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Archive for the ‘Values’ Category

We all know that there are inequities and inequalities in this world. Well, at least anyone with half a brain knows these things. I’m a big believer in this funny little thing called equal pay for equal work, which makes me just a wee bit pissed that women, on average, receive only eighty-two cents for every dollar that a man makes for doing the same job. When Mary Barra took over as head of General Motors, I’m told, she received a compensation package one million dollars lower than that of her predecessor. Her compensation package last year consisted of a $1,750,000 salary and other compensation that brought her package up to $28,576,651. Admittedly, this is probably one of the few cases where a CEO has earned every penny. Even within the male population, there is inequality. Tell me, if you can, why the head football coach at the Air Force Academy is making eight times more money than the Secretary of Defense of the United States? When one considers the international considerations of each position, it would appear reasonable to assume that the roles really ought to be reversed. Additionally, if the president of the University of Michigan is making $750,000, and the head football coach is making $9 million, how does one justify that inequality…and please, don’t tell me that old saw about the alumni fund depending on a winning season. It may be true in part but is it really true to the extent of such imbalance?

What does one have to do to earn millions of dollar each year? It certainly helps to have a history of achievement and demonstrated leadership qualities. According to Chief Executive Research, executive compensation is a “strategic tool.” “…having the right senior executives on the team and aligned are key drivers of business success, yet far too many companies don’t approach executive compensation strategically.” It seems to me that far too many companies hire more based on ‘old boy networks, school ties, or religious affiliations. After that the 300 multiple appears to take effect, that is, the CEO makes about 300 times what the average worker in his/her company earns. Is this fair and equitable? The answer is complex.

If you hire the very best person for the job as CEO, everyone benefits. The new ‘boss’ plans strategically for a five, ten, or longer period – one Japanese executive created a strategic plan 150 years out. If the plan works, the chief executive should certainly be compensated appropriately. Should the compensation be 300 times what the worker in the factory, on the floor, in the sales office or the secretarial pool? My answer to that is an unqualified, “No!” What if the chief executive increases the profits of the company by 300 percent of his/her strategic plan? The answer is still, “No.” We have allowed executive compensation to get out of control, according to Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, but, “Corporate apologists say CEOs and other top executives are worth these amounts because their corporations have performed so well over the last three decades that CEOs are like star baseball players or movie stars.” This is nonsense. The economy has grown. The stock market has grown. People have either amped up their spending or gone into greater debt just to “keep up with the Joneses.” CEO’s aren’t any brighter today than they were in 1965 when that multiple we talked about earlier was 27:1. In addition, legislation – until Trump came along, but it still will – favored big companies that wished to outsource, either to other states with more favorable tax rulings and lower labor costs, or overseas where labor costs were markedly lower.

In 2015, “The SEC passed a new rule for large corporations: Starting in fiscal year 2017, they must disclose their “pay ratio,” the multiple by which the CEO’s pay exceeds that of the median worker’s.” In his article in Politico, Michael Dorff states, “The point of the rule is to both bring down CEO pay and to improve the compensation of rank-and-file workers. The theory is that CEOs and boards of directors will be so embarrassed when they have to admit just how much more they pay their chief executives than a normal worker—300 times is typical, though some companies’ ratios may stretch into the thousands—that, in their shame, they will simultaneously lower the CEO’s paycheck and grant their workers a raise.” Personally, I have strong doubts that CEOs and boards of directors that are currently paying outlandish compensation packages give two hoots in hell about their workers, are too narcissistic and self-centered, and it will not become effective until labor unions and workers themselves take action against those same CEO’s and boards of directors.

