Monday, 4 January 2010

One Suggestion to Help Fix America's Economy...

It's quickly becoming apparent to anyone with an I.Q. as low as a Department Store mannequin that the February '09 $787,000,000,000 [billion] Stimulus Bill signed by Obama was a complete and unnecessary waste of taxpayer money. In Internet-ese:


Tax rebate checks have already had a proven FAILED history when Dubya in all his wisdom began doling them out during his second term (May 2008) to stimulate the economy. It failed, the economy continued its precipitous decline and by summer's end...Americans were rightly seeing RED, most of them 'undecided' suddenly voting BLUE thereby boosting Obama into the White House.

Yet, in just under a year, Obama, unabashedly using Bush's failed policy, gave it the 'ole college try once more...further burdening the nation's economy with even more debt. It's nearly a year on...and the $787 billion has been a costly [exponentially costly too] mistake.

Obama failed, as Bush did, to understand that the bulk of consumers who keep the economy running by-and-large have substantial credit card debts, beyond-their-means mortgages, new-car loans, and, yes, even student loans...cumulatively in the billions and billions. (Could the combination of all these be in the trillions?) The stimulus checks, ironically, 'stimulated' nothing, and were, for the most part, dissolved into consumer debts. This is why unemployment is now over 10%...and holding at least into mid 2010.

How to fix it:

It's a Hail Mary Pass. But a brave one. If Obama was courageous enough to get behind it...he would have bipartisanship support, millions of 'thankful' voters in the tank for 2012...and (in my hopeful opinion) save the nation's economy and restore the greatness of the dollar on the Global Market within mere years. In short, do THIS one thing...and reap immediate rewards.

Write off ALL Student Loan Debt. Every cent. Amnesty for the educated and those who seek to better themselves in the Land of Opportunity. Forgive it now...and guess what happens?

The millions of students who pay (with interest) Sallie Mae et al millions (billions?) each month...would suddenly have hundreds, if not thousands more each pump back into the economy. Those thousands quickly turn into billions and billions per month. And that always bodes well for the economy.

Sallie Mae is the biggest Fat Cat profiteer on all this debt; it's no wonder that they keep laughing all the way to the bank year after year. Some alarming facts worth noting:

*Between the years 2001-2006 (according to College Board), tuition fees across America's colleges & universities rose by 57%. The rise remains on pace at TWICE the rate of the nation's inflation. So it's nice that Obama allocated 6 billion dollars to future borrowers, but with annual borrowing estimates of over 80 billion per year, it's barely a morsel. This doesn't bring doesn't even make a dent.

To break it down...the current system is analogous to a Hamster on a Treadmill. Consider:

College Tuition fees are continually rising...

So students are borrowing MORE money to offset the cost...

So the government makes MORE money available for students to borrow...

Which [consequently] makes financing a collegiate education affordable, right?

Wrong! Colleges and universities see money flowing in...and decide to raise tuition costs yet again...

So students are borrowing MORE money to offset the cost...

So the government makes MORE money available for students to borrow...

And as colleges and universities see money flowing in...invariably they decide to raise tuition costs yet again...

So students borrow even MORE money to offset the cost...

Which results in the government making MORE money available for students to borrow...

And as colleges and universities see money flowing in...invariably they decide to raise tuition costs yet again...

(You get the idea).

And grinning ear-to-ear year after year? Sallie Mae. It's no mystery why (according to the Wall Street Journal) Sallie Mae' stock has risen a whopping 1900% since 1995, made mafioso-style off the backs of the children of the Middle Class with crippling interest rates.

Student Loan Debt in the US?

It's one of the biggest, under-reported scams in modern history and it is hurting millions. It stifles economic growth, it discourages education, it punishes the middle and lower classes and rewards the opportunistic Fat Cat lenders, like Sallie Mae.

This system is broken. It smells of corruption; (evidenced by all those end-of-the-year bonuses execs at Sallie Mae are always receiving). It must change or else a painful bubble will burst economically, intellectually, and spiritually.

Obama's been barking up the wrong tree all year with his ObamaCare. He's divided the nation, polarized independents and has put at risk his reelection plans in 2012. He could reverse this damage by canceling Student Loan debt. He has that power and it's a much easier 'sell' to politicians on both aisles who would jump on the Free-Education bandwagon to please their various special-interest constituencies.

I fail to see why this cannot be done. Other countries (mostly in the EU) have been doing it for generations and have reaped the rewards too numerous to list here.

