American Companies, Pay Attention, China is Coming

To say I love the Internet is a bit of an understatement.  So many facets of it, but with the development in the last decade with advancements in how we, Americans that is, shop, has been completely leveled.  Ordering pizza from the Internet is a possibility, placing an order for prints from your digital camera and picking up up in 20 minutes is a reality and most importantly, price comparison is extremely easy.  No longer are we confined to local driving distances, the whole world is accessible, and Google’s Beta program, originally called Froogle and now simply called Shopping, has helped pave the way.  It is here where American companies could shine, but China is coming full force.

My recent online shopping experiences have helped reinforce this. Continue reading »

10 Ways to be More Green

This Earth Day try some of these easy tips to be more eco-friendly in your daily life.

  • Eat More Vegetables! The Union of Concerned Scientists cites eating meat as the most eco-destructive activity in which humans take part.  The United Nations states that cattle-rearing generates more green-house gases than transportation.  If all Americans replaced just one meal per week with vegetarian food, the impact on the environment would be equivalent to taking more than a half-million cars off the road.
  • Eat Locally! As well as eating more vegetables, it’s important to eat locally.  An average dinner travels more than 1,500 miles from farm to your table. The environmental impact of this transportation is significant.  Check labels at the grocery store and opt for items that are grown close to where you live and choose items that are in season in your area.  Another option is to purchase fruits and vegetables from local farmers markets or co-ops.  Not sure where to go?  LocalHarvest.org has a list of local farmers markets across the US.

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  • Ditch those plastic bottles! Using re-usable water bottles filled with tap or filtered water eliminates thousands of bottles that would otherwise end up in a landfill.  Sigg makes a sturdy and user friendly reusable water bottle.
  • Ditch those paper cups! Most coffee shops now offer reusable options for your morning latte.  Buy a reusable travel mug and refill it when you get coffee.  According to statistics from Starbucks, if just 50 customers at each Starbucks location used a reusable mug, it would save over 150,000 paper cups per day which translates to over 1.7 million pounds of paper waste each year.  At the very least don’t take a sleeve or allow your Barista to double-cup your beverage!
  • Use reusable take-out containers.  If your favorite restaurant gives you your doggie bag in Styrofoam, consider bringing a reusable container with you and bringing home your leftovers in your own ware.
  • Reusable Lunch Containers.  Ditch that brown-bag and opt for a reusable lunch container. Try Lock & Lock containers they are BPA free and they give back to the community via treeplanting campaigns, senior citizen  events, clean water actions, etc.
  • Bring Your Own Bag to the Store.  The easiest approach is to buy a reusable bag at the grocery store, they usually sell for around 99 cents.  Get one!  If you would like something a little more fashionable, try Environsax reusable bags.  They fold up into small pouches that can be easily stored in your purse/bag for use at the grocery store/mall/skate shop/etc.  I always carry one with me in my purse and use it every time I make a purchase.
  • Use a cloth hand towel in your kitchen/bathroom.  Replace your use of paper towels with a cloth towel.  Worried about germs?  Buy 7 of them and put out a new one each day.  This will save you money and reduce the amount of paper waste headed to the landfill.
  • Carpool/Walk/Ride a Bike. Think about where you need to go and how you can get there in the most efficient manner.  Carpool to work, arrange your errands so that they are completed in one day or in a small number of places.  Take public transportation where you can.  If your destination is within a mile from your home, consider walking or riding a bike.  Unsure how to get to your destination via the bus/bike/walking?  Use Google Maps – they have options for driving, walking, and public transportation!
  • Recycle. This seems so obvious, but only about 32% of waste was recycled in 2006.  Cities are constantly expanding recycling programs.  For example, my city recently spread their program to include all plastic types except PET#6.  That means that I can recycle PET#1,2,3,4,5,7,8,&9 in my curb-side pick-up.  Check with your local recycling program to see what types of plastic you can recycle each week!

Replacing your current habits with only one of these can significantly improve your impact on the environment.  Try it out and I am sure you can find ways to decrease the amount of resources that you consume each day.

What’s Up With Water Bottles?

I’m sure you’ve seen it, the crunchy-looking thirty-something coming back from yoga sipping on an aluminum water bottle as she gets into her Prius.

Pretentious? Perhaps. Trendy? Sure. Necessary? Absolutely.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, it takes over 1.5 million barrels of oil to manufacture the plastic bottles that supply Americans with bottled water for just one year. That amount of oil is equivalent to the amount needed to fuel 100,000 cars.

Making matters worse, out of the billions of bottles consumed, only about 20% are recycled, with the rest making their way to landfills or even worse, to the world’s oceans.