The idea that a CEO and his/her top four or five executives bear a responsibility only to their boards of directors is ludicrous, although it appears that many of the S&P 500 still adhere to such a belief. You figure it out. If the CEO reports to the board of directors, it figures that he/she also has some input regarding who sits on that board. In an article in The Atlantic, they cite, “…Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried, [who] in their 2004 book Pay Without Performance, argued that this procedure is a comforting fiction. They wrote that skyrocketing executive pay is the blatant result of CEOs’ power over decisions within U.S. firms, including compensation. Being on a corporate board is a great gig. It offers personal and professional connections, prestige, company perks, and, of course, money. In 2013, the average compensation for a board member at an S&P 500 company—usually a part-time position—was $251,000. It only stands to reason that board members don’t want to rock the CEO’s boat. While directors are elected by shareholders, the key is to be nominated to a directorship, because nominees to directorships are almost never voted down. Bebchuk and Fried showed that CEOs typically have considerable influence over the nominating process and can exert their power to block or put forward nominations, so directors have a sense that they were brought in by the CEO. Beyond elections, CEOs can use their control over the company’s resources to legally (and sometimes illegally) bribe board members with company perks, such as air travel, as well as monetary payment.

In other words, get your foot in the door as CEO of a major corporation via the old boy network, make the shareholders and your board of directors your primary concern, and you could well be set for life. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but I believe you get the general idea.

Truth to tell, CEOs and their organizations owe a far greater debt to a larger audience than their shareholders and boards. These stakeholders, as they are known, can also exercise some control over the pay of the CEO. Stakeholders include workers, product consumers if a product is involved, suppliers, creditors, and many others. R. Edward Freeman introduced the concept of stakeholders in business in 1984 in his book, Strategic Management. “The book proposed that effective management consists of balancing the interests of all [of] the corporation’s stakeholders – any individual or group who can affect, or is affected by, the achievement of a corporation’s purpose. The stakeholder concept provides a new way of thinking about strategic management – that is, how a corporation can and should set and implement direction.” Only by involving, completely involving, all stakeholders in the decision making processes, will CEO compensation, a major component of directing the organization be brought back into line. It seems to me that as long as CEO’s have any ability to influence who is on their board of directors or that the boards’ only interest is in lining their own pockets, this idea of multi-million dollar compensation will not be curbed, but will, in fact, flourish. The losers in this situation are too many to mention, and it only further grows the gap between the one percenters and the rest of the nation.

In the second part of this two-part series, I will take a look at the health care industry and the compensation of those in it.

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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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Is this a black thing? It seems that any time a black person is killed, whether by a black or white police officer or under any unusual circumstances, some people in the black community look on it as an occasion to riot. I mean, c’mon, it happened in Ferguson; it happened in Cleveland; it happened in Milwaukee, and I could keep on going. “Hey, somebody got killed, and I need a new television. Let’s go down to the store and break some glass so I can get one.” Truthfully, that seems to be the mentality of some of the people in these communities. “Oh look, a car. Let’s burn it!” What the heck is wrong with this type of thinking? All it does is perpetuate a certain stereotype in the minds of others.

The people who do these things generally have no connection to the individual who was killed in the first place. It’s merely an opportunity to destroy whatever they wish to destroy. I don’t understand it. You can’t afford to buy a bottle of booze? “Well sheeeit, let’s just break the windows in the liquor store and grab what we want.” Excuse me, but these are usually businesses in your own neighborhood, and if you get the television set or the bottle of booze, you might just drive the owners out of business. Do you call that “living in the moment” without thinking of the long-term consequences? Is that what this is? Because, quite frankly, it’s pretty messed up thinking.

Politicians scream, “We have allowed these ghetto areas to spring up and we have done nothing!” What a bunch of bull crap. You can do nothing if the people who are living in these areas don’t want you to do anything. Who the hell is going to start a business in a neighborhood where the first time they open their doors they get robbed? Then they close up at night and the place gets broken into and robbed again. It does not take a genius mentality to figure that the business owner is going to say, “Uh, uh, no more. I’m outta here,” and they are absolutely right. Business goes and what’s left behind? C’mon, you know the answer as well as I do…what’s left behind are the gangs and the drug dealers, and the ghetto becomes more of a ghetto. Whether it’s Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Memphis, or New Orleans, there are areas of those cities where the police don’t want to go and will not go into. They are both outnumbered and outgunned…and the politicians scream…and they don’t have a clue!

