Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Toil, Life at 40-Something, Good Women (any left?) and Simple Joys...









by, Mark Baker



Hmmm, for whatever reason, it seems that lots of us Baby Boomers (1946--1964), especially those towards the tail-end of the boom (1958-1964) married BADLY! Perhaps we were naively imprinted by the idealic environment a vast majority of us experienced in our formative early years: Our Mother's were at home, 'Pong' hadn't even been invented yet, so we spent hours on-end 'OUTSIDE' with our friends playing sandlot games, riding our bikes, shooting BB-Guns, 'Lawn Darts,' 'Whiffle-Ball, shooting hoops, etc.

We reluctantly 'came in' only after our mothers hollered at us for dinner (or we’d taken a Lawn Dart in the thigh, lol), and then we had to scrub-off the top layer of grime before we helped Mom set the table and go fetch Dad from the watching Walter Cronkite, or fiddling in the garage. After dinner we (if we were the oldest kid, which I was damn-it) cleared the table and washed the dishes and then joined the rest of the family for TV (if our ‘homework’ was completed).

Together we watched the likes of 'Gunsmoke,' 'My three Son's,' 'Manix, 'The Courtship of Eddie's Father,' 'Hawaii Five-O' (remember Jack Lords HUGE hair, lol) and 'The Wonderful World of Disney. I couldn't wait to watch 'Mutual of Omaha's WILD KINGDOM. Remember how Marlin always had poor "Jim" do all the hard work for him, then he'd 'step-into' the shot to look victorious. I now feel that this was a subliminal warning to us, that in our futures, we would be subjected to 'older boomers' (the ones born before 1958) who being UNIMAGINATIVE, UNETHICAL PRICKS, would think nothing of taking credit for our ideeas and accomplishments.

This grand incubator primed a lot of us to expect a safe, idealic world and life ahead of us. We were mistaken. Not all of us shared this naive worldview, because they were the ones we married, "For Better & Worse" (Bata vs. VHS), "Through Sickness & Health", "Forsaking all Others..." (this is where the mates of us who married very badly, would later 'DIVIATE' from the game-plan on us (who'd of ever pictured Mike or Carol Brady 'Shaking-up' on the side?').

So, then, with that realization, like a few others (who'll know what I'm saying here), I dedicated myself to being the best parent I could be, and hopefully not screw my kids up too bad as a single-parent of three little boys from a 'broken home' (a term the PC world has banished).

Now, with my youngest on the cusp of leaving the nest, I find myself at a place where I can consider the possibility of finding HER, that one great woman, possessing the right mix of what ... "je ne sais quoi," I'll know it when I 'feel' it.

She, wherever she is (and I am old-fashioned enough to still believe that a good man and women can find each other). What I will not do however is continue to be so naive to allow myself to be hemmed-in by conventional wisdom that states that she necessarily be from my home state (Michigan), or even necessarily the United States itself. And while physical beauty is something I'll admit DOES play a role, I wisely no longer necessarily equate it as a primary factor of attraction. Rather, a woman who possesses integrity, wisdom, autonomy, passion, discretion and a good degree of HUMOR is a rare woman indeed. She may be white, black, asian, european, whatever. She could be next door, across town, state, country, or ocean. But regardless of any of that, the women I'm seeking fits the following:

She wakes with a smile and considers what she has before giving thought to what's missing in her life.She is comfortable with who she is, and the hand that she's been given to deal with.If she has them, she puts her children’s needs ahead of her own and NEVER resents having been blessed with them. She isn't caught-up in the neon-glow of the world we find ourselves in, but instead carries herself with dignity and grace driven by an in-dwelling desire to please the Lord. She thus possesses the inherent intelligence (or has learned through grand revelation) that 'the world does not rotate around her (or any person for that matter), and that we are all at our best when we pause to consider the needs of those around us. She is physically active and enjoys activities outside the home; a hike through a forest or along a secluded beach is far preferable to her to hanging out at the local 'meat-rack,' but on the other hand, neither is she a prude, and isn't afraid to belt-out some bad karaoke.

