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Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Terminator Strikes Hard Against Key Health Care

News out of California!

Governor crushes programs to help homeless mentally ill and to help consumers save on prescription medications!

In a heartless move befitting his movie role as the mechanized 'terminator' from the future, Governor Schwarzenegger cut a $55 million program that has helped thousands of mentally ill citizens return to mainstream society and a $6 million program to require drug manufacturers to discount many prescription medications for citizens in need.

This is blatant short-sightedness at its worst. Instead of spending around $60 million in preventive medicine now, the Governor has chosen to spend at least two or three times more in other service areas in the near future in unnecessary hospitalizations, jail costs and loss of productivity in these extremely vulnerable populations. Politicians repeatedly cut critical services like these to 'save money' without thinking about the consequences of their actions.

This is the kind of stupid decisions that our politicians and leaders are making everyday lately. And yes, I know full well that these are fighting words. Bring it on, Terminator!

When will our politicians realize that preventing health problems is MUCH cheaper than reacting to them after the fact? THIS is why our health care programs cost two or three times more than anywhere else in the world, with only minor differences in the quality of care marginalized citizens receive. I like Arnold as an actor, but I give him an F on this one.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Transparent Equality

A few years back, the United States federal legislation passed a new law requiring certain transparency actions by major U.S. corporations. The nonprofit industry has since worked to apply the same standards to their operations to assure the American public as to their legitimacy and donation worthiness. While I commend them for their efforts at honesty and accountability to the American people, there is still an industry that refuses to apply these standards. That industry is the government itself.

The U.S. government (and most state, county and municipal governments) frequently operates behind a veil of misinformation and secrecy. Many times, laws and budgets passed for the good of America are unofficially ignored, adding to the lack of accountability.

An example is in order, I think.

A few years back, the United States was awe-struck as we watched the first test flight of the Delta Clipper, a prototype of a completely reusable space launch vehicle. Congress was so impressed that they passed budgeting for the Department of Defense (the Delta Clipper was designed under a 'Star Wars' development program) to build a full-scale Delta Clipper for testing and, if proven viable, for full production of a series of them. It was hoped that the Delta Clipper would replace our aging space shuttle fleet and secure the future of the American space exploration efforts. The problem was, the man in charge of releasing the funds to the program for its continuation didn't like the program and refused to release the funds, even after Congress approved it. Effectively, ONE MAN killed the Delta Clipper and continues to let his personal opinions and attitudes guide his actions instead of honoring the will of the American people. The only way he was willing to allow the funds to be released was if the Delta Clipper was taken into the 'black world' of secret government developments. Doing this effectively took the potential use of the Delta Clipper away from NASA forever, locking it into a 'military use only' blackhole.

This reflects an arrogant idealism that the American people cannot intelligently decide what technologies should be developed and, once developed, how they should be used. The idea of the Delta Clipper, if I remember correctly, was originally a CIVILIAN idea that was supposed to use a new design engine called a Star Spike that would improve the efficiency of space travel dramatically. It was also supposed to bring the cost of space travel down to less that one-tenth its current cost. Yet this tremendous potential was buried under the mountain of governmental/military secrecy. When might it return? Perhaps it will, perhaps it won't. It has become another secret program, funded by the American people without us ever knowing where the money is going or what progress is being made on the project.

How does this apply to nonprofit organizations? Simple.

The activities of nonprofit organizations are subject to public review at any time, by any member of the public. The annual 990 report to the IRS details what money was received by the organization, what taxes (if any) were paid, progress made on the organization's projects, how much money key personnel have been paid, it is like an on-going autopsy of the organization. Nonprofit organizations are not allowed to hide projects from the public in any way shape or form, nor do we feel our government should be hiding things. If they are sensitive enough or dangerous enough, one must ask, should we be involved in this activity at all. But once a project is shoved into the 'black world' it usually never sees the light of public scrutiny again ... EVER!

