Saturday, June 30, 2012

Weightlifter Sarah Robles is an incredible athlete, but outside the world of squats and snatches, barely anyone knows her name. And even though she's the U.S.’s best chance at an Olympic medal, she'll never get the fame or fortune that come so easily to her fellow athletes — in part because, at 5 feet, 10.5 inches and 275 pounds, she doesn't fit the ideal of thin, toned athletic beauty.

“You can get that sponsorship if you’re a super-built guy or a girl who looks good in a bikini. But not if you’re a girl who’s built like a guy,” she says. The 23-year-old from California became the highest ranked weightlifter in the country last year after placing 11th at the world championships, beating out every male and female American on the roster. On her best day, she can lift more than 568 pounds — that’s roughly five IKEA couches, 65 gallons of milk, or one large adult male lion.

But that doesn't mean much when it comes to signing the endorsement deals that could pay the bills. Track star Lolo Jones, 29, soccer player Alex Morgan, 22, and swimmer Natalie Coughlin, 29, are natural television stars with camera-friendly good looks and slim, muscular figures. But women weightlifters aren't go-tos when Sports Illustrated is looking for athletes to model body paint in the swimsuit issue. They don’t collaborate with Cole Haan on accessories lines and sit next to Anna Wintour at Fashion Week, like tennis beauty Maria Sharapova. And male weightlifters often get their sponsorships from supplements or diet pills, because their buff, ripped bodies align with male beauty ideals.

Meanwhile, Robles — whose rigorous training schedule leaves her little time for outside work — struggles to pay for food. It would be hard enough for the average person to live off the $400 a month she receives from U.S.A. Weightlifting, but it’s especially difficult for someone who consumes 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day, a goal she meets through several daily servings of grains, meats and vegetables, along with weekly pizza nights.

Because of her financial troubles, Micela donates much of his time and pays to travel with Robles to competitions. Most Olympians make money through their governing bodies, as well as sponsorships, endorsements, speaking engagements, and the like. These endorsements can be worth six figures or more — like Michael Phelps’ $1 million deal to be a spokesman for Mazda in China — or they can compensate athletes with free equipment or products. PowerBar is Robles’ only product sponsorship and her name isn’t yet big enough to land her any big special appearances.

“I still have bad thoughts about myself, but I’ve learned that you have to love yourself the way you are,” Robles says. “I may look like this, but I’m in the Olympics because of the way I am.”

Friday, June 29, 2012

America's New Tiger Immigrants

No Country on earth is in the same league as the U.S. when it comes to the quantity of immigrants who have come here and the quality of their contributions. But lately, in our generally sour mood, Americans have been questioning the benefits of immigration. Many worry that today's immigrants differ from those of the past: less ambitious, less skilled, less willing and able to assimilate.

The conventional picture is of an unstoppable wave of unskilled, mostly Spanish-speaking workers—many illegal—coming across the Mexican border. People who see immigration this way fear that, instead of America assimilating the immigrants, the immigrants will assimilate us. But this picture is both out of date and factually wrong.

A report released this month by the Pew Research Center shows just how much the face of immigration has changed in the past few years. Since 2008, more newcomers to the U.S. have been Asian than Hispanic (in 2010, it was 36% of the total, versus 31%). Today's typical immigrant is not only more likely to speak English and have a college education, but also to have come to the U.S. legally...

America needs and benefits from both kinds of immigration. Like all waves, the Asian influx mixes the skilled and the unskilled. But overall it resembles earlier waves of educated and already urbanized immigrants more than the desperate and often unskilled rural groups from Europe and Latin America.

Like them, the Asians tend to be better-educated than most of the people in their countries of origin. Steeped in the culture of enterprise and capitalism, they're more likely than native-born Americans to have a bachelor of arts degree. While family sponsorship is still the most important entry route for Asians (as for all immigrants), this group is three times more likely than other recent immigrants to come to the U.S. on visas arranged through employers.

In many cases, they're not coming to the U.S. because of the economic conditions back home. After all, places like China, Korea and India have experienced jumps in prosperity and an explosion in opportunity for the skilled and the hardworking. But most of the new immigrants like it here and want to stay (only 12% wish they had stayed home).

More Asian-Americans (69%) than other Americans (58%) believe that you will get ahead with hard work. Also, 93% say that their ethnic group is "hardworking."

