Opinion

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Published in the September-October 2014 issue of MyLIFE magazine

As we approach this year’s midterm elections, I am reminded of the statement made by legendary author Tom Clancy: “Why does Washington so rarely do smart things? Because we elect idiots.”

It also seems that we never learn from the past, and after each election we sit back and complain for another two or four years when (should we be surprised?) these politicians continue to engage in corruption and misuse their public office. Maybe Tom Clancy should have said, “Because idiots continue to elect idiots!”

Today, Congress’ approval rating is about 15 percent, and at many state levels leadership approval ratings are no better.  What’s amazing is the sheer apathy that most Americans display when it comes to electing individuals who do nothing. As history will demonstrate, it seems to be the American people’s desire to re-elect these ineffective officials—even those who have destroyed voters’ trust with their unethical activities—to extended terms.

We don’t condone such activities in the private sector, so why do we put up with this kind of behavior in the political arena? Any corporate president or CEO who committed fraud, accepted bribes, kickbacks, free trips or other gifts or otherwise abused the power of his or her position for personal gain would be swiftly terminated. So, the $64,000 question is: Why are such actions in the political arena not dealt with in the same manner as they are in the private sector?

It’s a common practice for politicians to initiate legislation that insulates them from prosecution on many fronts. But the culture of politics is also part of the problem—the good old boys’ network promotes the understanding that holding a colleague accountable for unscrupulous behavior may very well place one’s own position at risk. Why, you might ask? Because sooner or later the spotlight might pivot, and then the one pointing the finger is scrutinized. Politicians play the game by their own rules, and they continue to win at our expense.

With all the backstabbing, mud slinging and other smear tactics (not to mention the outright character assassinations) that goes on among those running for public office, it’s difficult to tell a good guy (if there is one) from a bad one. As voters, it’s our responsibility to elect leaders who will tackle the tough issues we face as a country and do what is necessary to achieve positive results, not only for our own good, but also to improve our country’s standing in the eyes of other nations.

The midterm elections are rapidly approaching, and each of you has the ability to effect change. Evaluate the character of those who are running for office. Sift through all of the promises, most of which are unlikely to be honored. Vote for the candidates whom you feel (now don’t laugh) will “serve the people” and not just themselves. Choose the candidates who care about the economy, and toss voting for the party line—because that’s clearly not working.

In closing, I caution you not to fall for the immigration promises. Once again, that’s merely a hot button candidates use to get voters all riled up. Politicians have been promising immigration reform for more than 50 years, so how many of them really care? If they did, don’t you think immigration reform would have been completed long before now?

Pick a candidate who displays the fortitude to address the key issues—putting people back to work, improving education and the nation’s infrastructure, bringing manufacturing jobs back home to the United States. Elect a candidate whose first priority is the economy of our state and our country. The rest will then fall into place with time. Apathy be gone! Enough is enough!

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Published in the Nov-Dec 2013 issue of MyLIFE magazine

MyLIFE artist Zack Jones’ all-time favorites (Click to Enlarge). Which one is your favorite? Vote for your favorite cartoon in our comments section below.

wheres-the-leadership-small     the-devil-you-know-versus-the-devil-you-dont-small

 

one-life-is-too-high-a-price-to-pay-small    what-the-happened-small

 

 

we-make-a-living-by-what-we-get-small    the-unthinkable-did-happen-small

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The city of Gilbert has memorialized police officers and firefighters who have died in the line of duty with a public safety memorial statue in front of the Gilbert Public Safety Complex.
The city of Gilbert has memorialized police officers and firefighters who have died in the line of duty with a public safety memorial statue in front of the Gilbert Public Safety Complex.

Published in the July-August 2013 issue of MyLIFE magazine

When I grew up, the police and firefighters were pillars of the community, similar to teachers, ministers and school principals. They served (and the key word here is served) the community. They worked long shifts and were paid less than people in other professions, and you hardly heard a whimper from them for doing so. Today, their jobs have intensified. Stress is higher, and the risk of loss of life is a constant—they never know if they will be shot or attacked when responding to a routine emergency call. Every day of the year, they put themselves in harm’s way to protect us.

I have watched for decades as military personnel in airports and restaurants are bought a drink or perhaps a meal as a gesture of appreciation for their service. However, the front lines are not only in Iraq or Afghanistan, they are right here on every street corner in Phoenix and across America. How many times have you seen a policeman or firefighter be extended the same gratitude? A simple thank you would go a long way.

