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Archive for December, 2009

iran-revolution  Has the ruling government of Iran finally bitten off more than they can chew?   I think they have.     

For a regime that depends on fear and oppression as their governing tools of choice, they are about to learn the cold, hard lesson that destiny has been teaching since mankind first grappled with the concepts of society and governing so very long ago … vices will be punished and virtue will be rewarded, especially when it comes to leading others.  The most ironic twist of fate is that their complete undoing may just come by one of the most ancient catalysts of revolution that human history is littered with and their own culture reveres, the power of martyrs.  

 

 Peaceful opposition protests have been a common occurrence since the controversial Iranian elections saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retain his seat back in June.  While the power of peaceful protests cannot be overstated, they rely on an ingredient that has now been publicly and thoroughly proven lacking in today’s hard-liners that are in power in Iran, that a peaceful protest will be met in kind with a peaceful debate about the problem. With this one heinous act, they have opened the doors of vengeance and retribution that may break the chains of restraint their opposition has generally abided by.  They have set the stage for a revolution long in the making and I have a hunch they will soon be reaping what the sowed.  

 

 Our own history shows precedent of what kind of power a singular event like this can have in moving a nation from the ground up.  Remember the Kent State shootings in 1970 that left four of our students dead and nine others injured, one permanently paralyzed?  These were concerned young Americans protesting our invasion of Cambodia and calling attention to what they believed to be a misguided war in Vietnam.  In a span of just 13 seconds the actions of eight National Guardsmen galvanized a nation.  John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo of  Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller would go on to become one of the iconic images of the movement against the Vietnam War, forever seared into our American consciousness. In the aftermath, hundreds of campuses across the country were closed because of millions of striking students and just five days later a flood of protesters, over 100,000 strong, descended on Washington and helped grease the wheels of change.  Time may well find that the casualties of the Ashura Protests in Iran on December 27th rock the foundations of their iron-fisted government in the same, if not even a greater way.  

 

 Our priority now should be to make sure the Iranian people that are choosing to stand up for their freedom know they are not alone, to make sure that they understand the West is not their enemy in pursuing a transition to peace and tolerance, but a mighty ally that they can count on.  We must ensure that Ahmadinejad’s formidable Anti-Western propaganda machine is not the only voice the people hear.  Hitler’s own propaganda machine proved just how lethal fabricated truths can be and we can not let that kind of history repeat itself in any form or fashion ever again.    

 

 The future of Iran lies with its youth and they are the ones that we must compel ourselves to nurture right now while they find themselves looking for an identity to claim as their own.  They are the ones that will determine the trajectory of their country in the years to come and make or break any hope for lasting peace in the Middle East.  We in the West can beat our chest and stomp our feet all we want, but the only ones that have any realistic chance to defeat a regime born and raised on Anti-Western sentiment and affect the change we are collectively hoping for, is the generation that is forming its identity right now.  Is there a force more powerful than the innocence of youth asking why you are doing something that’s not good for you and forcing you to defend a position that is so obviously wrong?  I’ll bet more people quit smoking because their children forced them to question their reasoning and actions than any gum or patch ever did by a long shot.   

 

 From the smallest tribes to the mightiest empires, our common aspirations have always been to leave a better world for those that follow.  I don’t think any parent worthy of being a parent would willingly condemn their children to a harder life, or a worse world to live in than they had, do you?  That is the crux of the power the new generation in Iran wield.  Archimedes said if you give him a lever long enough and a fulcrum to place it on, he could move the world.  The youth of Iran are a lever long enough and this latest deadly protest may very well be the fulcrum on which to place it.  This is their chance to move the world.  

 

 We saw it happen on our own shores during Barack Obama’s historic election.  We saw our young people take unprecedented interest and action in the governing of our nation because they connected with someone that finally decided to publicly take on the demons of division and hate.  While he certainly didn’t solve all of the problems that have long ailed us, he did put one heck of a dent in them and helped start a new generation along a new path of tolerance and prosperity, not only here in America, but all over the world.  Their force did not only show up in their own actions, but in the countless stories we all heard of parents, friends and relatives being moved by their passion.  They made us take a long look at ourselves and focus on the things that are truly important today to move forward, not the things that drove us apart in a past that can never be changed.   