While 39% of Asian-Americans say their group puts "too much" pressure on kids to succeed in school, 60% of Asian-Americans think that other Americans don't push their kids hard enough.

Other family values are strong as well, according to Pew. Only 16% of Asian-American babies are born out of wedlock, in contrast to 41% for the general population. In the U.S., 63% of all children grow up in a household with two parents; the figure for Asian-Americans is 80%. 

The honor roll of American immigration is long. Names like Alexander Hamilton, Albert Einstein, Andrew Carnegie, Madeleine Albright and Sergey Brin speak for themselves. Those who worry today whether we have what it takes to meet the challenges of this new and difficult century need to look at the people who continue to join their fates to ours.

The world's best, the world's hardest-working and the world's most ambitious are still coming our way.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I was in the office of a co-worker about 10 minutes after it became clear the Affordable Care Act had been upheld and she said, “I’m actually way more excited about this than I imagined I would be.”

I think that’s a fairly widespread reaction, and I don’t think it has much to do with health care.

It has to do with the fact that for the first time in almost 20 years, the nation changed something big in the hope it would make the United States a better place. And it’s been a very long time since that happened, in a conservative or liberal way.

Think abou it: What was the last big, significant change the federal government made in how things work? I can’t come up with anything major since President Bill Clinton and Congress implemented welfare reform in 1996.

After Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, a fair number of people, although they didn’t vote for or support his policies, said they felt positive about the fact that he won the office. It felt good just to know we had become a country that could elect a black man to its highest office when, 50 years earlier, such a man might not have been able to eat a meal in a restaurant or sit at the front of a bus.

There are a lot of real problems in Obamacare. The funding, in particular, is based on two things that may never happen: cutting Medicare reimbursements to doctors, which the Congress has failed to do each year since 1997, and reducing the profit that private companies make on Medicare Advantage (and Washington isn’t always great at taking away profits from the corporations that, well, donate to the campaigns of politicians).

But gracious, it feels good to know we could potentially, possibly, on a great day, when the wind is right and the sun shines, do big stuff. Maybe we could even build infrastructure, bridges and roads and such. Maybe we could fix education, or get renewable power industries going, like wind and solar. Maybe we could rebuild a manufacturing base, or, yes, make our people healthier, and thus happier. Maybe we could deal with immigration, and rejigger Social Security to make it solvent, and figure out Medicare funding.

There are a lot of people, and some days I’m one of them, who believe Obamacare is the wrong thing to do. But even that, somehow, doesn’t feel as bad as being a citizen of a country that can’t do anything.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Top 100 retailer American Signature announced it is donating $1 million in furniture to needy families between now and Labor Day in partnership with two nonprofit organizations.

The company is partnering with the Salvation Army to provide furniture to local families in need and is partnering with Operation Homefront to provide furniture to service members. Operation Homefront was formed to support the families of service members deployed after 9/11.

The Salvation Army will select the families to receive the furniture and American Signature will donate select pieces those families need.

American Signature's partnership with Operation Homefront is its way of welcoming home service members from their tours of duty and thanking them for their service to the nation.

Each week during the summer giveaway, American Signature will select two winners that log on to the company website and create a wish list. The winners will be selected to receive items on their wish lists.

The company also said will randomly select winners who are American Signature Facebook fans, Twitter followers, Pinterest fans and Google+ followers. These winners will receive $1,000 worth of furniture.

"American Signature Furniture is excited for the opportunity to help those who need it, welcome service members home and thank loyal customers," the company said in a statement.

The promotion is sponsored by American Signature Inc., 4300 E. 5th Ave., Columbus, Ohio, 43219. Complete giveaway rules and regulations can be seen at

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

America's political aristocracy

Let’s face it; our Founding Fathers were aristocrats, men of means and power. Many were as well educated as one could be in those days. The battle with Great Britain pitted our aristocracy against royalty to whom our aristocrats were formally beholding.

Commoners provided the army aristocrats needed to defeat the British. When the Founding Fathers sat down to craft our Democratic Republic and our Constitution, something came over them and they produced ideas and values that truly empowered “commoners.”

Yet, today, aristocrats still hoard the wealth and pretty much control the economy. Capital makes kings and we have kingdoms today in the form of corporations, bankers, and wealthy individuals. Is that good or bad?

