9 Things That Will Make 2014 So Much Fun

Happy New YearWith no disrespect to Nostradamus, or anyone else who claims to be able to predict the future, I simply don’t believe anyone can know for sure what will happen until it does. There are some things however, which are already in the works and if they happen as planned, they will make 2014 one of the more interesting years in a while and mark a turning point in our history to come.

1. Love me some me

With Facebook no longer being the place for the cool kids to hang out, there is plenty of room for Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ Snapchat and others to grow. Facebook still dominates the market, but now that our parents and grandparents are playing too, some of the naughty pleasure has left. Thanks to the self-indulgent selfie and the number of mobile devices that exceed the total population, there will be more opportunities to share just how in love we are with our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who post “the best meal I’ve had….ever!” and complains no one has anything of substance to offer. I say, post it all and then post some more – I love it!

 2. DIY small business

Despite the politically motivated forecasts of gloom and doom for small businesses, Americans are ever entrepreneurial spirits. Those who have been dissolutioned by how expendable they were in the corporate world and finding fewer and fewer options for comparable incomes, are learning how to market themselves and deciding to place their eggs in their own baskets. Finding and using the same tools and strategies the big boys use is becoming easier and cheaper. With 70% of the American workforce disengaged from their workplace, companies are finding it difficult to create the flexible and creative work environments that the millennial workforce will demand. Creativity and independence of thought are on the way back.

3. 60 is the new 30

According to researchers at Harvard University, people are living healthier, not just longer. Thanks to medical advancements, people are adding more quality years to their lives. What are they doing with their added years? They are traveling, finding new adventures, finding new careers or starting new business. They are also finding new relationships; there are at least a dozen dating sites aimed specifically at the senior market. It’s not unusual to see several sexagenarians working alongside millennials in a host of fields. Workers in their sixties bring an abundance of valuable work and life experiences into the workplace and no longer are they the doddering, forgetful codgers they have been portrayed as over the past fifty years. Some companies are embracing this renewed and loyal resource and their companies are benefitting.

 4. New minimums

Come January 1, 13 states will raise the minimum wage above the federal standard within their own borders. While Congress aborted its duty and reneged on its promise to constituents, at least some states recognize the need for workers’ pay to keep pace with the rising cost of…well…everything. For those retail and fast-food workers who went on strike this past year, it seems as if someone was paying attention. There is still hope that Congress will be pushed into raising the federal minimum wage by Democrats looking to find votes during the mid-term elections.

 5. Obama-care’s real test

Forget how it was rolled out, don’t fret over the problems with the website and the prediction of Armageddon, the fact is, people are enrolling – and at a faster rate than initially reported.  The real test will be when people begin finding out if they got what they thought they got. The most potential for harm will come in the form of the “Employer mandate” where companies who have 50 or more employees will have to pay $2,000 per employer in fines if they do not provide health-care coverage. This has always been a tough sell to small businesses, so much so that enforcing the rule was delayed until 2015. The question of whether it would be cheaper to pay the fine is simple, but finding the right answer is as complex as each company’s bottom line. Aside from the actual dollar costs, one would also have to factor in the loss of human talent if a company decides not to offer health-care when their competition does. The other big test will rest on the backs of those families that live in states when their governors and lawmakers decided to forego billions of dollars and declined to expand Medicare, thus leaving millions of poor Americans uninsured. Most people who have never had insurance, or have been relatively healthy may not have had experienced being denied treatment due to a preexisting condition. They may not know what it is to go into crushing debt when a child gets sick or hurt and they no longer were qualified to be on their parents’ insurance. When my sister was diagnosed with cancer, she became virtually uninsurable outside of what an employer would offer. Even with that, the medical costs swallowed everything she worked her entire life earning. When the AIDs became an epidemic it was because nearly everyone knew someone who was affected by the disease. I’m willing to bet that there are even more people who know someone who has been affected by a lack of or less than adequate health insurance.