 

 There is a reason that we all have a rebellious streak early in our lives, the troubles of every day life haven’t beaten the hope out of us yet.  It is a time that we refuse to accept many things that seem  profoundly nonsensical to us in the grand scheme of things as we see it through the pristine lens of our innocence.  It is a time that we still have the energy to ride the wave of defiance against the absurd.  It is the same reason that the protesters in Iran are largely made up of the young, they are refusing to accept hate as a way of life they want to pursue, they are refusing to concede that oppression and being denied their human rights is the life they must lead.  They have seen with their own eyes the broken down, hopeless old souls left in the wake of the carnage that those ideals have brought to those that came before and they simply don’t want to turn out that way themselves.  They are finally tasting the power of a little American style “Yes We Can” and I have a hunch that this time they will.  

 

 Yes, I think Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the rest of their flagrantly arrogant hard-line cronies have finally cracked the lid on their very own Pandora’s Box, infinitely strengthened by the names of at least eight martyrs of the Ashura Protests that it now bears.  They can try to steal the bodies in a desperately feeble attempt to quell the unrest sure to be focused on the funerals like a laser beam, but it is indeed too little, too late. They have stirred a force that isn’t going to come at them from outside their borders, they have ignited a nightmare right under their own noses that may finally see the fall of the Islamic Fundamentalists that have been perched in the seats of power for over three decades.  They should know that the Iranian people are not going to let themselves be their punching bags forever and like I said, the vices of a governing body will eventually be punished.  Now they are about to get a taste of something that we Americans are testament to and know a little something about, the power of a righteous revolution.  

 

 The tide has turned indeed … Godspeed.

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invisible_manWhat’s the first thing on your mind when you wake up in the morning? Getting your kids ready for school? The big project you’ve been slaving over that is in its final stages? How you are going to ask for a raise to pay for Johnny’s braces? How you are going to pick up your dry cleaning, make it to the grocery store, attend that PTA meeting, prepare a meal for the family and still have time to talk to your spouse about something important, revolving it all around your work schedule of course?

 

These are indeed times of frantic multi-tasking and it can leave you exhausted, but if that sounds anything like a typical day to you, count yourself blessed, your world is moving forward.

 

Every day there are millions of Americans facing a very different wake up call, and keep in mind that what I am about to tell you is far from the mind boggling trauma of the worst case scenarios, it is simply an example of what it means to be one of the invisible unemployed.

 

Life used to be good. A steady paycheck was always coming in and you could stand tall against fate because the power over your future was largely in your own hands. You could actually make plans like getting that new car, or taking a family vacation, or hosting a dinner party for your friends. You knew just how many weeks it was going to take to get that flat screen TV, or new bedroom for the kiddies. You could make an occasional impulse buy, or splurge on a night out at a family restaurant. You could sock away a little money for retirement and you could fulfill your dream of owning your own home. Catching yourself humming a tune while you were working on your hobby or even singing in the shower were not out of the ordinary. You could smile. But for some, that world implodes.

 

You get to work one day and say good morning to your co-workers, like you have a thousand times. There is usually a smile and quick exchange about something or other as you head to your desk, but this morning just feels different. Mary is looking at you like she is going to cry and Steve avoids eye contact as he shuffles past. Something’s up but you can’t put your finger on it, so you just make your way to your little home-away-from-home and get ready to take on the tasks of the day. That’s when your extension rings. It’s your boss, “Could you come to my office for a minute?, we need to talk.” His tone was placid and you just know that it is some kind of bad news. Your stomach starts to tickle. You walk in, close the door and take a seat. The next few moments are a gut-wrenching experience that leaves you pale like a sheet with a seemingly unfocused stare, but it’s a stare that is actually focused squarely on the unknown. Your company lost one of its biggest contracts to an overseas competitor and they are left with no choice but to cut back. As swiftly as that, the executioner’s axe has fallen.

 

You don’t remember the drive home, you don’t know how you negotiated all the lights and traffic because you can’t recall seeing any. It was just one long “What am I going to do?” As you hit the driveway and turn off the car you find yourself not getting out. How are you going to tell your spouse, your kids? How are you going to find work? How are you going to survive? How long is that money in the bank going to keep us afloat? The stream of hows is endless.

