Saturday, February 27, 2016

Technology Could save Our Democacy

If there is one clear message in this presidential campaign season, it is that a vast majority of Americans feel current government is not representing their interests. As a result, we have great discontent which is represented on both sides of the political scene. And we have polar opposites representing the discontent on each side of equation.
At the end of this election season we are going to have more of the same discontent no matter which side wins. We're still going to have a large portion of our population feeling that they are not represented- their voices are not heard. This "great experiment" of democracy is failing. This next election will not fix it.
It's not because our founding fathers failed us in establishing a framework that was brilliant. They were determined to build a government that guaranteed our representation. The House of Representatives was established in a manner to allow for population growth. The Senate would provide balance. The Executive Branch would have sufficient power to deal with international affairs but the Congress could intercede if deemed they overreached. And the Judicial Branch was established to ensure that the democracy - popular but misguided overreach by any branch - did not destroy the long term success based on the constitution. They provided a brilliant framework.
In those early days - the first 100 years - of our democracy, our representatives were not out of reach of most every day citizen. It was possible, even normal, to make an appointment with a Congressman or even the President and expect to be heard. There are many accounts of President Lincoln meeting with ordinary citizens - answering letters of ordinary citizens - even during the civil war.
Compare the number of citizens now to the number of representatives in early days of our democracy. It is simply not possible for our representatives to directly hear us all. Meanwhile, at some point in time, there was a great transition from "representative" to full time politician. In those early years, our representatives did not depend upon government salaries to perform their duties. They were statesmen who served while earning their living through other means. Now "politician" is actually a full time job.
Debates about money, influence and corruption are not new and have been with us since the early days. Study the political debates between Hamilton and Jefferson. But we are, indeed, at a great crossroad where the voice of the people is quite distant from the actual decisions of governance and I believe, the very survival of this "great experiment" is at stake.
This election - no matter which way it goes - will not change that. As citizens, we need to feel we have a greater voice. Voting in every primary and every election will not change that. It's not enough. We need to feel - to know - that our elected officials are hearing us. We need to enhance our democracy. We need to use the tools available today to do what our founding fathers envisioned. We need to bridge the gap.
We have the technology to do that. How do you want your tax dollars spent? Your representative should know that and he or she should be obligated to vote in accordance with the electorate's desire.
They should be accountable for every vote they take on our behalf. Every registered voter should have a unique sign on and we should send them our vote on every bill in front of them. If they fail to vote in accordance with the electorate input 90% of the time, they are immediately recalled and a new representative is elected.
At that point it becomes our responsibility to become involved and educated. Voting and participation in our governance should not be an annual event. It should be a regular part of our daily lives because it affects our daily lives. The Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch are still in place to ensure that the populace does not vote outside of constitution and outside of the overall interests of the country.
This election should be sending a clear message to Congress that the American people are not happy with the way things are being done. Let's demand a change that will hold them accountable. Let's be part of the change we want. Let's make our government truly "WE THE PEOPLE". We are paying for it!!!!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

On some issues, I'm very Conservative.

Many would label me liberal or progressive. I don't mind but in some ways I'm extremely conservative. For example, if I had my way all movies would be PG-13. I don't like violence, gratuitous sex or vulgar language. It seems to me a story can be told without those kinds of things and we'll still get the point.
Extravagance for the sake of showiness is not my cup of tea either. I'd rather have great times with someone than have material things. I would splurge for the great time not bragging rights. Wealth is measured in character not possessions.
It seems to me, we should take a conservative approach to some issues where there is over reach and we are overly liberal. On many things we are not so cautious. I'm a veteran but feel we are far too liberal with our spending on the military. We're far too liberal with our desire to wage wars.
We are too liberal with our admiration of money and power. We are too liberal in protecting money and power. As a result money can buy unlimited power.
On many issues I am quite conservative. And many conservatives are actually quite liberal.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Social Security Entitlement

Social Security and Medicare are not free programs. Conservatives and liberals alike take issue with hearing these referred to as "entitlement programs" and rightly so. Anyone who earns a paycheck sees the line items detailing how much of our pay goes to fund these programs. We invest heavily all our working lives expecting that these programs, our investment, will return to us in earned benefits. Rightly so! These were taxes we paid with expectation of return on investment.
Throughout our working lives, many of us planned other retirement resources as well. I'm lucky to have worked for one company for more than 20 years. My employment came with a pension plan. Through the years, I was provided an annual review of how that plan would impact my retirement. That was a nice benefit as I looked down the road. Then I had opportunity for a 401k and company match. I took advantage of that as well.
And then things changed. The pension plan was frozen. The replacement would not grow at the same pace. No problem. The company had a plan to make up for that. And then the company changed as market pressures took hold. The company cannot make up for that now. But no problem, there's still the 401k.
As a rather educated person, I work my 401k as best I can but it seems these are very locked down and we cannot safeguard our investments from volatility of markets. I've watched helplessly as those resources dwindle as well.
The only investment that has remained rather stable is Social Security and Medicare and that is often in danger by political forces that refer to them as "entitlements". I'm paying in the same and the same expectation of return remains. They are not free programs to me or to most anyone who understands what they have paid into these programs. Our collective understanding - our collective support - our collective voice - in reference to these programs is the power behind these successful programs.
We see a line item for Social Security and for Medicare on our paycheck. We should view all of our tax dollars as investments. We are investing our dollars into the society we want. We can expect a return on that investment. If we invest nothing, we can expect nothing. A democracy gives us opportunity to expect a return. It provides opportunity for a voice in that expected return.
Capitalism does not provide that same opportunity. There is a benefit to good government. We experience the benefit of good government funded and government run programs. Social Security and Medicare are examples. They are not perfect but in my view - looking at the programs offered me for retirement planning - they have remained the most stable and the ones I have some semblance of opportunity to influence most.
So as I hear views of Medicare for all, I tend to think there is more opportunity there than capitalism promises. No it's not free. But it's likely a better investment and one that collectively we may be able to control. Social Security is greater than a check at retirement. Good government is about "social security".