 6. Finger pointing

Aaahhh, the mid-term elections, though not as exciting as when there’s a Presidential seat up for grabs, but expect this to be year to have more fireworks than normal. The Congress is coming off its worst year ever and its behavior only fueled the mistrust and cynicism of its constituency. The members did nothing to overcome a crippled and sluggish economy; did nothing to reign in the abuses of over-reaching national security agencies; did nothing to balance the shrinking status of the middle class against the backdrop of obscene corporate profits; did nothing to strengthen the safety of our food and water; did nothing to reduce the U.S. energy dependence on foreign sources, and did absolutely nothing to justify their $174,000 average annuals salaries. But still it should be fun to watch the blame game in full effect; I imagine it will be something like Jake Blues explaining why he never showed up at the altar.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TuLBa-rgBk

 7. There’s what in that salad?

Its one thing to find out that the McRib is made out of something other than ribs, but knowing that foods that we thought were safe and healthy, like corn, tomatoes and lettuce is being routinely genetically altered is frightening. Especially considering that more than 60 countries (the U.S. not among them) have significantly restricted or outright banned the imports; couple that with fact that several of the nation’s top food manufacturers, drug companies, and chemicals manufacturers spent $22 million in Washington State in order to avoid labeling foods which contained GMOs (genetically modified organisms) makes me uncomfortable about what they’re hiding. No one can say for sure what the long term effects GMOs will have, but it should be noted that the leading producer of GMO seeds is Monsanto, the company which makes the weed-killer Roundup possible, the company which brought us Agent Orange, PCBs and DDT, yes, that Monsanto. If you are unfamiliar with GMOs, these three links should help explain:

http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/

 http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/all-you-need-to-know-about-gmos-and-march-against-monsanto/   

http://biotech.about.com/od/faq/f/GMOs.htm

There are other companies however, and their plan is to spend money to lobby politicians into keeping bills – which you will likely never hear of – from becoming law. The good news is that 2014 shapes up to be the year that more information and awareness about GMOs comes to light and the real debate can begin.

 8. TV and movies

Just to show that I don’t spend all my time on serious subjects I thought I’d share my anticipations for the upcoming year in TV binging. I still haven’t seen the last season of Breaking Bad; I’m waiting until I can watch the entire thing nonstop. By then I can get started with new series featuring Saul Goodman, the adorably felonious lawyer from the BB show. Netflix gave us two outstanding original series, House of Cards and the surprisingly addictive Orange is the new Black; love me some Jenji Kohan, I’m looking forward to gobbling on both. My guy friends tell me I should be all about the Game of Thrones, but I haven’t gotten there yet, not that I don’t think it’s a good show, it’s just that the mostly that they try to sell me on the medieval humping….not that there’s anything wrong with that; maybe this year will be the year. I can binge on moves as well, but that’s harder to do in theaters these days. I am looking forward to the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending, because there’s yet to be a film, which has had the same feel and promise of The Matrix, even its sequels….maybe this will be the one.

9. High times

I wonder if residents and legislators in Washington state and Colorado knew they were about to become the test laboratories for America’s experiment with legalized recreational marijuana. After decades of dwelling within the social subculture, there can finally be some practical conversations about the potential benefits and risks of smoking pot. As a child of the seventies, I could right these moves off, as “the man” finally getting around to taxing something they can’t stop and that some people will continue to do simply because it makes them feel good. For those who are against drug use of any kind, you needn’t worry, we are a long way from legalized marijuana sweeping the nation, but we will be closer in 2014 than we are now and just as some people suspect about health-care, once the genie is out of the bottle….there’s no going back.

 

~ Richard

 

Black, Black Friday

FridayI must say that I have never understood the excitement over the prospect of being elbowed or trampled by hundreds of unruly, cranky and sometimes violent people just to save money on something that in my life, I would most likely be better off without. No, seriously, I just don’t get the whole Black Friday thing. No really! I will admit that saving money on just about anything, useful or not, is almost irresistible, but I know myself well enough that somewhere between the fifth and tenth time I get shoved on the way to my savings, my sense of humanity would go right out of my overloaded cart.

The term Black Friday is most widely credited with having originated out of the city of brotherly chaos, Philadelphia, when in the beginning of the nineteen-sixties, police department officials began using the term to refer to the day after Thanksgiving, the day when the holiday shopping season officially begins. This was also when daylong snarls of traffic, over-bloated shops and teeming sidewalks in downtown Philly sent police into a tizzy. This day would eventually become the day when retailers could get their revenue “in the black.” For those of you who are not into ancient history, you might be more familiar with the current connotation of Black Friday, which is marked by pushing shoving, snatching, trampling, cursing, mace(ing) fighting, shooting and stabbing crowds of bargain hunters, although what’s being hunted is debatable. Aside from the usual pushing and shoving, across the country, the day is littered with acts of violence that range from assaulting police officers to a stabbing so vicious the slice reached the victim’s bone, it was over a parking space.