Years ago when I was living in California, I remember the local police union was lobbying to limit how dark car windows could be tinted. The issue was that when police officers made vehicle stops, they couldn’t see who was inside the vehicle (particularly at night) or whether the occupant was armed—it was a safety issue. To no one’s surprise, the lobbying efforts failed and patrol officers were forced to use massive halogen lights on their police cruisers. It was a logical approach to help them determine (by the outline of the occupants) how many people were actually riding in the vehicle. In addition, officers were also more likely to approach stopped vehicles with a gun in hand.

It’s not only our police officers who must deal with changing social times. Firefighters and medical personnel in major cities frequently have to deal with random shootings, ambushes and local street violence when responding to a basic fire or emergency call in our community. The risk is no longer just about fighting fires or treating the wounded for these brave men and women.

Honor Role of Heroes
Honor Role of Heroes
2011
Nationwide, 176 police officers died in the line of duty
(2 in Arizona)
18 K-9s died
50 firefighters died nationwide
2012
Nationwide, 120 police officers died in the line of duty (2 in Arizona)
18 K-9s died
83 firefighters died nationwide
2013 (January–April)
Nationwide, 45 police officers died in the line of duty
(2 in Arizona)
7 K-9s died
(data on deaths among firefighters not available)

Recently the widow of a fallen police officer in Arizona with a young child had to worry whether her husband’s health benefits would continue for their family. I understand that we are all faced with mounting social and economic challenges within our communities, but let’s get real here. When I was growing up, my father use to say that we could never pay these pillars of our community enough for what they did to protect us. If he were still alive today, he would be outraged that these civil employees are treated like every other category when it comes to budgets or the lack thereof. Like many of the rest of us, a large number of these employees must take a second job to pay the bills, and more often than not it seems that when one of these modern-day “knights in shining armor” makes the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, they leave behind a young wife and family to fend for themselves.

When it comes to balancing budgets, I feel strongly that the important role police officers and firefighters play and the risks these individuals take for the community at large must be acknowledged, and we should never skimp on compensating them properly. We, as a civilized society (and that could be debated), have a fundamental responsibility to honor and serve these gallant front-line responders, just as they serve each of us. Putting themselves in harm’s way—every single day—places them in a higher category of service than in most other jobs. It also counts for a whole hell-of-a-lot more than many of them receive. We as a thankful and compassionate society (?) need to ensure that they are paid well and receive top-notch benefits—and for those who make the ultimate sacrifice, that their families are taken care of by a grateful community. This must include health benefits, pensions and educational guarantees for their children. Mourning the death of a loved one lost in the line of duty is beyond my comprehension, but I do know that having to worry about how the family of a fallen hero will pay next month’s bills is simply unacceptable.

We need to change how we think. We need to remember a time 50 years ago when these professions were respected and honored by everyone in the community. We need to take care of those whose entire career is about putting their life on the line as they take care of us. So, the next time you see a police officer or firefighter (just as you would for our courageous members of the military), buy that person a cup of coffee or extend your thanks for what he or she does. And when our local politicians start the debate to infringe on (or better yet, simply rob) the coffers used to pay those who serve us day in and day out, make it known to them that we value, appreciate and respect those whose chosen profession is to serve on America’s front lines to keep our families safe.

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Published in the Jan-Feb 2013 issue of MyLIFE magazine

elections-bought-and-paid-forIt’s great that we live in the United States where we boast about free and open elections, but this year’s campaign exposed several concerns. There was the never-ending barrage of destructive campaign ads that aired lies about candidates at all levels, along with their “dirty laundry”—while the world watched. There was also the unheard-of billions of dollars spent (by politicians collectively) while so many Americans are still struggling. And finally there was the harsh reality of how the now infamous “super PACs” are likely to dictate winners and losers in all future elections—unless major changes are made.

How ironic that just seconds before declaring one’s candidacy, a person was seen as a responsible, hard-working father/mother, family man/woman, devoted husband or wife and caring human being … but as soon as the announcement was made, the hateful attacks against that same person began. Are we proud of those candidates who stooped so low as to slander, accuse, destroy and defame every human value of their political opponents? And every candidate was guilty, because they all willingly participated in the slaughter. The war of words and negative ads crossed every line of civility, ethics, honor, integrity and professionalism. The nonstop attacks left most viewers numb and demonstrated how every candidate was prepared to do, and say, anything to get elected … including sacrificing their own principles and values. Or did they?