 

Your wife had quit work a few years ago to stay home with the kids and take care of an ailing mother, she also had some medical concerns of her own, so it all made sense. You had made enough to afford that luxury and it felt good inside to be able to do the right thing. It was the traditional family setting that you had grown accustomed to in your own childhood, not everyone’s cup of tea of course, but it worked for you. Everything and everyone was taken care of. You were a provider.

 

As you sat at the dinner table unloading the day’s news to those you love, you found yourself choking up. You felt inadequate now, you felt like a failure. Even through all of the loving encouragement your family heaped on you after sensing your distress, you can’t shake that feeling. You tell them not to worry. You tell them everything is going to be OK. You tell them what you want to hear.

 

You finally manage to stop the spinning in your head and fall asleep in the early a.m. When you wake up, for one split second everything is normal, but then a shock goes through your body like an electric current and you are wide awake. You realize you had only been asleep for a couple of hours and you turn to find your cherished wife next you, still cloaked in the peacefulness of slumber. You sit silently, watching her, and pray that you won’t let her down. The whole house is quiet. You look out the window and see the paper being delivered, so you make your way to the door while making a mental note that you better cancel the paper for now.

 

You have one more paycheck still coming and you try to convince yourself that you will be able to secure a future in short order. You go straight to the classifieds, thankfully missing another front page story about unemployment hovering near 10%. It looks like one sales job after another. Telephone work, outside sales, inside sales, no experience necessary – those same jobs that you were circling when you came right out of high school, those jobs that are minimum wage at best, dressed in a fancy ad. But there is nothing about an experienced widget designer. Everything with a decent salary seems to require a degree that you don’t have.

 

It has now been a week. You have been to the only three interviews you could find. They all wanted new blood, someone younger, someone with a pedigree of higher learning, someone that you could never be no matter how hard you tried. Experience in life and work does not seem to be a valued commodity. Hopelessness is setting in and you can feel the vigor ebbing from your soul like the sands of the hourglass in your mind that is counting down the hours to catastrophe.

 

Today your last paycheck arrives, along with the next set of monthly bills. You panic and call a family meeting. They had all tightened their belts and stopped doing a lot of the things they used to enjoy to try to help and to save money, but today it doesn’t feel like enough. You find yourself shouting about buying a soda, about how the generic brands of everything are good enough, about things that used to seem so trivial and inconsequential.

 

Now you’re over a month in. You had already checked your ego at the door and filed for unemployment which has slowed the bleeding, but has come far short of stopping it. As the bills keep coming you see your bank account dwindling. The heater broke last week and needed to be replaced. Where there used to be five digits in your account balance there are now only four, soon to be three. Still no job.

 

Another month passes and every door you’ve tried has been firmly closed. You haven’t seen any of your friends in weeks. They keep calling to check on you, but you have long quit picking up the phone when you recognize the number out of shame. You skipped your niece’s birthday because you couldn’t afford to get her even a small gift. The disconnection notices have finally started rearing their ugly heads and your account is now so low that you can’t even take the eight dollars left out of an ATM machine, but you’ll use it at the grocery store for another bag of potatoes and some hamburger meat.

 

Your kids have made new friends at school, more out of necessity than desire. these new friends are part of families that are going through the same thing and are the only ones that don’t belittle and demean them. Their phones have been long confiscated, their game accounts long closed and every little perk that you could afford them in the past is now just a memory. Your wife wants to work again, but you only have one car and her chances are even smaller than yours at this point after having been out of the work force for awhile.

 

Right about now is when things start going exponentially bad. Your wife’s condition has flared up and you have been uninsured for awhile now. She suffers through it and every painful move she makes is a searing hot dagger thrust into your heart. You are wracked with worry about what will happen if it gets worse, or if one of your children should be stricken by an illness or injury. You had been driving out to an abandoned lot lately, where you used to see the near homeless and worse hopping into trucks. You knew those trucks were the last salvation for the hopeless and now you were among them. They would roll in, honk their horn and pick out able bodies from the tattered crowd to do some random daily labor job for minimum wage or less, but now the clutch that you had been meaning to have checked months ago finally gave out and you can’t even get there anymore.Your phone and Internet have been disconnected and the foreclosure notice has finally arrived along with the note that your power will be turned off next week.

 

After another near sleepless night you awaken again. How do I look for a job? How do I call to arrange an interview? How will I get there? How do I make myself presentable? How do I print up another resume? How will I move my family out of our home? How can I face them again today? The endless stream of hows just keep coming.