The real kick in the teeth is that there are generally more good people in those neighborhoods than there are bad people. Unfortunately, the good people aren’t as organized or as armed as the bad. The good people who live in these depressed neighborhoods can’t move away because they cannot afford to, and they’re just as frightened as every other ‘good’ person who has to live there. They are one on many, and if they attempt to organize the ‘good’ people, they generally pay with their lives or even the lives of their children.

It seems to me that there is an unspoken law in the black community and that is, “If it wears blue, you can’t talk to it.” That’s true even if the one in blue is black…and that’s wrong. That just exacerbates the troubles in these black communities. Yeah, yeah, I know…snitches get stitches or wind up in ditches, so how do we overcome these fears? I wish to God I knew. People living in black areas complain that “the man” is holding them down, and “the man” is looking for reasons to kill people of color, and “the man” is responsible for all of the problems in the community, and guess what, that’s bull crap. Is “the man” still around? Oh, yeah, racism is still rampant in America, but you don’t solve the problems of racism by doing things that will only make “the man” say, “See, I told you. All ‘those people’ want to do is riot and burn and loot.” But, it’s not “those people;” it’s a minority of the minority, but because the majority won’t speak out, they get tarred with the same brush.

The time has come to stop being silent; to stop allowing the minority to push the good people around. Yes, it is not an easy road. Just ask the spirit of Dr. King how easy that road is, but it’s a road that’s worthy of travel. It’s a road that is worth the hard work and sacrifice. I only wish that I could live to see the day when there were no more ‘black neighborhoods’ or ‘Asian neighborhoods’ or ‘Muslim neighborhoods,’ or neighborhoods that had to be labeled in any way. I know that I won’t live to see this, and chances are that my grandkids won’t live to see it. Oh, but how I wish someone, somehow, somewhere, would just take the first baby step toward its accomplishment! What a much better world we would be.

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Choices…What an interesting word. Are you aware that the average adult makes 35,000 choices in a single day? That’s right; you read that correctly…35,000. Heck, we make 226.7 choices just about the food we’re going to eat in a single day. By contrast, children make only about 3,000 choices in a day. Much of the research, particularly about the food, was done at Cornell University, which is appropriate considering they have one of the best schools of hotel management in the country.

But…once more I digress, only to be pulled back to the subject at hand; in this case, “choices.” I’m willing to bet that without half trying, you could list 1,000 choices you make in a day. Consider your clothing, your mode of transportation, your job, your career, the television you may or may not watch, and of course let us not forget about the food you choose…or not. I suppose we could add the choices you make about what to do on the computer or, if you use a smart phone…oy, let’s not get started on those choices

I’d like to consider myself as a pretty average adult. Stop laughing right now! Okay, so I’m a bit older than average. Maybe I’m a bit taller than average even with my age-diminished-height. I could also be thought of as a bit heavier than average – although I have just lost 25 pounds, with 25 more to go. But here are some of the choices I have to make first thing in the morning: Gym clothing or street clothes; water or fruit juice; a protein bar or some fruit; go to the gym or not; if not, what will we be doing today and how do I dress for it; if going to the gym, is the battery charged on my I-pod or should I charge it while I’m getting ready to go. I could go on and on and on and I haven’t even been to the gym yet! Geez, all these choices, most of which we make without even considering that we are doing so. Are you getting my drift here?

If you remember Newton’s Third Law…”For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” then you will, perhaps, understand why we make those 35,000 choices each and every day. Making a single choice influences so many other choices that they quickly add up, and the number doesn’t appear quite as large as it initially did.

Along the line we may make some choices that don’t affect us at the time but that have a huge impact on us later. My decision to smoke for 51 years of my life has now resulted in emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As a result, my choices of exercise are quite limited. On the other hand, my choice not to get involved in any criminal activities – yes, it was a choice – means that I didn’t have any kind of a record that would have prevented me from getting a security clearance or pursuing any number of professions.