Earth 911 makes an interesting argument by pointing out that if everyone in New York City alone gave up water bottles for just one week, they would reduce the number of bottles headed to a landfill by 24 million. Giving up plastic water bottles for a year would reduce the number of water bottles headed to a landfill by over 1.3 billion bottles.

But water in bottles is so much better/healthier/cleaner than my local tap water, isn’t it?

Probably not. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC),  out of more than 100 brands of bottled water tested, the overall quality was “spotty” with a third containing contaminants. Tap water, on the other hand is a tightly regulated alternative. If you don’t like the ‘taste’ of your tap water, you can easily use a filter.

Water bottles have become such a source of wasted resources that some stores have refused to stock them.  Food Fight Grocery, an all-vegan grocery store in Portland, Oregon, recently stopped carrying bottled water.  Instead, the owners opted for a more eco-friendly alternative, Food Fight Aluminum Water Bottles.  They allow customers to refill them in the store at any time.

Purchasing a reusable water bottle such as the trendy Sigg bottles available here, is a great alternative to consuming water in disposable plastic bottles. You can refill it with tap or filtered water and can drink with a clear conscience, knowing that you did not contribute to the wasted energy or resources that go into the plastic water bottle industry.

Inauguration

I arrived down in Washington D.C the saturday before the inauguration with a few friends. We left a few days early to beat traffic and also because a few of us wanted to get some film footage of the weekends festivities. I went to the American University in Washington from 1999 and 2003 and i have to admit that the climate during those four years was much different then the climate now in 09 with President Obama coming to office. In my four years we experienced 9/11, the Iraq War, Anthrax, Sniper attacks and the beginning of what would be a failing economy. Although those memories were certainly present the optimism and hope would prevail amongst the masses this weekend in D.C.

Everyday there were more people arriving. We experienced only mild traffic congestion but every new day we had friends report that it was a bit more difficult for them to get into the Capitol. Everywhere we went people would cheer “Obama! Obama!”, it was much more reminiscent of the Beatles then an incoming President, although cheers for pop stars are generally reserved for their presence. Obama could have been in another country, people were still cheering his name. At one point i walked down Adams Morgan and cheered with the crowd of people that lined up and down the bars on the street. A young woman and i looked at one another and immediately embraced in a strong and heartfelt hug. I had never met the woman before. The energy was infectious.

The night before the inauguration we were all out till 3 am partying, dancing, drinking. Unfortunately we had to wake up at 6 am to drive further into the city so we could get close to the Mall. We all dragged our weary and mostly still drunk bodies from our slumber and got in my car. We made our way down past Howard University before Soldiers prevented us from getting any closer and asked us to park in the neighboring area. What marveled us most was that none of them had weapons on them, Obama had requested that all soldiers not carry armed guns (at least noticably to the public). We parked the car and began our trek in the bitter cold. We were not alone. The streets filled with people singing and dancing in the wee hours of the morning. The sun had yet to greet us, it was 20 degrees outside, yet everyone was in high spirits.

As we made our way closer to the Mall the crowds grew and momentum carried us. There were no real signs directing us but just a general direction we were all being pulled. We came across the highway that leads under the Capitol Mall, it was closed to automobiles but open to citizens. Thousands of people, like herds across the plains migrating to see this historical event. It was surreal and eery. You only see people walking down highways like that in movies and usually its apocalyptic imagery.

We arrived at our blue gate around 8 am only to find no signs of direction and thousands and thousands of people lined through the street. We immediately placed ourselves in line and waited. The wind was blistering and all of us were huddled together. Yet the mood was jovial. People told jokes, sang songs, hugged one another and chatted as if they were long lost friends. The hours went by though and it became quite apparent that we were not going to get through the gates in time for Obamas Speech. Basically it was general chaos and complete disorganization. Luckily our fortitude lead us to explore and we arrived through the silver gate just in time for an awful song by Aretha Franklin.

Obama came on, like most of us know by now and gave a somber and realistic speech on the state of our country and world. Although his words lacked the hope from his earlier speeches you wouldnt find its effect apparent on the faces of the millions watching live. People were crying, but with those tears were smiles.

Here are a few pix from the weekend:

Insurance Companies Keeping Us In Check

A ew years ago I had some horrible experiences with insurcance companies, here’s a few of them.

I spent the better part of yesterday back and forth between my insurance company and the doctors office absolutely bewildered at the state of healthcare in America. My foot propped up on a pillow; I remembered why I had put off calling the doctor for three weeks, because I was already overwhelmed with what lay ahead. The inefficiencies of our nations insurance companies are mind-boggling. Some might think that they fail at their goal; they don’t provide what they offer. But this is untrue; the insurance company achieves its ultimate goal. This is because its goal is to fail. Its not supposed to provide health coverage to its members. Instead the corporations essentially offer false hope and as a result disillusionment that leaves more Americans in their current social and economic state.

