Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries"

There's an old country tune that could have been written with me in mind.

"In The Corner Of My Mind There Stands A Jukebox". And it's like there really is a jukebox there, because most anything that happens reminds me of a song.

Like everyone, I occasionally see a bumpy stretch coming up in the road ahead. But before I can dwell on any of those bumps in the road, my Guardian Angel comes to the rescue--slipping some coins into that juke box, and punching in an appropriate song to allay any fears, and lighten my load.

Quite often, the song that comes front and center is, "Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries". Seconds later I'm my usual upbeat self.

And as 2011 makes way for 2012, it's a perfect song for these troubled, difficult times. Its history is a reminder that today's worries and woes are not the worst ever. It was written in 1931--buoying the spirits of folks at the start of the Great Depression.

As to the words in the title, the dictionaries tell us they mean, "Life is carefree". My favorite part of the lyrics is about loss--be it wealth, health, or love.

"The best things in life to you are just loaned;
So how can you lose, what you never owned."

Next time you feel a need for some inner comfort, and a little pep in your step, go to Google, type the title, and sing along with "Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries". Bet you'll feel just a little bit better.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Day After Christmas

'Tis the day after Christmas, and all through the land,
Folks have differing thoughts 'bout the season at hand.

Some sigh with relief that it soon will be past,
While the thought that its over leaves others aghast.

However you feel, you should be of good cheer,
For more special times so soon will be here.

Holidays, events, and birthdays galore.
Fun times with family and friends by the score.

Then as surely as the seasons will all come and go,
Once again we'll have Christmas -- most welcome I know.

While there may be some, who that last line will hate,
Your old cuz'n Bill says, "I hardly can wait!".

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Was It Really Like -- That "Silent Night"?

This time of year, nativity scenes depict a beautiful setting on a night of peace and tranquility--when "all is calm, all is bright".

But the mental image we have of the birth of the Christ child brings us so much joy, that we seldom pause to consider what it must have really been like that night of nights.

Consider that it was winter and that it was cold. How uncomfortable it must have been for a young woman who had just given birth. How difficult and frightening it must have been while trying to keep warm a newborn baby--to keep the chilly night air from infant lungs.

And the shelter? A stable. A place for keeping farm animals. And if there was no room in the inn, then that stable must surely have been full of foul-smelling stock. And there could have been little in the way of privacy.

It all doesn't add up to a situation conducive to sleep or rest for mother or child. It must surely have been a very long night.

Just imagine, too, the stress that must have been present on that journey to Bethlehem, and then beyond--traveling crowded roads with a newborn child. It took strong people to get through that night and that journey.

Did the Good Lord select a man, and a young woman, who were already strong of body and spirit; or did the Good Lord take two very ordinary people, and give them the strength and guidance that was needed?

There will always be many unanswered questions about that very special event that occurred some 2,000 years ago; and there are those who will always remind us that we do not know with any certainty the details of the night Christ was born. And that is true.

But whether we take every detail as provided by the Bible as fact, or not, it is a wonderful feeling to believe that there was a night, O Holy Night, that changed the world and gave us hope.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Home For The Holidays

There's no place like home for the holidays.

But again this year, there will be millions of Americans who can't make it home, or have no home to go to.

For many of our military men and women, it's Christmas far from home. All too many of them will be putting themselves in harm's way so that the rest of us can enjoy the holiday in relative peace and tranquility.

Then, there are the countless homeless Americans who will spend Christmas on the street, or in the woods, or wandering aimlessly about.

I don't believe that folks who have never experienced being away from a "homey" atmosphere at holiday time can ever fully appreciate the longing in those who can't be home, or have no home.

I've experienced that longing, and I'm glad I did. It makes me appreciate all the more the happy home I now enjoy.

And it gives added pleasure to finding another coin or two for the Christmas kettle.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Going Through The Christmas Season

Most of the time, going through the Christmas season makes for a wonderful time of year. For most of us, it's the favorite time of year.

But for some of us, Christmas is fraught with sad memories of Christmases past, or worries about Christmas present. It can be the loss of a loved one, an illness, financial concerns, or estrangement from family or friends.

Then--"going through" the holidays becomes "getting through" the holidays. It all depends upon life experiences and the situation at hand.

And how we view Christmastime can change in a heartbeat. A time of year that has long held beautiful memories, can suddenly become a time of pain.

There was a Christmas Eve when I witnessed such a change. It was years ago, when I was working in Washington, and was on my way home to be with family.. I had flown to Pittsburgh en route to West Virginia.

On arrival at the Pittsburgh airport, there was time to spare before meeting up with the ground transportation that would complete the trip home for the holidays. I stopped by the airport lounge, and full of the Christmas spirit, I plopped happily onto a stool, and immediately said "Merry Christmas" to the gentleman next to me.

He managed a faint smile and replied, "Thank you, but I lost my wife last year at this time. It won't be much of a Christmas".

Over the years, I've enjoyed "going through" more than my fair share of happy holiday seasons. There have been, however, times when it was emotionally difficult just "getting through" Christmas.

But this I know. There will always be happy memories of Christmases past, that I can conjure up to more than offset any future Christmas that might in some way be painful.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"The Thrill Of Hope"

Most everyone has a favorite Christmas carol. Mine is "O Holy Night".

It's been that way since childhood, and the music and the lyrics excite me as much in 2011 as they did more than 60 years ago, when first I heard it sung.

It was at a Christmastime school assembly. I was 10 or 11 at the time, and Shannon Haugh was a couple of years older. I have no recall of Shannon before that afternoon, and I never saw, or heard from, or about her, after that day.

But in just three or four minutes, she gave me an indelible memory with her breathtaking rendition of "O Holy Night". While she was singing, and for a few seconds after the last note, the silence was deafening. And then the audience erupted in applause--in appreciation for what they had heard.

I've thoroughly enjoyed other versions of this classic carol, but none as much as Shannon's. I can still see the face, and hear the voice, and feel the emotion.

There must be countless other people worldwide for whom "O Holy Night" is very special. And I wonder if some of them think, as I do, about four words in the song--"The thrill of hope".

For that is the true meaning of Christmas--hope.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Ring Those Christmas Bells!"

On my way into the super market yesterday, the sight and sound of a Salvation Army Christmas kettle took me back to another Christmas season--long ago and far away.

Way back in the fifties, in West Virginia, our HI-Y Club, a high school offshoot of the YMCA, was called upon to man a Salvation Army kettle during the holiday season.

We were given the busiest location in downtown Wheeling, and we were provided with a covered booth and a p.a. system, and what was then called a "record player".

What a time we had--ringing those bells and greeting folks and thanking donors and playing Christmas carols that could be heard for blocks up and down Market Street.

And when the day was over, how satisfying to be invited into the bank to watch as coins were sorted and the money was counted. We were given the opportunity, albeit in a very small way, to help folks we did not know.

Those bright red Salvation Army kettles, that now raise money worldwide, are the result of a modest beginning; as the very first kettle was simply a crab pot that was placed on a dock in San Francisco in 1891.

Then, as now, the money raised was used to provide holiday meals, and make Christmas a little brighter for needy families, as well as to provide other services year round.

As I left the market yesterday, and passed again that bright red kettle, I exchanged Christmas greetings with a young lady who was enthusiastically ringing a bell.

On the way home, I found myself wondering if some day, years from now, that young lady would remember her Salvation Army Christmas time with the fondness that I do.

(Editor's note: This story contains excerpts from a blog that appeared on December 16, 2010.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Term Limits -- Yes Or No?

Once again, term limits is a subject of interest--and controversy.

The advisability of term limits for Congress is an issue that has been brought up by two Republican Presidential candidates in recent debates.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is proposing a part-time Congress, which would get part-time pay. The state of Texas now operates with a part-time legislature.

Former Ambassador to China, and two-term Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is urging an immediate change to term limits for Congress.

Both candidates offer convincing arguments for their point of view, and the two-term limit for America's President has worked well. But Congress is a different animal.

The biggest complaint about the way Congress is currently elected and serves, is that entrenched, long-serving Representatives and Senators accrue too many perks and too much power.

This is all-too-often true, but possibly correctable. It is the committee chairmanships that seniority dictates be given to the longest-serving lawmakers that provides most of the power and much of the perks.

Rotating chairmanships without regard to time in office would help preclude the power and prevent the perks. Congress would then retain the wisdom, and benefit from the experience of its Congressional senior citizens.

Christmas Gifts That Keep On Giving

Santa Claus has always been good to me. Perhaps it's because he knows that I have always believed in him.

Yep, I'm one of those fortunate folks who believes in what I can not see, and I find that idea both comforting, and completely rational. I can't see God or Heaven either, but, like most people, I still believe. It's a feeling that's hard to explain.

So, yes, I do believe in Santa Claus, and I am so grateful that in recent years he has been coming early with fantastic presents. Santa didn't have these gifts in his bag, and they aren't gifts he could wrap, and they didn't come from his workshop.

Last year at this time, Santa arranged with one of his helpers to bring me the gift of better vision. Dr. Hazem Samy, Director of Neuro Opthamology at the University of Florida, brightened my Christmas through surgery that others wouldn't, or couldn't do.

This year, Santa again came early--a few weeks ago--when he dropped off two helpers to make my Christmas merrier, and to provide continuing joy long after the holidays are past.

