Archive for the ‘Debt’ Category

I was a depression-era baby. My mother and father believed strongly that if you couldn’t pay for it, you didn’t need it. That included just about everything, including a can of baked beans to a new or used car. It’s just the way things were. Mom had a ‘Christmas Club’ whereby she would go to the bank each week and deposit five or ten dollars – sometimes as little as a couple of bucks – in order to buy presents for the kids in December. This was ingrained in us from our earliest years…”Don’t get into debt!”

When I went off to college, my folks had scraped enough money together to get me through my first year. My part-time job put money in the bank so that I could continue. Since I went to a university that offered the co-op plan, I was able to work a term to pay for a term…”But I didn’t go into debt!” Tuition and books were a lot less expensive then, and I most assuredly was not a residence hall student. One book that was a required text was “Advertising Production.” At the first meeting of the class, the instructor informed us that it was not his choice of a text, but the department chair insisted. He then said that it wouldn’t bother him in the least if we returned the text to the bookstore. That had been the most expensive text I had ever purchased and, suffice it to say, no one from the class came close to getting to the bookstore with the speed and exuberance of yours truly.

When it came time to purchase our first home, my wife and I were very concerned. We both held full-time jobs, but both were in education. Anyone who has worked in the field knows that the salaries are not exorbitant. My folks couldn’t help but my wife was the only child of a successful theater chain executive. He helped us with a ‘wink, wink loan,’ and our mortgage became something manageable.

By this time, credit cards were becoming a bigger and bigger business. “Buy now; get it now; pay later,” was the mantra and many people fell into the trap. Since she, too, was a depression baby, our philosophy was a bit different…”If you can’t pay for it, you don’t need it.” Gee, where had I heard that one before? Did we eventually build some credit card debt? Absolutely, but not to the point where we couldn’t pay the debt off in the short- rather than the long-term. We calculated annual rate percentages and couldn’t stand the thought of “them” taking all of our interest. Hell, it ticked me off that our mortgage payments were more interest than principal for a while.

The biggest drawback to this frugal behavior didn’t catch up with me until the other day. In order to get a substantial discount on a moderately expensive item, I agreed to apply for an Amazon credit card. In the turn down letter that I received, was written, “We used information from your credit report in making our decision. In whole or in part, from the credit reporting agency below (Experian, Inc). The agency won’t be able to provide the specific reasons for our decision. We’ve enclosed details about your right to know the information in your credit report at the end of this letter.” I was truly pissed! I called Experian to learn what was going on, only to be told after an hour and two minutes on the telephone, that I didn’t have a credit rating because, basically, I didn’t have any credit debt. Of the three people with whom I spoke, not one could speak the King’s English. I kept asking to speak to a supervisor which only got me transferred to another – be polite now – international speaker. After the first 26 minute wait, I asked how many people were working the phones in the office. This question at first stumped the person on the other end. Finally, she admitted that there were somewhere between 100 and 150. “Why then the long delay in answering your phones?” I asked. She just chuckled, yes, chuckled, and asked how she could help. She couldn’t and I was again transferred. After a similar wait, I reached Kadherin, who neither spoke English very well and either chose not to understand or didn’t understand my request. Here’s the topper: I am now being charged $39.95 for calling Experian plus a $1.00 charge for my credit report, which I will never see because it’s nonexistent!

Tomorrow I go to my bank and request a credit card from them. I will use that credit card, but only to the extent of receiving a monthly statement for the purpose of establishing some credit line. I should not have to do this because I pay my bills on time. This has been ingrained in me since birth. Thinking back on it, while mother was changing my diapers I do remember her singing a lullaby about “…the Joneses are in debt; we won’t keep up with them, etcetera, etcetera,” and the chorus was “…if you can buy it, you don’t need it,” or words to that effect. Yeah, yeah, I remember that (uh huh, sure you do)!

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I must be going blind. This is not a literal statement, but in a figurative sense, there is no question that my vision has taken a bad turn somewhere. I cannot see why anyone in their right mind or with corrected vision would ever consider Donald J. Trump to be Presidential. Custodial perhaps, but Presidential? It’s not difficult to see why many Americans believe Trump to be a Messiah of some ilk. He boasts; he brags; he puts forth plans that, on the surface, appeal to those with little or no knowledge of how the plans would actually work. He’s a showman; a carnie man, a television personality, a failed businessman who bends the truth to meet his personal requirements.

Trump states that he inherited one million dollars from his family. History shows and Forbes Magazine confirms that the amount was closer to $40 million. With that money, he has amassed an enormous net worth of, according to him, $10 billion. Again, going back to Forbes, that net worth is closer to $4.7 billion. It’s still a lot of money but how it’s been garnered is open to question. In the 1980s, when Trump Plaza was being constructed, a sub-contract when to S&A Concrete, a company partially owned by the mafia. “Trump World Tower, supported by the Quadrozzi Concrete Company, is also tangentially related to La Cosa Nostra. The head of the company, John Quadrozzi Sr., was tied to the Lucchese crime family and indicted for making illegal payoffs to the mob in 1992.”1 The list goes on and on about Trump’s nefarious dealings with the mob. If one of the qualities of a President is assumed to be “A person of strong character,” Trump fails to meet the standard.