I called Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and was immediately greeted by an automated service. The computerized voice offered me a few options that were none of the options that I was searching for. After about five options I pressed zero thinking I knew the little secret that many others didn’t, the golden number to a live operator. I’ve always been quite proud when I would tell others about my secret, the way that I would skip the line and get right to a live person by pressing the golden “0”. Alas apparently I have told to many people because this was no longer an option. Instead Max Headrome returned and went through the aforementioned options. I pressed “1” and then had to choose between English and Spanish which would be the easiest part of my journey. Of course once I selected a language I had to wait for a few minutes listening to horrible elevator music although I was actually in an elevator. I cursed myself for not finding a landline to make the call thinking about how sprint had to be in on this too as my daytime minutes slipped away.
Finally I heard a pause in the music. My heart raced as I sat silent for a second only to realize it was my connection that was suspect, the elevator music resumed. But alas after a few more moments, while watching Oprah belittle some author I was greeted with a friendly voice.

Thank you for calling Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, how many I help you?

Hi, I don’t know if you are the right person to call, but um, um, I am looking for the out of state, away from home care, do you need my membership number first

That would be great

Why didn’t she ask me this to begin with? It would seem like the logical thing to do considering at one point or another she would need this information. We spent the next few minutes discussing the different intonations of “M” versus “N’ and “V” versus “B” or “C”. For some reason I never think of easy words to offer such as “B as in Benjamin”. Instead I always think of curse words or nothing at all, “B as in bitch” and I giggle to myself in my head. Finally we confirm that I am indeed me, which I always find is a relief. Infact I urge any of us who are having any type of identity problems to immediately call their insurance company. They will certainly give you confirmation and you can go about your existence again. After all this she finally says,

So how may I help you?

I need to find doctors in Philadelphia.

Any type of doctors?

Oh wow, I didn’t think of that, well yea a foot doctor, a podiatrist, I injured myself playing basketball (She didn’t give much attention to this information) But you should know I’m out of state, my coverage is in Connecticut.

I see

The dreaded I see. Its arguably one of the worst expressions one can hear. Right up there with Sorry hunny, I’ve been cheating on you with Hitler or your best friend and, Hi, this is Tina, that girl from the bar last month, you know McFaddens, yea well I’m pregnant. Blasted McFadden’s!

Well sure ill have to connect you with the out of state operator, she will take care of you.

Oh, okay then, thank you.

Why didn’t she do this in the beginning! Why did I spend the last five daytime minutes on the phone with someone who could not help me? It makes no sense, its almost as if she was just teasing me. Like youre 17 in the back of your car with the prom queen, you feel like a million bucks. But then she gets out of the car after two minutes of kissing right when you were beginning to maneuver your hand up her shirt! God Damnit! Stifled again! I feel like a blue-balled teenager.

More time goes by and finally I’m in the right place. This voice sounds much like the previous one and makes me think that I’m the butt of a big joke. Like the guys from Crank Yankers are on the other end having a big laugh. And the first question she asks,

Hello sir, may I please have your membership identification number?

Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously? Now I know I’m the target of some vast conspiracy. Didn’t I just give this information to the last operator? Shouldn’t you already have this information? Now I feel like a foreigner speaking to someone in French. (I chose the French here because they are the only people who have as much disdain for me as insurance customer service operators). You know those times when you just repeat the same thing over and over again as if they will all of a sudden learn English through repetitive listening.
I give up my information all the time praying that she wont ask why I’m out of state, in Philadelphia considering I have a few doctors visits in the area and none in my “home state”. I will refrain from giving up any more information for fear of the obvious, they are watching. After five more minutes she has found three doctors in my network. Hallelujah. My blood rushes, my heart pounds. I see light at the end of the tunnel until I ask the next question.

So do I have to do anything else? Once I make the appointment do I have to do anything else?

I don’t know sir, I only am a locator. You will have to call membership services.

Oh ok, can you please connect me to them.

I’m sorry, I don’t have the directory here so you’ll just have to call the customer service line, it should be on the back of your card.

No shit, I used it to call you. I hang up. I look at the clock and see that I have twenty minutes to Around the Horn on Espn and would like to have all this finished up so I can hear five people’s ramblings on the significance of Kobe Bryant dropping 81 in an NBA game. Upon occasion I marvel at the fact that people are paid to just give their opinions and report events. It seems like such an easy job, I should be paid to do that. I do it ever day, That hot ass chick just bought a chicken parm sandwich, damn she is hot, I should get her number. Seems easy enough. I take a deep breath and call back. Brimming with confidence knowing that it didn’t take me too long last time to find an operator. At least after a few miscues. But this time takes much longer. For some reason all the options that were available the last time I called seem different. I can never remember what option I chose in my Choose Your Adventure story.