An intellectual and elitist view would say that the most intelligent and able individuals will ultimately acquire and amass the majority of the wealth. That view is also supported by the factual outcome.

In the American System there is also a value for shared responsibility. Individuals are responsible for self-reliant pursuit of individual independence. Leaders are responsible for providing ever expanding opportunities for employment and upward mobility.

  • Capital that has been accrued by individuals, institutions, and managers are in partnership with government to optimize return on national resources.
  • People have a responsibility to work with elected officials to keep government expense in line with needs and capacity to serve them.
  • People and elected officials work with free enterprise to create the optimal environment for growth and prosperity.

So long as society’s leaders in commercial and government enterprise attend the greater needs of society, everything is copasetic. When people become impoverished and unable to achieve self-reliance that is an indication of failed leadership.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter's article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" in the current issue of the Atlantic has sparked a firestorm of debate. Drawing on her personal experience balancing her distinguished foreign-policy career with the demands of raising two sons, the piece exposes an internal struggle within Slaughter and other women aspiring to both career success and a rewarding home life. But in so doing, it may do something more than that. Slaughter, the former head of Policy Planning in Hillary Clinton's State Department, may have unintentionally -- or subconsciously -- offered up a powerful insight into the challenges faced not only by working mothers but those confronting America's top international and domestic policymakers as well.

The article explores the conundrums successful women face in achieving work-life balance with the kind of candor and nuance it rarely receives but richly deserves. And though Slaughter reasserts her belief that it is theoretically possible for women (and men) to "have it all," she notes that under current conditions, with American society, laws, and customs as they are, it can't be done today.

But contained within in this discussion are signs of a deeper problem dogging America, one that goes beyond this core social issue and extends deeply into the national crisis we are currently confronting. It is that we are society that believes in and actively promotes the myth of "having it all" in the first place. We elevate the rejection of compromise to the level of national ideal.

You see it in the imagery offered up in the fiction of Hollywood, not to mention the confections of Madison Avenue, Wall Street, and Washington, D.C. In each, images of achievement without sacrifice, of weight loss without diet or exercise, of gain without risk, and of economic growth without investment or prudence are dispensed like crack in a schoolyard. With each tantalizing idea -- live large today, pay later, follow Dr. Phil's three-minute prescriptions and enjoy love like you read about it in romance novels -- Americans are more drawn to a web of interconnected, impossible ideals and hooked on the expensive loans, get-rich-quick courses, wonder drugs, political schemes, and schemers who are the only beneficiaries of the perpetuation of such rose-colored fantasies.

This is not to say that the American dream is not real. But the dream was never having it all. It was always about having enough and perhaps, generation to generation, having it a little bit better. It was about tapping potential, not about confounding the laws of physics, biology, finance, or reason.

Yet, here is America trapped in political and policy debates that suggest having-it-all-ism might not just be a big problem for us -- it may be our downfall. Both political parties seem to want to remain the world's hyperpower without actually doing the hard work of setting priorities and accepting the sacrifices that go with maintaining that power. And the voters are letting them get away with it.

Internationally, America also wants to have it all. We want to cut back our spending on international institutions, foreign aid, and military interventions and still maintain the influence we had before. We want to be seen as welcoming the rise of new powers without actually ceding any power to them in the international system. We want to champion global ideals while still selectively obeying the international system of laws we helped established.

On a deeper level, America's problem turns on precisely the core issue Slaughter identifies: The current generation of U.S. leaders has lost sight of the fact that the primary responsibility of any generation is not to itself but to that of the generations to follow. This is why "the Greatest Generation" is acknowledged as such -- they sacrificed to ensure better futures for their families. We Baby Boomers have earned no such accolades, nor will we, borrowing from our children and our grandchildren to pay for our excesses.

Because in the end, it all comes down to our children. As Slaughter puts it, we must "properly focus on how we can help all Americans have healthy, happy, productive lives, valuing the people they love as much as the success they seek." If that's our guide, we're more likely to start making better choices -- and start realizing that it's not about having it all but rather, about passing along what we can to those who will come after us.  That is not only the formula for strong families but for strong nations.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Did you know that many of our founding fathers were Firemen?

Did you know that one of them actually founded the first Volunteer Fire Dept in America? 