She is an 'Observer' of people, their actions and motivations and has developed a strong sense of discernment as to who's sincere and those who may not be.She has a strong sense of autonomy and self-respect, and although she'd prefer to have a man in her life, she isn't willing to "settle" for just anyone who pays attention to her, but instead has been holding out for the man she wants. She is PASSIONATE in love and with her affections toward the man she loves. She has a strong desire to travel and see so many places that she's yet to visit, but ultimately would love to do that with a man she loves and who loves and adores her. She is loyal and can think for herself; she laughs easily and frequently and her smile reveils her spirit.

Regarding 'Simple Joys:' I like my Honda HRR Series Mower, I REALLY like it! Like a good dog who immediately quits sniffing poop and comes to you when you call, or a ratty old pair of Adidas that feel great. When I reach down and pull that cord, I'm rewarded with a START, everytime! Yup, I know that sounds pathetic, but mowing with my Honda ranks right up there with folding hot clothes fresh out of the dryer.

It would be nice to find 'HER' someday, but if not, I've always got my Honda.

-Mark

Friday, December 25, 2009

Peace & Joy On This Day!


To everyone out here, family, friends and acquentences; on this day that we pause to remember Our Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave His life for all of us, may you & yours be safe in your travels and be richely blessed by His Love.. Although we are all struggling in these difficult times, through Him we can perservere. Merry Christmas! Romans 5: 1-5

-Mark

Thursday, December 24, 2009

GOP at Fork-in-the-road: Return to Roots or Become Irrelevant


The "MeToo" Party dies a little:

For years now, I’ve been warning Republicans that conditions are ripe for a principled and activist third party to form on the right – where the Republicans have held a claim for the last 40 years and realistically been the sole occupant since Johnson vs. Goldwater. I’ve never suggested this with the notion that there should be a Conservative Party battling both the Democrats and the Republicans – I’m no fan of third parties, and believe strongly in the two-party system. But those commentators who complain that third parties just don’t work in American politics forget that the Republican Party itself began its existence as a third party. Its founders – the Black Republicans, as we here like to remind everyone they were called back then – understood that the second party of their day had made itself irrelevant by caving in to the Democrats on the most controversial issue in American history.

The leadership of the Whig Party, including Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, took advantage of the death of President Zachary Taylor to push through the Compromise of 1850. While generally popular, many people understood the compromise to be a capitulation by the Whigs to many demands of southern Democrats, including a strengthening of the Fugitive Slave Law. Northern abolitionists felt betrayed, causing their waning support for the Whigs to build into a rout for the them in the election of 1852. Emboldened by their victory, the Democrats passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, breaking decades worth of compromise on the slavery issue. Abolitionists and other defectors from the Whigs could not stand it anymore, and fled to form the Republican Party. Once the collapse of the Whigs became final, the United States still had a two-party system, but the name, strength, and ideology of one of the parties had been completely supplanted by another.

For the past few years, the incoherent message coming from the Republican establishment has made an all-too-familiar sound of “Me Too”. Big-government heath care may be associated with the Democrats today, but its greatest victory so far was a huge prescription drug benefit passed by a Republican president who wanted to be known as “a compassionate conservative”. Campaign finance reform that put a stranglehold on private speech and promoted funding limits was once just a Democratic dream, but it came true once it was championed by a Republican senator who identifies with progressivism. And just days ago, a pro-abortion, pro-group-rights Republican candidate pulled out of a race only to endorse her Democrat opponent over a conservative challenger.

That Democrat may have won his race against the upstart from the New York Conservative Party, but with the light of dawn that may well be the cap of the bad news for Democrats, and the beginning of the end for the “Me Too” Republican Party. Conservative Republicans won races for governor in New Jersey and Virginia, and after the revolt in NY23 (funded and supported by conservatives across the country) the national party has been put on notice that conservatives are done supporting liberals just for the sake of party unity. The loss of NY23 may be a disappointment for some, but a victory for the Conservative Party there might have sent the wrong message to conservatives – encouraging them to defect from a Republican Party far stronger than the Whigs were when the Republicans began their move to assume second-party status.