You might ask why don’t I just make the appointment? Well rewind a few years when I had a knee injury and was attending college in Washington DC. After finding a doctor in the network I made an appointment and went in for knee rehabilitation. Confident that I was completely covered I went a few times. The doctor’s office never gave notice that anything was wrong. After 9 visits totaling at $900 I find that the insurance company won’t cover it because I never alerted them for authorization. I thought I had considering I talked to an operator. But alas this was not enough and I was stuck with a $900 tab. Insurance companies are the devil.

So this day I growing increasingly frustrated. I had just hung up for the third time, not finding my pot of gold through the winding automated maze. I decided to give it one more go before giving up on the day. Somehow, through divine intervention I found the person I need to talk to. Three daytime phone calls and 20 minutes to find one person to offer me this after I gave her my membership number again,

Yes sir, call and make an appointment then call us again here at the out of state care to alert us to the doctor, date, time and address so we can put through an authorization code for that day.

Once I had to reschedule an appointment after putting the authorization call in. I forgot to call in a second time to alert the change in date and was denied coverage once again. I figure they would be smart enough to know that it was the same patient and doctor. Apparently it was I who was not smart enough. So I ask this lovely lady for some information as well,

May I have your name and extension so I can just call you back?

Yes my name is Monique and I don’t have an extension, but you can just ask for me. Also make sure you ask the doctor if they are still in the network.

That’s essentially the same thing as the how about I take your number instead? Then you walk yourself home late at night telling yourself she will indeed call. After a few days you start looking her up on Yahoo, Google, Friendster, MySpace to no available and convince yourself that she must have lost your number because why would she have asked for your number in the first place if she didn’t want to call you. Wait did she really ask for my number? Hmmm.

I Google the three doctors whose names I received through the locator operator who has nothing to do with the out of state operator. Only one of them has any information online and two of the others have names that sound like id meet them in the back of a dark alley in Bangkok during monsoon season. I call the listed doctor and leave a message on a shotty old school sounding answering machine.  Two days later I get a call back and make an appointment. I ask the secretary if they are still in the network.

I don’t know, how would I know? If they listed us we must be. That’s all on the insurance company, that has nothing to do with us. How about this, you just come in and if they approve it they approve it. If they don’t then you can deal with it later.

Exhausted, mentally and emotionally I say whatever and hang up. I now get ready to call back Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Ill skip past the Choose Your Adventure phase this time but be assured that it definitely occurred. I find an operator and ask to speak to Monique only to find that Monique doesn’t exist. She was like a dream, or a nightmare. Eventually I am reconnected to out of state coverage. This woman was nothing like Monique. Not that Monique was a saint but she was helpful in her role. This woman though was immediately suspect of my out of state care and the reasons behind me not being in Connecticut. After much convincing she accepts my lame duck story and puts through the authorization. I wet my pants in excitement and down a shot of Jamesons by myself. I ask her for her name before I hang up,

My name is Monique sir, anything else I can help you with?

A rope and a high chair?

She doesn’t get it.

I have yet to visit the doctor. They didn’t have an opening for ten days so I have to sit here with my injured foot awaiting news that I already know.  You should rest it for a while, a few weeks, maybe we should take some x rays. At which point I’ll have to get the insurance company to cover the X-ray somehow. Which means ill have to go through the whole process again.

I sit here now completely jaded by the whole bureaucracy. I think to myself that there is such an easier way. That the system does not make any sense. Its not efficient and it doesn’t do what its designed to do. But infact it does. Insurance companies aren’t designed to provide affordable quality healthcare to their members. They are designed to earn money and its what they do best. That’s how the companies are constructed.