Let’s take a moment to look at some of Trump’s business failures: The Eastern Airlines Shuttle from Boston to New York and Washington ran for 27 years. Many was the time that I would hop a 6:30 am shuttle to head to either destination. It was a great convenience (plus free parking). In 1988, Trump purchased the service for a reported $365 million. He improved the look of the service by adding maple-wood veneer to the floors, chrome-plated seat belt clasps and gold bathroom fixtures. It didn’t work and the Trump Shuttle never turned a profit. The high debt accrued forced Trump to default on his loans, and the shuttle ceased to exist in 1992. In 2006, Trump introduced Trump Vodka, designed to compete with Grey Goose. If you happen to own a bottle of Trump’s vodka, hold onto it because it’s highly doubtful you’ll find it on liquor store shelves today…but you will find Grey Goose.

Claire Sudduth of Time Magazine noted in an article about Trump’s bankruptcies, “”I don’t like the B word,” Donald Trump said in 2010 while testifying in a New Jersey bankruptcy courtroom about his gambling company, Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., which had filed for bankruptcy for the third time. Given the number of times Trump has flirted with bankruptcy, you’d think he’d be used to that word by now.

“In 1990, the banking institutions that backed his real estate investments had to bail him out with a $65 million “rescue package” that contained new loans and credit. But it wasn’t enough, and nine months later the famous developer was nearly $4 billion in debt. He didn’t declare personal bankruptcy, although his famous Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J., did have to file for it  Trump’s economic troubles continued through the early ’90s, while he was personally leveraged to nearly $1 billion. In 2004, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts also filed for bankruptcy. The company was only a small portion of Trump’s real estate empire, but he did still have to personally cough up $72 million to keep it afloat. In 2009, the same company filed for bankruptcy again. Yet during all of this, no one ever told Trump, “You’re fired!” Probably because no one could.2 In case you weren’t counting, Trump has gone bankrupt four times. He later claimed that those were not his failures as a businessman but strategic decisions to help him make more money. In other words, he manipulated the system for personal gain. Gee, isn’t Bernie Madoff doing time for that, along with several other sleazebags?

Much more could be said about Mr. Trump and his potential candidacy for President of the United States. In truth, he’s a bully, a bigot, a racist, a sexist, a liar, and perhaps the worst individual ever to be considered for the highest office in the land. I never cared much for Mitt Romney when he was Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but you can bet your boots that should he run as a third party candidate, I will be checking his name off in the voting booth.


  1. Politifact…a division of the Tampa Bay Times
  2. Claire Sudduth, Time Magazine, April 29, 2011

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I am an American.

I was born in America, educated in American public schools, attended college in America, worked all of my adult life in America, married an American lady, brought up three kids in America – not quite true because my wife did most of the kid upbringing – and I fully intend to die in America. I love the country of my birth and death, but I don’t much care for some of the things that go on inside it.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m quite certain that there people in other countries who feel the same way about their nations as I feel about my own…though that’s not necessarily true, because it seems to me that many people in other countries look to America as either being the hope of the world or the devil that is driving the world to extinction.

My complaints about my own country might be considered by some as marginally ludicrous. I don’t consider them such. For example, why does this country spend so much money on foreign aid when we have Native American people who don’t even have clean water with which to drink, bathe, or do their washing in? Haven’t we done enough to the Native Americans? First, we – the settlers who first invaded what we now call the United States of America – slaughtered as many Native Americans as we possibly could so that we could steal their lands. Then, when we came to a certain degree of our senses, we gathered them together and tried to place them on the most inhospitable lands that we could find. When they discovered that the land had value – beneath if not above – we pushed them into other areas where the land had no value above or below. Here it is, the 21st Century, and they are without running water in many of their homes? What is wrong with us? Have we lost all sense of what is important versus what is politically expedient? These people, whom we slaughtered, marched on a trail of tears, pushed away from the ‘real’ Americans, should be revered and treated as well as we treated the Italians, Poles, Germans, Irish, and so many others who came to this country seeking the American Dream and who actually found it. Native Americans, on the other hand, have known nothing but the American nightmare.

“It has been said the democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others that have been tried.” The quote is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, although there are many questions regarding the date, place, time he might have spoken such erudite verbiage. Purists will tell you that America is not a democracy but is, in fact, a republic…and they are correct. According to ThisNation.com, “The United States is, indeed, a republic, not a democracy. Accurately defined, a democracy is a form of government in which the people decide policy matters directly–through town hall meetings or by voting on ballot initiatives and referendums. A republic, on the other hand, is a system in which the people choose representatives who, in turn, make policy decisions on their behalf. The Framers of the Constitution were altogether fearful of pure democracy. Everything they read and studied taught them that pure democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” Sounds about right to me because if we allowed the people of Wyoming, Rhode Island, Florida or any other single state to enact laws applicable to every other state, the death of our nation would, indeed, have been swift and violent. The problem, however, is that those representatives we have chosen to make policy decisions on our behalf have, over our 228-plus years evolved from being men and women concerned with the welfare of the nation, to a group of idiots more concerned with perpetuating the goals of their own political party and their place of power within that party…and this is wrong. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, and I for one do not see any hope for a return to the days when, as Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill said, “It’s country first; state second, and political party a distant third.” We the people are represented by those we elected to office; however, their allegiance is being usurped by lobbyists, by political action committees (PACs), and by a few power brokers who can ensure their reelection or their defeat, ergo, their allegiance is really to themselves and to hell with the people who actually cast votes in their favor.