Carol and Heidi brought with them the gift of laughter. While marvelously full of fun, Carol is also good for interesting conversation. Heidi not so much. She just tilts her head a bit and sort of smiles. Heidi is a schnauser.

How wonderful are the gifts that keep on giving.

(Editor's Note: This article is a revised version of a blog originally published December 15, 2010.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas

For most of us, Christmas week brings mixed emotions.

The holiday comes on so fast, and there never seems to be enough time in the day. Then all-too-often there isn't enough money to match our means with our Christmas wishes.

But there is such a wonderful upside to Christmas that lack of time or money doesn't have to matter. There's lights and there's music. There's family and friends. There's that special feeling we call the Christmas spirit.

Again this holiday season, stories about Christmas will appear in this space each day through December 25. It is a fervent Christmas wish of mine that you might enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.

Following is a personal favorite Christmas story from a year ago--about a little girl named Virginia.

Yes, There Really Was A Virginia!

Years after the now-defunct New York Sun newspaper published an editorial titled, "Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus"--doubts emerged about the journalistic masterpiece.

The editorial, written by Francis Church, appeared September 21, 1897, in response to a question from a little girl. Eight-year old Virginia O'Hanlon wanted to know if there really is a Santa Claus.

The doubts that emerged about the editorial had nothing to do with whether there is a Santa Claus, or not. The questions that arose were whether there really was a Virginia, and if so, did she really write the letter.

Many people found it hard to believe that an eight-year old girl could have composed something so beautiful; so well-worded.

That there really was a Virginia O'Hanlon was eventually proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, through records that confirm her birth, in 1889, and her death, in 1971.
Further research revealed that Virginia O'Hanlon graduated from Hunter College, and received a Master's degree from Columbia University, and obtained a doctorate from Fordham University. Records also indicate that she became a teacher, and then a principal, before retiring in 1959.

But even after it was proven that there really was a Virginia, doubts remained about the veracity of the letter. Did this eight-year old child really write it?

The fact that Virginia was, indeed, the author, was finally authenticated by an appraiser in 1998, and the letter has been valued at $20,000. to $30,000.

So, ye of little faith, know that there really was a Virginia, just as surely as there really is a Santa Claus.

by William Laney, December 13, 2010

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Disappointment With The Democrats

Disappointment isn't a strong enough word to describe how I'm feeling today about Congressional Democrats. The better word--one I seldom use--is disgust.

Word leaking out from Capitol Hill overnight tells us that Democrats are about to cave on their rightfully strong insistence that the payroll tax cut extension be paid for by applying a surcharge on income over a million dollars.

Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation, or political strategy that the public is unaware of.. If so, let's hear it.

Otherwise, caving in--again--to Republican refusal to have the wealthiest of Americans pay their fair share is almost unforgivable.

The vast majority of Americans want to see a tax increase on income over a million dollars. That majority includes many of the millionaires and billionaires who would be affected.

Are the Democrats actually joining Republicans in thumbing their noses at the will of the people?

If so, then the Democrats, like the Republicans, could find themselves paying a steep price come next November.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Checking Out Those Chain Emails

Chain emails are a fact of life these days, and I get my share. Most of them contain information that I am urged to pass along. The request to keep it going usually comes with the assurance that the contents of the email are nothing short of "the gospel truth".

Most of the chain emails, however, have statements that are exaggerations, at best, or downright lies, at worst. A bad experience long ago taught me the importance of checking out facts, figures, and claims before giving any thought to sharing info with others.

A chain email that hit my inbox a few days ago is a good example of a request to pass along misinformation. Incidentally, it's the third time in two years I've received a chain email about Planned Parenthood.

This chain email stresses the need to make all Americans aware of the "fact" that Planned Parenthood is responsible for most of the abortions performed each year.

The truth is that only three percent of Planned Parenthood's services involve abortions, and only ten percent of Planned Parenthood's clients are assisted with abortions. No federal taxpayer money is used for abortions.

Actually, most of Planned Parenthood's work is in the areas of cancer screenings and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies.

There are a number of ways to check out chain emails. I usually go online to FactCheck.org, which is a non-partisan, nonprofit website. I type in my question, and in most cases, I get a prompt answer--which in all cases, is the correct answer.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Still Thinking About Pearl Harbor

It all seems so different now. I remember growing up at a time when December 7 meant a lot more than it did this week.

Way back when, Pearl Harbor was on the minds and the lips of just about everyone on that solemn day of remembrance. But this year, there seemed to be little discussion of Pearl Harbor beyond the token media coverage.

It's not that America will ever forget about what happened that day. No, that day will, indeed, live in infamy. It's just that the attention given to such a day changes with time. That's the way of things.

One of the changes is the near-necessary disbanding of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. The membership has been dwindling drastically as survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack pass on.

This year, little more than 100 survivors were able to make it to Hawaii for the 70th anniversary. Nationwide there are only an estimated seven to eight thousand Pearl Harbor survivors.

Back in the 70s, I had occasion to be in Hawaii several times, and during each visit there, I visited the USS Arizona and Punchbowl Cemetery.

In thinking about those still entombed in the Arizona, and those buried in Punchbowl crater, I always wondered, and still do wonder, what they might have done with their lives had they survived the morning of December 7, 1941.

Like many Americans my age, I still think a lot about Pearl Harbor.

A Trump Question For Political Pollsters

Back in early spring, provocative sound bites and outrageous claims amazingly catapulted Donald Trump to front runner status among the Republican Presidential hopefuls. His contemplated candidacy turned out to be a farce, however, and "the Donald" saw his popularity take a plunge.

Pollsters still give us a reading from time to time on how Americans view Trump, and the latest surveys indicate that a Donald Trump endorsement of a Presidential candidate could actually be a liability.

Many of the big wigs in the GOP were openly critical of a proposed Presidential debate where Donald Trump was to be the moderator, and that uproar scared off all but two contenders from the field of seven.

Still, "the Donald" continues on undaunted--threatening now to become a third-party Presidential candidate if the GOP nominee isn't someone to his liking. That possibility has gotten him extensive exposure all over the television landscape.

I was in shock (but definitely not in awe) when I saw Trump this week on CNN for an hour with Piers Morgan, and what seemed like an hour with Wolf Blitzer.

I have a suggestion for a Trump question that pollsters might want to put before the public. "Do you think that there is too much unwarranted coverage of Donald Trump on TV?"

Then, if "the Donald" gets a thumbs down, as I believe he will, the TV networks should tell him to call for coverage only when he has done something worthy of coverage.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's Strange Company I'm Keeping

Rare, indeed, is the occasion when I agree with something Karl Rove says. But today, I find myself agreeing with the Republican strategist.

And although I have great respect for him, I don't always agree with Conservative columnist George Will. But I do today.

Then there's Ari Fleischer, one-time press secretary to George W. Bush, and now a political pundit. He's been irritating me for years--but not today.

These gentlemen are just three 0f the GOP voices to rightfully decry the acceptance by Republican Presidential candidates of an invitation to participate in a debate that will be moderated by Donald Trump.

I am somewhat relieved that these gentlemen, and other prominent Republicans, are speaking out. It reassures me that the entire Republican party has not gone bonkers.

It boggles the mind to think that Trump could have the unmitigated gall to insert himself back into Presidential politics after playing games with the American electorate last spring.

And it is equally stunning to learn that Presidential candidates would participate in a debate where the moderator was to endorse one of the hopefuls after the debate.

Add in the fact that a poll shows that 37 percent of New Hampshire Republicans and Independents would not vote for a candidate endorsed by Donald Trump.

Try to find some logic in all this, and when you can't, stop and think about an awful truth.

One of these Republican candidates could wind up being President.

Finally -- An "Occupy Congress"

The Occupy Wall Street movement has made an entire nation more aware of, and more angry over, the economic inequality that exists in America today.

In targeting corporate greed, however, the protesters have not--until now--focused on those most responsible. That would be members of Congress.

Today, in Washington, protesters from the Occupy movement and other groups will take their complaints to Capitol Hill. There will be some meetings with individual members of Congress, and there will be some relatively minor demonstrations.

What happens today is not likely to have much impact on lawmakers, but it's a start. Just the fact that there is something going on called Occupy Congress is encouraging.

Occupy Wall Stret also started out small.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Beneath the office of the Presidency"

While acknowledging that Donald Trump's role of moderator may well increase ratings for the December 27 Republican Presidential debate, Congressman Ron Paul correctly views the showboating Trump's participation as adding to the circus-like atmosphere that has enveloped the race for the GOP nomination.

I don't agree with a lot of what Ron Paul is selling these days, but I do have increased respect for him as a Presidential candidate--because he has had the courage to give up publicity in favor of principle.

Ron Paul has said no to the debate because he thinks it will be "beneath the office of the Presidency". He believes that the inherent "dignity" of the Presidency should extend to those seeking the office.

Jon Huntsman will also be a no-show December 27. He echoes the sentiment of Ron Paul--saying that giving the important role of moderator to a reality show personality detracts from the event.

Like Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman can use all the exposure he can get as we approach the January caucuses and debates. But like Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman's decision may resonate well with serious voters

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Send In The Clowns"

More and more, the title of a favorite song comes to mind when I think about the Republican Presidential race. "Send In The Clowns" seems oh, so appropriate.

Every day brings us a new outlandish remark or proposal. Today it's Michelle Bachman's turn.