And all this money goes to one place, the higher ups, the bourgeoisie. The money goes right into the pocket of the ceo’s who are making deals with the prescription drug companies and to lobbyists who then pad the pockets of our civic representatives. It’s designed to keep the current social caste system. A system where the upper and lower class are being even further separated as the middle class disappears. There’s no mistake that every operator is named Monique (reference page 179 of Freakanomics, by Steven D Levitt Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name smell as Sweet). They find people from lower income brackets who they can train and offer full health benefits. To this individual it’s a great deal. They get a steady job; benefits and they can support their families. Meanwhile the corporation dangles the cheese in front of them, consistently creating a falsehood while promising these low-income workers opportunities to move up through the corporate ladder. It will never happen. Although the women’s movement has created more jobs for women there is still a large discrepancy when it comes to women in positions of corporate power. Even more so for African-American women who have lived hanging on the bottom rung since Americas inception. All Monique can do is follow protocol and report problems to her manager who is probably someone named Jim and earns just a little more then her and reports to someone who reports to someone who reports to someone who reports to someone who reports to someone who reports to someone who reports to the board of directors at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The Insurance companies also keep each division separated. They don’t want their employees developing relations with their peers. Its not encouraged. Hence the reason we have to keep giving them our membership number over and over again. If each division were in constant contact with one another then it would promote discussion and debate. They would eventually find that Monique in the out of state office earns more then Monique at the locator office and would also discover that the another Monique has been working in membership services and hasn’t been given a raise or promotion in the 23 years she has been working with the company. Monique will never move up the ranks because those positions are reserved for those upper class individuals who attended the nations greatest private schools and universities.
Upon graduation, without any field experience these ivy leaguers who will most likely be white will be employed by the insurance companies assuring their spots in the corporate hierarchy. As a result Monique will never be given a fair opportunity to rise up the corporate ladder, bring money into her community, or worry about her social responsibility. In effect her children will grow up without a mother who has to work constantly to pay the bills. The children will have no guidance and have to attend lower income public schools with no money for books, computers, or sexual education. There’s a good chance that one of Monique’s children will get into drugs, another will parent a child at a very young age and neither of them will ever have the opportunity to attend college. As a result little George W. Bush, having just graduated from Yale (where he never had the intelligence/grades to attend in the first place but most certainly the money and lack of pigment) will have his place secured in the hierarchy. Monique and her children will have their places secured as well.

The company hopes that after being misled through automated services and constantly redirected the member will just give up. Instead of going through all the hassle they will just pay it themselves and stay in debt. As a result they will never be able to move from the lower class to the ever-dwindling middle class and one day upon the high perches of the 1% that actually control everything. For a good example watch the movie The Rainmaker starring Matt Damon and Danny Devito, or read the book of the same title by author John Grisham.

It’s easy to break a persons back who is already on their knees. These individuals who seek healthcare through the insurance companies are already bewildered, are already ill. Why should a sick person have to put up with any of this? The last thing they want to do is worry about why their insurance company isn’t holding up their end of the bargain, hence the reason they usually give up. It’s a small price to pay for the insurance companies when some members actually follow up on their services and claims. Unfortunately for us the person at both ends of the line happens to be Monique. We are the same person attempting to figure out the same problem and finding no answers.

The higher ups are sitting back with their feet up sipping on champagne in their private jets flying off to their private islands. They marvel at how we don’t get it, they spit on us and look down upon our broken backs, dirty hand and sniffling noses. But if history proves anything its that things move in cycles and if Karl Marx is right, there’s a revolution coming, hopefully sooner rather then later.

One Laptop per Child XO computers BOGO again

Last year the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) campaign offered a buy one to be donated, get one laptop deal. They are doing it again this year and offering the same deal.  For $399 you get yourself a sprite little lappy and one goes to a third world country.  Some more on the laptops and the program:

What is the XO Laptop?
The XO is an impactful learning tool designed and built especially for children in developing countries, living in some of the most remote environments. As such, it has several features you won’t find on any other laptop.

For starters, it’s about the size of a small textbook and made with a rugged plastic exterior. It has built-in wireless and a unique screen that works in full color or black and white to make it readable under direct sunlight for children who go to school outdoors. And finally it’s ultra-low power using only about 4 watts of power (most laptops use about 60 watts). This means, when there’s no electricity, it can be recharged with alternate power sources like solar power.

Why Give a Laptop?
Why give a laptop to a child who has no running water? If you replace the word “laptop” with “education” the answer becomes clear. You don’t wait to educate until all other challenges are resolved. You educate at the same time because it’s such an important part of all the other solutions.

The Children
Currently, there are XO laptops in over 30 countries from Peru to Rwanda, and everywhere it goes, the results are the same. The laptops help children build on their active interest in the world around them to engage with powerful ideas. When the laptops arrive school attendance goes up, teachers download lesson plans from the web and kids begin teaching each other how to use the machine. With the XO, kids actually learn how to learn.

The One Laptop Per Child Organization
Founded in 2005 by MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte, One Laptop Per Child has a simple mission: to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each and every one with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, creative, self-empowered learning.

By giving a laptop, you are helping bring education to children in some of the world’s most remote areas.

You are connecting them to each other. To us. To hope. And to a better future.

Just as last year, if you live in the US you can claim half of the money back as a donation when you fill out your taxes.  Get more info and buy one here.

OLPC official site

Blog Action Day: Poverty in Photos

As a photographer, still images mean a lot to me and I feel that they leave the most lasting impressions burned into our brains. For Blog Action Day 2008, I’ve decided to scour Flickr for the term Poverty and share with you some of the most moving photos that I’ve found.