Everyone talks about a moral compass. America’s moral compass is so screwed up that the Founding Fathers are, I am quite certain, spinning so fast in their graves, they resemble a child’s toy on the kitchen table. We invade other countries and wind up starting bigger wars than we can finish. We feed the people of other nations, dig wells for their fresh water supply while our own citizens go wanting. We pay more attention to the infrastructure of other lands than we do to the lands in our country. I am but one voice screaming in the wilderness. I will continue to scream until things change or I am dead, and where I’m headed, I’m certain I’ll still be screaming!

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You will have to pardon my ignorance [or not]but there appears to be a somewhat confused political structure in the United States. We want to reduce the deficit but one billion dollars is immediately made available to Ukraine to assist in stabilizing their infrastructure and no one in Congress is heard complaining about it? That doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense to me. Countries that are starving for one reason or another receive aid in the form of rice, powdered milk, and other food products from the United States, yet 17 million children under the age of 18 go to bed hungry each night in our own country. And that doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense to me either. We give billions and billions of foreign aid to other countries, I guess because money talks and bullshit walks, and we want everybody to be our ‘friend.’ Just watch how friendly they’ll be if we reduce or eliminate all that foreign aid in deference to repairing our own infrastructure. They’ll jump on that “Hate America” bandwagon so fast, it will make your head spin.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with supplying assistance to countries that truly require our help. One of the major problems, as I see it, is that the aid we do supply all too often does not wind up in the hands of those who need it. Corruption is rife in too many of the countries we boast of helping, but it’s not the country or the people. It winds up in the hands of the military or the despots of those countries who hold the aid hostage over their own people. We just don’t appear to understand that many of the countries to whom we supply aid and assistance have different cultural values and different social mores than we do. If anyone bothered to study America, they would find that culturally we are quite different even within our own nation.

When President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, it was considered to be one of the greatest public works programs in the history of the country. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “…the Interstate System has been a part of our culture—as construction projects, as transportation in our daily lives, and as an integral part of the American way of life.  Every citizen has been touched by it, if not directly as motorists, and then indirectly because every item we buy has been on the Interstate System at some point.  President Eisenhower considered it one of the most important achievements of his two terms in office, and historians agree.”  There was only one problem with the construction of the Interstate Highway System…the funds appropriated for it did not consider the ‘real’ cost of maintaining it.  The best analogy I can give is that of a major donor bearing the entire cost of constructing a dormitory/residence hall for his or her alma mater. The problem arises when that dorm has to be furnished and the building maintained. Where does that money come from or do we merely let the building deteriorate? The answer, of course, is that monies must be appropriated to maintain the building to the detriment of other things. Therefore, in the long run, the alumnus/alumna didn’t do his or her college any great favors. In my years in higher education, I know of only one situation where monies were given not only for the building, but for its endowment or maintenance. Today, that building is as beautiful as it was the day it was opened. When the Department of Transportation goes to seek the funds it requires to repair our nation’s bridges and roads, Congress and the Presidents who have succeeded Eisenhower always seem to find other, more pressing problems…like giving money in foreign aid…read that as “Giving blood money to keep our so-called friends happy.” Not to get too personal, but I drive under overpasses and over underpasses each day and some of both just scare the living daylights out of me.

There is no question that America has always done its fair share to help other nations, whether it’s by sending our military to help quell world wars; providing food and dollars to help nations get back on their feet following one calamity or another; or by providing expertise in assisting underdeveloped countries to move ahead. That’s us; that’s the way we are. Unfortunately, I fear that we have often times cast our eyes across the seas rather than taking a hard look inward and from coast to coast.

I, like most other people in our wonderful country, bitch and wail, and moan and whine about this not being done or that not being done, and I do nothing about it. I cast my ballot at every election, not for a single party, but for the candidate who I believe can do the best job. Yet, time and time again, I wind up being disappointed. I’m firmly convinced that there are people in Washington who believe as I do and as you do…but you and I are also different so perhaps I’m making an unwarranted assumption here. Do we all agree that there is a poverty issue in the United States? Do we all agree that our educational system needs an overhaul? Do we all agree that our roads and highways are dangerous and in need of repair? Do we all agree that too much is expected of our military whenever a skirmish breaks out somewhere? Do  we all agree that not everyone should receive a college education? There are hundreds of “Do we all agrees…” but who wants to prioritize them? Who says we all agree? What’s important in Massachusetts may be pretty damned low on the Minnesota, Montana, or Mississippi agenda? Is one state more important than the other? Wow, talk about questions!

I hope that I’ve given you some food for thought. If you still have some fire in your belly, stand up and shout. Make your voice heard in Washington…or as my dear old Dad would have said, “Make yourself a real pain in someone else’s ass!”