Billions of U.S. taxes are poured into the black world every year, without accountability in any tangible form. This is fundamentally wrong. To me, every project should be submitted to the government in the same way that a nonprofit project is, fully detailed in what it is to address, how it will address it, and how we will know if it is effective or not, thus knowing if the project is worthy of continued funding.

I've said my piece ... now it is your turn.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Eviction of a Criminal

The news this week has unfolded the story of an illegal immigrant who was finally apprehended and deported to Tijuana, Mexico. The problem? An 8-year-old child left behind in the U.S. in the care of a church pastor and his wife.

For some time, Elvira Arellano has hidden behind the sanctuary of the church to avoid being deported as an illegal immigrant. If she had stayed in the church, she might still be there, but she came out trying to speak publicly for the right of all illegal immigrants to stay in the United States without fear of deportation, particularly if they have had the good fortune of giving birth to a child in the United States.

What is wrong with this picture?

Everyday fathers and mothers are arrested, jailed and even imprisoned for criminal activities, often with their children ending up either in the care of other family members or of the foster care program. Why should illegal immigrants be treated any differently? Because their 'punishment' for their crime is deportation instead of imprisonment? I think not.

The fact is an illegal immigrant is one who has violated American law by entering our country without permission. They have commited a crime and simply having a baby does NOT exonerate them for that. They are STILL subject to arrest and punishment for their crime. All-in-all, they get off lucky. In many countries entering without official permission carries the penalty of lengthy imprisonment in rat-infested hell-holes or even summary execution.

It is unfortunate that the illegal immigrants put children into the middle of this, but we do not let criminals out of punishment just because they have kids. If we did, most of our prison population would still be on the streets, unpunished for their crimes.

The only way to eliminate situations like this, if illegal immigrants continue to insist on putting themselves and their children into them, is to completely do away with our immigration limitations, throw open our borders, and risk anyone and everyone entering our country from Mexico, potentially including would-be terrorists, which would make us even MORE vulnerable to 9/11-type attacks.

Many advocates for the illegal immigrants (the Council on Foreign Relations, for example) try to argue that the illegal immigrants do not enter the United States because of abject poverty in Mexico, claiming that Mexico has a robust and thriving economy of its own. But they also claim that people migrate to where there is greater development. Excuse me? If Mexico's economy is so robust and thriving, why are there thousands of women and children scrounging in the city dumps, looking for anything and everything that might be of any value to sell or living in make-shift structures that do not meet even the basic qualifications to be called a home?

Their response to that is a claim that it is because Mexico does not have a viable mortgage industry. Again, this proves my point. Mortgage lenders tend not to invest in impoverished areas, even within the United States. If Mexico's economy is so great, why have banking companies not extended their mortgage businesses there?

It takes people within their own country and communities to build hope for the future. Siphoning capital from other regions is NOT a long-term answer. The illegal immigrants would do better working in their own country to fight corruption and make sure the funds and resources that ARE in Mexico are used more wisely and effectively. We routinely grant scholarships to students from countries like Ethiopia and Bangladesh to educate them on how to develop their own countries, with an increasing level of success. Yet Mexico still lags behind, despite the significant amount of foreign aid, tourism income, business investments, trade payments, and personal earnings of illegal immigrants being transferred to their country from the United States.

Could there be a problem with this picture?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Talk About a Typo!!!

According to the Associate Press, Arkansas lawmakers are in deep dodo.

Recently they passed a law that was supposed to set the age of marriage as 18 unless the girl was pregnant. The problem is, someone forgot to proofread it before they past the law. As passed, the law sets the age of marriage as 18 unless the girl is not pregnant!

This opens the door for me to talk about a very controversial trend that has been taking shape for more than 100 years. Until the late 1800s, the age of consent in most states was 14 or less (some as low as 9, I believe). In the 1890s a group of well intentioned Christian activists began a campaign to raise the age of consent in their states. The good intention was a simple one. They believed that by raising the age of consent that fewer young women would end up involved in prostitution. Yes, they are the same ones that convinced most states to ban prostitution completely.