Poverty + Telephoto = Outsider. Photo by: pilya

National Poverty Hearing: Oliver Letwin MP. Photo by: coopernaill

Homeless in Sugamo 2. Photo by: jamesfischer

Homeless woman with dogs. Photo by: Franco Folini

Homeless sleeping on the sidewalk. Photo by: Franco Folini

Luck Turned Its Back On Me. Photo by: kindgott

child in slum alley. Photo by: angela7dreams

Hardship in the streets of Varanasi (India). Photo by: Ahron de Leeuw

Edinburgh – make poverty history 3. Photo by: michael gallacher

Telling UN Climate Change Conference delegates to Fight Climate Poverty. Photo by: oxfam international

End Poverty to Stop Crime. Photo by: Editor B

more poverty. Photo by: ImNotQuiteJack

Make Poverty History whistle. Photo by: Daveybot

End poverty. Photo by: greefus groinks

Race for Poverty. Photo by: seastoxfam

India: 2006 – 2007. Photo by: Shayan (USA)

sleeping in varanasi. Photo by: MALi Photography

Street Shower. Photo by: Tierecke

work starts early.  Photo by youngsixsta

Mr Tavaud Teii, Deputy Prime Minister of Tuvalu at the Graph of Injustice.  Photo by: oxfam international

Buttons Design Contest.  Photo by: diegooriani

A portion of Kibera from the air. Over a million working poor reside in the Kibera.  Photo by Chrissy Olson

France’s Poverty.  Photo by: (((((i))))) (((((see))))) (((((you)))))

Poverty_Rangers_by_JonnyStarwind.  Photo by: afreytes

Links are provided to all of these amazing photographers Flickr pages, please check them out. To help end global poverty it will take an effort given by all. Get involved with one of the following organizations and help make a difference.

Learn more at the Institute for Research on Poverty

Read how Barack Obama and Joe Biden plan to combat poverty

Blog Action Day 2008

I’m proud to announce that Randomn3ss will once again be taking part in Blog Action Day, a movment that started last year where thousands of bloggers get together and write articles on one common subject for one particular day, October 15th this year.  Last year was a huge success and I can only assume that this year the number of blogs writing could easily double.

This year’s topic is poverty, hopefully bringing awareness to this global epidemic will help open more eyes to this problem and we can all work towards a resolution.  I’m excited for the 15th to come, there should be some great articles.  I’m also looking for some guest writers for that day.  If you want your voice heard but don’t have your own blog, please contact me and let me know your ideas.  Articles can range from 150 words to well over 2,000 as long as they are on the topic of poverty.  Additionally, if anyone is making a video blog, I’d be interested in publishing those as well.

This is the offical video for Blog Action Day, lots more info is found on their official site.

[vimeo width=”500″ height=”375″]http://www.vimeo.com/1529825[/vimeo]

Get involved, let your voice be heard, let’s start a global discussion on this!

Black and White

Prepare to be schooled. Legitimately.

On the second Tuesday in November, history will be made. America will have elected either its first African American president, more than 140 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, or the first woman vice president, nearly 90 years following the ratification of the bill that gave U.S. women the right to vote. It’s a spectacular opening of doors for future generations in America, and a new source of untapped talent for the highest offices in the land. Regardless of the scurrilous gossip strewn about the candidates personal lives, about the disagreements over flip flopping and petty fighting between party lines, there are real issues here at stake that actually matter to our lives and the lives of our children. As Lauren stated, it’s exhausting to witness the bickering, and maybe this is only another voice in the crowd of many. I’ve painfully recognized how uneducated and seemingly uninterested Americans are on the actual FACTS of this election. We have let our reality become distorted by the most backwards and terrifying process of dehumanization out there, the agenda of the corporate American press.

In an attempt to be as bipartisan as possible, I thought that I would try to outline some of the basic issues of both candidates and what they stand for. This is in no way a purpose for me to be stumping for either party (even though you know I’m not afraid to let you know who I support), this is simply an attempt to break down the basic facts. Just because you’ve always voted Democrat, or you’ve always voted Republican, does not mean that you should blindly support whomever that party has nominated. Do you agree with their stance on foreign policy? Their answer to the war in Iraq? Their energy policies? What about education? When it comes down to it, this is a personal decision, but one that should be an informed choice. We can’t base our sources of knowledge in hearsay, propaganda or in the opinions of spouses or parents or friends. I’ve done the gruntwork for you, and here it is. Make your own choices.

In black and white, I give you the facts:

  • Taxes

In comparison to the policies in place under our current administration, the McCain tax plan will reduce taxes by approximately 4.2 trillion. The Obama plan will cut taxes by 2.9 trillion. McCain’s tax cuts will hit across the board, with the biggest cuts going to the highest income households (top 1% of US citizens making over $1.2 mill/year), while Obama would give larger tax cuts to low and moderate income households and pay most of the cost by raising taxes on high income taxpayers (top 1% making over $1.2 mill/year). Both policies from both parties will substantially increase our national debt over the next ten years: McCain’s would increase our debt by $5 trillion, Obama’s by $3.5 trillion.