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When you work your ass off for over 50 years; when you pay union dues…for which you get absolutely nothing; when you contribute to Social Security – I got a raise this year that amounts to thirty-five cents a day – and when you contribute to a pension fund where the foundation president makes over half a million dollars a year, you hope that just maybe, just a tiny wee bit of maybe, that fixed income on which you’re going to retire will be all it takes to get by until they plant you or scatter your ashes somewhere pleasant. If you happen to have saved a few bucks along the way or invested your income wisely, so much the better. I took advice from a broker [former] friend of mine and was taken for a little bit of a bumpy ride, and since that didn’t work out so well the first time, there was no second. It’s rather like the old expression, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

The thing that I have learned is that anyone who attempts to retire solely on Social Security may as well just shoot themselves and be done with it.  Now hold on there, just a minute; I’m not saying that Social Security isn’t worth the powder to blow it to hell. The principles of Social Security are quite grand indeed. They stem from the English ‘Poor Laws.” In England, as economic security began to depend more and more upon the crown rather than upon guilds and “friendly societies” such as the “Freemasons (which came to America in 1730); the Odd Fellows (1819); Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (1868); Loyal Order of Moose (1888); and the Fraternal Order of Eagles (1898)” relinquished some of their efforts to aid those less fortunate than their organizations.

According to the history of Social Security, “When the English-speaking colonists arrived in the New World they brought with them the ideas and customs they knew in England, including the “Poor Laws.” The first colonial poor laws were fashioned after those of the Poor Law of 1601. They featured local taxation to support the destitute; they discriminated between the “worthy” and the “unworthy” poor; and all relief was a local responsibility. No public institutions for the poor or standardized eligibility criteria would exist for nearly a century. It was up to local town elders to decide who was worthy of support and how that support would be provided.

“As colonial America grew more complex, diverse and mobile, the localized systems of poor relief were strained. The result was some limited movement to state financing and the creation of almshouses and poorhouses to “contain” the problem. For much of the 18th and 19th centuries most poverty relief was provided in the almshouses and poorhouses. Relief was made as unpleasant as possible in order to “discourage” dependency. Those receiving relief could lose their personal property, the right to vote, the right to move, and in some cases were required to wear a large “P” on their clothing to announce their status.

“Support outside the institutions was called “outdoor relief” and was looked upon with distrust by most citizens. It was felt that “outdoor relief” made things too easy on the poor who should be discouraged from the habit of poverty in every way possible. Nevertheless, since it was expensive to build and operate the poorhouses, and since it was relatively easy to dispense cash or in-kind support, some outdoor relief did emerge. Even so, prevailing American attitudes toward poverty relief were always skeptical and the role of government was kept to the minimum. So much so that by as late as 1915 at most only 25% of the money spent on outdoor relief was from public funds.”

Two months before I was born, in June of 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in recognition of my mother’s impending birth of a new star in the firmament – did you ever hear such drivel in your life? – informed Congress that he was going to create a Social Security program. Its two major components would be “Title I- Grants to States for Old-Age Assistance, which supported state welfare programs for the aged, and Title II-Federal Old-Age Benefits. It was Title II that was the new social insurance program we now think of as Social Security. In the original Act benefits were to be paid only to the primary worker when he/she retired at age 65. Benefits were to be based on payroll tax contributions that the worker made during his/her working life. Taxes would first be collected in 1937 and monthly benefits would begin in 1942,” which eventually began in 1940.

As our society has advanced, Social Security has found it difficult to keep pace. While, as I have said, the intent of the program was terrific, it never quite achieved what its originators hoped to accomplish, and pension plans became part of retirees’ hopes and dreams.

The problem that many retirees face today is that while their income is more or less fixed, the cost of living is increasing at a more rapid rate. For example, it costs me approximately one thousand dollars more per year for groceries than it did in 2011. Health insurance has increased at almost the same rate during the same period. Real estate taxes have increased by nearly three thousand dollars. At the same time, Social Security and pension benefits have increased by $200. For many of us, aging also means an increase in the number of prescription drugs we are required to take. Certainly, Medicaid or a health insurance program covers much of the cost, however, I recently paid nearly $350 for one drug, and that is not noted as a particularly expensive medication.

Am I advocating more help from the government? No, that would be farcical at best and a tragedy at worst. No, I’m not advocating anything other than to warn those who are in their forties and fifties to plan, if you haven’t already, for a retirement that will be far more expensive than any of which you can conceive. I don’t have any sound financial advice for you other than that. Poo-poo my advice at your peril, and if you think you can keep up with the Joneses, remember, the Joneses are in debt!

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If you’ve ever held a job that you thought would make a good career, only to lose that job to ‘downsizing,’ the economy, outsourcing your part of the organization overseas, or because your position is being abolished and absorbed into others, you just haven’t lived. If you’re lucky, you get two weeks’ severance pay, a pat on the back, and a guarantee that you’ll receive a wonderful letter of recommendation. If you’re not that lucky, you get called in on a Friday afternoon, told to clean out your desk, locker, or work space, and get off the premises.

Admittedly, I was ‘fired’ in 1974. I’d only been doing this particular job for about twelve years before the new administration decided that the position should be abolished. And yes, I was thanked for my service, guaranteed that letter of recommendation, but surprisingly, I was given three months’ severance and an office at an off-site location where I could read want ads and write letters applying for this position or that.

A couple of things I learned right off the bat about applying for a job in higher education. Never believe that an ad posted in The Chronicle of Higher Education is a real job. Colleges and Universities and probably most organizations are forced to cover their collective asses by posting positions that are open in their companies. In other words, any want ad may not be what it appears. I know of one case in Pennsylvania where a friend of mine was asked to take a highly qualified applicant to lunch. “Throughout the meal, I wanted to scream at this guy, you’re not getting the job. It’s an inside deal. Even though the guy who’s getting the job is far less qualified, you’re a friggin’ token.” He told me this year after I had gotten another job, but I already knew it. I’d been on an interview for a job at a college in Upstate New York; went through the round of interviews, and was told, in confidence by the president, that he did not want a woman in the position – pretty heavy admission when you think about it. His assistant, a woman, was not present at the time. It turned out that they (a) hired a woman, and (b) that she was a friend of the president’s assistant.