The Republican Party can still be the conservative party for America, but time is running out. The Republican establishment has to understand that the party itself needs a center to rally around, and the tendency of our recent leadership to bend to the left isn’t going to expand the Big Tent, it’s going to bring it crashing down.

http://www.theblackrepublican.net/?p=3014

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Confronting the 'Spin' on the Fort Hood Massacre


Confronting the Spin on the Fort Hood Massacre
Written by Frank Salvato
Friday, 13 November 2009 00:00

It is sad and disturbing commentary on the state of American culture when the facts surrounding an event, such as the slaughter that took place at Fort Hood, can not only be manipulated to facilitate a political ideology but blatantly ignored in the pursuit of a political agenda. In the face of the most potent enemy the United States and the free world has ever know – aggressive and violent radical Islam – our leaders and members of the mainstream media are doing just that; manipulating the truth to facilitate an agenda, and we are all in danger because of it.

By now, everyone in the world knows the details surrounding the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. US Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, in committing not only an act of terrorism but an act of treason, perpetrated the most deadly terrorist act on American soil since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Actions and statements made by Hasan prior to his murderous spree indicate beyond doubt that he was not only opposed to US military action in the Iraqi and Afghan theaters and that he felt it was appropriate for Muslims in those countries to kill US and NATO soldiers in response to “the infidel occupiers,” but that he made a purposeful and premeditated choice to execute his jihad. Yet, President Obama, his spokespeople and members of the mainstream media are hyping the “backlash against Muslims” sentiment while completely ignoring – and in some cases arguing against – the mountain of evidence that points to the fact that Hasan was a radical Islamist and a jihadist.

Four Qualifications for TerrorismAlan Colmes erroneously cited a definition for the word “terrorism” as used by Webster’s Dictionary during a recent stint on The O’Reilly Factor. While Webster’s is a wonderful resource for everyday use in divining the meaning of words, where terrorism is concerned it falls short.Terrorism is, effectively, a classification of a type of violent act. The National Counterterrorism Center uses the definition provided in Title 22 US Code § 2656f (d) (2):“...the term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents;...”The NCTC specifically states in its 2008 Report of Terrorism that this definition includes:“...military personnel and assets outside war zones and war-like settings.”In addition, and from a clinical perspective, terrorism is distinguished from other acts of violence, and from war, by always having these four characteristics:▪ Terrorists violate the rules of modern warfare, as established in the Geneva Conventions and Hague Conventions; they can also be “sub-state groups” who can't declare war legitimately.▪ The goal of those who employ terrorism is almost always, without exception, to achieve political change.▪ The targets of those who employ terrorism are symbolic of the political issue in question. ▪ That acts of terror are designed specifically to be sensational, to get attention from the public and especially the mediaWhen examining the actions taken by Hasan, both on the day of the shootings and before, each of the criteria in the officially recognized definition for terrorism has been satisfied:▪ It was premeditated: Hasan acquired non-government issued firearms to use for the attack and he began, days earlier, to give away all of his personal belongings.▪ It was politically motivated: Hasan was acting in defense of his political beliefs – as well as his religious beliefs – where Muslims and Muslim nations were concerned as is evidenced in many of his statements provided in a medical lecture at Walter Reed Hospital.▪ It was an act of violence against non-combatants: While the location of the attack was indeed a military base the victims were unarmed and Hasan knew they would be.▪ It violated the Geneva and Hague Conventions: Hasan fired on unarmed people and non-military personnel.▪ His targets were symbolic: Hasan targeted US military personnel at a military base that is one of the primary embarkation points for troop deployment, thus the symbolism of an attack against US military might and ability.▪ His attacks were sensational.With all of these facts – all obvious and overt – presented to the American people, law enforcement, our elected officials and the mainstream media, it is an act of dishonesty to pretend that the actions taken by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan on November 5, 2009, were anything but an act of terrorism.Hasan Is Obviously ‘Pro-Choice’The argument over whether Hasan’s mental state played a significant part in his terrorist act against his colleagues and fellow soldiers has been championed by the mainstream media and some in the Obama Administration.

