Gunipulation: Kids, Patriotism and Profits

Kid with Gun

Not sure how many people were able to watch HBO’s Real Sports last night, but there was an eye opening segment regarding kids and guns that was truly shocking.  The main focus was on how the gun industry has placed its focus on marketing guns to children.  This is not a typo or a misprint but, reality, and that reality is a result of the fact that we have become a nation of greedy corporations and their leaders.

I want to start out by saying I am a 5 year Veteran of the US Army and about two years of that was spent as an armorer handling weapons on nearly a daily basis.  And, trust me; I felt leery of handing out machine guns to many of the adults in my unit let alone to kids.  Also, I am not trying to say that no one should own a gun.  What I am saying is many people in this nation have been wrapped up into believing in something that is little more than hype, and in the process have become blind to reality.  Trust me the gestapo is not coming for your guns…maybe your porn…but not your guns.

The main purpose of this Real Sports segment shows how the gun industry and its lobbyists are affecting laws in our states by lowering the age for hunting in many states, so more and younger children can hunt and justify owning a gun.  I think the big picture may be even more frightening though. After all, those gun makers and lobbyist sure are great supporters of our rights aren’t they?

In reality, they are nothing but marketing machines that have many Americans blindly following them.  The marketing genius is actually two fold!  They get parents to buy their kids cute little target style guns, and then, if the kids like it, they have customers for life.  The gun industry also uses the Second Amendment and phrases about “my cold dead hands” to get us to believe, they are on our side in some sinister plot by the government and other assorted boogiemen to confiscate weapons.  The reality is they are just like any other corporate entity in the world these days.  They are after profits and shareholder approval. At the end of the day, they are only interested in their bank accounts, actually, your bank account and extracting as much out of it as possible.

In making this move to arm the youth of the Unites States, are our children safer in their schools?  Are we safer as a nation?  Have public shootings gone down?  The gun industry will claim that the kids with these guns are trained and responsible.  Children usually are pretty responsible when they are being watched, but what about when they are not?  As we have seen too many times recently, much like an unsupervised gun industry, an unsupervised, armed child or teenager is going to do whatever the hell he wants.

Sleep well tonight…I know I won’t.

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Killer Coupons

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It has been going on since we were little kids. The Sunday paper comes with a wide array of coupons that are gathered and taken to the store to purchase all the things we need. Those manufacturers are so nice to discount their products, and the grocery stores even nicer to double and at times even triple the “value” of those coupons. There are coupon flyers, coupon websites and even coupon clubs, where you can meet other couponistas. In these coupon clubs, coupons are traded and strategies are devised to get the best deals by using the right coupon at the right store. It seems like a lot, and many people want nothing to do with it. But, there are people that are out there saving hundreds of dollars a week by couponing!

But to what end? Sure there are some good coupons for toilet paper and paper towels, but the majority is for the processed foods that are found in those middle aisles of your grocery store! Not on the outside walls where the meats and veggies and milk are. Most of the savings found on those coupons are for the foods many doctors and scientists are telling us to quit or cut back on. These items are filled with preservatives and chemicals you cannot pronounce without a PhD! Yet, these are the items that we can get with coupons. What a great thing these manufacturers are doing by discounting the worst foods for us in the store!

Then, we look at the grocery store itself doubling and tripling the coupons. How much are we getting over charged to begin with if a product can suddenly be discounted by 3? And, again, we are getting a great deal on the worst foods for our health. Where are the triple coupons on the organic greens or the natural products? Nowhere to be seen!

We all want to save a buck, but at what cost to our health? Frozen dinners are fast, but take a look at the amount of sodium in even the “Healthy” choice. If these coupons only listed the chemicals that are in the foods, would you still use that coupon?

Locker Room Love? Highly Doubtful!

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We keep hearing from the Sports media that there are already gay men in pro football that just have not come out. But, now that Michael Sam has come out prior to the draft, teams may not be accepting of him and his “baggage”. This just does not make any sense to me. How would a teammate feel any different if he suspects or if he knows for certain? We hear that they will be uncomfortable in the shower, yet aren’t these “suspects” in the shower now? Perhaps, the mystery just makes it a bit more exciting?

People often throw around the similarities between the military and pro football. Players say they are going to battle and call themselves soldiers. Often, resulting in media backlash, because there really is a big difference between the game of football and the life of a soldier. I spent five years in the U.S Army. Before getting married, about three of those years were spent living in close proximity to lots of other male soldiers. In using the term “close proximity”, I mean living together in barracks and in tents; and in woods and on trucks and even in airplanes that you would shortly jump out of at very low altitude. I was lucky due to timing, but most that I served with spent time on the battlefields of Iraq in even closer and worse conditions.