The jobs for which I was applying all reported directly to a senior vice president or to the president of the organization. It didn’t take long before the first question I asked was, “Is this interview a formality to satisfy federal employment laws or is this an actual position?” The second question was, “How many internal candidates to you have applying for this position?” If they hemmed and hawed in answering, I thanked them for their time and left. In one case, I asked the president, in front of all of his direct reports, “Is your board of governance aware of what you’re telling me?” His answer was that no, the trustees were not aware. He then questioned why I would ask. Here’s my answer: “Because if they did, I would question how seriously they take their responsibility…and if I were on your board, I’d question having you in your position as president. Thank you gentlemen, I can let myself out.” And I did…without looking back. It was quite clear that they were looking to hire a hatchet man because they didn’t have the courage to do their own house cleaning.

The portrait I’m trying to paint is that of a person searching for a job and winding up as a viable candidate but the job is already taken; your candidacy is merely a formality or of being interviewed for a position that is nothing like the ad described. Week after week, month after month, this goes on, and each week, you make the ‘walk of shame’ to the unemployment office to tell them, “No, I haven’t found anything yet,” and to get your check. You want to work, although I suppose there are some who don’t. You’re embarrassed by your inability to find a job; you know there has to be something out there for you. You may even be told that you’re one out of three, one out of four, one out of two, and in my case, one out of one…I actually went on a cold call, told them what they needed, and they turned around and hired someone else! That is not what you would call a confidence-builder.

Each week, you go to unemployment. Each week, you become more desperate; each week, your depression grows. If you smoke, you smoke more; if you drink, you drink more. The more you smoke or drink, the faster the money goes and the deeper becomes your depression. After a while you either begin applying for jobs you know you won’t get or you stop looking quite so hard. You might even take a part-time job in the local supermarket or in a warehouse. You question yourself as you’ve never done before. It’s one of the worst feelings you’ve ever had. How do you tell your kids they can no longer play soccer or take piano lessons or this or that? How do you say that you no longer have cable in the house because you can’t afford it?

If you’ve worked for any length of time and suddenly find yourself on the sidewalk, it’s horrible. I rather doubt that there is a US Congressman or Senator who knows this feeling. They can’t understand what it’s like. As a consequence, they become piddling little children when it comes time to extending federal unemployment benefits for those who have yet to find jobs. I was fired the week before Christmas 1974. I went back to full-time employment on January 3rd, 1978. Count ‘em up; that’s three fucking years that I did not work at a full-time position or in my field! I was one of the lucky ones. I found a job that gave me tremendous satisfaction for the next 20 years, and it was in my field. The day that I went off unemployment was a day that I felt reborn. I’m willing to bet there are nearly a million people out there who want the chance to feel the same way. Instead, they are dependent on a group of 535 squabbling children in Washington, D.C. to help them continue their search. Sure, there are hundreds, maybe thousands who love suckling on the government teat. Maybe they aren’t getting caught because unemployment offices are short on staff…hey, there’s some job creation for you.

Congress, the unemployed don’t want your help; they need your help. The authorization has begun its path through the Senate. Keep pushing. Don’t let the Tea Party idiots and others stop extension from passing the House. Most Americans are happy to work. Give them that opportunity, please.

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Let’s talk about slavery. I’m not talking about slavery in America pre-1800s. I’m speaking of world slavery; of slavery that’s been around since the beginning of civilization; since man first rose up on two legs, found a weaker individual and turned him or her into their own personal property. Think about it; slavery has been with us for so long that most of us can’t even comprehend a time when there wasn’t a question of slaves, slave ownership, slave rebellion, slave emancipation and then, slavery again in some different form and by some different name.

Isn’t it strange to say that something so uncivilized has been around since the dawn of civilization, and yet if we are to believe the Bible, murder has been around just as long. According to Discovery Education, “…In ancient civilizations, slaves were usually war captives. The victors in battle might enslave the losers rather than killing them. Over time, people have found other reasons to justify slavery. Slaves were usually considered somehow different than their owners. They might belong to a different race, religion, nationality, or ethnic background. By focusing on such differences, slave owners felt they could deny basic human rights to their slaves.” In the Bible we read in Leviticus, “…you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.  You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.” Therefore, we may assume that civilization has been built by strong backs controlled by stronger wills and minds.

Officially, slavery began in the America in 1619. A Dutch slave ship stopped in Virginia and traded 23 African slaves for food and drink. Many historians prefer to talk about indentured servitude where a craftsman or other person paid their passage to the New World by serving for a certain number of years until their debt had been paid. According to one of my late relatives, George Soule, one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact and a relative, came to this country as an indentured servant. Ironically, William Bradford, the first governor of the Plymouth Colony is also part of the family. How the hell that happened is anyone’s guess, but that’s history for ya.

As an institution, slavery still exists. Although it is underground, few will deny the slave trade that exists in the kidnapping of women to be used as sex slaves. We have to look no further than Cleveland and Ariel Castro to see slavery in the U.S. and don’t bet the farm that there aren’t other people out there who aren’t doing the same thing…they just have yet to be caught.