Over the years, the age of consent has slowly been pushed higher and higher. Statutory rape laws were passed to punish anyone who violated the new edicts. The punishments over the years have also grown, from at one point the crime being considered little more than a misdemeanor in some jurisdictions to one that can land an offending party in prison for decades.

The problem is, no one has really considered whether these laws are truly effective in addressing the problems they claim to, nor are they alone. Patterns of behavior that were once considered potentially romantic (a man pursuing the woman of his dreams incessantly for example) now result more often than not in charges of sexual harrassment and/or stalking. Now, mind you, I am not saying there are not serious nut cases out there that women need to be defended against, but I am asking if we might have over stepped the bounds of reasonability.

Let me give an example. I cannot remember where I read it (I believe it was in a law review magazine many years ago), but there was an article where the author argued that the more strict our laws on such sex and lawful relationships become, the more likely we are to have lovers who choose to elope, hiding the true age of their relationship, in an effort to pursue their hearts' desires. Literally, they would rather be fugitives than to be without each other. Sounds a bit insane to anyone who has never felt irrational love for someone.

I can understand our desire to protect women and young girls from abuse and exploitation, but should we truly be outlawing the potential of true love?

Please understand, I am not advocating any adult/child or forced relationships. What I do question is holding people criminally liable in cases where no criminal intent exists or where the age difference is negligible (say, within 3 or 4 years).

Allow me to give some examples. A while back two young teenagers were arrested and put into juvenile hall for engaging in mutually agreed upon sexual relations and charged with molesting each other. In another case, two children (under the age of twelve) faced similar charges in another state over what was essentially a 'playing doctor' incident. In still another case, two older teenagers ranaway from home, falsified their age on a marriage license application, had a judge perform the marriage, and went on to consumate that marriage. They are both facing charges for the falsified application and for the mutual sexual relations afterwards.

This is what I mean when I ask, have we gone too far on this issue. Understand, I am all for protecting our children. I have a 13-year-old niece that I hope is being looked after properly and taught to respect herself and her future potential enough not to give in to sex before she is truly ready. I do hope that if she does find the right person that they do not end up victims of an over-reactive system like in the cases above.

The fundamental fact is: We spend so much time on cases like these that too often the real situations that need intervention and criminal prosecution end up slipping through the system. The more resources spent on unnecessary cases, the less there is to spend on the real cases. I am, essentially, calling for a little common sense in the application and creation of our laws.

I hope I made my position on this crystal clear.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Alice in Wonderland

Okay, so I didn't win the lottery last night.

What I did do is some research on today's topic, the narrow-minded thinking of our politicians, businesses and society in general.

I call this article 'Alice in Wonderland' because it is about the Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, also known as micropsia. The condition is one where the brain processes the senses like sight and sound oddly, making things seem further away than they really are. For those suffering from it, it can be very dangerous. Imagine trying to cross the street, thinking a car you see is a block away, and it is really just a few yards away. This is very much how our society views our current crises like our economy and environment.

Case in point -

Flatpanel displays, currently used extensively in the computer industry, were invented by an AMERICAN inventor. When he tried to get American computer companies interested in the idea, he met with the proverbial stone wall. Only then did he approach Japanese companies with the invention and was welcomed with open arms and enthusiasm. The net result? American companies all but lost out on the notebook computer and flatpanel monitor industry with literally millions of dollars going instead to Japanese manufacturing companies. Believe me, the executives who turned down the idea have been kicking themselves in the pants ever since.

Another point is more personal.

I originally got involved with computers in the early to mid-eighties as a teenager. When I tried to further pursue the industry, my father discouraged me from it, having been personally convinced that microcomputers were a fad that would never catch on. As a result of his discouragement, I left computers behind for many years, losing out on being a part of the wildfire industry that ensued. I have, for the past ten years, been playing catch-up on the computer industry and my computer skills. Because of my father's narrow-mindedness, I all but lost out on a great career.

My point is this: Because of narrow-minded resistance and out-and-out opposition to developing projects and ideas and selfish, self-serving mentalities, America is losing its competitive advantage.