After a police officer in Rialto, California suffered a broken wrist attempting to break up a fight between shoppers at a local Wal-Mart, a Wal-Mart spokesperson referred to the fracas as “an unfortunate and isolated incident.” Unfortunate it certainly is, but the sad truth is that such events have become anything but isolated. Wal-Mart is perhaps the mega-store most often identified as the location of most of these acts of stupidity, but Best-Buy, Kohl’s and Toys-R-Us has also been the places of record for violent acts during Black Friday. What has become equally disturbing is that the lunacy has begun to spread to Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, further threatening to erode one of the last few days where it’s okay for families to spend time together.

The violence is not the lone province of the shopper; companies who force their employees to give up their holiday against their will are acting equally criminal. Although their crimes will never land them on a police blotter, the immorality of their greed will have a far more damaging impact on society. th[10]Going back to 2006, seven deaths and ninety injuries related to Black Friday shopping has been recorded on a Web site called blackfridaydeathcount.com so it’s comforting to hear Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon say that the company is simple responding to what the customer wants and that Black Friday shopping is becoming just another family value. Please, somebody bludgeon me with half-priced TV. I guess that explains the thousands of people signing petitions and protesting at Wal-ly’s Worlds across the country.

When Serge Vorobyov threw 1,000 one-dollar bills into a crowd of shoppers at an Apple Valley, Minnesota shopping mall, he created quite a stir and brought attention to his effort to get his ex-wife to return his cat. It was also the kindest act anyone has been arrested for on Black Friday.

 

~ Richard

Does This Sound Right to You?

Jacari CampbellThere is a young man who needs help, but before I tell you why, let me share a little about who he is. His name is Jacari Campbell, he is 21 years-old and he has just been sentenced to 10 years in prison for a crime that even his trial judge had doubts about his guilt. Jacari Campbell is regarded by all that know him as a fun loving and respectful young man that spent much of his free time training to play college football. Up until his arrest in October of 2012, Jacari was a student at Tallahassee Community College; he was just one semester from earning his Associates degree. Jacari had spent the summer working in a local restaurant to earn enough money to contribute to the car his parents were purchasing for him so that he would no longer have to take the bus or depend on others for transportation. This is an important point that Jacari contributed toward his car, because it demonstrates his work ethic, integrity and lack of entitlement; it is not the behavior of someone who commits armed robbery to get what they want. In fact, Jacari had never been in legal trouble before; he had no history of violence, fights or physical encounters beyond the football field. He had a spotless record with all of his former employers; he was respected within his community and an active member of his church.

As with all of us, Jacari was not a perfect human being, the immediate events leading up to the crime he was charged with demonstrates more than anything does, that he was a typical young man. He could be your son, your brother, your best friend. Those events also show grave inconsistencies and contradictions, which show more than a little reasonable doubt. Jacari’s alleged involvement in the crime seems to have begun the previous Monday, when he was invited to the home of a co-worker, Eugene Cole, whom he knew from his college work-study, program to watch the Monday night football game between the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys. Also in attendance was Cole’s roommate Willmore Stuart; Stuart would later become the sole witness against Jacari. If all three young men watched the entire game, they would have spent approximately 3 hours together in Cole and Stuart’s apartment. This is important because less than six days later, Stuart would tell police at the scene that the person who held him at gunpoint was a stranger whom he had never seen before.

According to Jacari, on October 6 he and his roommate were planning a night out to attend to attend a couple of parties. As a prelude, Jacari stated that he called Cole to purchase marijuana from him. Cole told Jacari that he was out of town and unsure of when he would return. In court, Cole would later testify that he believed that Jacari was calling to make sure he was away. Jacari states that he attended two parties that night and was at the second during the time the robbery would have taken place. Three witnesses to Jacari’s presence at the second party signed affidavits, but were never called to testify. The robbery occurred sometime between two and three a.m. The details of the crime are at best sketchy. Stuart is said to have been in the house with just his girlfriend, Brittany Hamilton, when a noise of someone breaking in woke them both; no other housemates were there at the time. According to Ms. Hamilton, the residence was completely dark, no lights were turned on, and while Stuart went to investigate the noise, she went into a closet to dial 911.