America calls itself 'The Land of Opportunity'...why not earn it with 'Free Education' for the strata of society who wish to improve the nation with their trades and skills? If our government is so hell-bent to spend money we do not have, why not put it where young Americans need it most? Imagine the economic benefits of millions of young Americans, free of student loan debt, able to work and contribute after their under/post graduation? This isn't a Utopian fantasy...but a suggestion to make things better. To truly bring HOPE and CHANGE to America. With millions of Americans with more money in their wallets will come demand to move the money around. Demand engenders surplus, surplus creates jobs. Jobs stimulate the economy.

Do this Obama...and my children's children will be thankful.

Don't do it...and it's business as usual. And Pat Buchanan's grim retrospective of the last 10 years bodes ill for the upcoming decade as well. I don't care 'what' Party wants to do this...but someone should get it done and run in 2012 with this as one of their primary campaign promises. Education and ingenuity once made America the envy of the world. I think we've lost our way...but it's not impossible to get back on track.

(Props given to the Facebook Group: "Forgive Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy" for inspiring this blog. With a quarter of a million members, it never fails to surprise me how out-of-touch our politicians are who continually ignore public tips and suggestions to make America better).


Which debt is the least lenient?

a) Mortgage
b) Gambling debt
c) Credit Card debt
d) A Sallie Mae student Loan


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

My Top 100 Films of the past decade!

Here they are. The following list comprises hundreds of hours I found truly rewarding both at the cinema and in the comfort of my own home. Don't read into the 'order' of the films...each has its own place. True, I love some more than others. I truly believe that if you didn't see all of these films over the last 10 missed out on something special. There is so much here on offer to peruse, I will understand the tendency to immediately observe what isn't on the list. So yes, 'Slumdog Millionaire' isn't on the list. Neither is 'Pan's Labrynth'. Though good films, they just didn't 'hook' me in the way I was told they would. 'Rambo' you say? I can explain. But before I do, have a gander...and discuss. (I have italicized the films with corresponding pictures).
1 Everything is Illuminated
2 Zatoichi
3 There Will Be Blood
4 Amelie
5 Gladiator
6 Black Hawk Down
7 Let the Right One In
8 The Proposition
9 A.I.
10 Kingdom of Heaven
11 LoTR (all three)
12 The Prestige
13 Million Dollar Baby
14 The Pianist
15 Hot Fuzz
16 Gerry
17 Punch Drunk Love
18 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
19 Zodiac
20 Children of Men
21 Casino Royale
22 Capturing the Friedmans
23 Coraline
24 Dancer in the Dark
25 The Lives of Others
26 Batman Begins
27 Pirates of the Caribbean
28 The Incredibles
29 Russian Ark
30 Traffic
31 Darjeeling Limited
32 Snatch
33 Michael Clayton
34 Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
35 Narc
36 Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
37 Training Day
38 Master and Commander: Far Side of the World
39 Good Night and Good Luck
40 Little Miss Sunshine
41 Donnie Darko
42 The Others
43 Bourne Ultimatum
44 City of God
45 Kill Bill 1 & 2
46 Requiem for a Dream
47 Big Fish
48 Into the Wild
49 Gran Torino
50 Collateral
51 Kung Fu Hustle
52 Napoleon Dynamite
53 High Fidelity
54 School of Rock
55 The Salton Sea
56 No Country for Old Men
57 Paranormal Activity
58 Road to Perdition
59 Death at a Funeral
60 Kung Fu Panda
61 Best in Show
62 Apocalypto
63 Rambo
64 Star Trek
65 Belleville Rendezvous
66 Downfall
67 Hunger
68 Lost in La Mancha
69 Open Range
70 The Dark Knight
71 The Polar Express
72 Catch Me If You Can
73 Minority Report
74 Last King of Scotland
75 Being John Malkovich
76 Man on Wire
77 Good Night and Good Luck
78 Grizzly Man
79 The Beach
80 About a Boy
81 The Painted Veil
82 3:10 to Yuma
83 Finding Nemo
84 Wall E
85 Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
86 Moon
87 Lost in Translation
88 O Brother Where Art Thou
89 Supersize Me
90 About Schmidt
91 The Reckoning
92 Unbreakable
93 Lucky Number Slevin
94 Inside Man
95 Syriana
96 Finding Forrester
97 The Good Shepard
98 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
99 Thank You For Smoking
100 Layer Cake

Sunday, 6 September 2009

a 'from-the-hip' response on the Socialized Health Care debate...