While trailing badly in the polls, the Congresswoman remains confidant, and has even gone so far as to consider--and announce--her short list for a running mate.

Fellow contender, and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum is a compatible and competent choice. Senators Marco Rubio and Jim Demint are also logical picks.

But "the Donald"--Donald Trump? The fourth and final name on the short list just doesn't figure--or does it?

No way Donald Trump takes second billing on anything. And he isn't the most popular politico in America right now.

Could it be, though, that Michelle is thinking about the possibility of a badly needed campaign donation when she flatters the narcissistic Trump?

"Send In The Clowns"? Like the song says, "Don't bother, they're here".

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Baby, It's Cold Outside!"

For decades now, an old familiar seasonal song has reminded us when Jack Frost is back in town, and when it's time to put on a warm coat or jacket--when it's time to bundle up before going outdoors.

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" is a fun song with a serious message. Having proper attire is a must when going out to brave the elements.

But what if you don't own a warm jacket or coat, and what if it's not a case of going outside, but rather a case of living outside--24/7?

As difficult as it is for some people to believe, there are countless men, women, and yes, children--all across America--who have neither adequate shelter nor warm clothing.

There are friends of this column--Virginia Sellner in Wyoming, and Lori Kari in Alaska, and Gloria Edwards in Montana--who, in their work as homeless advocates, see families struggle through nearly impossible winter conditions.

I have a personal, troubling, indelible memory of a Native-American family huddled in a makeshift lean-to just off I-25 in Montana.

And being homeless in Florida is no bed of roses. Nighttime temperatures where I live have been in the 30s--prompting the local coalition for the homeless to send out an urgent appeal for jackets and coats.

That notice is the reason for this column. For wherever you live, there are likely people in need of a jacket or coat, and there is likely an organization that is collecting and passing out winter apparel.

Perhaps there is a jacket or coat that you are no longer using that someone else could wear. Any jacket or coat would be appreciated, but large and extra large sizes are especially welcome.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Stunning Revelation -- Life Expectancy Is Decreasing

When First Lady Michelle Obama joined the fight against childhood obesity by launching her "Let's Move!" initiative, she was accused by some of interfering with parental decision-making, and she was referred to in some quarters as "the food police".

But undaunted by the criticism, she went on to enlist the support of Major League Baseball, the National Football League, Wal-Mart, and numerous other businesses and organizations.

And now comes proof positive of the need for, and the importance of, the anti-obesity campaign that Michelle Obama is waging. The evidence is in a report due out Thursday from The New England Journal of Medicine.

"The Journal" advises that for the first time in 200 years, for the first time in nearly the entire history of The United States, the current generation of children will likely have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

The reason in a word is obesity, which is a cause of other health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Today's children may have shorter life spans by as much as five years. And the current average life expectancy of 77 plus years would be longer were it not for obesity.

According to Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, there is "no greater challenge" to America's health than obesity.

If there is any good news in the report, it is the wake up call that this stunning revelation might turn out to be. And obesity is one health problem that can be overcome.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Give Me A Home Where The Buffalo Roam

When I settled in north Florida a little less than two years ago, I expected that there would be differences from other places I've lived.

I knew that the climate would be different, and it is, and I love it. I thought that the people might be a little different, and they are, and I love them, too. I hoped that the cost of living would prove affordable, and it has.

What I didn't anticipate was that I would be moving into an area with such a vast array of wildlife. And the incredible part is that while I live only a short walk from stores, markets, and the necessities of everyday life, I am also just a few miles from the habitat of alligators, black bears, deer, hawks, and yes, even buffalo.

These thoughts concerning my present whereabouts were brought on by an article in the Sunday paper--about the herd of bison which thrive in the Paynes Prairie Preserve south of Gainesville.

I agree with the president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, who is quoted in the article as saying that, "the bison are one of the cool things about living in Florida".

But some of the more cantankerous bison are crashing fences, crossing highways, scaring tourists, and wandering through suburbs to an extent that has led state officials to call for a thinning of the herd.

About 35 males identified as having an attitude would be removed from the herd, but there's a problem with this plan in that no one knows whee to send the trouble makers.

On the other side of the issue are the many locals who want to keep the herd intact. A petition drive is underway to maintain the status quo.

As for me, I come down on the side of the 35 male bison in question. After all, boys will be boys.

Let them, like me--enjoy this home where the buffalo roam.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is that wonderful "time out" opportunity provided by law to step back from everyday activities and focus on our blessings.

No matter our trials and tribulations, there is always somethig to be thankful for.

Among the many things I have to be thankful for is this column. I thank God for that, and I thank you for your readership--and friendship.

Have a wonderful and memorable Thanksgiving Day, 2011.

your cuz'n Bill

Friday, November 18, 2011

Another Abuse Of A "Public's Right To Know" Law

One of the most outrageous revelations to come out of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, is the fact that Penn State was able to get an exemption from the Right To Know law that covers all levels of government--and other universities in Pennsylvania.

This little known injustice was uncovered by members of the media as they sought to check records pertaining to the allegations against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

There are no good reasons for the exemption, and those that were provided are indeed flimsy. The exemption was said to be necessary in order to protect the school's "competitiveness", and to avoid the "cost of compliance".

This inexplicable abuse of Pennsylvania's version of sunshine law raises a question as to the possibility that the request, and approval of the exemption was due to knowledge of, and concern over Jerry Sandusky transgressions.

Perhaps any future requests for exemption from Right To Know laws, in Pennsylvania, or elsewhere. will be considered with the Penn State exemption in mind.

The Importance Of A "Gotcha" Question

Politicians complain vociferously about what they call "gotcha" questions--the ones designed to catch a lawmaker or candidate flip-flopping, or contradictring somethng previously said, or saying anything else that becomes controversial, and perhaps embarrassing.

Gotcha questions are an important part of any good reporter's modus operandi, because they often provide the public with important information that otherwise might not be revealed.

Last week, a gotcha question by the Milwaukee Journal editorial board dealt a serious blow to Herman Cain's Presidential aspirations. Although that editorial board would likely claim that it didn't intend the question to be one of the gotcha variety, the way the question was posed suggests otherwise.

It is the now famous question about Libya--the one that was worded so as to put Herman Cain's knowledge, or lack of knowledge about foreign affairs, on display for all to see. It was the question that produced 104 seconds of political theatre, the likes of which is seldom seen and never forgotten.

Had the Milwaukee Journal editorial board simply asked what he thought about Libya, Herman Cain could have gotten away, as he usually does, with a vague answer, or a "Haven't decided yet".

But by specifically being asked if he agreed with President Obama, Cain needed to know at least some generalities about Libya, and he needed to know Obama's position and actions--and he clearly didn't.

Without this gotcha question, which was caught on camera, voters might never have known how ignorant on foreign affairs Herman Cain actually is.

And how important is it that Herman Cain know something about foreign affairs?

Speaking on "The View", Joy Behar offered a thought-provoking take on the subject. She said that she doesn't want a person who knows nothing about Libya, and isn't aware that China is a nuclear power, to be the man who has his hand on the (nuclear weapon) button.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thinking Beyond Zuccotti Park

Only a tiny fraction of this nation's "99 percenters" have been physically present at any Occupy Wall Street demonstrations--in New York, or elsewhere around the country. And the vast majority of "99 percenters" know very little about the Occupy encampment--in New York, or other cities.

If they did, they would rightfully continue to support the Occupy protests; but they would support, also, the action taken early today to clear out, and clean up the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan.

The protesters have been told that when the cleaning up is completed, they can once again occupy Zuccotti Park, but only until 10:00 PM--not overnight. They have been further advised that tents and tarps will no longer be permitted in the park.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is taking a lot of heat over his decision; and at the time of this writing, a legal battle has ensued over whether Zuccotti Park can be closed at night, and whether the city can prohibit the use of tents and tarps.

But whatever comes down from the courts, those who disagree with the action taken in Zuccotti Park need to think--as the Mayor has done--beyond Zuccotti Park: because what happens in Zuccotti Park can have serious consequences for people far removed from lower Manhattan.

When authorities in New York and other cities speak of closing down encampments for reasons of health and safety, it seems to many like an excuse for cracking down on the Occupy movement.

But as one who has seen such encampments from the inside, I take the words health and safety as valid reasons, not convenient excuses. Health and safety are always very real concerns in encampments such as the one in Zuccotti Park.

I have seen what can happen when one person develops a staph infection. This highly contagious form of infection rapidly spreads beyond the borders of any crowded confined space such as an encampment. And most staph infections are antibiotic resistant.

The Occupy movement has made all of America more aware of the disparity in wealth in this country. The Occupy movement enjoys the support of the 99 percent plus the support of many in the 1 percent.

Encampments have served their purpose, but it's time now for a change in tactics.

There's Something Seriously Wrong With The Debates

More than five million Americans tuned in to Saturday night's Republican Presidential debate.

Political pundits and media executives have expressed surprise at the increase in debate popularity--especially since there have been so many--10 to date.

Debates are increasingly important to the candidates, as they see that they can reach millions of voters through the free publicity that the debates provide, and lessen the need for paid advertising. Regular appearances in debates can also reduce some of the time, travel, and stress that come with retail politicking.

The debates can be an excellent way for the voters to get to know more about the candidates and what they stand for; but something that occurred before and after this latest debate has me concerned.