 

You can read the news about skyrocketing unemployment every day, but unless you are part of their ranks you can’t even begin to imagine that life. I would say the story I told ranks at about a 5 of 10 on the misery of unemployment scale and it is playing out in millions of homes every single day. I implore you to consider the plight of the stricken out there that find themselves caught in the sinister web of joblessness and shame, seeing Murphy’s Law materialize day after day. Because like me, none of us can know when fate will call our number.

 

The suffering and despair are staggering and that desperation will lead some to do things they could never even fathom in the past. There will be those that give up in the most ultimate way and there will be those that persevere and find a way through it, and there will be many shades in between, but until you are among them they will remain invisible to your eyes. Their shame will drive them to find comfort in that invisibility, but the numbers show that 1 in 10 now find themselves afflicted and most won’t have the more comfortable starting point of having at least some money in the bank, most will be sharing the pole position deep in the red because times have been tough for awhile now.

 

So, if you are one of the fortunate ones with the means and power to help, please do. If you are an employer that is about to drop the axe, please make sure you’ve thought through every possible alternative before you strike that lethal blow, you may find that thinking outside of the box doesn’t only save a soul from despondence, but you may just happen on to a venture that proves ultimately profitable. If you are neither wealthy nor connected, give of yourself and make your voice heard in the halls of power and make them understand the plight of so many that is ravaging the fabric of the American Dream. Unemployment is not a tale of the unwilling, it is a tale of the forgotten and invisible, it is a tale that will need something out of all of us to rewrite.

Photo by Danilo Rizzuti
Photo by Danilo Rizzuti

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  These are our inalienable rights, laid down in our founding documents.  That pursuit is what led to biggest movement for change seen in our lifetime. That pursuit is what led millions of individuals to get engaged in politics again for the first time in a long time or even for the very first time.  These are the ideals that Barack Obama so eloquently vocalized into our consciousness that inspired that all consuming thirst for change.  I know that’s what happened to me.  I was inspired enough to spend all of my free time for the better part of two years trying to lend my voice to the chorus of a nation that wanted a better future, opening one mind at a time to the possibilities of a more perfect union.  The peace of mind afforded by healthcare, the dignity of a job that pays a living wage and a rekindled moral conscience that the suffering of others makes each of our lives poorer were the cornerstones of that grand movement that I was so happy to be a part of. Now the debate that could finally see one of the central components of that vision realized is upon us, healthcare for all.  This is not the time for silence and complacency, it is a moment that cries for action.

 

I understand the pressures of life. I understand how easy it is to leave things in the hands of others, I too found myself guilty of inaction.  I had a death in the family at the beginning of the year that turned my life from calm into chaos and I laid down my pen, but after a lot of soul searching and contemplation on just how fickle the spark of life can be, I’ve been reinvigorated to add my two cents worth on what far too many people are overlooking in the health care debate before us, the true cost of sickness and death. 

 

Dollars and cents can be debated from now until the end of time, but in the long run it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.  Sickness doesn’t play favorites.  Wealth doesn’t buy immunity.  Even health care for every man woman and child in our great land will not keep the reaper chained to the radiator forever.  Death will always be inevitable. 

 

The one thing that each of us has been blessed with, however, is life … sweet, sweet life.   From our very first days, the wonders of life unfold.  Experiencing all of the “firsts” during our childhood is a magical time.  From our first laugh to our first step to our first day of school, experiences pile up and turn us into who we eventually become.  From our first crush to finding the love of our life, from having that brand new baby to watching those babies have their own, the beautiful cycle continues.  At least that is how the cycle is supposed to continue, but for some of us, destiny has a different plan.  For some of us will have to bear the agony of sickness and pain, the anguish of lost love or the devastation of watching those closest to us suffer, struggling to do the everyday things that we take for granted when we are healthy and vibrant.  Some of us will have our very souls torn apart trying to find a way to close the gaping whole that is left when that special someone is ripped from our lives forever.  Some of us will be the ones saying goodbye to all of those that love us, seeing the helplessness in their eyes while clinging to that last hope that we will never be forgotten. 

