owners out there whose heads just exploded! I know you are not criminals just because you own a gun and I agree that you should not be treated as criminals…But…I don’t have a gun so there is 0% chance that someone in my neighborhood will be killed by it….but since you do own a gun, you must admit (yes, you really must) that you and your family are more dangerous than me and mine… And yes, someone could break into my shed and steal my pitchfork and stab 3 little children at once but…

Here’s where I’m going with this.

According to Politico, numerous polls show that 90 percent of Americans have been supportive of background checks for all commercial sales, including gun shows, for some time and more people in the United States favor universal background checks on gun sales than approve of Mother Teresa…

And according to the  respected Pew Research Center there have only been a few areas in which 90 percent of Americans agreed, one of those being that the percentage of people who believe in God is consistently at 90 percent.


So…in the name of God and all that is holy, including the U.S. Constitution, can we  PLEASE have universal background checks for ALL commercial gun sales? Please?

DEE-FENCE and Empire

22 May

 

When I was a student back in High School during the late 60s and early 70s I remember always having a History class but never really studying current events. Class was always focused on the past and usually the distant past and then we would try to relate how past history was relevant to our present day lives but we never seemed to ever talk about present history in the making and how that was relevant to…well… our lives right there in the present where we were living them.

And the reasoning for this always seemed to be that to discuss the present in the present would be too controversial for those living in the present which, as I think about it now, was pretty idiotic especially when you consider that at that time in the 60s and the 70s the present meant the War in Vietnam. And if you were a young man living at that time and in high school then your senior year would usually mean that you would be turning 18 and then would become eligible for the selective service draft lottery.

And at that time in American history that was the most important event that would ever happen to us and would shape our lives or deaths for the rest of our “histories”.

And yet, we never discussed it. We watched it on TV every night but we really never discussed it in school. Talk about surreal! Talk about a show named Survivor! For all intents and purposes the greatest event of our young lives was a television show that was a reality for those who were in Vietnam and living that nightmare but just a show on television for those who were lucky enough to survive the lottery and not have to go there.

The reason I bring this up now is because I have just recently become aware of the fact that just during my lifetime the United States military has been involved in 72 separate military interventions throughout the globe and on every continent (with the exception of Antarctica) and yet how many of these interventions were required discussions in our classrooms let alone required studies at the time they were happening?

And yet as of 2011, the U.S. spends about $550 billion annually to fund its military forces, and appropriates approximately $160 billion to fund Overseas Contingency Operations, And that does not even count our secret expenditures within the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Put together, the U.S. with only 6% of the world’s population, constitutes roughly 43 percent of the world’s military expenditures.

We have almost 1.5 million active service personnel plus another 800,000  in reserve and that’s not counting the 137,000 men and women serving and being paid  in private military/security companies.

And all of these soldiers are stationed in 150 countries around the world…out of 196… If we were playing a game of Risk, we would have tokens on over 76% of the game board.

And now that our armies are manned (and womanned) strictly by volunteers or mercenaries, most of us at home have little or no personal interest in what our military does…and we don’t even talk about when it does do something And even If you want to hear about it on the news you only have a small window between 6:30 and 7pm where our networks  might be able to provide you with a sound bite or two.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in case you haven’t noticed we have achieved empire status and perhaps this could be one reason why our schools and our students in them are falling behind the rest of the world educationally. Why study? Why bother? The game is all but won? We dominate the board and the livin’ is easy.

Our entire nation is like the rich kid with the wealthy parents who can get him into any school he wants and make sure that he graduates whether he studies, learns, shows up to class…or doesn’t. We dominate the globe and use 1/2 of its stuff while we’re only 1/16 of its population. We don’t even send our best and our brightest off to fight, dominate and protect the realm. We send our poorest… and as one reader of my blog pointed out to me… Why should we worry about how poor our poor people are when they are the richest poor people in the world?