The United States was once THE producer of the finest automobiles in the world, lost to Japan and Italy because the automakers in America didn't like the idea of building more efficient and powerful automobiles. The net result? Entire communities that are decades later struggling economically because of the loss of jobs.

The United States was once THE producer of high-quality electronics, lost to Japan and Germany again through the rejection of new ideas and inventions. Again, communities that once thrived on the industry have been decimated by its loss.

Now we are loosing our information technologies leadership through rejection of new ideas and corporate greed taking good paying IT jobs to third world nations where pay rates are pennies-on-the-dollar by comparison. Have our politicians and businessmen learned nothing?

Our politicians and businessmen try to defend themselves by pointing out that the United States has, to date, been able to bounce back by developing new, emerging technologies and industries, but as things progress this is becoming more and more difficult, particularly when U.S. companies seem hostile to any idea or invention that they did not personally come up with.

This is narrow-mindedness at its worst, and America is paying for the foolishness of our leaders. Truly proof that we as a nation are suffering from the worst form of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Tax On Those Unable To Do Math

The Colorado Powerball Lottery is $210 million tonight. God only knows what it will be if no one hits it tonight. State lotteries are an interesting subject when one considers the odds of actually hitting the jackpot. The odds in Colorado are 1 in 146,107,962. Seem like pretty long odds, eh? But consider the current jackpot. Technically, even if you bought one ticket for every possible combination to ensure you would win, you would still be over $50 million ahead, providing you were the only one to hit the jackpot.

For the most part, those who purchase lottery tickets are doing little more than paying additional revenues to the state, usually used for educational and recreational support in the state. In a day when people are so against raising taxes more than they already are, they are more than willing to purchase a chance at instant millionaire status, regardless of the odds. Why this duality in thinking? Instant lotteries are more or less taking the place of the original American dream.

It unfortunately reflects the growing laziness of our society. Rather than work hard and earn our way to prosperity, people find it easier to gamble a dollar (or fifty) on a chance of instant prosperity, even though they have better odds of getting hit by lightning or a tornado. The funny thing is, with only a handful of contrary experiences, winning the lottery usually brings more problems than solutions for the winner.

The first experience of most winners is long lost relatives climbing out of the woodwork, scrambling for some small portion of the winnings. Then they frequently deal with hard luck stories asking for help in the mail and even legitimate requests from truly worthy nonprofits asking for major donations. Add to this the lack most people have of using money wisely and one can see where the problems quickly build.

The lure of instant success is an almost overpowering temptation, one which few people are prepared for. This problem reflects the growing demand for instant gratification in our society. We ask our politicians one year to fix major problems that have taken years or even decades to build, and then replace them a year or two later for not successfully solving the problem in that time, for example. We also expect financial investments to begin returning sums two, three or more times greater than our general economy is returning. The basic emotion behind all this is greed, the demand each of us has within them for all our wishes to come true yesterday if not sooner, with as little input and effort from us as possible.

This is NOT what made America the Mecca for success seekers from around the world. America was built on the blood, sweat, and tears of our forefathers. They invested everything they had and everything they were to give us the greatest nation on earth. It is up to us to continue this grand tradition. By putting our backs into it, we can rebuild the strength of America back to what it once was.

Gambling in any form is little more than giving away our hard earned wealth to lazy elitists and a grossly bloated government with little or nothing to show for it. The only thing, in truth, that we gain from gambling is the entertainment value, when it comes right down to brass tacks. The odds of actually winning anything significant from such gambing are stacked against us.

All that being said, with the jackpot over $200 million, I figure it is worth a little long-shot risk. At the moment, I am waiting for the drawing with five lottery tickets in hand. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bitter Reality of Life

It has been several days since my last post because I had to go earn some real-world money to live off of.

My subject today is corporate idiocy. This relates to an incident a couple months back.

My fiance had just started a new job and had not gotten her pay set up on direct deposit yet. It was late when she got off work on payday and most of the check cashing centers had already closed. We went to our local Walmart to cash the check.