Ladies and Dudes,

Just a quick off-the-cuff response on the issue with health care that was started on a friend's Facebook account. (Since I 'surrendered' my Facebook privileges earlier this year, I thought it best to move the issue have a gander, don't laugh too hard at my 1st draft grammar skills, share your convictions, argue with me [but be cool please!] or whatever strikes you. Your call.)

I’ve read with interest regarding the debate over socialized Health Care from afar here in Great Britain. As the developing world goes, America’s pejorative ‘older brother’ across the pond may offer ‘clues’ over what to expect if socialized health care is approved. To clarify, the United Kingdom (more specifically, England) has historically, before America, taken the first ‘steps’ towards many of today’s freedoms and social advancements worthy of mention; (abolishing slavery, granting women the right to vote, discontinuing capital punishment, and socializing health care.) [I’m at least sure there is NO debate over the efficacy of the first two ‘advancements’…]

Though the concerns are understandable and I’d like to take a few moments here to explain how socialized Health Care has affected my family and friends during our combined 5-years living here.

The NHS has made the cost of the birth of my two children…free. (Or at least that cost has been incrementally ‘melted down’ and collectively shared by myself, and the fine tax-paying citizens of the UK.)

I’m a fairly ‘private’ person by nature so it may come as a bit of a surprise to share here that during my son Corin’s first year, he developed an infection that required immediate care. Twice we rushed him to the NHS hospitals seeking assistance for his anguishing ailment. Twice we were told that his condition would require minor surgery to alleviate it. Just a simple non-threatening procedure and all would be fine.

We waited for over a year for this ‘minor surgery’ to resolve his infection. We knew that in the United States the procedure would’ve been scheduled within a week of the first instance and resolved before the following week’s time. But the NHS, despite its advantages, was making us wait, for reasons that were never clear to us, a whole year. During that time, my son's suffering increased. From me all I could offer was a blessing of comfort and love. During that time, two further emergency visits (one memorably on Halloween during his first Trick-or-Treating experience) were required to treat my son’s condition where we were again told to wait. So for a whole year, helplessly we waited. And waited.

As the scheduled date drew closer, my wife and I booked time off of work, rearranged our schedules to allow time for him after the procedure. (During that time, we tried in the best way we could to explain to our 2 year-old ‘what’ was going to happen…and I have found explaining ‘pain’ to a 2 year-old one of the most difficult things in fatherhood.) With schedules in place, our anxieties stretched thin, one week before the scheduled procedure for our son…the NHS sent us a simple letter informing us that the year-long scheduled procedure…was postponed for an additional 6 more months…with no explanation for this! (The ‘new’ date was, in a further ‘slap’ now scheduled to coincide on my wife’s birthday.)

So, despite our ire, we waited again the full 18 months for the NHS to perform a 25-minute procedure to resolve an infection with my son that would have been resolved in a fraction of that time in the US.

I’m now happy to say the surgery was a success and that our son has made a full-recovery. But when he cut his lower lip horsing around in our living room the next year…requiring a single stitch to his lip…the downside with the UK’s NHS would again be abundantly clear. Our local 60 million pound hospital --despite being full of NHS-paid doctors refused to apply the stitch and told us the procedure was done in the neighboring town hospital 20 miles down the road. So, we took an expensive taxi ride to the hospital where my son was to sit in a waiting room for over 4 hours with a bloody lip (which was dripping all over their ER.)

After the 4 hours, the staff then told us that they in fact did not have the required ‘specialist’ available to apply the single stitch and that we would need to go to another hospital an additional 20 more miles down the road. Would the NHS foot the bill to transfer us to another hospital? Of course not…and another taxi ride was required (we would spend 52 pounds—over $75 on cab fare alone to the two hospitals.)

After another 4 hours in another hospital, we were finally ushered in. But the doctor at this hospital didn’t want to apply the stitch and tried to convince us to wait until the next evening on the following day to see someone else because [and I quote] he “hadn’t had as much experience applying stitches” as his colleague.

Could you believe it? One simple stitch, three hospitals later, over 50 quid in travel cost and the NHS-paid doctors were now trying to send us away with our son’s mouth caked with [now] dried blood on his wound. It was there that we had to NEGOTIATE with the doctor to apply the stitch then and there. That’s no joke! We actually had to insist that the doctor apply the stitch! So with no anesthetic, the stitch was eventually applied (despite my son’s shrieks) and he looks fine.

When I was my son’s age, I gashed my forehead at a drive-in theatre and less than 30 minutes later I was sewn up with 5 stitches and back at home…and that was in 1977!