Are there choices that I made that perhaps I should not have? Absolutely. Let me cite college as an example. In my undergraduate years, I never took the classroom all that seriously. That was a choice that, in hindsight, was about as dumb as I had to have been. Don’t get me wrong, I had wonderful collegiate experiences. They just weren’t in the classroom. By the time I got to graduate school I was married, had a full-time job, and truly recognized the value of higher education. To this day, however, I look back at my undergraduate days with some regret.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you for a few moments. What choices did you make today? Were they choices that affected only you or were the effects felt by others? Were the effects on others positive or negative? Did your choices affect the choices made by others? The choices you make as an individual, ie, breakfast, clothing, etcetera, these only affect you. Supposing, however, that you are the head of a small or even large organization. Every choice you make may affect the lives of hundreds or even thousands of others. The choices you make compound over a lifetime and lead to who, what, and where you are. Your choices define you, and they define how others view you. This latter may not concern you at all, but you’d be wise to consider it. Let us return to you as leader, president, CEO, or whatever title you wish to hold. Your choices now become decisions and those decisions always affect the choices and actions of others. So how do you make those decisions? Do you go with the first choice that is offered and to hell with the consequences? Do you make the choice to go with what will please the majority, even though it may have long-term negative consequences? Or do you carefully weigh what is good for the organization, the employees, the community, and a host of others that will be affected by this one decision that is made up of complex choices?

It’s at this point that you begin to think, “Damn, I never looked at my choices this way,” or words to that effect. Our simple choices that only affect us are one thing, but when your choice has a ripple effect (damn, there’s that word again), well, that’s when things become complicated. If you’re on the top rung of the ladder, the choices you make cannot be made impulsively. Every single factor must be weighed. It doesn’t become a breakfast choice or a clothing choice, or the choice of a television program to be watched. Your choice becomes your decision. Can you live with it?

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It’s difficult to understand why law enforcement, city, state, and federal, as well as the President of the United States, took so long to state the obvious about San Bernadino. I just don’t comprehend what is so difficult about seeing this couple, dressed as they were, not being immediately identified as ‘terrorists.’ However you wish to slice it, this was a terrorist act. It certainly terrified the crap out of the people who were being shot and those ducking for cover. With the discovery of the ammunition and pipe bombs in the house occupied by that couple and their baby would indicate preparation for a ‘terrorist’ attack. So we’re at war. Is there anyone in the USA who doesn’t understand that? Are there actually people whose heads are stuck so far up…in the sand that they aren’t aware that Americans are considered by some people who actually live and work here, as the enemy. Take a look at Dylan Roof who thought that blacks were taking over America. Can you understand why an ignoramus like that would think such a thing? Who does he see on television when the President speaks? Who does he see when the Director of Homeland Security speaks? Granted, the kid is probably not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s probably just a wee bit prejudiced against black folks in the first place. Someone said to me the other day, “I saw a family of Muslims in traditional dress coming in the store and I didn’t panic,” as though that was a major friggin’ achievement. It’s clue time…this country is filled with all sorts of people; some came here to escape terrorism and want to live peaceful lives. Others are here but are nothing but crazy fucking assholes who are influenced by other crazy fucking assholes and who will go out and kill anybody they see who is not dressed or look exactly as they do. They do have sufficient smarts to make certain they kill at a gathering…just walking up and down the street is not going to give one maximum exposure nor maximize your kill rate…riiiight!