 

 What we have to keep in the forefront of our minds is the exponential devastation that comes from every sickness, every tragic death. I have seen this wrecking ball first hand too many times in my life already, although compared to my wife I have led a charmed life on that front.  She lost her father to cancer when she was 17, a brother to illness before he was 40, another brother to cancer when he was 45 and her live-life-to-the-fullest mother succumbed to heart failure unexpectedly and out of the blue. I’ve seen just how far the gruesome tentacles of calamity can reach, twisting from the victim to every life they touched, from family to coworkers to total strangers.   

 

I can’t even count the hours, days, weeks, months and years these events have affected our lives.  The pain never goes away completely and regrets can be a formidable opponent to anyone’s psyche.  All of her loved ones had medical care, so the only shred of peace she can cling to is that everything that could be done was, I can’t imagine how much worse things would be if that were not the case.   Like I said before, health care does not guarantee life, but on the other side of the coin, without it I would have lost her and she would have lost me as well as another brother.  Both of my parents and brother would not be here today either if we had all not received important care at various points in our lives.  We were indeed the lucky ones. 

 

Now that you know a little bit about where I’m coming from, you must understand how pathetic I find it to see these Grand Poobahs and their constant party-line bickering stalling any kind of measure that will bring a peace of mind to those enduring ailments that are robbing them and those around them of their dignity and hope.  No one should be smacked down for trying to stay alive.  No one should be punished for trying to do everything in their power to hang on even one more day to teach their child that one more thing about life that they have to impart, or to tell their soulmate that they love them one more time, or to experience the simplest of things that make life so precious, just one more time.

 

So as the healthy try to debate the unacceptable cost of health care for every American, imagine the costs we pay by not having it.  How many small businesses close when the owner is stricken ill or dies, leaving all those that depend on that income for their livelihoods unemployed?  How many projects collapse when the most important cog is removed because they are sick or worse?  How many jobs are suffering when our minds wander with thoughts of a suffering spouse or child that is not being cared for?  How many hours are lost trying to play Internet doctor for things that a trained physician could diagnose and cure with ease?  How many self-helpers will get it wrong with dire consequences?  How many small correctable problems, left untreated,  will rob a family of a father or a mother, a brother or a sister. a son or a daughter, or even the wisdom of a grandparent?  How many countless things are affected in our everyday lives because of those lost temporarily or permanently to correctable ailments?  How many deadlines will go unmet?  How many promises will go unfulfilled?  How many deals will collapse? How many of us will get inferior service because the best person to do the job is avoidably lost?  How many times will that inferior service snowball and cost us dearly in ways we don’t even want to imagine? 

So does the cost of health care, even if it’s over a trillion dollars, cost more than not having it?  I don’t know of a wealthy person that would not give away all of their treasure for a cure when they are the ones facing the abyss.  I don’t know of a parent or a spouse that would not give away all of their worldly possessions to save the person they love. I think we’ve all heard the sickening foreclosure stories that health care related desperation has caused.

 

The real tragedy here is that opponents to health care are going to see to it that it is so watered down that it will once again amount to no more than a finger in the dam.  The bad news is that none of us can know if we will be the ones moved into the valley that this particular dam looms over.

 

If only we could take away healthcare from every legislator voting on it for just 6 months. No checkups, no dental cleanings, no eye check ups, no emergency room visits, no vaccinations, no cancer screenings, no prostate exams, no prenatal care, no nothing . If by chance something terrible were to happen, they could go to the hospital and be treated as the uninsured, wait 5 hours and cross their fingers. If they do receive care, them or anyone their family…any care during that stretch, it will cost them at least three quarters of their net worth, whatever that sum may be, and if something terrifying were to be uncovered during that time, they would have to look for a new policy with that pre-existing condition. Maybe that would help them along on the road to understanding what it is they are voting on. I fear that the posh lifestyle our politicians are afforded is blinding them to harsh realities that are faced daily by millions.

 

So fight with all your might, write your elected officials and tell them how you feel, flood them with calls, put the power of your voice to the challenge once again.  History has already shown us what the power of a unified voice can do, even while facing impossible odds. There are a billion bricks still to lay on the road to a perfect Union and we can not let the opposition steal even one or the road can never be completed.  Those yelling in your face and spitting in your eye today would be singing a much different tune if they were the ones with a cancer ravaging their body or if they were the ones left to ponder their fleeting existence and that of their families … with no one there to help.  We must succeed, even for them.

 

In essence this is a debate over humanity, it is a debate that we, and those to follow, cannot afford to lose. 

Just think about how you want to be remembered?