John Dickerson, political director for CBS News, which aired the debate, accidentally sent a copy of an email to the Michelle Bachman campaign. The email instructed CBS staff to "get someone else" for a post-debate online program, because Bachman was down in the polls and was "not going to get many questions" during the debate.

Dickerson was right, because according to the Project For Excellence In Journalism, Bachman got less time to talk during the debate than did perceived front runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich; and "good copy" candidates Herman Cain and Rick Perry.

Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman also suffered from a lack of attention from the moderators. On one occasion, after a lengthy period of being ignored, Jon Huntsman complained that he felt like he was in Siberia.

When called out about his email, and the unequal--and unfair--distribution of questions, Dickerson was unapologetic, and said he was simply being realistic and telling the truth about Bachman's dwindling chances for the nomination.

Dickerson's thinking is downright scary and dead wrong. All candidates who qualify for the debate; all candidates who are invited to participate; all candidates who are given space at a podium on the stage---all candidates, without exception, deserve equal access to the voters, which means equal time, and the same number of questions.

It's a dangerous practice to have any one person dictate whose views get the most time and attention in a nationally televised debate. One person should not have the power to decide who or what the public will hear.

It would seem that Dickerson has forgotten, if he ever knew, that John McCain, in the midst of his 2008 Presidential campaign, lost most of his staff, was nearly broke, was down in the polls, and was written off by the "experts".

John McCain, of course, went on to win the nomination.

Monday, November 14, 2011

When Separating Church And State Is Not Necessary

America has seen some bitter battles through the years over the separation of church and state. One of the most common differences of opinion has been over religious displays, such as nativity scenes, in government buildings or on government land.

Our founding fathers were correct in starting us down a path that kept church and state apart, and generally speaking, that remains a good idea. But there are exceptions to every rule-even where the church and state issue is concerned.

The Washington National Cathedral incurred serious damage from the recent 5.8 Virginia earthquake. Repairs will cost millions and take years.

When the District of Columbia Mayor asked for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State objected, because they believe that federal help would run counter to the separation of church and state.

On first thought, those who object would seem to be right. But on further thought, they are definitely wrong. Helping to restore a national treasure does not necessarily run counter to the idea of separation of church and state.

In 1792, the original plan for the nation's capitol set aside a plot of land for "a great church for national purposes". This wording tells me that our founding fathers did not envision their proposed structure as something that would hinder the separation of church and state.

Through the years, the Washington National Cathedral has been the venue for countless events that were non-denominational. And some 400,000 visitors tour the Cathedral annually.

They come to see a magnificent building that is the sixth largest cathedral in the world, and the second largest in the United States. They come to see a beautiful structure that is third on the list of America's favorite architecture; and is included in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Washington National Cathedral is a "must see" stop for almost all tourists; and I doubt if many of them even know the church's denomination--Episcopalian--or its actual name--The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. I must admit that I didn't know that until doing research for this article.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, the Washington Monument, which also sustained damages from that recent earthquake, is already undergoing repairs funded by FEMA. The Washington Monument is, of course, a national treasure--but so, also, is the Washington National Cathedral.

Friday, November 11, 2011

About Being A Homeless Veteran On Veterans Day

Last Thursday's local, late-night newscasts took a look at the plight of homeless veterans in northern Florida, on the eve of Veterans Day.

The scene shown was one of a huddled mass, as the voice-over pointed out how many veterans were among the homeless, who were facing an unseasonably cold night in Gainesville, Florida's downtown plaza.

The overnight temperature was forecast, and turned out to be, in the 30s; and those who had nowhere else to go were ill-prepared for a bone-chilling night outdoors.

There were similar scenes all across the country this Veterans Day. A report prepared jointly by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, reveals that as of October 30, there were still some 144,000 homeless veterans throughout America.

The most disturbing part of the report details the fact that unemployment has hit veterans harder than non-serving Americans. Unemployment nationally is now at nine percent, while unemployment among veterans exceeds twelve percent.

The most surprising disclosure in the report is the finding that homelessness hits hardest those veterans who left the military after 2001. These younger veterans are twice as likely as non veteran peers to be homeless. Combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are especially susceptible to drifting into poverty, and then soon after, into homelessness.

There is some good news, however, to somewhat offset the bad news this Veterans Day, 2011. The Obama administration's efforts, to end homelessness among veterans by 2014, are showing steady, albeit slow, progress. The number of veterans needing shelter or transitional housing continues to drop.

And this week, the U.S. Senate, in a rare display of bipartisanship, unanimously passed a bill to help homeless vets who are seeking jobs. The House of Reprentatives is expected to pass this legislation next week.

The bill, sure to be signed by the President, will give tax credits to employers who hire veterans out of work longer than six months. The inner workers of this legislation will cover the cost so that there is no increase in the deficit.

For many veterans--a cold, difficult Veterans Day--but one with a silver lining; one with hope.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bad Times Can Make Good Memories

It's a great feeling knowing that an old friend--whom you haven't seen for a while--still thinks of you from time to time.

Virginia Sellner made my day Tuesday, when she emailed me to say that passing the Greyound bus stop in Cheyenne made her think of me. Cheyenne was where I used to change buses on many a trip from Denver to Billings and back.

Virginia is Executive Director of the Wyoming Coalition for the Homeless, and a nationally known and respected advocate for those less fortunate. She was working on the homeless problem long before most of America knew there was a problem.

When I began to write and speak about homelessness, I met with Virginia to learn from her experience. I will always be grateful for her time and advice back then.

And now, there is something new to thank her for. Her email got me thinking about that bus stop in Cheyenne.

That bus stop is part of a very difficult period. But as time goes on, I recall more and more wonderful things that happened during that difficult period.

So, additional thanks, Virginia, for reminding me that bad times can make good memories.

What Voters Want -- Part Two

Today, Republicans and Democrats are singing the same song: "What A Difference A Day Makes".

Yesterday's column was about the difference between what Republican Congressional leaders have been claiming that voters want; and what the polls have been saying the voters want.

Today's column is about the results of yesterday's off-year elections, which made it clear what voters wanted--and got. Republican leaders must have been reading tea leaves instead of listening to the pollsters, because, as it turns out, their claims as to what America's voters wanted was wishful thinking, and dead wrong.

From coast to coast, from Maine to Arizona, Republican ideas were rejected by the electorate. In every part of the country there was evidence of buyer's remorse--voters regretting the huge victories they gave the GOP just a year ago.

In Maine, voters said "no way" to the Republican move to prevent registration on election day. The way it has been--saving voters time by letting them register and then vote same day--will continue.

In Arizona, the State Senator respnsible for controversial immigration legislation--which was labeled discrimination by many--was voted out of office. In Kentucky, the Democratic Governor, who resisted the plans of the far right, won reelection.

In Mississippi, a proposed amendment to the state constitution--which among other things would have virtually made abortion illegal--was voted down.

But the biggest GOP disappointment came in the all-important swing state of Ohio. Voters overwhelmingly said no to Republican Gov. John Kasick's move to outlaw the collective bargaining rights of teachers and first responders.

There can be no doubt now about what voters really wanted all along.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Truth About What The Voters Want

Over and over Republican Congressional leaders take to the floor of the House or Senate with proposals that usually end with an emphatic, "This is what America's voters want".

Much of the time their claims as to what the voters want are contradicted by respected national pollsters. One glaring example is Republican refusal to entertain any thought of a tax increase on income over one million dollars.

Two thirds of the general population, as well as two thirds--actually 68 percent--of America's millionaires, favor higher taxes on the super rich.

It's as though GOP leaders believe that saying something over and over makes it so--the national polls be damned. But there is increasing evidence that what the Republican leaders are selling--the voters aren't buying.

And it's not just the polls that say Republicans are--to put it mildly--stretching the truth. Pictures truly are worth more than a thousand words, worth more than published poll numbers; and the TV commercial produced by the AARP, that is currently saturating the airwaves, should be giving the GOP cause for concern.

The commercial is aimed directly at the Congressional Super Committee, which must decide, by November 23, what budget cuts to make.

Committee members are reminded that fifty million senior citizens are watching, and that those fifty million seniors will not tolerate a cut in their benefits without a tax increase on the wealthy. The commercial ends with a further reminder that Congress will be hearing from seniors come election day.

The resolve shown in the commercial, and the warning given lawmakers, take on even more meaning, and become even more ominous today, with the release on Monday of fresh information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Revised figures show that 49.1 million Americans are now classified as poor, and older Americans have sustained the largest increase in the number who are living in poverty. These updated totals take into account medical expenses--heretofore not considered.

The report comes just as older Americans, who often have to choose between food and medicine, are being threatened by Republican efforts to make drastic changes and cuts to lifeline programs. That is definitely not what the voters want.


Friday, November 4, 2011

A Ray Of Hope For Civility In Politics

From the podiums in the halls of Congress, to the stages at Presidential debates, there is presently in America a disheartening lack of political civility.

There is little patience or respect for opposing points of view. Shouting and name calling are regular occurrences. And there seems to be hatred in all too many faces and voices.

But ever so often comes a ray of hope for something better. Ever so often something happens in government, or in politics, that tells us it doesn't have to be this way. Ever so often good men rise above the fray to show us by example how it should be.

A fresh ray of hope is the work of two members of Congress--one a Democrat and the other a Republican--who are reaching across the aisle to show by example how a spirit of cooperation, and a willingness to compromise can make government work.