Some are advancing the laughable theory that Hasan was suffering from “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” even though Hasan had never been deployed to any active theater. Further, Hasan was schooled as a psychiatrist who specialized in treating soldiers with serious personal injuries and PTSD.It is more likely and, in fact, probable, in light of Hasan’s own words, that he made a purposeful choice to follow his Islamic faith in that way of a fundamentalist. His statement that he is “a Muslim before I am an American,” lends credence to this notion, as do several of his other statements:“It's getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims...”“If Muslim groups can convince Muslims that they are fighting for God against injustices of the 'infidels'; ie: enemies of Islam, then Muslims can become a potent adversary ie: suicide bombing, etc...” [sic]“Fighting to establish an Islamic State to please God, even by force, is condoned by the Islam...”“Muslim Soldiers should not serve in any capacity that renders them at risk to hurting/killing believers unjustly...”And one slide in his visual presentation to colleagues at Walter Reed Hospital presented: "We love death more then [sic] you love life!"Disturbingly, and unreported in the mainstream media, Osama bin Laden is quoted as having said:“We love death. The US loves life. That is the big difference between us."The chances of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan not being of sound mind during the events of November 5, 2009, are distantly remote given the statements he made over the years.

The shootings at Fort Hood weren’t a case of PTSD or a person who “just snapped,” they weren’t even the actions of a coward who was refusing to go to war. They were the actions of someone who made a clear and decided choice to champion his religion – fundamentally – over his nationality. Hasan chose to be a jihadist and to kill US military personnel in the name of Islam; in the name of Allah; ergo, his use of “Allahu Akbar,” the takbir. Texas Counts the ‘Fetus’Another of the fallacies being foisted on the American people is that Hasan’s shooting victims number thirteen (13).One of Hasan’s victims, Francheska Velez, 21, who had just returned for her overseas deployment, was six months pregnant at the time of her murder. This is significant for more than the obvious reason.In the State of Texas, if a pregnant woman is murdered and her child dies as well, the assailant is charged with both the murder of the Mother and the murder of the child.

In 2007, a Texas state appeals court upheld a state law that protects pregnant mothers and their unborn children from acts of violence. It is because of this law that Hasan should be charged with fourteen (14) counts of premeditated murder, not thirteen (13).So, why won’t the mainstream media and the Obama Administration use the correct number – fourteen (14) – when referring to the victims of this massacre? Because they would then have to admit that an unborn baby, pursuant to Texas law, is a human being worthy of the right to life as established “unalienable” by our US Constitution. Should either the mainstream media or the Obama Administration establish the precedent – nationally, due to the fact that this happened on federal land in the form of a US military base – that the unborn have a right to life, constitutionally, and the entire pro-choice movement is set back to zero.By the authority of Texas law, the accurate number of murders that took place at the hand of Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan is fourteen (14). It is cowardly and pathetically ideological for the mainstream media, the President and his administration to ignore this truth, this fact, this moral accuracy.Political Correctness KillsSo, why did this all have to happen? Why could all of the “red flags” exist without any definitive action having been taken by the FBI or the US Army? The truth of the matter is that none of this had to happen. Fourteen (14) people would still be alive today if it wasn’t for the ideological cancer that is political correctness.Because of political correctness federal authorities failed to categorize Hasan as a potential threat to national security.

Further, in another stunning bit of denial, the wheel chalks weren’t even under the tires of the government plane that brought FBI investigators to Fort Hood before they issued a statement saying “terrorism was not involved in this shooting.” The obvious question begging to be asked is this: Based on what? Before the FBI had even gathered the first shred of evidence it discounted terrorism. Why, because classifying a violent act perpetrated by a fundamentalist Muslim as “terrorism” isn’t politically correct.And because of political correctness, the US Army refused to act on the concerns of several of Hasan’s colleagues that brought to light his penchant for radical Islam. Several of Hasan’s colleagues stated that he was vehement in his defense of Islam to the point of taking the side of jihadists engaged in combat against American soldiers. This information was provided to superior officers but because Islam has been erroneously declared the “religion of peace” it isn’t politically correct to accuse a fundamentalist Muslim of committing a terrorist act when he shoots people as he screams “Allahu Akbar.”Islam is the only religion existing today with religious tenets that validate killing to advance the religion.