There are currently more volunteer fire departments across the world, than there are paid professional departments. Coming from a background in the volunteer departments, I have nothing but the utmost respect for them, and the jobs they do. They receive no pay, and leave their families for many hours of training, and calls.
Although the history of the fire department dates back to ancient Egypt, in 6 A.D. Caesar Augustus fought fires in Rome using bucket brigades, poles, hooks and pumps. His fire brigade consisted of hundreds of men all ready for action.
When a fire broke out, the men would line up to the nearest water source and pass buckets hand over hand to the fire. In 1736 Bejamin Franklin founded the first volunteer fire department in Philadelphia PA, called the Union Fire Company.

 George Washington was also a volunteer firefighter in Alexandria VA. In 1774, he bought the town its first ever fire engine, and started the Friendship Veteran Fire Engine Company.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

For those squawking over President Barack Obama's executive order to ease immigration laws for young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally: a history lesson.

Most of the nation's founders were born into newly arrived families or immigrants themselves. Many sports heroes are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Chances are, your own ancestors immigrated here in the last 100 years or so.

America's history is deeply rooted in the idea of immigration. And the nation's future depends heavily on how it adapts its clunky and restrictive immigration laws to deal with a globalized economy.

The gulf between the two parties in Washington has effectively stalled efforts to get comprehensive immigration reform done. America still needs it, but can't wait for the gridlock to subside. Neither can many immigrants caught in the snare of irrational and xenophobic restrictions.

The country also needs to be wary of how restrictive immigration laws have affected other countries. In Japan, which has a foreign population of less that 2%, a looming worker shortage compounded with an aging nation (one in every four Japanese is older than 65) will set the country back considerably. Japan will want for 900,000 workers in the health sector alone by 2025. But rather than opening its gates to immigrants, Japan holds fast to the idea that an immigrant can become a citizen but will never truly become Japanese, and makes it increasingly difficult for immigrants to pass certification exams in professions like nursing and teaching.

And while Obama's controversial order may seem like a campaign ploy to win votes from Latino voters, it is important to note that Latinos aren't the only immigrant groups out there. Asian immigrants have surpassed Latino immigrants in sheer numbers, according to a Pew study released this week, and eventually, many of those Asian immigrants will end up having diplomas in engineering, mathematics and computer science.

The world is advancing at a breakneck pace, and the U.S. continues to trip out of the starting gates in the new economy.

Restrictive immigration policies don't just hurt immigrants; they hurt this entire nation.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It’s midway between Flag Day and Independence Day.

That means several million copies of full-page flags printed on cheap newsprint, June 14, have been burned, shredded, thrown away, or perhaps recycled. It’s an American tradition.

Within American society is a large class of people who fly flags on 30-foot poles in front of their houses and adorn their cars with flag decals and what they believe are patriotic bumper stickers. They are also quick to let everyone know how patriotic they are, and how much less patriotic the rest of us are. But patriotism is far more than flying flags and shouting about liberty in Tea Party rallies.

Find someone wearing socks, T-shirt, bandana, and even a jacket that looks like replicas of the American flag, and you might find a hyper-patriot. Of course, just a few decades ago, they would have spat out their disgust to anti-war protestors or hippies who had so much of a flag patch on their jeans.

Most of these hyper-patriots wrap themselves in the flag and Constitution, but are quick to try to shut off dissent, believe the only true religion is the one they espouse, demand that the police frisk citizens who aren’t White, and declare the Supreme Court is un-American when it doesn’t rule the way they think it should.

Many of the hyper-patriots waved those flags high whenever the U.S. has gone to war, even if that war was created by lies. In Iraq, almost 4,500 Americans have been killed; more than 32,000 were wounded, many of them with lifetime injuries.

Many of the hyper-patriots are insensitive to the problems of the 700,000 Americans, about 70,000 of them veterans, who are homeless on any given day.

They are oblivious to the 46 million Americans, about 16 million of them children, who live in poverty.
They oppose universal health care that would help all Americans, including the 50 million who are currently uninsured.

Many of these hyper-patriots believe unions are un-American, and workers who demand good work conditions and benefits are whiners.

These hyper-patriots are also the ones who believe Social Security should be privatized, oppose Medicare, and go ballistic when they think government is infringing upon rights of the individual. But they believe government should impose standards of what are or are not proper sexual positions for consenting adults.

These hyper-patriots readily buy products made outside the United States, proudly proclaim the great bargains they just scored, and somehow believe they are still patriots.