And yet, we as Americans still chose to award many of these same people with public office. Are you kidding me? If they were so willing to ditch their personal values and assassinate (and betray) the character of their “fellow opponents,” what makes you think they will act any differently after being elected? I’m still haunted knowing that many candidates spent tens of millions (some spent $30 million plus) for a single seat in Washington that pays a base salary of $174,000. Boy, those winners sure have a lot of favors and IOUs to pay back, don’t they? Oh well. As the saying goes: “We get what we pay for.”

The super PACs, a new phenomenon in the political arena, are totally controlled by the world’s “super elite”—the wealthiest of millionaires, billionaires, corporations and foreign entities. These contributors are legally able to hide behind the super PACs (like cowards) and conceal their identities from the world. Shouldn’t everyone who’s running for office be proud to share with the world the identity of those who support them? And should it not be the law, as well?

Super PACs are moving the American political system backward, from transparency to more secrecy. Secrecy in politics conjures up thoughts of black-ops, corruption and sinister actions. These super PACs are in the (BIG) business of pushing their own personal agendas or whatever is good for them. They are not in business to serve the interests of most Americans.

Whichever way each party’s spin doctors roll the dice, they’re all coming up 7’s. If left unchecked, it seems destined that future elections or ballot initiatives will be won by those whose super PACs spend the most money. Politics has been reduced to buying and selling. Ethics, honor, integrity or just simple principles and values—the very words that guided our founding fathers—have taken a backseat to the almighty greenback.

These PACs can legally funnel millions or billions of dollars into any campaign they want, in any state they chose, in support of any candidate or whichever ballot initiative is up for a vote. They have already come knocking on Arizona’s front door, and they will continue to funnel vast sums of money into Arizona politics, which is guaranteed to alter our landscape and certain to impact the lives of all Arizonans. Now that’s a slippery slope. Here’s an example of how outside money interests and PACs influenced our local elections.

In the race for the office of Maricopa County sheriff, incumbent Joe Arpaio’s campaign raised a war chest of more than $8 million, while challenger Paul Penzone raised roughly $500,000. The Arizona Republic reported that 80 percent of the Arpaio’s funds (about $6.5 million) came from donations outside of Arizona. In contrast, Penzone’s $500,000 (which amounts to less than 7 percent of what Arpaio raised) came almost entirely from within the state. Arpaio won his re-election bid by roughly 10 percent of the vote, so the math tells me four things. Arpaio required almost 20 times more funding to defeat challenger Penzone. Arpaio’s 10 percent win cost about $700,000 for every percentage point he won by—a very costly race. Seems that Arpaio might well have lost, had it not been for the $6.5 million he received from his outside investors. And if 80 percent of his support in fact did originate from outside of Arizona (not just outside of Maricopa County), it shows that his popularity within the region he serves was not that strong. So, one could argue that the outsiders who donated to his campaign, rather than locals, were a major factor in his re-election.

By all accounts, the election cost the Romney and Obama camps about $2.5 billion, with another $2 billion to $3 billion spent collectively by other candidates at all levels, or somewhere between $5 billion and $6 billion in total. It simply cost too much, period! While we may be eager to shout to the world that America has free and open elections, the super PACs have changed that forever. Going forward, a more accurate message we send out to other countries might be “our leadership is BOUGHT and SOLD in secrecy to the highest bidder.”

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Published in the Nov-Dec 2012 issue of MyLIFE magazine

All veterans deserve far better than most are currently receiving. Every year in November, we join together to celebrate Veterans Day, to honor those courageous men and women who paid the ultimate price for “our” freedom. So this year, how about we make a real difference by truly helping our veterans? It’s time to help give them a stable life after they come home. That means housing, jobs, retraining, counseling and access to every form of medical assistance.

In June 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, better known as the GI Bill. This historic legislation provided veterans of the Second World War funds for college education, retraining, job assistance, loan guarantees for a home, farm or business, and unemployment insurance for up to 52 weeks. Today, we need to do better.

We can’t all be so self-inclined and proclaim that we are the “greatest nation on earth” when we have forgotten that freedom comes at the highest possible price—human life! No sacrifice is greater than when a person puts his or her life in harm’s way or makes the ultimate sacrifice so that we as Americans (and others) can live in peace and freedom.