To top off our understanding that we are at war, we have public panic purveyors like Donald “I-can-fix-everything-but-I-won’t-tell-you-how-because-I don’t-really-know-what-to-do” Trump. I find it truly difficult to understand how this man became a billionaire. The only thing I can think of is that he bullied his way to riches; he was the loudest shouter in the room; his face got so red, his opponents thought he was going to literally explode and shit would be flying everywhere since he was so full of it, so they gave in. It’s all I can think of. He speaks such ridiculous bullshit that no one in their right minds could possibly believe what he says. And yet, what is he doing? He’s appealing to the frightened, the uninformed, people who don’t know, or care to know, understand or care to understand other cultures. These are the folks who believe that blacks eat only fried chicken and watermelon; they may see hummus in the store so that’s what “they’ eat; Asians eat only fish and seaweed or some other shit like that. They don’t know, and one who preys on their fears such as Trump becomes their hero. The media is proving to be just as gullible. Trump speaks; it’s a sound byte they have to get on the air before the competition. Don’t react; don’t cover, and see how long Trump stays in this race. The media are “feeding Seymour” and he continues to grow. If the media ignore him, Trump will be within his rights to demand an equal amount of time as is given to other candidates; that is his right. However, the minute his talk becomes inflammatory, as it has been through most of his campaign, cut off the microphone; he has overstepped his bounds.

On November 8, 2016, America will go to the polls to elect a new President. That is eleven months from this very day. Should this country, in its ultimate stupidity, elect Donald Trump, I will make every effort to move to Nova Scotia and to renounce my American citizenship. I have little doubt that the world will become a nuclear wasteland before his term of office has ended.

Lone wolf terrorists on American streets will become more identifiable and stopped as we move along in our war. At some point, they will be identified before they enter the country. ISIS or some offspring of it will continue to function in the Middle East. It is only when America says, “Enough, solve your own problems,” that we will be able to breathe easily again. If “secure the homeland” is a dirty turn of phrase, forgive me. However, I don’t want to see more gold star flags hanging in more windows than are already there. We can “preserve, protect, and defend” the United States of America by putting our own nation first and let other nations solve their own problems.

The United Nations appears to be a useless group of foreign representatives suckling at the American teat and little else. Let us move their headquarters to someplace like Belgium, Luxemburg, or Lichtenstein, and see how quickly they dissolve or get their collective acts together to solve the world’s problems. America is too rich and too developed a nation to be playing host to a bunch of spies and neer-do-wells. Is this laissez-faire attitude going to work? No, because it will never receive bi-partisan support, nor will Wall Street allow it to happen. It would be nice to give it an honest try; to attempt to make other nations wholly responsible for their actions. We can’t; we’re America. We’re the supposed 800-pound gorilla in the room. That’s why poor families raise cannon fodder and we cry crocodile tears when they’re blown to pieces. If we really cared about our young men and women, we’d be expanding our efforts to keep them out of harm’s way rather than putting them directly in its path.

We have a great many problems in our own country that are in dire need of solutions. We need solutions to our problem of poverty. We need solutions to our problem of racial injustice and profiling. We need a unified, national police force that is fully trained and fairly paid. We need to stop teaching our children to pass some damned standardized test and teach them what it means to be a citizen of this country. We need more, better trained, and again, fairly paid, teachers. We need term limits for members of Congress to weed out the do-nothings, hangers-on, and radical assholes who somehow find their way into Congressional seats every now and then. We don’t need equalization of wealth, because if you’ve got the brains and ideas, God Bless You for making the money you’ve made, but we do need workers who are paid above a poverty level to build what you’ve designed or to sell what you have made. We need equal pay for equal work. We need to stop treating women like second-class citizens by telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodies. Our problems are tremendous; they’re hard to solve and they will continue to get harder until and unless we take some positive steps to address them. However, remember this: Over half of the Pilgrims who made the voyage on the Mayflower died before a year had passed – OVER HALF – yet the rest didn’t just lay down and die. Seventy-five thousand colonists died in the Revolutionary War; that’s 1 in 20 what we now call Americans. Yet, the men who signed the Constitution didn’t give up and say, “Screw this; take it back England.” No, the problems of their day were no more or less complex than the problems we face today. Sure, the world’s a smaller place, and the problems are terrifying. Problems of the magnitude facing the Pilgrims and the colonials and that guy who lives down the street from you today are daunting, but they can be solved. That’s our job – yours and mine – to chip in and ask what we can do to help solve those problems. No, I won’t give you the Jack Kennedy tag line; you can do that for yourself. I will say a couple of things: “If you see something, say something,” and “Don’t listen to fear-mongers and loud mouthed know-nothings like Donald Trump, because he’s not worth your time.”