But here are two statistics hyper-patriots might wish to reflect upon during the three weeks between Flag Day and Independence Day. About 99 percent of legal fireworks used during July 4th celebrations are made in China. The second statistic is that during the past decade, Americans paid more than $93 million for U.S. flags made overseas, most of them from China. Many of those flags are proudly waved by hyper-patriots.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A pilot project to this effect will soon start along the Mfoundi river bed in Yaounde.
The government of Cameroon has again taken a bold step to provide quality low-cost houses to its citizens at affordable prices. This time around, an American technology is on the way.

The government, through the Ministry of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development, is taking necessary measures to begin a pilot project for the construction of four sample houses along the Mfoundi river bed using a fast American housing technology; Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs). It is said that once the technology is adapted and appreciated by Cameroonians, SIPs production factory will be implanted in the country.

The Director General of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development at the Ministry of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development, Janvier Oum Eloma says government embarked on the SIPs technology in 2011 after several missions were undertaken to the United States by personnel from the Ministries of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development, Urban Development and Housing, the Cameroon Real Estate Corporation (SIC) and the Local Material Promotion Authority (Mipromalo), during which the building technology was analysed and appreciated.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The world could stand to shed a few pounds. Fifteen million metric tons, in fact, according to a new study.

In the study, published in the open-access journal BMC Public Health, researchers used country-specific data on body mass index and heights to estimate the biomass of the world’s entire adult population.

They concluded that in 2005, the global adult human biomass was about 287 million metric tons. (A metric ton is 1,000 kilograms, or about 2,200 pounds.) About 15 million metric tons of that biomass were the extra pounds of people who were overweight (here defined as having a body mass index value above 25). About 3.5 million metric tons of that total biomass were because of obesity (having a B.M.I. above 30).

The United States is to blame for a lot of those spare tires. While America holds about 5 percent of the world’s adult population, it accounts for about a third of the excess weight because of obesity.

If, on the other hand, all countries were about as overweight as the United States, total biomass across the globe would increase by 58 million metric tons, or about 20 percent.

These numbers matter not only because of the health concerns over obesity. They matter also because of the energy required to feed people who are obese.

“Tackling population fatness may be critical to world food security and ecological sustainability,” the authors conclude.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

This week, the 200th anniversary of the opening of the War of 1812 between Britain and America has passed almost unnoticed.

It seems extraordinary for such a crucial war to have slipped into oblivion. In many ways, it was the war that made America – by repelling their old colonial masters, they fully established the independence from the mother country that had been formalised nearly 40 years before. What better way is there of showing you're free of an old master than by beating him in battle?

The official result was really a draw, as agreed in the Treaty of Ghent, but it certainly didn't feel like that to any Briton who took part in the Battle of New Orleans - the disastrous final conflict of the war, where Sir Ned Pakenham (an ancestor of mine, incidentally) lost the biggest military defeat in American history to date, to Andrew Jackson, later American President.

America came of age with the War of 1812 – it was the first time they'd declared war on anyone, let alone their own mother country. The road to American international dominance began with the war – Britain would eventually give way to its old colonial possession.

A world-changing war, then - how strange that we've all forgotten about it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

America's Got Talent airs the final audition show of the season tonight, and already some things are clear. "There's so many weirdoes on that stage," Howie Mandel said, during one recent lull in the steady parade of aging mimes, amateur escape artists, struggling musicians and, at one point, a woman with a urinating squirrel.

Even by America's Got Talent's wacky standards, this season is poised to set a new benchmark for weirdness -- and entertainment value when you may least expect. Example: There was visibly nervous 19-year-old Goth opera singer and Marilyn Manson look-alike Andrew De Leon in one recent audition episode. He appeared onstage in metal spike bracelets and heavy Guyliner, insisted he'd never performed in public before, and then reared back and performed Ave Maria as if he were Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

"I'm just so used to being rejected," he said afterwards. "I'm not really good at anything, so this is amazing."

If America's Got Talent is entertaining -- and it is, often wildly so -- it's because the live audience is part of the act. Tears and laughter are infectious, even if the talent isn't always. (Citytv, NBC, 8 ET/PT)

Sunday, June 17, 2012



Every day, ordinary Americans make extraordinary contributions to the well-being of our children and the strength of our Nation by answering one of life's greatest callings -- parenthood. Morning, noon, and night, they dedicate themselves to their sons and daughters, expressing a love that knows neither beginning nor end through small daily acts. On Father's Day, we honor the men whose compassion and commitment have nourished our spirits and guided us toward brighter horizons.