It’s difficult to believe but slavery existed elsewhere in the world until 1981 when Mauritania became the last country to formally abolish it. However, even in this African country, it did not become a crime until 2007. It may be illegal in Mauritania, but the dictator controlled country still tops the slave list with nearly four percent of its people living in slavery. Despite the fact that slavery is now considered illegal the world over, The Global Slavery Index, published by Australia’s Walk Free Foundation, lists India as still having nearly 14 million people enslaved. They are followed by China with 2.9 million and Pakistan with 2.1 million. Globally, the Index says that 30 million people around the world are live as slaves.

Despite the Civil War, War Between the States, or War for Southern Independence – however you wish to label it – and all of the legislation that has followed to end slavery and allow everyone to have equal rights, slavery still exists in America in 2013. If you don’t believe me, ask the local prostitute whose master we call a pimp. Ask the migrant worker who picks peaches or harvests lettuce or whatever. They all know what slavery is and how bad it can be. They know because it’s better here than where they come from and that’s not saying a hell of a lot. Ask the victim of domestic violence who is terrified of leaving but remains as a slave because she doesn’t know how to get out of an abusive relationship. Ask the Division I college athlete who is a hell of an athlete but whose parents could never afford to send him or her to college. What, you don’t call that slavery? What the hell else would you call it? I recall one scholarship athlete at Penn State whose coach used to wave her scholarship papers in the air before this kid’s swimming event; in other words, “Win or else!” If the “or else” happened; if that kid’s scholarship had been pulled, no way could the family have afforded to keep her in school. Ask the immigrant who is working for less than minimum wage in a drudge job that “Americans” wouldn’t do for love or money. No, slavery is not dead. It lives on throughout the world, even in the land of the free and the home of the brave, as tragic as it is.

We’ve probably all heard someone say, “Oh, he’s a slave to his job,” or something similar. There are jobs where that’s not so far off. One definition of “slave” is “a person entirely under the domination of some influence or person.” In addition, we’ve all known or had bosses like Simon Legree from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, those who manage by fear and intimidation. We call them bullies, but if they control whether or not we hold a job, receive a salary, continue to be able to feed our family and have a roof over our head, are they really less evil than the old slave masters?

Since time immemorial slavery has existed. Biblical references abound in both the Old and New Testaments. As unfortunate as it may seem, it there is not one country in this world that deserves to call itself ‘civilized’ as long as slavery exists in any form. How far we have come in so many ways; what a pity we’ve advanced in so many other areas of life.

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J’evah notice that around this time of year, there is always some sum—bitch who gets pissed off about Christmas. I saw a house recently where the roof was being reshingled. They’d removed the old shingles and had covered the wood with a rubberized blanket. In beautiful block print lettering on this undercoat, the manufacturer, the builder, or someone had written “Put Christ Back in Christmas.”  It’s a beautiful sentiment; doesn’t mean a goddamned thing to those people who are hip-checking your ass out of the way so they can grab the last of the toy du jour; nor does it really mean a friggin’ thing to those who drive through the mall parking lot like they’re on the track at Daytona, to find the nearest exit so they can go home and wrap the gifts they’ve just bought with the money they don’t have to give to people who will only bitch about the gift being the wrong size, shape, color, or model and who, without considering the intent with which it was given, will only bitch about having to exchange it and the lines in which they’ll have to stand..whew!.

Right now I happen to be reading Bill O’Reilly’s latest book, Killing Jesus, so that really puts me in the holiday spirit. It appears that the Romans knew more ways to torture and kill Jews that anyone before them…and they worked at it. They didn’t even crucify you until they’d beaten your back and upper legs down to the bone; then they made you carry the cross piece to a pole in the ground where they promptly tied you to this cross piece, drove nails into your wrists; hoisted you up – how, I have no idea – broke your ankles and tied your legs to the pole and left you there to die. Ha, and you thought the Grinch was a rotten bastard! I’m beginning to think Jesus should have kept his mouth shut and sold one of the Apostles down the river!

In addition to learning what Jesus was in for at a time when we’re supposed to be celebrating his birth even though we know he wasn’t born in the twelfth month, it seems that the second week in December, at least for me, is designated as visit the doctors’ week. Every single year this seems to happen: Monday it was the ophthalmologist…who told me that my eyes were aging – “and that ain’t the only part,” I wanted to say. What the hell does that mean, your eyes are aging? Of course they are. There was a time when I wore trifocals. Then this very same doctor removed cataracts, put in some new lenses and gave me back my 20/20. Now he has the audacity to tell me my eyes are aging…and at Christmas time…screw you, you son-of-a-bitch; go ahead, make my day. Tuesday was an appointment with a gastroenterologist. This is a follow-up to my recent colonoscopy – if you need further clarification, I invite you to see Billy Connolly’s description on YouTube. This doctor’s news was better; my colon evidently is not aging, but it is becoming a bit wrinkled. “Don’t let it get any more wrinkled,” he informed me. Now what the hell can I do to get my colon unwrinkled? If anyone can answer that, I’ll trade colons with them. He did give me the good news that he doesn’t want to see me again for five years. Holy Jesus, by then my colon ought to look like a Hungarian Komonder or a friggin’ Puli. Wednesday was pulmonary day, the day I see Dino. This is a doctor of whom I think the world. He treats patients as people. He doesn’t see me as another patient with emphysema and C.O.P.D. He sees me as Dick, the late Joan’s husband; the guy who loves to cook and read. When Dino is teaching young doctors, he reminds them, “Never forget that behind that patient with the lung disease, or the cancer, or the this or that, is a person who still has the same needs and desires that you have. The patient is a person! Treat them like one.” So what does he have to say? “I’m putting you on a new medication to allow you to breathe better. You want a one-month supply or a three-month supply?” With winter coming on, I figure a three-month supply is not a bad idea. Then I get a call from the pharmacy.  It-is-impossible-to-imitate-the-Walmart-voice, but listen to this…”This is your Walmart pharmacy. A person in your household has….one…prescription ready to be picked up. The total cost will be three hundred forty-seven dollars and four cents.”