U.S. Representatives Timothy Johnson of Illinois and Chris Murphy of Connecticutt are appearing together in each other's district, so as to make it easier for their constituents to get the truth about both sides--as well as their stance--on important issues.

I saw another ray of hope last Friday evening, during a debate on C-SPAN about the U.S. economy and the federal deficit. The venue was Regent University in Virginia Beach, where Republicans Alan Simpson and Karl Rove faced off against Democrats Lawrence Summers and Robert Gibbs.

All four participants have impressive resumes, and their vast experience showed as they clearly and resolutely stated their positions, and skillfully and forcefully argued their opinions.

The oratory was impressive, but what made the evening so remarkable for me was the atmosphere in which the debate was conducted. Through opening remarks, and a roundtable discussion, and a question and answer period, the participants remained respectful and cordial to one another.

These four gentlemen disagreed throughout the evening on ideology and policy; but there was one thing that they did wholeheartedly agree upon. That is the never ending need for cordiality and compromise.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Big Loser Could Make It To The White House

Four years from right now, we could be seeing another group of diverse candidates battling for the Republican nomination for President. If Barack Obama wins a second term in 2012, the GOP will then have to do it all over again in 2016--search for someone who can win back The White House.

Two likely early entries into such a race are Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. Bush is already dropping hints, and he enjoys strong support in his home state of Florida, as well as with some of the Republican party's most influential leaders.

Governor Chris Christie also enjoys favorite son support in New Jersey, and the Republican leaders across the country who urged him to run this time around, will be hopping aboard his bandwagon next time around.

If Chris Christie does run, he will be an early favorite--a certain front runner in the race for the nomination. It is possible then, that a big loser could become President.

Win or lose the nomination; win or lose the Presidency, Chris Christie will finish the 2016 Presidential campaign a better man--one who has done a service to himself and his country. He will have gone from being a poster child for obesity to being a role model for that one third of Americans who are obese.

He will have gone from extreme obesity to a body mass and weight that is healthier and more comfortable. And he will have accomplished something else that is very important in politics--he will have become a much more physically attractive candidate.

At present Chris Christie is not only a future candidate for the Presidency--he is also a candidate for diabetes and heart disease. He already suffers from asthma, which is reportedly caused by excessive weight.

At present, his health would be an issue in a run for The White House. At present, he refuses to divulge his weight, but he would have to do so if he were a serious Presidential candidate.

Christie has joked that he weighs in at 550 pounds. Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post estimates that at 5'11", and 49 years of age, Christie is probably about 290--which would classify him as "extremely obese".

The only previous President larger than Christie was William Howard Taft, who in 1908 took office at 340 pounds. In those days before TV, image was not as important as it is today.

Christie is open and honest as to what has caused him to be so overweight. He says the reason for his girth is simple--he just likes to eat, and has been overeating for years.

Look for Gov. Chris Christie to lose weight, a lot of weight, over the next four years. He is an intelligent man, who is also gifted with common sense, with street smarts.

He knows that substantial weight loss is necessary for any run at The White House. Opponents would jump on obesity as an election issue.

Rivals would point out that health risks associated with obesity, coupled with the ever-present stress and rigors of the Presidency, would lessen the chances that Christie could complete a full term.

Critics would remind voters that Christie's weight problem signals Americans that obesity is okay. And increases in obesity are expensive. It costs Medicare nearly $1,800. more for an obese beneficiary than it does for a non-obese beneficiary.

Christie knows that his weight loss would be an inspiration to millions of Americans. Instead of being the poster child for obesity, he would become the poster child for weight loss and healthy living.

Look for a slimmer, trimmer Christie four years from now. A big loser could make it all the way to The White House.


Monday, October 31, 2011

The Truth About Raising Taxes On The Super Rich

Much of the gridlock in Congress is due to Republican opposition to any proposal that would increase revenue by way of a tax increase--any tax increase.

That stance includes opposition to a Democratic proposal to place a .05 percent tax increase on income over $1 million dollars.

The oft-stated reason for the Republican position is the GOP belief that any tax increase--especially one that would target millionaires and billionaires--would discourage investment, and would adversely affect hiring by job creators.

Now come fresh facts and figures that shoot GOP logic all to hell. There is new evidence that eliminating tax breaks and closing tax loopholes currently enjoyed by the super rich--and even raising the tax rate on the very wealthy--would neither discourage investment, nor influence hiring.

The evidence is provided by a survey conducted by The Spectrem Group, a national consulting firm, which specializes in providing information for, and about the affluent.

The results of the survey show agreement with other national polls, which have indicated that the majority of American millionaires and billionaires--due to America's need--favor an increase in taxes on the wealthiest of our citizens.

The Spectrem Group reports that a whopping 68 percent of the super rich they surveyed are willing to pay more. That 68 percent is made up entirely of Americans who currently have investments of $1 million or more.

The survey also shows that mega-billionaire Warren Buffett--who has spoken out in favor of the very wealthy paying higher taxes--has more supporters than detractors among the super rich.

The most important revelation in the Spectrem survey is that the 68 percent who favor having their taxes raised are agreeable because they are facing reality--the plain, unadulterated truth that it must be done.

The 68 percent are not agreeable to paying more just because they are patriotic or magnanimous--although they well may be both. They say that their paying more will stimulate the economy; and be beneficial to them personally, as well as the nation.

With the majority of Americans favoring a tax increase on the wealthy, and with our wealthiest citizens favoring higher taxes on themselves, surely those obstinate Republican leaders in Congress will finally agree to the compromise that is so badly needed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where There's Smoke There's Fire

At this writing, Herman Cain remains high in the polls, and he is arguably the most personally popular candidate in the field of Republican Presidential contenders.

His front runner status has survived a number of gaffes and contradictory statements, but small misspeaks and missteps are adding up, and they portend tougher times ahead.

The latest incident to raise eyebrows borders on the bizarre. A campaign commercial shows a top member of Cain's staff speaking on behalf of the Cain candidacy--while smoking a cigarette.

The big tobacco companies must be howling with laughter and jumping for joy. They can not, by law, advertise their products on TV, but here they have a free cigarette commercial, courtesy of Presidential candidate Cain--who must admit that "I approved this message".

That smoking cigarette could be the proverbial smoking gun--that could ignite a firestorm that sends Cain's Presidential hopes down in flames.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Presidential Insurance

Good insurance is something that most Americans give a lot of thought to, and want to provide for their families.

Good insurance is something that most Presidents give a lot of thought to, and want to provide for the nation.

One of a President's most important decisions is about insurance. It comes well before he takes office--in fact it is a decision that is made before his election. It is a choice that is made as soon as the nomination is won.

It is the choice of the person who will run for Vice-President; who will be next in line; who will take over should the President be unable to complete a full term.

Most Presidents have provided good insurance. They have assured that the one who is a heartbest away from the Presidency is competent, experienced, and fit for office.

Presidents Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Carter and Ford all chose well; for Vice-Presidents Biden, Gore, George H.W. Bush, Mondale, and Rockefeller were competent, expereienced, and fit for office.

When choosing their running mates--who are potential Vice-Presidents--some Presidential nominees seem to have taken the matter more seriously than others. Some appear to have wanted to provide the best possible insurance, while others seem not to have cared.

In the last election, John McCain delighted a lot of voters, but disappointed at least as many, when he chose Sarah Palin as his possible successor.

The idea of an older nominee, with a poor health history, selecting someone who lacked competence and experience, and was far from being fit to take over the Presidency, defies logic.

There have been a number of other questionable choices throughout the years, but one that stands out is Spiro Agnew. Chosen by Richard Nixon in 1968, "Spiro who?" had his term in office cut short by a prison sentence.

It's only a matter of months now, before another Presidential nominee will be selecting a running mate. Here's hoping that the nominee provides some good insurance.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Libya Needs To Show Its Gratitude--In Dollars

The United States is in the process of releasing to the new leaders in Libya the frozen assets of the late Moammar Ghadafi. The total is said to be somewhere around $37 billion.

There seems to be nearly unanimous agreement in this country that Libya should, and probably will, repay America the billion plus that it cost us to go to the aid of the Libyans in their hour of need.

Libya's oil industry, which survived the fighting almost intact, and its vast oil reserves, assure that Libya, if it can stay politically stable, will be a very wealthy nation. Repayment to all who helped the Libyans oust Ghadafi should be no problem.

I've been wondering, though, if it might be fitting and proper--and wise--to ask the Libyans to go a bit further. How about showing gratitude by helping others? How about contributing to the cause in Afghanistan?

The member nations of NATO, most notably the United States, are spending money in Afghanistan that they don't have. They are spending borrowed money in Afghanistan that is desperately needed at home.

Libyans are free today because they have friends, like the U.S., France, and Great Britain, who have powerful military forces. Those friends would be willing to be there again should Libya be threatened in future.

It's in Libya's best interest to help assure that their friends can afford to retain the military strength that is required to be able to go to the the aid of others.

If Libya doesn't think of it first, perhaps the United States should suggest sending a reasonable percentage of that $37 billion to NATO.

Libya needs to show its gratitude in more than words. Deeds, in the form of dollars, would be nice.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Watching How Our Representatives Vote

Last Thursday evening, a bill called The Putting Teachers And First Responders Back To Work Act, failed to pass in the United States Senate. Fifty Senators voted to kill the bill.

I do not understand the logic of their vote, and I am not alone. The majority of American voters favor the provisions of the bill.