For many of us, our fathers show us by the example they set the kind of people they want us to become. Whether biological, foster, or adoptive, they teach us through the encouragement they give, the questions they answer, the limits they set, and the strength they show in the face of difficulty and hardship. Our fathers impart lessons and values we will always carry with us. With their presence and their care, they not only fulfill a profound responsibility, but also share a blessing with their children that stands among our truest traditions.

Every father bears a fundamental obligation to do right by their children. Yet, today, too many young Americans grow up without the love and support of their fathers. When the responsibilities of fathers go unmet, our communities suffer. That is why my Administration is working to promote responsible fatherhood by helping dads re-engage with their families and supporting programs that work with fathers. And that is why men across our country are making the decision every single day to step up; to be good fathers; and to serve as mentors, tutors, and foster parents to young people who need the guiding hand of a caring adult.

All of us have a stake in forging stronger bonds between fathers and their children. Today, we celebrate men who have risen to the task, who raised us, and who do that most important work of parenting, day in and day out, with love, humility, and pride.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, in accordance with a joint resolution of the Congress approved April 24, 1972, as amended (36 U.S.C. 109), do hereby proclaim June 17, 2012, as Father's Day. I direct the appropriate officials of the Government to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on this day, and I call upon all citizens to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Most Americans have gotten used to regular news reports about military and CIA drones attacking terrorist suspects – including US citizens – in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere abroad.

 But picture thousands of drone aircraft buzzing around the United States – peering from the sky at breaches in border security, wildfires about to become major conflagrations, patches of marijuana grown illegally deep within national forests, or environmental scofflaws polluting the land, air, and water.

By some government estimates, as many as 30,000 drones could be part of intelligence gathering and law enforcement here in the United States within the next ten years. Operated by agencies down to the local level, this would be in addition to the 110 current and planned drone activity sites run by the military services in 39 states, reported this week by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a non-government research project.

The presence of drones in the US was brought home Wednesday night when some people thought they saw a UFO along the Capitol Beltway in Washington. In fact, it was a disc-shaped X-47B UCAV (Unmanned Combat Air System) being hauled from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland for testing.

Civil libertarians warn that “unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the prospect of a significant new avenue for the sur­veillance of American life,” as the American Civil Liberties Union put it in a report last December.

“The technology is quickly becoming cheaper and more powerful, interest in deploying drones among police departments is increasing, and our privacy laws are not strong enough to ensure that the new technology will be used responsibly and consistently with democratic values,” reported the ACLU. “In short, all the pieces appear to be lining up for the eventual introduction of routine aerial sur­veillance in American life – a development that would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States.”

Friday, June 15, 2012

Some people collect stamps. Mark Michaelson, a graphic designer in Manhattan, prefers mugshots. Not just any old mug will do -- Michaelson’s 10,000-odd faces bear scars, weak chins, crooked teeth and cloche hats, visual details his trained eye can’t resist.

“I see a lot of boring ones, and I’m not going for those,” Michaelson recently told The Huffington Post. “The ones you’re seeing are the best I’ve found. You get this feeling when you find them, like being an archaeologist, finding some relic that you’re able to identify as being special, and rescuing it, saving it.”

Michaelson started collecting in the mid-nineties, when eBay launched. Since 2005, he’s shared his scores, which come from markets on and offline (eBay is still his richest source), on his highly trafficked Flickr site, and in 2006, with a book and paired gallery show hosted by fellow mugshot collector Steven Kasher. Now Michaelson is analyzing his compulsion in “American Mugshot,” a documentary by a Toronto-based studio about how the mugshot -- a form of portraiture no one wants to pose for -- came to be art.

The idea of repurposing mugshots as art isn’t new. Andy Warhol, whose series for the 1964 World’s Fair involved 13 massive silkscreen mugshots of the FBI’s most wanted people at the time, is one of Michaelson’s “obvious” influences. But Michaelson isn’t ambitious in the way of Warhol, more possessed.

“I think about it all the time,” he said. “It’s an obsession. It's like a drug. I’m still just as excited by my most recent acquisition as I was by the very first.”