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How do you know who to believe?

You listen to a news report on television, but you have to check the station background to determine if its reporting is fair and unbiased. Is the manner in which the news is being reported fair or is it slanted in favor of one group…pro-choice or pro-life…liberal or conservative…men or women? There are many types of groups that can be favored or biased against. How do we know that we’re getting every single aspect of a particular story? There was a time when such was the case with newspapers and even weekly news magazines. However, they’ve become so transparent in their biases that we often find ourselves reading only that media outlet which actually reflects our own views of the world.

I was thinking about this as I watched a story on Planned Parenthood the other day. I have no particular bias one way or the other on this subject. It seems to me that if the federal government has been supportive of this organization for a number of years that it must be doing something right. Then I remembered those horrible advertising spots that talked about the organization selling baby parts and one of their doctors talking about getting a new car and just how gross the ads were. Ah, but wait a minute; those ads were later discredited and shown to be fraudulent…or were they?

My own digging came up with this: “The mission of Planned Parenthood is to provide comprehensive reproductive and complementary health care services in settings which preserve and protect the essential privacy and rights of each individual, to advocate public policies which guarantee these rights and ensure access to such services, to provide educational programs which enhance understanding of individual and societal implications of human sexuality, and to promote research and the advancement of technology in reproductive health care and encourage understanding of their inherent bioethical, behavioral, and social implications.”

Adhered to at all levels, that’s a pretty darned good and comprehensive mission statement. I say, “Adhered to at all levels…” because, as with any organization as large as Planned Parenthood, with as many offices scattered over the country, there are bound to be a few employees who will apply their own interpretation of what that mission statement means. That’s also true of the people who are against Planned Parenthood and remember those ads without remembering the fraudulence that was associated with them.

I’m pro-choice. I think a woman has the right to do with her body exactly as she darn well pleases. I also believe that women doing the same job should be paid the same amount of money as their male counterparts. One of the things that I don’t believe is that women are ‘baby machines.’ In that regard, I am a firm believer that if you happen to get pregnant and know that it’s going to be well-nigh impossible to feed and clothe that kid until it grows to an age where it can support itself, you should not have the child. I often think of the people who call themselves “pro-life” are, in fact, only “pro-birth” without any regard to the life that follows. Bringing a child into this world entails on hell of a lot more than just giving birth. I’m not talking about raising a child in the lap of luxury; that would be laughable. However, bringing a child into the world in the 21st Century requires a great deal more than a roll in the hay without any consideration of the consequences.

From what I can gather, performing abortions is (a) not done at every Planned Parenthood office and (b) accounts for only about three percent of the business done by the organization. It appears that the bulk of what is done is in the counseling area…and not just counseling about whether to have an abortion or not, but counseling regarding reproductive health. I learned recently of one woman whose life was saved by a trip to a Planned Parenthood clinic. She was there for some testing when it was discovered that she had cancer of the uterus. “Thankfully, they caught it,” she told me. Had they not, she would have died. Think about that for just a minute…”Had they not caught…” her cancer, she would have died. At the time, this lady was a single mother with two young children. Planned Parenthood saved her life. I’m willing for my tax dollars to continue to support an organization like that.

I’m not crazy about any of the people who are running for the nomination to be the 44th or 45th – depending on how you count Grover Cleveland – President of the United States. I’m even less crazy about those who promise that they will fight to defund Planned Parenthood. After doing a fair amount of research and reading over the past several days and nights, the organization appears to be filling a niche that is not being filled in the private sector. Until it is, I believe we should allow Planned Parenthood to continue its good works.