All one has to do is to take the time to read the Quran and Hadith to understand that Islam is a religion of conquest that condones violence in its version of proselytization. In using violence – and sometimes deadly violence – against non-believers or “sinners” within the religion (which can range from a woman talking to an unrelated man to drawing a picture of Muhammad), how can anyone justify calling Islam the religion of peace? The only justification comes by way political correctness.Political correctness has kept the federal government, law enforcement and the mainstream media from being honest about several terrorist plots against military installations right here in the United States.▪ Jihadists targeted Fort Dix.▪ A jihadist shot a military recruiter in Arkansas.▪ Two jihadists targeted a US Navy base which docks nuclear submarines in South Carolina.▪ And now Fort Hood.In light of the Fort Hood massacre we can now say with absolute certainty that because of political correctness, fourteen (14) people are dead. Political correctness kills.And In the End...Perhaps we are naïve. Maybe the falsely elevated self-esteem fostered in a generation of me-first, gimme-mine, golly-I’m-great, narcissistic ideologues has left us unable to recognize true evil when it stares us in the eye; has left us unable to recognize an enemy attack – or a number of enemy attacks (whether plotted, attempted or completed) – even as it occurs. In light of the denial of the facts by our mainstream media, law enforcement and federal leadership the argument for naiveté can be successfully advanced.Or maybe we have foolishly allowed disingenuous and dangerous people to establish a shadow set of cultural norms – antithetical to constitutionally legislated public law – in political correctness. And perhaps these people don’t really have the best interests of the country at heart.

Maybe, just as Nidal Malik Hasan put his religion above his country, the politically correct have put their ideology above their country, above national security and above you and me.No matter how you assemble the pieces, our nation has suffered the first terrorist attack since September 11, 2001, in the massacre at Fort Hood. It was perpetrated by a radical Islamist executing jihad and it happened on Pres. Obama’s watch. Fourteen (14) people are dead and no amount of politically correct spin can bring them back.

About Frank SalvatoFrank Salvato is the Executive Director and Director of Terrorism Research for BasicsProject.org a non-profit, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) research and education initiative. His writing has been recognized by the US House International Relations Committee and the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention. His organization, BasicsProject.org, partnered in producing the original national symposium series addressing the root causes of radical Islamist terrorism. He is a member of the International Analyst Network. He also serves as the managing editor for The New Media Journal. Mr. Salvato has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor on FOX News Channel, and is a regular guest on talk radio including on The Captain's America Radio Show airing on AM1220 WSRQ and on the Internet catering to the US Armed Forces around the world and on The Roth Show with Dr. Laurie Roth syndicated nationally on the USA Radio Network. His opinion-editorials have been published by The American Enterprise Institute, The Washington Times & Human Events and are syndicated nationally. He is occasionally quoted in The Federalist. Mr. Salvato is available for public speaking engagements.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The REAL History of Social Security and why it's time to END it.


US Social Security: Why the System is Bankrupt -and How We Can Replace It
by George L. O'Brien.


"If the US government were required to keep its books the way businesses are required to keep theirs, the national debt wouldn't be $5 trillion. It would be $17 trillion, an amount equal to 2½ times the nation's gross domestic product."Forbes, "The Legal Ponzi Scheme," October 9, 1995. Discussions of Social Security remind me of the joke about a man who jumps from the top of a fifty-story building and after falling half-way is asked, "How are you doing?" He answers, "Fine, so far." The issue of Social Security has long been considered the "third rail'' of politics – as on the electrified subway: "touch it and you die." But like the falling man, Social Security is not really "fine."

There are many reasons for the popularity of Social Security. It is the only part of the welfare state which promises benefits to nearly every person. It is also seen to relieve adult children of the responsibility of supporting their elderly parents, and it helps the elderly poor for whom there is a great deal of sympathy.