To gaze at the unlucky faces is also a uniquely American pastime. In all Michaelson’s time hunting -- in European flea markets and online -- he’s never come across a mugshot in circulation that originated outside the U.S., where they are considered public property.

Indeed, Michaelson’s accidental side career may not have flourished in a different time or place. Warhol’s experiment with mugshots at the World's Fair “didn’t go over very well,” Michaelson pointed out. “He was forced to take them down.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Flag Day in the United States, is the celebration of the birthday of the Stars and Stripes. Sadly, for most Americans, Flag Day is not on their radar like the celebration of Memorial Day or Independence Day. Most Americans may not even realize Flag Day even exists. It is not an official federal holiday as far as federal or other assorted government employees are concerned – no official day off and no overtime pay on this holiday. Thus, Americans may wonder what meaning does the day truly have?

While the chronology may seem inconsequential, it may represent a deeper significance. The design of the flag is recognized as a symbol of the people: the red and white stripes represent the original thirteen colonies and the stars were meant to represent each new state that entered the union. Fundamentally, the flag represented the organization of each of the populations in their respective geographic regions. The flag essentially represented the unity of the people in their desperate desire for freedom.

In other words, the flag was understood to be a symbol of the unity of people and not simply a representation of the government of the United States because at the time, there was no official government. The birth of the flag, reflective of the unity of the people in their desire for freedom from tyranny, was ultimately followed by the adoption of the guiding principles of the first government, which was eventually followed by the recognition of Britain and France that the United States was a legitimate nation within the community of nations.

Throughout our nation’s history, the flag also served as a symbol to other people in other lands yearning for freedom because the United States ultimately earned the reputation as the land of a free people, despite the fact that many of the people who came to this land had to fight for their respective freedom. The majority of people have attained freedom in this country because they were willing to work for it and even fight for it. The founders managed to plow the field and sow the seeds of liberty. There were no guarantees made that this incredible experiment would ever work perfectly, or even work at all.

The structure and organization of our government permitted this quest and struggle for freedom for so many people from all over the world. This nation today is a land where such freedom is cherished even to the point of allowing people their freedom to burn the flag. But even when someone burns the flag in disrespect, it says much more about the vandal than the action of desecration. It either indicates the one who destroys the flag is quite ignorant or quite intolerant of what the land of the free truly means.

Our flag deserves to have a birthday. It has represented to so much to so many throughout our country’s turbulent history. It still represents so much to so many today, yet there are those who understand so little about the genuine value of the flag of the United States. It especially is still the flag of “us” – we the people. May “that Star-spangled Banner still wave… Oe’r the land of the free and the home of the brave...”

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What happens if America loses its unions

Are American unions history?

In the wake of labor’s defeated effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) last week, both pro- and anti-union pundits have opined that unions are in an all-but-irreversible decline. Privately, a number of my friends and acquaintances in the labor movement have voiced similar sentiments. Most don’t think that decline is irreversible but few have any idea how labor would come back.

What would America look like without a union movement? That’s not a hard question to answer, because we’re almost at that point. The rate of private-sector unionization has fallen below 7 percent, from a post-World War II high of roughly 40 percent. Already, the economic effects of a union-free America are glaringly apparent: an economically stagnant or downwardly mobile middle class, a steady clawing-back of job-related health and retirement benefits and ever-rising economic inequality.

When unions are powerful, they boost the incomes of not only their members but also of nonunion workers in their sector or region. Princeton economist Henry Farber has shown that the wages of a nonunion worker in an industry that is 25 percent unionized are 7.5 percent higher because of that unionization. Today, however, few industries have so high a rate of unionization, and a consequence is that unions can no longer win the kinds of wages and benefits they used to.

Deunionization is just one reason Americans’ incomes have declined, of course; globalization has taken its toll as well. But the declining share of pretax income going to wages is chiefly the result of the weakening of unions, which is the main reason American managers now routinely seek to thwart their workers’ attempts to unionize through legally questionable but economically rewarding tactics (rewarding, that is, for the managers).

The weakening of unions has had a huge political effect as well: the realignment of the white working class. Since the ’60s, exit polls have shown that unionized blue-collar whites vote Democratic at a rate 20 to 30 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts. The decline in union membership has weakened Democrats in such heavily white, increasingly deunionized states as West Virginia and Wisconsin — the main reason Republicans such as Walker have sought to reduce labor’s numbers. Liberals who have been indifferent to unions’ decline will find it difficult to enact progressive legislation in their absence.