It would have put back to work 300,000 teachers and education workers, and 100,000 first responders. It would have been paid for by a .05 percent tax on personal income over a million dollars.

The reason most often given for a no vote was the position that there should be absolutely no tax increase of any kind--period. This, in spite of the fact that Americans overwhelmingly support a tax increase on the super rich.

Thursday afternoon, before the vote, Joe Biden made an impassioned appeal to the Senate for support of the bill. It was one of the Vice-President's finest hours.

He emphasized the importance of this particular vote, and he gave his reasons for a yes vote in plain, understandable, everyday language. He pointed out that the bill provided monies across the country to put back to work desperately needed teachers, firemen, and police officers.

The nation's lagging education systems, and its children, would benefit, and our nation's communities would be safer. Some 400,000 Americans would go from being unemployed to having jobs--and paying taxes.

As for the tax increase on the very wealthy, Vice-President Biden emphasized that folks earning one million dollars or less would pay nothing more in taxes.

Those who earn more than a million dollars would see no increase whatsoever on the first million. The .05 percent increase would be on income over a million.

The Vice-President further explained by way of example. Someone earning a total of three million dollars would pay an additional $500. in federal income tax--
certainly manageable for someone taking in three million, and surely not a burden that would discourage investing, or affect hiring.

Joe closed by reminding his audience that many of America's millionaires and billionaires have expressed a patriotic willingness to pay their fair share.

I have been wondering how many voters might have caught the Vice-President's words on TV, or are otherwise aware of the details of the failed bill.

More important, I am wondering how many constituents, of the 50 Senators voting no, are aware of how their Senators voted, or what and who their Senators voted for.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Has Other Fish To Fry

The Occupy Wall Street movement needs to move beyond targeting greedy executives in the financial world.

The protesters have realized their goal of putting the spotlight on Wall Street and the big banks, and they deserve a lot of credit for directing America's attention to inequities; to unfair practices.

But there are other fish to fry; there is another target, which, at this point in time, is even more important--the United States House of Representatives.

I touched on this in yesterday's blog, but it is important enough to be worth repeating. It is something that can neither be overstated nor stressed too much.

There is not much beyond creating awareness and understanding that can be accomplished by continuing to focus on Wall Street and the big banks.

The pursuit of prosecution would be an exercise in futility, for though most of the wrongs were, indeed, immoral and/or unethical, they were not illegal when committed.

And financial reform--federal legislation in the form of the Dodd-Frank Act--has since been put in place to prevent the recurrence of the sins of the past.

But the Republican leadership in the House wants to repeal Dodd-Frank. They want to go back to the way it was--when there was litle, and mostly self, regulation. It is those Republican Representatives who should now be the target of public outrage.

Occupy Wall Street should be heading south, to Washington--where there are other fish to fry.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Don't Blame The Billionaires

"All men and women need a roof over their heads, and need to be fed, and have proper health care."

Those words sound like something you would expect to hear from a demonstrator during the current Occupy Wall Street protests. They are words that speak of what is happening because of the increasing disparity of wealth in America--because of the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

But, surprising as it is, those words were uttered by the father of Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. Tt strikes me as surprising because the Republican Presidential debates have sadly put on display a lack of GOP concern for the plight of those less fortunate.

The older Huntsman is a billionaire industrialist, who--according to The New York Times--"has no patience for the Scrooges of the world". He sympathizes with the Wall Street protesters.

Jon Huntsman, Sr. isn't one of those who simply talks the talk--he is one who also walks the walk. According to Forbes Magazine, he is one of 19 of the world's estimated 1,200 billionaires who has given one billion dollars or more to charity.

As "Occupy" protests spread across the United States and beyond its borders, such stories as the one in The New York Times about Jon Huntsman, Sr. serve to clarify who should be targeted.

There remains an abundance of greedy people in high places on Wall Street, and there are still a lot of obscene salaries and bonuses being doled out to the executives of the big banks. And they deserve to be targeted.

But lumping together all billionaires as a greedy group to be despised is wrong. There are just too many compassionate, generous billionaires like Huntsman to target them as a group.

Dozens of billionaires have joined something called "The Billionaires Club"--the creation of mega-billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Those who sign on pledge to give, or leave, at least half of their fortunes to charity.

Perhaps even more meaningful is the publicly-stated belief by many billionaires that they should be paying more--a fairer share--in taxes; and that Congress should find ways to halt the widening gap between the haves and have nots.

Hopefully, the Occupy Wall Street protesters will hear and heed what many billionaires are saying, and will turn those thoughts into demands that Congress make the super rich pay their fair share.

And hopefully, the protesters will begin to target those members of Congress who want to repeal Dodd-Frank, the recently-passed legislation designed to regulate Wall Street and the big banks.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Hope For Congressional Civility

Last Sunday in Champagne, Illinois, Rep. Timothy Johnson held a town hall meeting, where he surprised his constituents with a special guest. Johnson, a Republican, shared the podium with Rep. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, from Connecticut.

The two Congressmen are appearing at town hall meetings in each other's district as a way of providing voters with unvarnished information, and as a way to show how Congressional civility can benefit lawmakers and voters alike.

They remember well those chaotic town hall meetings during the summer of 2009, when debate over health care turned the meetings into shouting matches.

Since then, voters across America have been calling for civility--pleading for members of Congress to get along and get something done. Polls show that the electorate wants compromise.

Johnson and Murphy disagree, as might be expected, on a number of issues; but they believe that constructive conversation accomplishes much more than angry arguments and petty partisanship.

They are also working to breathe new life into a little known Congressional organization called the Center Aisle Caucus, which was formed seven years ago to foster cooperation through camaraderie.

The group's 40-some members were instrumental in the display of bipartisanship at the State of the Union joint meeting of Congress earlier this year.

The Center Aisle Caucus broke the tradition of Democrats sitting with Democrats and Republicans sitting with Republicans, by crossing over the aisle to mix it up.

Here's hoping that the ideas, attitudes, and efforts of Congressmen Johnson and Murphy become contagious.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

World Population And The Pope

In about two weeks--October 31--the number of people who occupy our planet will reach seven billion. It is expected that by 2025, the total will be eight billion.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, more than one billion of those people will remain undernourished for the foreseeable future.

Sadly, the areas of the world with the highest birthrates are also the areas of the world with the deepest poverty. And there are dire predictions of increasing shortages of food, and water, and jobs in those areas.

It seems logical that the need is urgent in these areas for family planning; for birth control. Yet the Catholic Church in general, and Pope Benedict XVI in particular, continue to prohibit birth control.

Last November, the Pope did finally acknowledge that there could be special exceptions made to the long-held papal ban on contraceptives. But this was an unenthusiastic response to critics who sought help in combating the spread of AIDS.

Even then, the Pope said that the use of condoms was not "a real or moral solution" to the spread of AIDS, and the Vatican has emphasized that the general ban on birth control remains in effect.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the area of the world with the greatest problem--very high birthrates, and very deep poverty. Sub-Saharan Africa is also where 15 percent of the world's billion plus Catholics live.

While I am not a practicing member of the Catholic Church, there are many things that I love about the Catholic Church. The policy on birth control is not one of them.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Working While Growing Up

A conversation that I had yesterday was the first time in years that I have thought back to my working while growing up.

A neighbor of mine was bemoaning the fact that her grandchildren were spending--in her opinion--much too much time on the computer.

She blamed this juvenile addiction on modern technology, but also on today's economic conditions, which have virtualy wiped out after school and weekend part-time job opportunities for teenagers.

I am thankful for that little talk with my neighbor, for it got me to thinking about my own early years, and how lucky I was to have had some part-time work while growing up. I made a little money--and a lot of memories.

My very first earnig opportunity came while I was still in "junior high". Today, we call it middle school. I hoed corn for 25 cents an hour; two dollars a day--and I loved it. I worked in fresh air and sunshine while picking up some spending money. Because of my age, it was cash--off the books.

How long ago was that? Well, the man I worked for, the man who owned the farm, was Hal Brues--the man who introduced electricity to my home town, and who was the owner of The Wheeling (West Virginia) Electric Company.

My next teenage earning opportunity turned out to be the first--and last time I was fired. I went to work for a restaurant called Isaly's in downtown Wheeling, West Virginia. The specialty of the house was a uniquely-shaped ice cream cone.

The first day on the job I tried unsuccessfully to master the technique of shaping the ice cream, and I was already trying the patience of the manager when I accidentally dropped a cleaning cloth into a tub of ice cream.

Invited to leave, I exited Isaly's embarrassed but undaunted. And by next day, as they say, one door had closed but another had opened.

Early, on that school day, an announcement was made that there was an opportunity for a student to pick up some after school work helping a resident in the area. I rushed to the office where Dean Cochran gave me the job.

For a few weeks I worked for a dear sweet lady whose name the years have taken from memory. She was kind and patient--showing me household secrets such as the art of cleaning windows--things that came in handy later in life.

Then came what was almost a full-time job--the usher at the Mayfair Theatre, which was halfway between home and high school. I didn't make much by today's standards, but what I did take home was a big help at the time.

My job kept me from attending football and basketball games, which was somewhat painful at the time; but through the years I have come to appreciate more and more that job opportunity and the learning experience it provided.