What does this mean for you? The typical American, middle class income (incomes of less than $200k yearly for individuals and $250k per year for married couples) will raise 3% with McCain’s plan. In comparison, with Obama’s plan, middle income households will see a boost of 5% back into their wallets.

Things to consider: National debt. Want to see how much we owe? Check this out. We need to pay taxes in order to dig ourselves out of debt and get this tattered economy back on it’s feet. Bigger tax breaks and higher spending pushes this debt onto our children and our children’s children.

(Please note, these are estimations based on currently proposed tax plans. Source: Tax Policy Center, Urban Institute and Brookings Institution)

  • Health Care

McCain proposes a refundable income tax credit of $2500 individually or $5000 for married couples purchasing health insurance. He believes that competition between insurance companies will lower the cost and improve the quality of health insurance. This, among other changes that McCain proposes, would cost the US deficit $1.3 trillion over ten years. Obama’s plan is to modernize the US healthcare system and make relatively low cost insurance available to everyone, along with subsidizing premiums for low and moderate income folks. This will cost the US deficit $1.6 trillion, but would also cover virtually all children and the majority of currently uninsured adults. McCain’s proposed plan would cut the number of uninsured people by a little over 6 million in ten years. Obama’s plan would bring the numbers of uninsured people down by 34 million.

(Source: Tax Policy Center, Urban Institute and Brookings Institution)

Things to consider: One in seven Americans are uninsured, living sicker and dying younger. Uninsured Americans effect everyone’s health coverage. Even the insured pay the price with crowded emergency rooms and escalating health care costs, which in turn make health insurance less affordable. The United States spends nearly $100 billion annually to provide uninsured patients with health services, often for preventable diseases or diseases more effectively treated with an earlier diagnoses. Can you guess where this money comes from, loyal tax payer?

  • Iraq

The basic discrepancy between candidates on this issue is whether or not to pull out from the war and withdraw our troups. McCain says fight it out, Obama says end it. McCain believes that it is our moral obligation to stay in Iraq until it is capable of governing itself and safeguarding its own people. He supports counterinsurgencies (sending additional troops) in order to control the population and violence in Iraq. McCain will promote efforts within the international community to support regional stability and to bolster Iraq’s economy. He also supports structuring the US’s military posture in order to put pressure on Iraq’s neighbors (Syria and Iran) to stop aiding Shi’ite militias.

Obama believes that we are in the midst of a war without end, and proposes a plan to finish it. He believes that our military resources are dwindling and leaving us less safe at home, and that with a responsible and phased withdrawal, both Iraq and the US will be better off. Obama’s basic plan will have brigades removed at a pace of 1 to 2 per month, to be completed in 16 months. He will also have a residual force remain in Iraq to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions as well as continue efforts to train and support Iraqi security forces with the support of the Iraqi government. Obama believes in a moral obligation to Iraq’s humanitarian crisis, providing $2 billion to support the millions of displaced Iraqi families while reserving the right to intervene militarily, with international support, to suppress potential genocidal violence within the country.

McCain highlights that the past year has shown a significant reduction in violence in Iraq, and he places the success on the shoulders of the troop surge. Obama supports redirecting our efforts towards Afghanistan where Taliban has since reemerged, pointing out that 2007 was the most violent year in Afghanistan since the invasion in 2001.

Things to consider: With hundreds upon thousands of innocent lives lost, almost 5,000 American soldiers dead since the start of the war, and $3 trillion in national debt… the cost of the war continues to rise by the second.

  • Environment/Energy Crisis

It seems as though major authorities on the environment and energy crisis don’t think that either candidate has enough policy in regard to these topics. It also seems that both candidates bleed into one another’s solutions, there is a meshing between sides. The major differences are that McCain is touting increased fossil fuel production and nuclear energy, while Obama emphasizes alternative sources and conservation to meet our energy needs.

McCain’s emphasis on increased production of nuclear energy and oil is based in a re-commitment in these energy sources. Nuclear energy produces zero emissions, and could decrease our dependency on foreign oil, however safety can be an issue due to the high levels of radioactivity that can be emitted from the waste (newer plants have a much better safety record, but it makes some reminisce about Chernobyl). There are also concerns about the cost of researching and building nuclear power plants. McCain’s plan also will give $2 billion per year in order to advance clean coal technology.