There is only one problem: the system is a fraud. In theory, Social Security is a form of "insurance." In practice, it is a "Ponzi scheme." Historian Mark Knutson, writes that in the summer of 1920, [Charles K.] Ponzi claimed he was giving investors just a portion of the 400% profit he was earning through trade in postal reply coupons. As Ponzi paid the matured notes held by early investors, word of enormous profits spread through the community, whipping greedy and credulous investors into a frenzy. Investigation later revealed that there were no coupons or profits – earlier notes were paid at maturity from the proceeds of later ones. The simplicity and grand scale of his scheme linked Ponzi's name with a particular form of fraud.

This type of fraud is called a pyramid scheme. To pay off earlier "investors" in such a scheme, an ever larger number of participants must to be added. In the early 1970s, a federal law known as ERISA (Employment Retirement Income Security Act) was passed after it was found that many corporate pension plans were paying current beneficiaries directly from current contributor's funds. When income declined, the corporate pension plans were terminated - just like the late investors in Ponzi's scheme. (The whole idea that businesses should handle employee savings due to federal tax preferences helped create this problem in the first place.) Under ERISA, any employer who failed to fully fund its pension plan could be held criminally liable.

Charles Ponzi went to prison. But the politicians who run Social Security are not held liable for what is normally considered criminal behavior. The Prussian Model. Many Americans believe that Social Security is an integral part of our free enterprise system, but it is neither American nor free enterprise. The original Social Security system was created by the Prussian/German leader Otto von Bismarck in 1883. Bismarck was looking for a way to win the support of the working people, who were unhappy with the high taxes needed to support the large German military and the high prices created by the government-protected industrial cartels. He wanted to find a way to con people into believing that they were going to get something from the state, without its actually having to deliver. He asked an actuary how long most people could be expected to live. The answer was 65 years. Bismarck then set the age of eligibility for his social security system at 65, knowing full well that most of the people would have died before they received a dime from the system. In spite of this, the system was wildly popular.

The Prussian concept of Social Security was an authoritarian one – based on the false premise that people are incompetent to look after their own affairs and need a paternalistic socialist state to force them to provide for their own retirement. In the US during the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was looking for a way to gain the support of the working people who were unhappy with the continuing Great Depression and the high taxes needed to support his New Deal programs. So the Social Security program was created in 1935 (just in time for the 1936 elections).

The Social Security "Trust Fund" Myth. Republican and Democrat politicians tell us that the money each employee "contributes" to Social Security goes into a "trust fund." The money from this fund is "invested" in federal government bonds. Upon retirement, the "reserve" made up of "contributions" and the interest on the bonds would be used to pay benefits to the retiree.

From the beginning, in spite of the claims that it was an old-age insurance program, Social Security paid its benefits from current cash flow, rather than paying benefits out of interest accrued on a reserve fund as a private pension plan would do. As Social Security taxes were paid into the system, the funds were immediately doled out to beneficiaries. As more taxpayers retired, they would be paid from the money taken from younger taxpayers – just like Ponzi's investors.

There are other structural flaws with this system. First of all, people began to live longer. Whereas in 1883 most people died by the age of 65, by the late 20th Century people were living an average of a decade longer. This meant a huge increase in potential beneficiaries. When the Social Security program began in 1935, there were 16 contributors for every retiree, but a decline in the birth rate paralleling the increase in longevity has dropped the ratio of workers to retirees to only 3 to 1 in the 1990s. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Once the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) start retiring, the ratio will shrink even more. Estimates are that there will be only two workers for every retiree by the year 2025. Social Security taxes alone will have to exceed 22% of each worker's income by that point. (Plus a compulsory matching amount paid by employers).

Preserve The System: Ruin The People. Typical proposals to "reform" Social Security have been built around increasing taxes. The 1983 Social Security tax increase was supposed to create a reserve fund of $10 trillion by the year 2030. However, since 1967 Congress has been raiding up to $70 billion each year from the Social Security fund to hide part of their massive deficit spending. Thus the Social Security trust fund is filled with IOUs in the form of Treasury Bonds. The interest on these bonds must be paid by you, the taxpayer.