Maybe it is just me, but this seems like a bit more of a drastic embedding than any pro football player will ever feel as part of his team. In every Army unit I was assigned, there were gay men and women. These were not medical units. These were Communication units and Airborne Communication units. These were units that spent 45 days in the woods training several times a year and could be deployed overseas at a moment’s notice. These were units filled with people of every walk of life, and I do not remember once in five years hearing about issues between the gay and straight soldiers. This was the “Don’t ask don’t tell” era. So, no one was actually coming out, but living in close quarters like this, there was not a lot of hiding it either. I am not stupid or blind, and I am certain there was and still is plenty of discrimination in the military. I can only speak from my experiences. When you realize your life may be put on the line, you care a lot less about what someone does in the privacy of their own room or home.

I truly hope that once the media is done beating this dead horse of a story that it just blows over and Michael Sam gets drafted, at the same slot he would have before coming out. And, his NFL teammates accept him as his college teammates did. Even better yet, maybe his partner will end up being in the military! And, this would be the last time we have to talk about this “baggage”. ‘Cause like some old blue eyed crooner once said regarding gays in the military “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere!” that is what he was talking about, right?

Good Luck, Sam!

Preservatives: Killing Us Softly

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I am not a doctor.  I have not done any lab research on this topic, but I have witnessed the effects of preservatives and other chemicals in foods first hand.  We as consumers blindly trust the foods that we purchase at our grocers, because we trust the FDA and other government agencies to ensure food safety.  The reality is they cannot guarantee that the ridiculous cocktails of chemicals now found in many processed foods are safe.  They may test the safety of a single chemical, but it would be impossible to test the exponential combinations of these chemicals within a food or within a combination of different processed foods eaten at one sitting.

My first-hand experience with this issue occurred about two years ago.  It involved my wife, Claudia, collapsing in a parking lot while on vacation in Florida.  I rushed her to the hospital, where numerous tests were performed.  Nothing was discovered after $30,000 in tests.  She was told perhaps it was dehydration or perhaps a food allergy.  This did not seem even the least bit feasible, so when we got home, she went to see an Allergist.  More tests were performed to determine if she had allergies, yet still nothing.  But, this doctor thought that it could be an intolerance to preservatives instead of an allergy.

An intolerance can be the result of a buildup of certain chemicals in the body and can cause many of my wife’s symptoms: nausea, heartburn, vomiting, itchy skin, mysterious bruising, vertigo and even fainting/blacking out.  The only way to determine if it is in fact an intolerance to preservatives is to partake in an elimination diet.  This means completely removing foods that are known to be high in certain preservatives.  It also includes the removal of some natural foods that may contain some of the chemical compounds of these preservatives naturally.  This “no fun guarantee” diet was brutal for her.  It eliminated a lot of what she ate on a normal basis.  She fell off and on the diet wagon several times and would immediately have issues.  She finally stuck to it, and the results have been nothing short of amazing.

She feels great and looks great!  She has lost over 20 pounds.  It has also rubbed off on myself and my daughter.  We are not nearly as strict with our diets, but try our best.  I feel like just doing what I have; I have much more energy and feel better than when I was eating fast food and processed junk.

I was a skeptic before I witnessed this transformation with my own eyes.  I never felt any ill effects from the foods I ate, but I think I was lucky.  These chemicals cannot be good for our health.  You would never add these chemicals to your food in your own kitchen.  Next time you buy a box of cookies or cereal, take a look at the ingredients label.  Can you pronounce everything?  If not, you may want to start looking for some alternatives.  I have seen the changes this simple act can make.

The C-town Blues

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Another season has come and gone for the Cleveland Browns.  Depression and loathing again permeate the landscape.  Another Browns vs Steelers weekend is meaningless, and the result is sure to be disgusting and embarrassing.  Another Sunday will be wasted nonetheless.  But, why?  Will it ever change?

No matter the season, football, baseball or basketball, Clevelanders always fall for the hook.  We believe the hype. We listen to the latest regime and eat it up.  “Sustainability” is the latest fodder fed to us.  Why not start with putting a team on the field that we would want to sustain?  A .500 season might be something to shoot for next season.

Instead, it is back to the drawing board again.  Let the draft talk begin.  It is after all the best part of a Browns fan’s season over the last 15 years.  Let’s just hope the front office can top the last draft! What a joke that was.  Yet, we will all be watching in April.  The Draft has become a Clevelander’s Super Bowl.  What a sad state of affairs.

I am not sure how or why we do it.  We are a special breed.  I for one have not lived in Cleveland in over 20 years and could have jumped ship numerous times.  Yet, I keep rooting for the Cleveland Browns.  Heckled by neighbors and even friends, yet I keep on, a stranger in a strange land keeping the faith.  Flying that flag should be a sense of pride, but it has become a symbol of futility.

The lone bright spot to this season finally coming to an end is at least the depression will subside.