And In fact due to our ennui here at home and a declining supply of qualified recruits, the armed forces has now considered seeking math and science qualified recruits from foreign countries, through an accelerated citizenship for foreign nationals because only one in four Americans of the proper age currently meet our own moral, academic and physical standards for military service.

So…We are going to outsource our own military with people from countries who we are supposedly defending ourselves from?… which sounds to me like a key ingredient in the recipe for the demise of every other empire ever to have inhabited our planet.

Meanwhile, back at home, along with the 23% of our budget that we are spending on Military/Defense and Veteran spending we are spending 20% of our budget on the Social Security Trust Fundbecause we borrowed the 2.6 trillion dollars that is supposed to be in that fund to fund our budget shortfalls over the last 30 years…perhaps because we were spending so much money on our nation’s defense?

In any case how much more offensive defense can our empire afford? It seems to me that we are going to have to eventually put some points on the board  in the form of more money earned by the  home team if we want to get back in the game legitimately and pay our bills… or perhaps we will just have to figure out better and more ingenious ways to continue to beg, borrow and steal it…

 

The Best Defense…?

21 May

In 2012, the U.S. approved a defense budget of 645.7 billion dollars. That amount also included funding for the Pentagon, the Department of Energy-administered nuclear weapons activities, and the war in Afghanistan.

According to the Center For Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, That total was greater than the next 15 countries combined which include China, United Kingdom, Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, India, Brazil, South Korea, Australia, Iran (23.9 billion), Italy, Israel, Canada.

In that group only Iran could be considered a definite adversary and we out spend them by over 600 billion dollars…And though China is often cited as the country’s next great military adversary, U.S. military spending currently doubles that of all of the countries in Asia combined.

and in total the United States consumes over 40 percent of total global military spending.

So my question is simply this, At what point does a country’s defensive spending become offensive?

The Great American…Loan

18 May

 

People in the United States owe a lot of money on credit cards. In fact we owe about 700 billion dollars in credit card debt. The only thing we’ve borrowed more money for is home mortgages… but home mortgages aside, who owes more than adults when it comes to borrowing money?

It’s school kids! And although technically they are school adults, if you have 1 or 2 or more of them in your home they are still kids to you…but still, the number one debtor in the United States today are young adults who have taken out loans from the federal government to finance their college education.

Student loan debt has gone over 1 trillion dollars…as in 1 followed by 9 zeros, and the federal government has just forecast a record 51 billion dollar profit this year from student loan borrowers. That’s more than the earnings of the nation’s most profitable companies.

Who knew? Did you?

But the good news? In July the 3.4% interest rate that students are paying on borrowed money now will jump to 6.8% …unless of course Congress passes the “Student Loan Affordability Act” which is proposed legislation that would keep existing interest rates… on some student loans… for the neediest households, fixed at 3.4 percent. However, The bill does nothing for existing student debtors….and besides who doesn’t smell a filibuster in the air?

The Department of Education…that much maligned government entity that oversees our crumbling school system and that also gave us the “No Child Left Behind Act”, has generated almost 120 billion dollars in profit over the last five years from student loans which ironically enough, is the only kind of consumer debt that has increased since the onset of the financial crisis.

And get this… Apparently officials in Washington are now worried that perhaps overly indebted student borrowers will be unable to save enough to purchase a home, take out loans for new cars, start a business or save enough for their retirement…and become, you know…productive American citizens.

What is it that we expected would be the rewards of plunging our children into massive debt? Talk about not leaving a child behind?! What about leaving adults behind?!…before they even get started!

And for some reason these adult/children/student borrowers are also finding themselves unable to refinance their loans even if they graduate from college and secure well-paying jobs, even though  most other borrowers are able to refinance debt at quite low rates. And why is that?

Because these loans have become so profitable to lenders thanks to the Bankruptcy Reform bill of 2005 when both federal and private student loans became non-dischargeable during bankruptcy. This has turned student loans into credit risk free loans for the lender. (with a debtor who literally has a lifetime to repay it) The loans are just too good for any respectable financial institution to give up…as any gambler could tell you,  they’re a sure thing!