As I think now about working while growing up, I feel so sorry for my neighbor's grandkids, who give so much of their time to video games.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mitt Romney's Achilles' Heel

The phrase "Achilles' heel", which has a mythological origin, is often used today in describing something, or someone with overall strength--but with a small, yet actually crucial, weakness.

While other Republican Presidential candidates have bounced up and down in the polls, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has shown consistent, if not spectacular, strength--remaining all the while a front runner for the GOP nomination.

But now comes the revelation that Romney has an Achilles' heel--a condition which is not new, but one that only now is beginning to threaten his political life.

Governor Romney's Achilles' heel is a former advisor named Jonathan Gruber, who spells double trouble. He presents an immediate problem for Romney in the race for the Republican nomination; and he could make life miserable if Romney winds up winning the right to face President Obama in the general election.

Many Republican voters, especially ultra Conservatives, oppose Romney because they see him as a flip-flopper, and as too much the moderate.

They are wary of his self-espoused conservatism, because, among other flip-flops, he did a 180 on abortion. Where once he was pro-choice, he now professes to be pro-life. They wonder if it was a matter of conviction--or political expediency.

It is his history with health care, however, that is most objectionable to the far right. The Massachusetts Health Reform Law, which Romney pushed into passage while Governor, is, for conservatives, a real turn off.

It is much the same as The Affordable Care Act, which a Democratic Congress passed, and which President Obama signed into law in 2009. Republican Congressional leaders and most Republican Presidential candidates have vowed to repeal The Affordable Care Act.

Until now, Governor Romney has been able to defuse the health care issue by claiming that the federal law is not the same as the Massachusetts law, and not nearly as effective.

Someone in the know, however--Jonathan Gruber--claims the opposite--that the federal law is a duplicate of the Massachusetts law--with one exception. And that exception is something that makes the federal version more effective.

Jonathan Gruber knows of what he speaks, because, as it turns out, he is the architect of both the Massachusetts Health Reform Law, and The Affordable Care Act.

Jonathan Gruber is an M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) professor and economist, who did the heavy lifting in putting together the Massachusetts plan. He is acknowledged as the Romney advisor most responsible for the health care law enacted in 2006.

What is breaking news, however, is the knowledge that Gruber was a handsomely-paid advisor to the Department of Health and Human Services--who became the architect of the Affordable Care Act.

NBC News broke the ground for this story as a result of combing the White House visitor logs, and finding that Gruber met with White House officials on at least five occasions, and one of those meetings was presided over by President Obama in the Oval Office.

In an appearance on the Lawrence O'Donnell show Wednesday evening, Gruber confirmed those White House meetings, and his work on The Affordable Care Act. He further acknowledged that The Affordable Care Act was, indeed, patterned after the Massachusetts law.

Gruber paid a compliment to Governor Romney that is the last thing Mitt Romney wanted to hear--and something that is certain to incur the wrath of the far right. Gruber called Romney "the father of health care reform", and added that Romney is"the person most responsible for the health care reform in the United States".

Mitt Romney--the man most responsible for the controversial Affordable Care Act?

Wow! Romney's opponents wil have a field day with that one at next Tuesday's GOP Presidential debate. Jonathan Gruber has just assured that it will be a miserable evening for Governor Romney.

And if Governor Romney should go on to win his party's nomination, something else which Jonathan Gruber said will take away any hope Mitt Romney had to use health care as an issue against President Obama.

Quoting Jonathan Gruber: "The truth is that The Affordable Health Care Act is essentially based on what we accomplished in Massachusetts. It is the same basic structure applied nationally".

The one difference in plans is an improvement, The federal law has cost containment provisions. And contrary to Republican complaints about cost, The Affordable Care Act will actually reduce the deficit--so says the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"The Devil Is In The Details"

Congresswoman Michelle Bachman has made some outrageous remarks since entering the Presidential sweepstakes--so many that she has provided, for some, more comedy relief than substance.

But last night, at the Bloomberg News/Washington Post Republican Presidential debate, in New Hampshire, the Tea Party darling uttered words of wisdom that hit the nail right on the head.

Referring to another candidate, businessman Herman Cain, she said of his economic plan that "the devil is in the details"--and she is right on.

Cain is touting a "9-9-9" tax proposal which would eliminate all current federal taxes; and replace them with a nine percent individual income tax rate, and a nine percent corporate income tax rate, and a nine percent national sales tax.

Most respected economists are questioning Cain's numbers--saying that they don't think his plan would produce as much revenue as the government takes in at present.

But where the devil is hiding is in the little known fact that Cain's plan would include sales tax on currently sacred, tax free items, such as food and medicine.

Such a move would put an additional burden on the already struggling middle class, and it would be a cruel blow to those who are hovering just above and below the poverty line.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Transparency -- Or The Lack Thereof

The Congressional Joint Select Committee On Deficit Reduction has begun its work midst debate over whether its meetings should be open to the public.

The reasonable argument that the people's business should be conducted in the open has been countered by committee member claims that more can be accomplished in a private setting.

CNN's Kate Baldwin questioned the latter point of view during a recent interview with Super Committee Co-chair, Senator Patty Murray. The Senator offered a vague promise that after initial meetings, the proceedings would become more transparent. She failed to provide a rational explanation as to the need for privacy at the outset.

I happened to catch that interview, and it was troubling, because it reminded me of another situation with a similar lack of transparency.

In the early months of the previous administration, Vice-President Cheney set out to establish an energy policy by conducting a series of meetings with undisclosed participants. The secrecy surrounding those meetings was controversial, to say the least.

Yesterday's USA Today front page article about the Super Committee gives cause for concern, and it strengthens the case for complete begining to end transparency.

The investigative report offers a possible reason for Committee members not wanting the press or the public to observe all that is happening. It provides a possible answer to the question of what is there to hide.

According to the USA Today, 66 former aides to Super Committee members are now lobbyists representing the defense and health care industries--both of which are potentially facing huge losses from cuts in government spending. In other words, special interests may well be privy to, or part of private proceedings.

With the Committee needing to trim a staggering $1.2 trillion from the deficit, those 66 former aides will be begging on behalf of the people they lobby for: "Not me!"

There is nothing about the Super Committee's work that involves national security. There is no information, no material, that can be considered classified.

There is no good reason why committee members should want privacy. Or is there?

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Occupy Wall Street" Should Be Occupy Congress

The protesters who are demonstrating in lower Manhattan and other cities around the country are focused on the wrong target.

Their anger, which is being directed at Wall Street and big banks, is understandable and justified. The money men are indeed a greedy lot, and there is a growing divide in America between the rich and the not so rich.

But at this point in time, the target should be those Republican members of Congress who are vowing to repeal "Dodd-Frank", the recently enacted legislation designed to regulate Wall Street and the big banks, and prevent in future the egregious behavior of the past.

Efforts to initiate prosecution of those whose actions brought about our economic mess are a waste of time. Most of the "sins" committed--while immoral, and perhaps unethical--were not at the time illegal.

The energy of protesters who now "Occupy Wall Street" should be given to preventing Republicans--Congressional leaders as well as Presidential candidates--from ever repealing Dodd-Frank.

It's time for the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters to head south, and reassemble outside the Congressional office buildings in Washington.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Harry's Words Of Warning Are Worth Remembering

It was a warm autumn day in Wheeling, West Virginia, and the President of the United States had come to town.

"Give 'em hell" Harry Truman arrived by train to speak on behalf of the man he hoped would succeed him--Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic nominee in the Presidential election of 1952. Whistle stop railroad tours were a popular way of campaigning back then.

President Truman emerged from inside the train and stood, smiling, on the platform of the rear car--waving to an enthusiastic crowd. It was a weekday, a school day; but I was there, along with a lot of other students. We had been given the afternoon off so that we could see the President.

I don't remember much of what Harry Truman said that afternoon, but I do remember his words of warning: "If the Republicans get in, you better watch out, neighbor".

Well, the Republicans did get in, but contrary to Harry Truman's dire prediction, President Dwight Eisenhower presided over two relatively successful terms--eight years that are often referred to as "happy days", or "the fabulous fifties".

But still, nearly 60 years later, President Truman's words of warning are worth remembering, especially now as we move closer to the Presidential election of 2012.

In 1952, moderate politicians were still a respected breed--respected by other politicians who were more liberal or more conservative, and respected by the vast majority of the American electorate. But not now.

And in 1952, the willingness to compromise was still considered an admirable trait. But not now.

There are currently candidates seeking the highest office in the land who bring Harry Truman's words to mind, because if they get in, you better watch out, neighbor.

Like a broken record, I say again, know what you are voting for as well as who you are voting for.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Anwar al-Awlaki -- Justifiable Homicide

There are those, including the American Civil Liberties Union, who argue that it was wrong for our government to target, and kill Anwar al-Awlaki.

The basis for their position is the fact that al Awlaki was an American citizen who, until ten years ago, resided in the United States.

That fact, however, is not nearly as important as the reality that al Awlaki was a sworn enemy of the United States, who was actually a man without a country.

He could never return to the United States, nor could he live openly in Yemen, where he was in hiding at the time of his death.

Anwar al-Awlaki was a senior member of al-Qaeda, who was involved in the 9/11 attacks--a spiritual advisor to three of the hijackers.

He was involved in the slaughter at Fort Hood--giving encouragement to the lone wolf shooter. He was involved in the Christmas Day plot that almost brought down a commercial airliner bound for Detroit.