At the center of the trial, Willmore Stuart proved to be anything but reliable. He contradicts Ms. Hamilton with regard to there being lights on and initially, he doesn’t identify Jacari to police, his girlfriend or his housemate Cole. Later, when Eugene Cole returns, he questions Stuart and asks for a description, which Cole believes matches that of his co-worker Jacari. He shows Stuart Jacari’s Facebook profile, but Stuart is still unsure. Sometime later that day, Cole and Stuart decide to go to Jacari’s residence to confront him. After a brief conversation and with the urging of Cole, Stuart is now convinced that Jacari was the unmasked gunman. Stuart also claimed that there was a second robber in the house that night, a large man who stood 6’ 1” or 6’ 2” and weighed about 300 pounds; the man never confronts him and spends the entire time ransacking the rest of the home. This man has never been found, nor does he fit the description of any of Jacari’s friends. In addition, Stuart suggests that he brought the gunman an IPad, a laptop and a set of Beats headphone, while the gunman continued to hold on to the gun. Stuart finally claims that he was able to slam his bedroom shut, pressing his body against it, but the robbers made no attempt to re-enter the room and continued to search to apartment. Here are other key facts around the case:

  • The gunman did not wear a mask or gloves.
  • Several of the items in question were dropped outside the apartment.
  • Neither Jacari’s fingerprints nor DNA was found on those items or at the scene.
  • The witnesses who could place Jacari at the party were never called to testify.
  • Jacari does not testify in his defense, he is not allowed to do so by his attorney.
  • There is no record of Jacari even owning, possessing, or purchasing a gun before that night.
  • None of the stolen articles was found in Jacari’s possession.
  • Jacari goes willingly to the police station to answer questions.
  • Jacari does not invoke his rights.
  • Jacari does not bring an attorney.
  • Jacari is arrested on the spot.

Some things to consider:

  • Why does a young man with no criminal record commit armed robbery for no apparent reason?
  • Why did it take Stuart so long to identify Jacari?

Ask yourself these two questions, and then ask yourself whether there is reasonable doubt in this case.

Jacari Campbell was sentence to ten years in prison because of Florida’s 10-20-Life minimum sentencing law. That means that “courts must impose the minimum sentence regardless of any mitigating circumstance; that no part of the sentence may be suspended, deferred, or withheld, and defendants are not eligible for any discretionary early release, other than pardon or clemency, or conditional medical release, before serving the minimum sentence.”

If you, in any way, believe that justice was not done in this case, Jacari’s family is asking that you contribute whatever you can to his defense and appeal. Please visit “Jacari’s Defense Fund” and help this young man seek a fair trial.

Let me know what you think by posting a comment.

~ Richard

Another 200 Shootings Today

Gun pile

As I was researching for this post, I was struck by two peculiar facts; it’s not the number of people shot each day, I already assumed that number would be high. Nor was it the lack of change in response to the depressing events. The first was that it is the Centers for Disease Control, which has the most accurate statistics on the subject. The Bureau of Justice Statistics does not necessarily include suicides, because in most states, suicide is not considered a crime. Which leads me to my second interesting nugget, which is that people commit suicide with guns at a much higher rate than they kill others with a gun; 18,735 compared to 11,493 (2009). America has been so focused on politicizing the gun-control issue from both sides that it has paralyzed the process of having positive discussions.

Perhaps a better way to address the issue is to treat it as the CDC does, as a disease. I’m not saying that people who love and want to own guns are in some way ill, but approaching gun violence as a treatable condition will give people on both sides of the debate a point of reference to agree that something has to change. You may be skeptical of the disease connection, but take a moment to review the statistics compiled on Mother Jones’ Web site. Keep in mind the list does not include the latest gun-amok in Los Angeles’ LAX on November 1 or the deadly family dispute in Greenwood, S.C. the day before. One the other hand, you too may recognize the irony of referring to the rise of gun violence as an epidemic.

Violence in America has long been the subject of scrutiny and debate and one should not be so naïve as to believe that removing guns from the equation will be the cure-all that is needed. Taking away guns will not alone reduce the nearly 20,000 people who succeed in taking their own lives by gun each year. Nor will it provide help to the countless others who have had or will have similar urges. Very few would disagree with the rationale that a person who takes an assault rifle or similar killing machine, and executes as many people as they can until they are stopped by force, is mentally unstable. We like to think we treat mental instability in this country as a disease, but that’s a topic for another day, assuming we did however, and we believe we treat sufferers of mental illness compassionately, why is the easy access to guns removed from the discussion.