Getting a higher education is a wonderful achievement but once again with the help of our nation’s love affair with capitalism, we’ve turned a good thing into a profitable thing and that profitable thing into a must thing…and with ever escalating college costs happily jumping on the bandwagon, (because if you can’t afford this much it’s just as easy to not afford that much!)…this thing is spiraling out of control.

Our children are literally taking loans out on the American Dream, which is being dangled in front of them like a candied carrot on a stick, with money they do not have and may not ever have… and in what may be the most sinister twist of fate…all of their government loan filing and debt approval makes them perfect candidates for…

credit card approval once they’ve graduated.

And Justice For…

16 May

The United States with only about 5% of the world’s population has over 24% of the world’s prisoners. One of the basic principles that our nation was founded on and what many of our founding fathers thought was the most fundamental principal necessary for a free and democratic society to function properly was the rule of law…but only if it were applied equally to everyone, with no one, not even kings or royals or presidents or wealthy citizens, exempt from the nations laws.

Today the U.S. has almost 2.5 million prisoners in its jails and over 7 million citizens who are in some way either incarcerated or on parole or under probation for having broken the law…but what is it that most often sends people to prison in the U.S.? Here is an approximate breakdown.

Drug offenses…approximately 1.2 million

Public-order crimes…approximately 850 thousand

Violent crimes…approximately 200 thousand

Property crimes…approximately 150 thousand

Illegal government Wiretapping…approximately none

Creation of global torture network…approximately none

Fraudulent home foreclosures…approximately none

Inadvertent drone strikes…approximately none

Wall Street banking scandals…approximately… Bernard Madoff

In the United States approximately 1.5 million of our 2.5 million prisoners are either Hispanic or African American, comprising 60% of the prison population even though those 2 groups represent only 25% of the U.S. population.

If you would like to avoid the rule of law and stay out of jail in the United States today then you should do your best to be white, then wealthy and then a politician…on the other hand if you are poor, an immigrant or a person of color then the rule of law not only pertains to you but, in a prison system that is now mostly run for profit, is counting on you to be available for incarceration.

And even more sadly…those are the facts ma’am…just the facts.

Walton$ Mountain

14 May

Today on the internet I saw a list posted by Forbes Magazine of the 5 richest women in the United States. The top 2 were Christy Walton and Alice Walton of the Walton family and Wal-Mart fame. Christy’s brother-in laws (Alice’s brothers) Jim and S. Robson, are also quite wealthy and together they are numbers 6,7,8 and 9 on the top 10 list of the richest people in America. All together they have over 107 billion dollars between them.

Isn’t it amazing that a company whose employees are mostly poor and whose shoppers are mostly poor creates enough wealth to produce 4 of the 10 richest people in America?

In fact Wal-Mart CEO Michael Duke’s (not a member of the family…too poor) earns about $20 million a year, or about 9,615 dollars an hour. Which when you think about it is only about 9,606 dollars more per hour than your average Wal-Mart employee who makes around $8.75 an hour and who would gross about $13,650 a year. So Mr. Duke earns about as much as 1,465 of his employees put together.

On the other hand, the 4 richest Walton’s earn more than 7.8 million of their employees put together…but that’s OK because Wal-Mart only employs about 1.5 million Americans…so there is still plenty of Wal-Mart work to be done. Yet just to be fair, that is a lot of employees and Wal-Mart does pay its taxes…but still…

There are many ways to make one’s fortune in this world, and building one on the backs of the poor is still the best way to make the biggest ones possible. And why is that? Because…

On an interesting and ironic side note, if you Google “The Waltons” you’ll see a list featuring the story of John-Boy and all of his favorite relatives who live with him in Walton’s Mountain, a fictitious television town in rural Virginia. If you watched this show then you learned about how a very large and extended family could  live happily together during the great depression in the United States even though they were poor and didn’t have much money… and yet they had a town and a mountain named after them….go figure.

But of course in America art imitates life almost every day…on television.

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