The typical alternative "reform" is to renounce promised benefits by implementing a series of major benefits cuts and raising the age of eligibility. Many people have come to expect this solution. Indeed, one public opinion poll found only 8% of Americans under age 30 believe they will get anything out Social Security. Even defenders of the status quo admit that benefits will have to be reduced. Recently, proposals have emerged in Congress to partially "privatize" Social Security. But with rare exceptions, none of these proposals address the problems of the $12 trillion in unfunded liability or the high risks involved in transferring control of one's retirement savings into the hands of politicians. The promises made by politicians are simply a fraud. Few people will ever get what they've been promised from Social Security.

The Chilean Model: an example of an honest system that works. In the mid-1980s, Chile had an even worse problem than the US. Yet according to Rita Koslka in her article "A Better Way to Do It," published in the October 28, 1991 issue of Forbes: Replacing the old system, then Minister of Labor José Piñera put in a plan that requires each of the country's 4.8 million workers to put 10% of his pre-tax income into a private pension fund of his own choosing; there are no employer contributions. There are 13 plans to choose from, and workers can switch their funds between plans to get the best returns at the lowest cost.

In Chile, at age 65 for a man (60 for a woman) the worker takes the accumulated savings and either buys an annuity or organizes an individual payout schedule. He can retire earlier if he has enough money in his pension fund. To protect worker's savings, most funds are invested in securities automatically indexed for inflation. The benefits to the individual worker of this policy have far exceeded expectations. The original plans for the Chilean program anticipated an annual return of about 5.5%. A retiree with 40 years in the fund at that rate, would receive 70% of the average of the last five years of his or her salary. With a return of 6.5% the payout would be 100% of that rate.

It turns out that the average rate of return has actually been in the neighborhood of 13%, which has induced many workers to contribute far more than the required minimum amounts. This has not only made it possible for people to retire in comfort, but has provided funds for a major economic expansion. Because the money that goes into these private pension funds is invested in production, a great supply of investment capital was made available to businesses and entrepreneurs at relatively low interest rates. With capital available, production increased many-fold and a huge new labor market has been created. There was also a major stock market boom (helped by new funds and new freer market policies). These private funds now constitute the equivalent of one third of Chile's gross national product.

In 1992 alone, Chile's economy, measured by its Gross Domestic Product, grew by 9.7%. That is nearly 4 times the rate of growth in the US for that same year. Inflation and unemployment in Chile have been declining steadily and rapidly during the same time period. In fact, so much investment capital is now available that Chilean investors have been able to invest in neighboring countries.

The program has in fact proved so successful that Argentina has adopted a similar system. Delegations from Mexico, Venezuela and Poland have visited Chile to study how this approach can be used in their countries. According to Augusto Iglesias, chief economist for the Chilean pension fund, Habitat, the Chilean Social Security system "is based on very simple and reasonable principles: that people care about their money, and that putting it in private hands is more efficient than with the government".

The Chilean program goes beyond replacing a government pension system with a private system. It also eliminates the domination of retirement programs by corporate pension plans, since workers now control their own funds. Chilean Minister of Labor José Piñera summed it up by saying, "It is a common-sense system that is more easily understood by the average Chilean mother than by social security experts." However, the Chilean system is not perfect. The program is compulsory and there are limitations on investment choices.

Ending Social Security. At some point people must realize the futility of trying to save the current bankrupt Social Security system. More tinkering with the status quo won't help – Social Security is both financially and morally bankrupt – and soon this Ponzi scheme will collapse. Completely ending Social Security and returning total control over retirement savings to individual workers will end the fraud and provide opportunities for them to earn a decent rate of return on their own hard-earned money. Moreover, it will protect their savings from rapacious politicians and ensure that their money is used productively rather than to disguise federal deficits. Reforms in places such as Chile suggest that the overall benefits to the economy could be substantial if government is removed from the equation. Unfortunately, like the falling man, it is hard for most people to realize that things are not "fine" – until they hit the pavement. The sooner we end Social Security, the better for everyone concerned.
****************************************
George L. O'Brien is a prolific libertarian writer, policy analyst, lecturer and political strategist. He is ISIL's Regional Representative for the southwestern United States.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Small Town Living


by Mark Baker


One wouldn't think that there's anything 'inspirational' to write about on this rainy, gray morning, but they would be wrong because as I set here at 'Sweet Linda's Cafe' sipping on my ice-tea and looking out the window onto Bridge Street, I smile because of the great peace I feel living in the great little town I grew-up in and raised my sons in. In less then an hour since I entered Linda's, I have spoken with seven people I know and waved at a few who strolled past on the sidewalk outside.

