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.