Now the NHS has been good to us, but it’s also been a pain in the butt as well. And we have seen others suffer as a result.

Two years ago we attended the funeral of a work colleague of my wife (held in the same church where Shakespeare is buried), a mother of two in her mid-forties. We sang hymns, we cried, we gave flowers and marked the August occasion with hugs and conciliatory grief. In the woman’s courageous honor to the cancer that took her and her tremendous spirit in the face of death--(she was still doing cancer walks and hikes just weeks before she died) we named our daughter after her.

So what happened?

Jane had been visiting with the NHS for years complaining of stomach pain…and her health issues were often discussed at length with my wife. Each time, full-examinations were never forthcoming--[in fact she was advised that they were not necessary] and her ‘pain’ was temporarily alleviated through prescribed medication. (If you’ve ever lived in the UK, one thing the NHS does VERY well is prescribe medication to treat literally everything…for reasons that, on occasion are a bit dubious.) So the pain continued, and in lieu of wider, more-expensive/expansive examinations, Jane was told that her ‘discomfort’ was treatable.

And so the months rolled on. And the pain increased…until it was too late. When her health predicament became obvious to even the untrained medical eye, Jane was given mere weeks to live in an inoperable cancerous condition. The bitter side was even more crushing as she was eventually told that had her cancer been detected earlier, her life might’ve been spared. Too little too late.

We were a bit astonished that there wasn’t a deeper sense of outrage for the failings of the NHS in this affair. There seemed to be acceptance that people live and die in this life and when it’s your time, it’s your time. Perhaps there’s something in the saying that ‘familiarity breeds acceptance’.

[This also happened to the wife of one of my professors at my college a couple years ago…who for months complained of back pain, which was medicated, only to discover that it was cancer all along which when diagnosed gave her only 3 weeks before she died.]

These are some of the experiences we’ve had and observed with the NHS here. The NHS isn’t evil. It’s not some Stalinist program designed to take away each others' rights. But over the years, by declension, it has devolved into a bit of a joke. It’s now in need of a serious overhaul. And one of the many blunders here of the NHS is the ethos of ‘treating’ the symptoms rather than ‘preventing’ them. Preventable care seems to be the bastion in the private sector for health care.

Now I don’t want to beat up on Obama. I didn’t vote for him, but then again I wouldn’t have voted for the feckless McCain either. Love him or hate him, Obama is our president and is trying to ‘fix’ our nation’s health care…and I think it needs some attention and some type of option for everyone is a dignified and humane endeavour. But the bill is [reportedly] over 1,000 pages long. I haven’t read it. You haven’t read it; [have you cover-to-cover?] Most of our politicians haven’t read it either. I have questions and concerns like anyone else. I don’t know if there will be ‘death panels’ or not.

But how people can so blindly abdicate their right of being ‘informed’ to one party’s claims on a document that they themselves haven’t read is remarkable. Whether or not you’ve carried a gun to a town hall meeting, bit the finger off an old man or not is beside the point. Though I don’t know what the long-term implications of foisting a socialized health care program on the US will be, I do however know from experience some of the ups and downs from socialized health care here.

Maybe the US will be smart enough to avoid the problems here. Maybe not. (In fact, judging by history, probably not.) I don’t know if the purported millions of illegal aliens residing in the US will have access or not. But there are questions to be asked in a dignified manner and judging by the track record of the NHS here, there ought to be sufficient pause. Some pause is good. Too much pause is procrastination. Something needs to happen...

Friday, 27 February 2009

In case you're still sweating the small stuff...a little perspective never hurts.

Life is far, far too short to quibble over the many differences we may have with one another as we travel from one moment to the next. The following pictures (admittedly, appropriated from an earlier email sent to me from a good friend) I think illustrates how infinitesimally small we really are in the universe. We truly are mere blips in existence. Make the most of your 'blip' and remember, don't sweat the small stuff.

(The Hubble's view of space...)

This is also worth musing over as you watch...
All the petty things that I have held onto over the years...what a complete waste of my time! In a cosmic-scheme of things, we are barely even 'here' to begin with. Stewing over differences with a co-worker, family member, spouse, child, or the dude in the SUV who just lane-changed without a turn really shouldn't be worth a moment of our ire. Not. A. Single. Second. Why not go through the rest of our lives, right now, starting this very moment, with love, kindness and laughter in our hearts and 'let go' of the silly and ineffectual trifles that do us no good today or after we are gone? In the end, after all is said and done, "the rest is silence."