After more than a decade at war, our returning heroes are facing massive challenges. Today, we are losing more (active and nonactive) members of the armed forces to suicide. Can you image this? More of our military are committing suicide every year than are dying on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Recent Department of Defense statistics show that since January 2001, a staggering 2,293 active-duty service members have taken their own lives, which exceeds America’s total casualty count in the war since it began. And it’s not only a phenomenon among American troops; it’s also happening among Canadian forces and those in the United Kingdom and our other coalition allies. The common threads are relationships, finances and alcohol and drug-related issues, all of which are underscored by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Another mounting problem—and it’s staggering—is the growing number of homeless vets. Returning heroes, many of whom have served this country with three or four tours of combat, are returning home to no jobs, no housing, little cash, little medical help (or hard-to-get medical help) and, as such, very little hope. Today, almost 700,000 veterans across America now call home a local street corner, a park or a patch of ground beneath a bridge. Is this the America you know? Is this an America to be proud of? And is this how we honor our military people for their service?

The first question that needs asking is this: “What is our government doing to help our veterans?” The answer seems pretty clear: certainly not enough!” So, where are the flag-waving veterans who are now politicians and who claim to be big supporters of our veterans? It seems, along with being totally disconnected from everyday Americans, that they are also oblivious to the plight of our courageous vets.

This has nothing to do with budgets, deficits or political partisanship and rhetoric. It has everything to do with honor, commitment and the strongest of moral obligations. America owes a huge debt—one that’s due to every member of the military. We cannot turn our backs on them. If Uncle Sam can’t honor this debt, then we should stop sending them off to war.

JUST ANOTHER DAY ON THE JOB
To serve our country in the armed forces is often thought of as one of the most patriotic, selfless acts there is. Our men and women in uniform put themselves in harm’s way every day.
[flagallery gid=5 name=”Just Another Day on the Job”]

Here is an oxymoron. As reported on CBS national news on September 17, 2012, a wounded soldier got hooked on painkillers after he returned from the war, buying them from any drug dealer who would sell them to him. Because of his actions and addiction, he was discharged from the military—and as a result, he lost all access to his veteran’s benefits. Now I ask you: Who was the numskull that drafted such a policy, and what idiots approved it? How more ass-backwards could any policy initiative possibly be? This is not how we should be treating our wounded warriors!

Capitol Hill seems quite content to send our men and women into war, so how about providing for them when they return? Is it possible that our government, America’s Fortune 500 corporations and everyday citizens have simply grown bored and tired of the huge sacrifice these courageous individuals continue to make? Politicians are so gung ho about printing more money out of thin air to buy mortgage-backed securities. How about printing more money to fund the programs and services our returning vets need? Our military forces are an elite group of human beings. They are taught always to advance, never to retreat or turn their backs on America (or the world). And today, every American needs to do the same for them.

Recently I pulled up to a Fry’s Marketplace and saw a vet under a tree with a sign that read: “CAN YOU HELP A VET?” I pulled around and parked the car, opened my trunk and grabbed four bottles of water. Along with some money, I gave the water to him and apologized for the water not being very cold. He replied, “Thank you very much, sir. It’s certainly a lot colder than what I have in my backpack.” He was under a frigging tree in 112-degree Arizona heat—in the biggest country in the world. I have to wonder, is this really the best we can all do?

We rise and applaud them at sporting events, and we attach bumper stickers to our cars that say “Support Our Troops” … so how about making a huge difference in the lives of our veterans? No one person can solve the problem, but one person at a time can build an army, and we all know what an army can do. Trust me, one person can be an army, and one person can make a difference.

Listed below are local and national organizations that provide assistance to our vets through difficult times. I ask each of you who reads this piece to take a moment and make that all-important donation—whether it be $1 or $10—and when doing so, realize that freedom is never free, and that, as Americans, we can all make a meaningful difference!

Military Assistance Mission
azmam.org, 602-246-6429

Operation Home Front
operationhomefront.net, 210-659-7756

Armed Services YMCA
asymca.org, 800-597-1260

National Military Family Organization
militaryfamily.org, 703-931-6632

Fisher House Foundation
fisherhouse.org, 888-294-8560

Homes for our Troops
homesforourtroops.org, 866-7-TROOPS

Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
nmcrs.org, 703-696-4904

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