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“I pledge my allegiance to the United States of America and to the principles of the republic on which it was founded. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, equality, and justice for all, accepted by all and divided by none.”

Sort of screws up the traditional pledge of allegiance, doesn’t it? Sure, my pledge could use a little work, but after all, it’s only the first draft. You see, I don’t wish to pledge allegiance to any symbol, whether we agree that it represents us or not. My pledge is directly to my country, for which I am more than willing to give my last full measure of devotion.

My country is not a flag or a pennant waving in the breeze. My country is men and women and children. It is the farmer who provides me with food and drink. It is the manufacturer who has provided the materials with which my house could be built. It is the small business that I prefer to patronize, all the while knowing that I’m paying a few cents more than what I would pay in the “big box” stores. America is everyone and everything that I see and use and love and hate all in a single day.

“This is my country,” wrote Don Raye and Al Jacobs in 1940. Here I am 75 years later, still shouting it from the roof tops. “This is my country, land of my birth.” Yep, six years before that song was written, I came aboard America, and I love it as much today as I guess I must have loved it then…”greatest on earth,” and nothing has demonstrated to me that it is not. “I pledge thee my allegiance, America the bold, for this is my country, to have and to hold.” I just want to stand up and scream how great this land has been to me.

Unfortunately, America has not been great for all. We suffered through slavery and the thought that those of a different skin color weren’t deserving of the same rights. We brought shame on our nation by the manner in which we treated people who were living here long before “we” decided to move in, a shame we bear even more today because it would appear that we aren’t really repentant about the manner in which Native Americans are still treated. We would love to believe that everything in our country is okay, but as we all know, it’s not quite the case.

The America in which I grew up was simpler, far less complex and even far less diverse than it is today. I like to say that the country’s diversity has expanded exponentially while our minds have expanded arithmetically. There are some changes that we can accept with a certain degree of ease, while others cause us a certain degree of reticence. We like to believe that America was founded on Christian values. Why then, do we allow synagogues? The simple answer is “because we accept people of the Jewish faith.” In return, what have the Jewish people demanded of the Christians? The right to pray as they wish; the right to go to school where they wish; the right to raise their families as they wish. In addition, they would like us to join them in celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as holidays in our schools. In school districts where Jews outnumber Christians, no one has demanded that we fly the American flag upside down or that we replace it with the flag of Israel. Most of the Jewish people I know consider themselves Americans first but with an allegiance to Israel because it is the land where their history began.

I refuse to accept students replacing the American flag at their schools with the flag of any other country, as has been done in several areas across the Southwest. You are in America. If you wish to stay here, respect our traditions and our history. Otherwise, go back where you came from…and don’t tell me there are no jobs there or it’s too frightening. If those are reasons you came to this country, then leave the joblessness and the terror behind you and get on with your assimilation into our culture. It may be the custom in your country to dress in a manner totally different from how we dress in America. If you wish to become part of our country, learn to dress as we dress. If this is not acceptable to you, please, go back to where your mode of dress is acceptable. Worship as you will; celebrate your holidays as you will, but this is my country; get used to it.

One of the greatest attributes of this nation is its degree of tolerance. We’ve had to work at being tolerant. Ask any Irishman whose family came over on the boats. Ask any person of Chinese descent whose great grandparents had to settle for jobs that even the Irish wouldn’t accept. Ask the first Italian, or Jewish, German or Dutch, or almost any ethnic group that came over here in the 1800s. They will tell you the difficulties of becoming accepted in our country, but they worked at it and they succeeded. Today’s emigres appear to want to do as they damn well please and if Americans don’t like it, that’s just too bad.

We live in a country that, in many cases, is prouder of its heritage and accomplishments than nations that are far older but not as far advanced. Hear me well people who come here trying to change us: “This is my country! Land of my choice! This is my country! Hear my proud voice! I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold, For this is my country! To have and to hold.”

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