“X-fucking-scuse me? Are you shitting me?” I say as I close my phone. “This is the season of giving, not of taking. You couldn’t even give me the goddamned four cent discount…where the hell does the four cents come from?” Juli was just staring at me. Finally, without breaking into a grin, she asks, “Walmart?” All I can do is glare until we both begin laughing out loud at my tirade against a recorded voice. I just love these miracle drugs…and the doctors who think nothing of prescribing them.

Today is Thursday. We went to Walmart to buy a few things and to pick up my prescription. Linda, one of the pharmacy assistants, just looked at me as I approached the counter. The pharmacist behind the counter stopped what she was doing and peeked out from behind her computer screen.

Linda: “Hi, er, hi, Dick…ah…um…are you sure you want to pick up the three-months worth of this?”

Pharmacist – from behind her computer screen, with exceedingly large smirk: “You can get the one-month supply if you want.”

Linda: “You..ah…um…you know this is over three hundred dollars, right?”

Me : “Three hundred, forty-seven dollars…and four cents…that about right?”

Linda: “Yeah?”

Me: (sotto voce so only Linda can hear) “Ring the fucking thing up, Linda!” Linda cracks up to the point where it appears she may lose bladder control. In as soft a voice as I had used, she replies…”fucking’ A!” and proceeds to abuse my debit card for the entire amount…chuckling! I’m certain she told the pharmacist of our exchange but frankly, I don’t give a damn. Ring your bell just as much as you want Mr. Salvation Army man with your big red kettle and your “Ho-ho-ho;” You won’t get as much this year as you did last…sorry about that…blame my freakin’ doctor.

Tomorrow is Friday. I have no doctors’ appointments. I have neither plans to visit Walmart nor any other store. My car is fully gassed, and I am going, very early, to the gym. I will then come home, change back into my pajamas, hide my wallet under my pillow, and sleep the day, arising only to take my pills and my new – three hundred forty seven dollar and four cents – prescription.

Merry Christmas?


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We are entering – once more – the season of insanity.

Thursday, November 28th is the fourth Thursday of this month and, by tradition, a day on which we celebrate Thanksgiving.  Defined, it is often referred to as “…an annual national holiday marked by religious observances and a traditional meal including turkey. The holiday commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621.” Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. George Washington named Friday, November 26th, 1789 as a day of “public Thanksgivin,” and until Lincoln, every President made a declaration of when Thanksgiving should be celebrated. The Sixteenth President declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. That was fine until…

…In 1933 and again in 1939, November had five Thursdays. In ’33, some retailers asked President Roosevelt if he would move the celebration back a week indicating…”You will appreciate the importance that an additional week incorporated in this great holiday season will have upon the distribution activities of the entire United States and the added impetus that will be given thereby to the efforts of the administration and the N.R.A.1 to increase employment and purchasing power.” Roosevelt declined but in 1939, he did relent and move the celebration back a week. It was until 1941 that a Congressional declaration set aside the fourth Thursday in November as the official date for Thanksgiving. Two things become clear here: (1) Retailers pushing for more shopping time between Thanksgiving and Christmas isn’t a new thing; it’s been going on since the nation was coming out of The Great Depression, and (2) Congress has been sticking their fingers in the pie as far back as 1941 [the pie, of course, being mince or pumpkin].

Today, retailers are even more aggressive in their approach to relieve consumers of the contents of their wallets, and while most appear to desire green, any color will do if it happens to be plastic. The Friday following our day of thanks for the bounty that we, in some cases, have is known by many names, among them “retailer-salivation-day,” “come-on-suckers-and-bring-your-cash-day” “Ooh-have-I-got-a-deal-for-you-day,” and by its more acceptable terminology, “Black Friday.” This term has been applied because it is supposed to be the biggest shopping day of the year, and the one that will put retailers firmly in the black. Saturday is now being named “small-business-Saturday.” Thanksgiving, the day when families are supposed to be gathered around the harvest table and giving thanks is now being called “Brown Thursday.” It would appear that some retailers’ greed exceeds their consideration for family togetherness and therefore, their doors will be open on this national holiday. Woe befalls the employee who calls in sick or declines to work this day. Managers and supervisors need only remind them of the seven point three unemployment rate in the country or some other bullshit story, and they will be at work.

I don’t shop on Black Friday and I can tell you right now that I sure as hell will not be shopping on Brown Thursday. Next thing you know, we’ll have mauve Monday, taupe Tuesday, and Wisteria Wednesday…and those will be before Brown Thursday. This year, the day after Christmas is going to be renamed “Take Back Thursday” while “Find Bargains Friday” will follow.