Understandably, some liberals are searching for ways to arrest the economic decline of the majority of their fellow Americans in a post-union environment. I fear they’re bound to be frustrated. If workers can’t bargain with their employers, it can’t be done. If and when Big Labor dies — it’s on life support now — America’s big middle class dies with it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Turn on your local cable network these days and what do you find? $40 a month for 199 channels!

You  will see some, and I use that word sparingly, good shows on cable. NAT Geo & Discovery are two that come to mind. But the others? Of course, you'll argue, "This is just your opinion." That's true.

Shows that depict, "Cheating on your spouse? Great idea! Casual affairs with people you work with? Why not! Restarting your failed relationship for the seventh time on the theory that this time will be different? Of course! "

Hiring a President that likes firing public sector workers while he claims to want to create jobs in the private sector? Absolutely!

What we watch influences how we think. The America we have? Well, you can get an indication of what that America is and what it will be by flipping through the channels on any cable network.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Raymond Dolin may need to change the title of his upcoming memoir.

Dolin, 39, is hitchhiking across the United States to gather material for his book, "The Kindness of America."

But on Saturday night, the West Virginia man was shot by a random passerby on the side of a highway, the Billings Gazette reports. Dolin was waiting for a ride a couple of miles outside of Glasgow, Montana around 6 pm. That's when, he says, a man driving a maroon pickup truck pulled up and shot him in the arm before speeding away.

The hitchhiker was able to get the attention of another passing vehicle, KRTV reports, and is now recovering at a Glasgow hospital. His injuries are non-life threatening.

After a manhunt lasting about four hours, authorities tracked the maroon pickup about 100 miles east of Glasgow and arrested the driver, Charles Lloyd Danielson III, of Washington State.

Police say the two men did not know one another. "It appears to be an absolutely random event," Sheriff Glenn Myer told KTVQ. "He just drove up there and shot him. We're unclear as to why."

Danielson, 52, is being held on suspicion of felony assault with a deadly weapon and driving under the influence, according to the Great Falls Tribune. His first court appearance is scheduled for today.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Most Americans want an end to war and more money spent on healthcare - could this be the beginning of their awakening?

Last week, I wrote about veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who gave back their medals to NATO, just like an earlier generation of Vietnam War veterans had done at the White House in May, 1971.

Now, as then, I wrote, the anti-war veterans have the support of most Americans - roughly two-thirds now want America to withdraw from Afghanistan, the same as wanted out of Vietnam in 1971. And yet, the elite media not only ignores both groups, it actively divides them - both against one another and against themselves.

The veterans returning their medals to NATO were generally blunt and to the point. "I did two tours in Iraq," Sgt Maggie Martin told the crowd. "No amount of medals, ribbons or flags can cover the amount of human suffering caused by these wars. We don't want this garbage. We want our human rights. We want our right to heal."

"I am deeply sorry for the destruction that we have caused in those countries and around the globe," said Jason Hurd, who spent 10 years as an Army combat medic. "I am proud to stand on this stage with my fellow veterans and my Afghan sisters. These were lies. I'm giving them back."

These were just two of the dozens and dozens of veterans who returned their medals that day. A number of others cited Private Bradley Manning, imprisoned and awaiting trial for allegedly "aiding the enemy" by passing on classified material later published by the whistleblower website, WikiLeaks. The celebrated Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg has also spoken out on Manning's behalf.

"Bradley Manning is acting in the interest of the United States and against the interest of our enemy al-Qaeda," Ellsberg said last year. "There's a campaign here against whistleblowing that's actually unprecedented in legal terms." From Ellsberg's perspective, there is no basic difference between what he did in releasing the Pentagon Papers - which made him a hero to a generation of Americans - and what Bradley Manning is accused of, releasing a treasure trove of embarrassing and illuminating classified cables via Wikileaks - which could end up keeping him in prison for the rest of his life.

In short, both the anti-war veterans and the pro-health care nurses represent solid supermajority positions of the American people as a whole. Yet political and media elites treat both groups as little more than Stalinist "unpersons". Without vast sums of money in the Citizens United era, they might as well not exist. Optimists may call America's democracy "dysfunctional", pessimists may say that it's dead. But another possibility is that it's a sleeping giant that's only just begun to awake - along with hundreds of other democracies all around the world.