When she went to cash the check, she was asked for her ID. Naturally, we thought nothing of it at the time, since they need to make sure the one cashing the check is the rightful holder of the check. Little did we realize why they wanted it.

They took the identification information and entered it on their check cashing approval program. Not a problem you say? Not so, I'm afraid. Because of a personal bad check notation, they promptly refused to cash the payroll check.

My beef is this ... what does having a personal check problem from months ago have to do with cashing a payroll check? I could understand if the employer was on a list for writing bad checks (not the case, I checked it out), but to refuse to cash a payroll check over personal banking problems?

I also have a beef with the banks themselves. Most of the time, unless you have a personal checking or savings account with them, the banks will charge you around $5 to cash a payroll check ...

even if it is drawn on an account at that bank!!!!!

This is blatant profiteering at its worst and really curls my chaps. Personally, I think we should pass legislation to ban this practice once and for all. If the check is drawn on an account with their bank and it is cashed at that bank, there is no reason for them to charge ANY kind of fee for its cashing. What next? A fee for processing a check you deposit into your account that goes through the system? Aren't they making enough money already?

More on the banking and check cashing industry later. Time to work on the House Wyldstar website.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Release of a Dangerous Man

Colorado has released a sexually violent predator back into society. In Colorado that label is applied to the worst of our sex offenders. In this case, the man was convicted of raping a 17-year-old girl while she was incapacitated by drugs and/or alcohol. The conviction was a long time ago, but it seems the offender refused to cooperate with in-prison therapy programs and thus remains a high-risk offender.

My position on this is mixed. On one hand, I believe that everyone can change and should be given a second chance in our society. On the other hand, he has shown no desire or attempt to change. This is NOT a good situation. Personally, I think Colorado should go back to the old sentencing guidelines on sex offenders. It use to be that the sentence was one year to life, allowing the parole board some discretion in how to handle each individual. They could go easy on a Romeo-and-Juliet offender, while keeping ones that seemed likely to be a danger in prison indefinitely. Now, once an offender has completed the maximum sentence (4-32 years, depending on the crime), the parole board has no choice but to release him on mandatory parole. The current laws also dictate lengthy mandatory minimums that have been described by most legal experts as draconian.

My position is further mixed by my animosity towards SVPs. In my book, those who pose a true threat to our society are treated too lightly, but in response to this, in an effort to appear 'tough on crime', our legislators are going overboard in my opinion. Statistically, longer prison sentences are NOT as effective as our legislators would have us believe during election years and, in my humble opinion, may be making the situation even worse.

James A. Baldwin, I believe, put it best:
The most dangerous creation
of any society is the man
with nothing to lose.

This goes not only for ever increasing prison sentences, but for the so called 'habitual offender' laws as well. The longer the sentence the offender knows he may be facing, the more willing he is to violently and/or desperately act to avoid it when discovered. How many times have we heard in recent years of three time losers shooting it out with police rather than go back to prison?

I, personally, would like to see more efforts at crime prevention by addressing the core causes of crime and in reforming the offenders through mandatory therapy participation and education opportunities when they are returned to society, if not in the prisons themselves during their incarceration.

What's that you say? Wouldn't that be expensive? The answer is yes and no. In the short-term, the cost would be greater to establish and deliver the necessary services and training, but in the long-term the cost would be less by helping the offender better reintegrate into society, becoming a contributing member, rather than costing more in the form of further law enforcement and incarceration expenses.

Of course, the society itself has to help in this matter. In a poll a couple years ago, it was found that almost two-thirds of all employers stated they would NOT hire an ex-felon for any reason, any position, and without regards to how long ago the crime was and what efforts the ex-felon had taken to reform themselves. I believe this attitude is counterproductive. We say we want the ex-offender to become a law-abiding community member and contribute positively to our society, yet the majority of employers don't want to give them the chance to do so.