I’m happy that our economy is on the rebound. I’m delighted that the Dow finally broke sixteen thousand. I’m pleased as hell that the United States is no longer dependent on foreign oil. I’m happy as a clam at high tide that I have a roof over my head, heat in the house, a new ‘smart’ television set, a car – albeit thirteen years old – in the garage, and a new puppy that is already housebroken. I’m even more delighted that I have a wonderful partner with whom to share all of these things plus all of the joys of the holiday. The pup was an early Christmas present to her and Widget has already brought great joy to both of us.

However, I’m mad as a son-of-a-bitch at the greedy bastards who have decided to open their doors on November 28th and who have pressured their workers to come in. I’m madder yet at the idiots who will elect to go shopping on that day. If you are one of them at least have the courtesy to apologize to the sales person who is ringing up your purchases. But, for cripes sake, don’t wish them a “Happy Thanksgiving!”

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True or False…This is the most ineffective group of Senators and Congressmen in the history of the United States of America.

It appears that 75 percent of the Americans think that this group of men and women certainly rank right up there with the very worst. Not since June 2013 has a Congress been so mistrusted. They are on target for the fewest bills ever sent to a President since the time when records were kept. They passed the Affordable Care Act and have since tried over 40 ways to repeal it while other important pieces of legislation have been sitting in committee. Republican Ted Cruz of Texas made an absolute ass of himself and drew the ire of fellow Republicans for his 21-hour faux filibuster against funding the Affordable Care Act. Cruz then turned around and criticized members of his own party for a “defeatist attitudes.”

During my working years, I admit that I was not as involved in the political process of our community, state, or country. Looking back, I think that I’m probably just as well off not having done so; however, I now see why some of my more politically active friends became as fanatical as they were.  I believe it was Ronald Reagan who said “It’s been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.” Ii is my contention that nothing could be closer to the truth, particularly with the members of the 112th Congress. As Harry Truman put it [on more than one occasion], “My choice early in life was either to become a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference. I, for one, believe the piano playing job to be much more honorable than current politicians.” This current crop of whores, pimps, and con men make the “Do-Nothing-Congress” of Truman’s time look like a hard-working bunch of public servants. If one were to write a television script for a dysfunctional government and use this as a model, producers would laugh the plot out of any office as being too implausible. The problem, as we are seeing first hand, is that not only is it plausible, it’s starring in its own form of TV comedy every night…we call it the evening news.

Washington political actions are an embarrassment to America. The question of whether to attack Syria had Congressmen and Senators waived sheaves of papers over their heads, screaming that their constituents didn’t want America to become involved in another war. That was the first time that I had ever heard this group blaming their constituents. They didn’t even have the courage to say, “No, Mr. President, we, the legislative body, strongly advise you not to go to war.” Many were pleased, I’m quite certain, because it appeared that Obama was backing down from that line in the sand, and anything that made the President look bad was a good thing for his opponents.

This Congress is so dysfunctional that they wouldn’t know how to cross the aisle if they were given a guide dog a white can, and a pair of sunglasses. In elementary schools today, conflict negotiation is taught to resolve problems between disagreeing parties. Really, how sad is it that peer negotiation isn’t a compulsory workshop for Congressmen and Senators every two or four years. Party politics has no place in the political process today. Ours is a fractured nation and we are demonstrating that to our allies and our enemies on a daily basis…and that, my friends, is an exceedingly dangerous position in which to be.

Ezra Klein is a writer for the Washington Post. A little over a year ago, he published a list of 14 reasons why the 112th Congress is the worst ever. With all due respect to Mr. Klein, his list made me want to vomit…not because of any inaccuracies, but quite the contrary. He was so on target and so concise in his reasoning that seen in this light, it made  two things clear all over again: (1) The American people don’t really give a damn about who represents them, and; (2) the people who are supposed to be representing the American people don’t really give a damn about them or THIS COUNTRY! They are a greedy bunch of naïve spoiled children who are playing at being politicians.

Here are a few of Klein’s observations:

  • ·        The Congress is not passing laws – To date, 219 bills have been signed into law. That is the most abysmal record since Bill Clinton had to face Newt Gingrich and the Republican Revolutionaries. Even then, 333 bills made their way to the President’s desk.
  • ·        Unpopularity – This Congress ranks just above Fidel Castro in terms of popularity. They are less popular than British Petroleum at the time of the major oil spell. They rank below Banks in 2011, Nixon during the Watergate Investigation and Paris Hilton in 2005. Now if that ain’t below the scrapings on the bottom of the barrel, I’m not certain what is.
  • ·        “They are incredibly polarized” – There was a time when Congressmen and women would listen to both sides of an argument and might cross the aisle to vote with the opposite party. You do that today and you will be ostracized from your party immediately. Instead of “my country right or wrong,” it has become “my party…never wrong.”
  • ·        Congress has delayed economic recovery – At a time when the nation had begun its recovery, adding jobs month by month, the Republicans began a pissing contest over the debt ceiling. Business, seeing this, slowed down and damn near came to a stop in terms of hiring. This, as much as anything, has served to delay economic growth and recovery.

I invite you to locate Mr. Klein’s list of 14 reasons this Congress is the worst ever. It’s well worth the read. As for me, I just weep for America. We have allowed people with no interest in us to rule us. The next time you decide not to vote, take a second and think just how badly you are getting screwed by the crowd that now “works” {???] on Capitol Hill.

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