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Skeptical exploration

The internet offers great access to information. It also provides great access to misinformation.
We need to be our own gatekeepers but there are resources to help us. and can help us on  big stories. They get it mostly right. I encourage you to visit those sites. If you are seeking information about an individual, there are valuable sites. is a site that lists Pennsylvania court information that can gain perspective about individuals involved in stories. 
But there are some strategies to use on your own.
1) If there are spelling or grammatical errors in the headline. Be skeptical that they checked their facts.
2) If they reference history - historical facts are available on reliable websites.
3) If they say someone said something - check YouTube. Often there will be a video - hopefully unedited - where you can see what they really said.
4) If the headline seeks emotional response - be suspicious. Propaganda is designed to get you to hooked without much though. They are "selling" an idea. Be sure it's really the idea that you value.
5) Above all else - Are the facts right? If you are truly on the right side of an issue, the information you use to support that position will be based in truth.
The bottom line is truth will ultimately prevail and truth will ALWAYS set us free. Be on the side of truth and you cannot go wrong. We just need to know where to find it and how to share it.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Remembering a Neighbor...

For about a dozen years I lived on a 200+ acre farm that was about 6 miles in any direction to the nearest town. I'm not a farmer - just rented the old farmhouse. Some of the fields were leased to local farmers who planted corn or soy beans or cut hay. Someone would plow an area for me to garden. And I enjoyed roaming the many acres with my furry friends.
Most of all I loved cutting wood with our neighbor. It was our primary heat for the long winter. He had been a logger and could weave a tractor with a trailer through trees and obstacles with ease. I learned a lot from those logging times. We always went in autumn so when I smell the sweetness of falling leaves, these times come to mind.
What sticks with me the most is the power of collaboration and great generosity. The deal was that we cut two loads for him and one load for me. I had no way of hauling much wood without him and without the knowledge he shared about running and caring for a chainsaw, I could have achieved little.
Usually there were 4 of us; he and I running the chain saws and the other two loading. That collaboration - the teamwork - I'm sure amounted to a great deal more than the 4 could accomplish in a day if working alone. There's something greater than the sum of the individual parts.
As I look back, I hope I gave him a very fair 1 for his 2 because his kindness, generosity and belief in my abilities still mean a lot to me.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Discussion is...Argument is...

“Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument an exchange of ignorance.”
Robert Quillen

There are so many important things to learn and share. There should be no issue that is so sacred that it cannot be discussed. The purpose needs to be to exchange knowledge. In the US we seem to have developed a strategy of shutting down the discussion if we cannot answer the question or if we don't like the question. We cut straight to sound bite argument.
That's sad because we are not exchanging actual knowledge. There are some favorite people with whom I have philosophical differences that I love to talk with about any subject. Even if our discussion gets passionate, there will be an exchange of knowledge. And sometimes, once I've heard them out, it influences me.
Sadly, there are others that leap to shutting down discussion and never provide any substance. As certain as I am that they likely know something that I should learn, it never comes out. I try to pull together threads of things they have stated over time, ask questions, but nothing comprehensible comes out.
No matter what the topic, if we can exchange our knowledge and experience, we will be much better off. Many times over my life, a good dose of knowledge, well explained logic - has changed my opinion drastically. Even when I don't come to the same conclusion as the person has, I very much respect a well thought out, persuasive discussion.
So if you disagree with me, I will be happy for a good discussion and will respect you for taking the time for it. We should all try to do a little more of that - both discussion and the respect part.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sharing Purpose

Why am I here? What is my purpose?
Most of us have asked that question at one point in our lives.
Look back. Look forward. Look inside.
We did not come into this world alone. We have not come to this present moment in isolation. Many people and many circumstances led us to this moment in time.
What did those people- past- see for us? What did they hope for us to carry forward? How did those past circumstances mold us, shape us, project us to this day? Our potential started there. Our promise started there.
What did they see that we may be missing? What did they hope that we have not yet understood? Our promise started there. Our vision for tomorrow starts there - now. If we want to fulfill our promise, we should routinely look back. Sometimes our trajectory was caused by what they said we could not be but we, ourselves, saw more. Acknowledge that. It can remind us that what others do not see now does not limit our potential.
You determine your purpose! You drive your potential.
But you also determine with whom you share a vision for tomorrow - for yourself and for those around you. Seek people who drive toward and focus you toward a better future. Become the person who sees something more for those around you.
You are here to create something more for yourself and for others. The greater your ability to create shared vision, the greater your sense of purpose for yourself. It's about connection. Your needs are not so different from your neighbor. Shared vision and shared purpose will transcend all obstacles. Seek these things and we find our purpose - together - a very nice place to be - together in harmony and understanding.