I am not, unless someone can convince me otherwise, one who blames violent video games or explicit movies for the violent tendencies of this society. The insanity existed for generations before television and movies. Perhaps there is a way to use the escapism of those products as a way to sate those primal urges, rather than using them to dehumanize the senses to the horrific realities of violence. I understand that visceral reaction some have to the mere mention of gun control; we live in a time where it seems we lose more and more freedoms each day and the thought of having the right to bear arms taken off the books is simply a bridge too far. However, let’s be honest, we are burying ourselves under a mountain of guns and ammo while the underlying reasons for the violence remains unchecked.

~ Richard

IS IT STILL A DREAM?

MLKThe 1960s were part of an era when men and women would stand in front of a live audience and speak words that could inspire others to action. It was a time before sound bites came in 30-second doses and left our consciousness even quicker. The March on Washington received little fanfare in the days leading up to August 28, 1963, the day after; every newspaper in the country carried the story under the front-page headline banner.

Right from the very beginning, Dr. King remarked how one hundred years passed since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and still “the Negro was still not free.” Now, another 50 years have gone and we continue to contemplate whether the dream of equality and justice has been fully realized. It has been a long and wearisome journey, the road seems to never end and the movement is glacially slow. Today people of all races play together, work together; live, love and pray together. The progresses we have made are obvious and undeniable, but it feels as if we still have a ways to go. Every time an incident such as the Trayvon Martin shooting, we are reminded of just how far we are from that dream. We are reminded of the persistent poverty and ignorance that exists in segments of the African-American community. We are reminded of the growing economic gap between those that have and those who do not.

When it comes to race relations, my children live in a better world than the one I grew up into, which was better than the one my parents experienced. The legacy we pass on is one of hope and perseverance; one that does not obliterate or ignore the past, nor wallow in it either. Dr. King, rightfully so, also noted an “urgency of the moment”; it is that urgency which seems to have dissipated. There are no riots, no marches, no moving speeches; just the sense that we are mired in a state of almost there.

~ Richard

Trayvon and Civil Rights

The controversy over the trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman has simmered into a national debate over gun laws, “stand your ground laws” and racial profiling. The various issues have splintered the discussion into competing factions and has begun to mute the underlying fact that a 17-year-old African-American child was shot to death. The fact that a black teenaged male was shot is sadly, not new to the American news cycle. Even the fact that this particular victim was not in the midst of committing a crime is only slightly less common.

For African-American men, as President Obama pointed out on Friday (press conference), the experience of being followed, labeled and otherwise viewed as threatening to society is nothing new. What often gets glossed over by the public in general during these crisis debates over racial inequality is the role in which economic injustice plays in the dynamic of such instances. While institutional racism creates wedges of discontent, it is the depravation of economic stability and opportunity, which robs human souls of their connection to the whole of society.

The protests of the 1960s Civil Rights should not be viewed exclusively through the prism of social inequality, but rather the events should be studied for the relief they sought to create. Whether it was sit-ins at luncheon counters, dangerous bus rides through hostile cities, legal challenges to achieve school integration or street marches for garbage workers; each was aimed at gaining economic parity within a society seemingly determined to withhold such equality. It seems only fair to ask whether the sacrifices of our parents and grandparents will fall on deaf ears and if this, and future generations will understand what is needed and move forward.

I were able to ask George Zimmerman one question, in fact I would ask everyone the same question, why did he see Trayvon Martin the way he did? The trial itself was a classic case of turning the victim into a less sympathetic person, who, by his mere presence, contributed to his own demise. Alas, there are those young black men who act in such a manner that perpetuates the negative images and stereotypes; however, that is no excuse for taking someone’s life. It certainly does not avail Mr. Zimmerman the right to suspect, pursue and shoot. That there are those within our racial identity who do not present themselves as model citizens, does not give America license to deny us full membership into the human race, to incarcerate us unfairly, to deny avenues for education; to deny adequate living conditions, adequate healthcare, nutritious food or sustainable working wages.

African-American men need to understand that it is not society’s responsibility to change the stereotype. It is ours. The issue goes beyond baggy jeans, dreadlocks and expensive rims. It is the way we treat our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors and friends. It is the way we respect our minds and bodies and the things we feed into both. Let the legacy of Trayvon Martin not be about protests, but progress; about the moment when we became men OF the community, not just in it.

                                                ~Richard

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