House Wyldstar may have an answer to this situation, but we are going to need help. Our idea is the creation of companies specifically for the employment of ex-offenders, including ones like the SVP I described earlier. The employment environment could be monitored to ensure desirable behavior of the participants. This would be especially important in dealing with SVP cases. A monitored, protected work environment would improve the chances of all participants in successfully reintegrating into society and improve recividism rates. Ex-offenders who have successfully reintegrated could act as advisors and mentors for those who are just beginning the transition, or who may be having some difficulty in the process. Creating a stable and safe work environment for ex-offenders would be an excellent first step.

Another answer would be to 'ban the box' on job applications that asks about convictions or arrests. The asking about arrests that did not end in a conviction should be banned outright and questions about convictions should be limited to job-related issues and/or time-limited (7-10 years sounds about right). The asking about arrests that did not end in a conviction is a fundamental insult to everyone. It is VERY easy to be arrested for a charge that one did not commit. To hold the fact of any arrest without a conviction against a person for any reason is a clear violation of civil and constitutional rights, punishing the individual by making it legal to discriminate against them without cause. The second point, regarding actual convictions, is that many times the criminal conviction has NOTHING to do with the job being applied for and/or was so long ago that society can and should presume the offender to be rehabilitated.

Another change I would make is in the prisons themselves. At one time, inmates were required to perform many laborious tasks such as working farm fields around the prison to supply food for the prison, chain-gangs that worked on the roadways, or making license plates used by the DMV. Some states still have these in place-most do not. Instead of letting many offenders stay in their cells watching TV all day, playing games, or working out on weight equipment, let's put them to work. Require them to either work in government supporting operations or to attend education programs and classes that can prepare them for reintegrating with society. This would give them more of an incentive and the abilities to make it work when they are released from prison, having giving them SOMETHING along the lines of job-related skills.

Changes like these will obviously not come easy. They will require effort on the part of our entire society. But we will all benefit from them in the long run. Eliminating conditions that drive many ex-offenders into additional criminal conduct will drastically reduce our crime rate and subsequently the cost of operating our judicial and penal systems. I anticipate the strongest resistance to this idea from those who profit from those costs, namely the lawyers and prison management officials.

And just think ... these ideas are coming from a disabled ex-offender!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Types of Policies

The name of this blog begs the question of what do we mean by social policy?

Social policy is the guidelines for changing, maintaining, or creating a given set of living conditions that are supportive of the general welfare of all citizens. It is a subset of public policy, which are the guidelines for operating our nation as a whole. An example of social policy would be one that requires or encourages insurance coverage and benefits for everyone. Yes, I know, a touchy subject at the moment, but hey, I personally don't back down from controversial topics. Other aspects of social policy include economic policies and foreign relation policies, which are also fair game for this blog.

Other topics included in our public position are environmental policies and political policies.

Our take on each of these areas is how current social policies affects citizens, how we can work within existing social policy to improve things, and what additional policies or changes need to be made to further improve the lives of our citizenry.

Many issues are referred to as 'wicked' issues, meaning they have no easy answers, cannot be addressed directly, or have an ever changing set of conditions that make them difficult or nearly impossible to affect long-term improvements. Among these 'wicked' issues are long-term employment of marginalized citizens, the illegal immigrant problem, and everyone's favorite topic ... health care reform.

I am hoping that SPC will become a vanguard blog for ideas and action on these and many other topics. Just remember, ideas without action are useless, action without ideas is wasted.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Dawn of a New Day

Welcome to our blog!

This blog is being started as a avenue of debate and discussion on topics such as social exclusion, economic development, human rights, environmental protection, and public participation. No doubt we will touch on many sensitive topics, but that is the nature of debate. We welcome anyone to participate by sending us their blog entries on whatever topic of social policy they feel passionate about or to post comments about articles posted to the blog. But be warned, we reserve the right to blog-comment with our own viewpoints as well. The blog-managers are all highly intelligent, well educated people and will not hesitate to challenge any viewpoint we disagree with. Don't take it personally: argue with us, explain your position, debate the topic, that is what the Social Policy Center is all about!