Leadership PACs – Built for Corruption

I try to stay away from discussing politics, but recently, I have been bothered by something that is not a party issue, but a congressional issue.  For years, I have heard the term “leadership PAC” and had no idea what it meant.  I knew it was related to campaign financing, and I assumed that it was regulated much the same. I was wrong. These leadership PACs (Political Action Committees) are, in layman’s terms, slush funds and bribery clearing houses for our congressmen and women.

Friends, supporters and lobbyists are able to donate money to these PACs, which are not regulated as normal campaign funds would be.  This means the money in the PAC can be used for almost anything. This includes travel to 5 star golf resorts as long as the trip can be justified (which is not hard) as being related to the PAC.  Other members of Congress have even used this money to purchase luxury suites at football stadiums (you have to hold meetings somewhere!).  Many people donating to these PACS are unaware of this fact.  They are blindly giving money hoping that it will help with the politicians campaigning.

Unfortunately, there is an obvious problem with allowing these political action committees.  There is money involved!  And, we all know things can get dicey when it comes down to money.  Congressman can be bribed to try and sway a vote by lobbyists or individuals donating to these leadership PACs.  They are even used to strong-arm money from donors.  Donors can be told that a vote will not come up until the next session of Congress unless they donate more money to the PAC.  This money can then be used to donate/bribe other congressman to help get the vote in on time.

A leadership PAC to those with common sense is a bad idea in many ways.  The problem is the only way to get rid of them would be for Congress to pass a law to ban them, and we know that is not going to happen.  So, if you plan on bribing a politician make sure you send the check to the leadership PAC not the normal campaign fund.

F (for) the North Carolina Education Budget

second-grade-writing-class_300x300In North Carolina, this subject has been out of the limelight for a few months, but it is too important to let it slip through the cracks and be forgotten.  Raleigh and Durham seem to constantly show up on the high end of “the Best of” lists.  That is what led my wife and I to move here 7 years ago.  The job opportunities and the great education system that could be followed from Kindergarten to the many fine Universities in the area.  This North Carolina education system, especially in the Triangle, is a huge reason that many people have been, and continue to, move to this area.

Unfortunately, the continued budget cuts that have been hitting our education system in one way or another for the past 5 or 6 years will have a definite negative affect on the future growth in this area. Will the executives of new companies that NC tries to court here want a poor education system for their children?  What teachers will want to come here knowing that their pay is one of the lowest in the country, and the chances of raises will continue to be grave as  the last 5 years have proven.  How the people of this area have let this happen is truly amazing.  The new business model of State government seems to lean toward a corporate business model, but what success can come from cutting the general education budget, paying teachers poorly and perhaps worse of all, eliminating the pay raise that teachers were given by completing their graduate degrees?

Cutting the North Carolina education budget North Carolina education budget just does not make sense when, the Triangle area of North Carolina continues to grow at a rapid pace.  A sane person would deduct that a growing population would require a growing education budget, yet the NC Legislature approved a budget removing $482 million from the education budget over the next two years.  This will not only result in fewer resources in general, but the elimination of many teachers and teacher’s assistants.  The only result of this action will be larger student to teacher ratios and more students slipping through the cracks to failure.  Throwing money at a problem may not be the answer, but across the board budget cuts certainly is not either.

As a State employee (not a teacher), I can vouch for the fact that State employees have had one raise in the last 5 years.  This is not going to be a selling point to begin with in bringing the brightest and best teachers to North Carolina.  The resulting salaries are even worse though.  North Carolina now ranks 46th in the country for teacher pay.  Not a good way to recruit teachers or convince our best students to move into the education field.  If North Carolina wants to be a tech hub, it needs to pay its educators accordingly or lose its best performing teachers.

Lastly, the elimination of bonuses/raises for teachers attaining their graduate degree may be the most ridiculous decision made by the current government in North Carolina.  Why would you want to eliminate an incentive for the self-improvement of those that will be teaching our children?  In every other field on earth, your pay is directly related to how much you know, yet this Legislature has decided teachers should not be?  Brilliant!  To make it worse, this bonus elimination was imposed on those that were already in the process of completing their degree, so the money they spent in hopes of improving themselves educationally and financially were all for naught.  Eliminating these bonuses is no way to keep our education system improving; in fact, it will breed a stagnant learning environment.

As can be seen from this brief look into North Carolina’s new education budget, things are not looking good.  In fact, they are looking pretty dire.  Many of the reasons that so many have relocated to this area are in jeopardy due to the decisions of a few old men.  We as citizens and voters need to continue to push for more money to be funneled into our schools.  We cannot wait until the next elections or the next budget; our children are too important. We are destined to lose our best teachers if the salaries of perhaps our most important resource are not increased to a level that is more in line with the higher end of the states.  Finally, the elimination of bonuses for educating our educators makes no sense and should be lifted.  If North Carolina does not place the proper resources into its education system, I truly fear for the future of our children.