McCain supports off-shore drilling, deep sea drilling off U.S. coastlines in search of oil in order to increase domestic supplies. Increasing domestic oil production could put a patch on the situation we’ve found ourselves at the gas pump, however ecologically speaking, oil is a non-renewable resource and not a great thing to be dependent on, not to mention the threat of what oil spills can do to our environment. McCain has the idea of providing a $300 million award for “the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars.” Anyone know how to make batteries?

Obama will back limited off-shore drilling, as he believes that oil companies should first drill on the 68 million acres that they have which are so far unused. Previously against the idea, Obama has recently said that he now believes a compromise will have to be made in order to prevent gridlocking between oil companies and the government. His main objective is that we need to reduce our dependency on oil completely and move towards new fuel choices and alternative energies. Obama’s proposed policies take it a step further by investing $150 billion over ten years in order to build a clean energy future, along with creating 5 million “green collar” jobs. As for an immediate solution, he’ll give a $1,000 emergency energy rebate to help families pay for rising bills, the money coming from oil company profits. Obama would mandate the auto industry in order to influence them towards making vehicles capable of running on alternative fuels, and increase federal support of mass transit. McCain is against these mandates, and once a cap and trade is implemented (keep reading…), would rely on the market to cultivate alternative energy itself.

Both candidates support tax credits to those that buy hybrid cars. Both support a cap-and-trade system that would place a cost on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming, in order to encourage a shift towards renewable energy. Both also agree that regardless of the solution to stop the immediate oil bleeding from the gas pumps in America, something needs to be done to catalyze our shift from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources.

Please see this as well as this for further info.

Things to consider: Where you’ll be in 2050 when the Arctic Ocean has completely melted, the glaciers are gone from the Alps, and over one million species of animals are extinct. I’ll be (hopefully) still kicking it at 68.

  • Education

The low standards that our education system has currently in place are dismal at best. American children rank 28th out of 40 countries in mathematics and 19th out of 40 countries in science. Education should be a top priority. Bush’s No Child Left Behind plan was a complete dud, most agree the reason for this is because it was neglected in funding. We have huge issues in America with teacher quality and accountability. (Although this article is Obama based, if you are interested in the current state of our national education system, it is phenomenally written, please devour.) McCain will work to improve the No Child Left Behind Law, Obama will fundamentally extricate it.

McCain doesn’t seem to have a clear plan in regard to changing our education system, although lets hope he focuses more on this issue with the addition of his running mate and mother of 5. He does believe that public schools need to be publicly accountable for test results. McCain supports the basis of using competition in order to obtain greater quality teachers, and thinks that if parents are unhappy with the public education of their children, they should be allowed to change schools. He’ll also reward teachers with individual merit pay. Obama‘s main concerns are in the US’s high school dropout rate (30%), quality of teachers, and extremely high college costs. He will work to create a voluntary national performance assessment for new teachers, as well as work with school districts to create a program for salary increases for accomplished educators that work to mentor new teachers. Obama will also enact an unprecedented American Opportunity Tax Credit of $4000 to families universally. He will also ensure that the tax credit is available to families at the time of enrollment by using prior year’s tax data to deliver the credit when tuition is due.

Things to consider: Children are our future!

The basis of this article has grown out of Project votesmart. I believe that being informed is so important, and I am up for anyone willing to question. If we are open to it, we can all learn something here.

Signing off before my fingers fall off, as your CNN addict/political adviser chick, I bid you adieu…. DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!!!!

Bailouts??!!

So not only has the bush administration spent our money like a 13 year old looking for a quick sugar fix in a candy shop (mind you this 13 year old is extremely hyper yet lazy and is somewhere around 400 pounds), but now he is asking for close to $1trillion to help bailout beleaguered financial institutions!!! WTF!!!!??

Bush gives banks carte blanche to run amok during his terms in office and then sticks the taxpayers with the bill.  Its like you are planning a reunion for a bunch of your highschool buddies when one friend who you aren’t particularly close with (but hes someones brother) says “don’t worry, i got the hook up at the club, we will be straight, i got us vip bottle service!”  You and your buddies get all excited, you take a limo to the joint and down copious amounts of redbull and vodka on your way there.  You pull up to the spot ready to do the damn thing, the line is wrapped around the block but you don’t worry, your friend has the hook up right?!   Sure enough you go to the front of the line and all of a sudden said friend turns and says “alright yo, let me get your credit card cuz they wont let us in!”  This really happened.  And thats what bush and all his cronies are attempting to do to us.

We will be stuck with the bill and left with a dead dollar whose worth will value my crusty toe nails and some lint in my pockets.  If we have learned anything its that short term solutions don’t work.  You don’t spend massive amounts of money to save money.  You pull yourself up by the bootstraps and dig in.  You get ready for the long hall and don’t trust doods who say they have the hook up for the vip bottle service (bush).