His life work was to promote jihad against the United States. He hated America, and he was as much an enemy combatant as any enemy soldier in uniform.

The drone that killed Anwar al Awlaki may have saved unknown numbers of American lives from future attacks. And that is what makes his death justifiable homicide.

Friday, September 30, 2011

About Those Changes To Social Security

The debate rages on over social security, and only Heaven knows what the outcome will be. Most everyone acknowledges that some changes will have to be made in order to keep the social security system afloat for future generations.

One possibility that deserves a long look is reducing the payout to those who need it the least. Another change that seems reasonable is raising the age of eligibility by a year, or two, or three.

What is not an option; what must not even be open for discussion, is the privatization of social security, in any manner, shape, or form.

First of all, the populace does not want privatization. That became clear when George Bush tried to sell it, and found that Americans weren't buying it.

But the strongest argument for keeping the basic system of social security much the same in future as it is now, is the need for a guaranteed safety net.

With the social security system that now exists, recipients know that once a month
they will have a check or a direct deposit. They know the amount in advance, and they know that they will have their money, no matter what.

Their social security income is subject neither to the whims of Wall Street, nor the winds of change or chance.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Government Intrusion

The Republican Presidential candidates are learning which catch phrases work best--the ones that result in shouts of approval and enthusiastic applause. And when they find something that works, they repeat it over and over.

A favorite of all of the GOP contenders is the promise to get government out of our lives; to keep government away from the private sector. To argue against this popular refrain would be political suicide.

We need the media to be the voice of reason that reminds the populace that government intrusion is sometimes necessary--and sometimes a good thing.

Without government "intrusion", there would be little to nothing left of America's auto industry. The bail out of "Detroit" saved it.

Three years after the federal government stepped in, America's "big three" auto makers are back on their feet, showing profits and growth, and providing millions of jobs that would have been lost, but for government "intrusion".

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Execution Is A Chilling Word

I am one of those who is troubled by capital punishment.

There are rare occasions when I believe that the death penalty is appropriate--an especially heinous crime where evidence of guilt is indisputable. Such a crime is the Petit home invasion in Connecticut.

One man has already been convicted and sentenced to death, and his partner is now on trial for his life. The two men are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt--the only question remaining is whether one of the pair is more responsible than the other for what happened to an innocent, unsuspecting family of four.

The only survivor, the father, was beaten senseless with a baseball bat. His wife was raped and murdered. His 11-year old daughter was sexually assaulted, before she, and her 17-year old sister suffered horrible deaths when the house was set on fire.

The Petit murders are the rare case where guilt is admitted, and the perpetrators are sane, and the crimes are sickening. To most people, the death penalty is the only appropriate punishment.

Most capital cases, however, are not so clear cut, and I am then troubled by the imposition of the death penalty. For me, execution is a chilling word.

I am having difficulty with what happened last night in Georgia, when Troy Davis was put to death by lethal injection. There are a number of reasons why.

First of all, there is a question of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The most damning evidence against Troy Davis at trial was the testimony of nine people. Since the conviction 20 years ago, seven of the nine have recanted their testimony.

Then I think about the fairness of our judicial system. I question if all defendants receive equal treatment. I wonder if Troy Davis might have been acquitted if he were a man of wealth--able to hire a "dream team" of attorneys, as O.J. Simpson was able to do.

We are told that lethal injection is the most humane form of execution; but how humane is it to have someone strapped to a gurney at 7:00 PM, expecting imminent death, only to wait four hours thinking about it before a needle finally ends it all.

And then there is this. Troy Davis's final words were a softly-spoken declaration of his innocence.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Future Of America's Social Security System --- Florida May Be "The Decider"

George W. Bush has a way with words. He even invented a few while he was President. My favorite is "the decider".

When Bush was finally declared the winner in the Presidential election of 2000, Florida was the decider--the state that put him in the oval office. In the Presidential sweepstakes of 2012, Florida might once again be a decider.

Republicans are working to position Florida as an early primary state--just ahead of super Tuesday--which could well give whoever wins the Florida primary a large lead, and a lot of momentum, and undisputed status as front runner and favorite for the GOP nomination.

In the general election, the Sunshine State, which went for President Obama and the Democrats by a narrow margin in 2008, will again be a key swing state--a decider.

And Florida may also prove to be the decider on an issue that will affect Americans long after the next election. The future of social security might be determined by events in Florida from now through 2012.

Democrats continue to be adamant about protecting social security as is. Republican views on social security range from making various changes, to privatizing the program, to abolishing social security altogether.

Even with all the different GOP points of view on social security, the issue was not expected to be a major topic of conversation during the Republican debates. But it is.

That's because one of the candidates, Texas Governor Rick Perry, has called social security a Ponzi scheme--a fraud; and he has openly advised our younger generations not to expect America's 75-year old safety net to be there for them if he becomes President.

Suddenly, social security is on the minds and lips of politicians and voters alike; and only "jobs, jobs, jobs" looms as a more important domestic issue.

Should President Obama win reelection, social security will likely remain unchanged for the next five years, and quite possibly well beyond.

But if the Republican nominee wins The White House, there will be change--that might even mean the end of social security as we now know it.

The furore raised by Rick Perry's remarks is actually a good thing; in that, unlike off years, a Presidential election year has voters more tuned in to where the parties, and the candidates stand on important issues.

Social security will be an especially hot topic in Florida with its millions of senior citizens. And how they react, and what side they come down on will reverberate across the country.

It is important to note, also, that some politicians could be misreading America's younger people in thinking that they don't care what happens to social security.

Just because they are many years removed from eligibility doesn't necessarily mean that they don't want the same safety net that has been there for older folks for 75 years.

Tomorrow through Saturday, the GOP candidates for President will gather in Orlando for a Republican rally. For three days they will deliver speeches; they will debate the issues; and they will press a lot of Florida flesh. The accent will be on social security.

Then for more than a year, the GOP candidates will revisit Florida--again and again--giving the state as much attention as Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Come next summer, the national political spotlight will be on Tampa, for the Republican National Convention.

No state in the nation will play a larger role than Florida in deciding on a Republican nominee. No other state will be more important as America chooses its President for the following four years. And no other state will have more influence on the future of social security.

In all cases, Florda may well be the decider.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Redistribution Of Wealth

There are some members of Congress who consider the words "redistribution of wealth" to be dirty words; fighting words; words to be feared.

They are the legislators who represent, and fight for big business and the wealthiest among us. They believe that the words redistribution of wealth hint of socialism or communism.

To them redistribution of wealth means taking away from the rich, and giving to the poor; to taking from the haves to give to the have nots. They argue that attempts to have our wealthiest citizens pay their fair share are aimed at bringing about an un-American redistribution of wealth.

The fact is--we have actually been going through a redistribution of wealth for more than a decade; but the wealth hasn't been transferred from the rich to the poor. It has been the other way around.

The last ten years have been a lost decade for middle class America, as earning power and opportunity have continued on a downward spiral. And the poorest among us have fared even worse, with 2.8 million more Americans slipping into poverty in the past year.

The facts are indisputable. Most Americans are losing ground, while the share of wealth by the super rich continues to increase; and the profits of big business continue to rise.

It all makes one wonder how any member of Congress can argue against eliminating tax breaks, and closing tax loopholes for the super rich and the major corporations who neither deserve nor need them.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Our Next Generation Of Health Care Professionals--The Future Is In Caring, Competent Hands

If you saw the blogs that were posted Monday through Thursday, you didn't have to read between the lines to know that I am impressed with the future health care professionals that I have met over the past year. It was my intent to have that fact come through loud and clear.

And now, in this last of a five-part series, I risk sounding redundant in emphasizing that the three health care profession students that I met, through the University of Florida's Interdisciplinary Family Health program, have me believing that their future patients will be in caring, competent hands.

The articles about James Medley, Feleighsha Jones, and Cynthia Moreau were all too brief--the time constraints of most blog readers dictate a need for brevity. Hopefully, the articles did provide something of interest; perhaps something you didn't know before.

Some folks might say that I was lucky (I prefer to say blessed) in that all three students were so outstanding. But while James, and Feleighsha, and Cynthia truly are outstanding, they are also typical. I have yet to meet a future health care professional who was not an outstanding individual. And I've had the good fortune to meet many.

Today at 11:00 AM, a group of students from the UF College of Nursing will be visiting the apartment complex where I live in north Florida. They will be performing community service--including blood pressure readings and help in areas such as nutrition and exercise.

I'm sure that this group of students will be the same as those who have visited before--friendly, enthusiastic, and helpful.

I live in Gainesville, a small city which is home to one of the largest universities in America, and it is part of everyday life to come in contact with some of the 50,000 students--some of whom are from Health Science Center colleges.

Much of the credit for the positive attitudes and dedication of the young people who are the future in health care must go to programs like the one I participated in with the University of Florida.

The Interdisciplinary Family Health program at the UF Health Science Center is a course for beginning health profession students designed to teach core values such as community-based family health and disease prevention, and teamwork, in the context of home visits.

This type of program is relatively new. The one at Florida goes back only to 1996, when a grant made possible a pilot course involving just 20 medical students.

Additional grants in subsequent years fueled an expansion involving other colleges, and some 600 students from the various colleges at the UF Health Science Center now participate in the program.

This type of program is assuring that the hard-working, well-rounded scholars of today, will be dedicated health care professionals in the future.