Ken Black, a friend who owns 'Four Seasons Gift Shop' saw me as he passed by and came in to say hello on his way back to his shop; 'Stan,' a retired banker shared how his week went and we waxed-on about the nature of the economy, the odd weather and such. Laura Sepalla (sp?) just came-up to me as I was typing the last sentence to introduce herself and inquire about my feelings regarding the Acer Aspire One NetBook I'm typing on today. She's going to encourage her husband to get one for his travels. Although I just met Laura, she underscores exactly what I'm writing about here this morning, 'the Nature of Small Town Living.'

Grand Ledge has a population of approximately 9000 people, many of whom grew-up here and consider themselves 'Ledger's.' We are a unique lot by and large and value honesty, goodwill and 'neighborliness' on a list that includes many other virtues of a era that has largely disappeared in larger venues such as Lansing, the capitol city nine miles to the east, but as far away as the moon as it applies to quality-of-life issues. Don't get me wrong, we're far from utopia, while Lansing has suffered a couple murders in as many weeks, we've experienced a couple of murders in the last sixty years (both perpetrated by 'out-of-towners'); we have our share of idiot's and oddballs (myself perhaps included in the latter category), as well as some jerks who long to be 'Ledger's,' but whom lack the underpinnings that make us, US! However, they are entertaining to watch. From my words here, one might be tempted to retort that we're elitist in our thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth, because we largely value most intangibles such as relationships with one-another far more then tangible, material things.

Here again I've lost my focus as I just finished getting caught-up with Lynn MacDowell, wife of Bruce and co-owner of 'MacDowell's' Fireplace and Flower Shop here in town. We both attempted to determine if the 'Grand Ledge Farmer's Market' across the street was selling peaches or apples on the first table, but weren't brave enough to get rained-on to go find out, lol.

Looking back, I can remember not being able to wait to get out of Grand Ledge when I was a kid in high school here. But after going away with the Air Force and then living in Lansing for a few years after I returned, I couldn't wait to return to the little town I grew-up in. Funny how our perspective can change as we experience life. What I thought to be 'Podunk' as a smart-ass teenager, turned out to be paradise when I 'grew-up.'

To those of you who are looking for a great place to raise your kids and enjoy real community, consider Grand Ledge (at least pay us and our great businesses a visit); to those of you who might be inclined to kick dogs, disrespect women, elders and live off the system (or might be political carpet-baggers who might be named 'Virg') such, stay in Lansing, Flint, wherever you are and leave us alone, lol. Ah Yes, one can take a jerk out of the big city, but one can never take the big city out of the jerk.

There, I've vented, I feel better now, and I love my little hamlet of Grand Ledge...

-Mark

Sunday, June 21, 2009

James Edward Baker, 1936-2006.


For You Dad, With Love...


At 47, some might think it odd that I'd think about my late father as frequently as I do. I wanted to take a moment on this 'Father's Day' to share my thoughts on my Dad and what he meant to me. My Dad, like many from his era, was a fairly quiet man who possessed a great deal of wisdom. Dad was humble, thankful and respectful to our Lord for the blessings in his life. He was a very dedicated family-man, who put my mother, brother and my needs far ahead of his own. Dad was a hard worker, who seldom complained about his lot in life, yet wanted more for my brother and I.

My Dad was absolutely one of the most generous men I have ever met; he literally would give another 'the shirt off his back' if they needed it. My Dad was kind to others (even those who might slight him) and not one to harbor ill-will towards others. In a word, my Dad was noble. In 1999, Dad was diagnosed with Frontal Lobe Alzheimer's. We were told by his doctor that the type he had tended to be very aggressive and that many with it often died within 18-24 months. Dad proved them wrong and stayed with us for another six years. I had the honor of caring for Dad for those years as he slowly slid into darkness, but during that time I learned more about Dad (and about myself as the Lord gave me the strength to care for his needs) then I'd ever known before. Dad, I wish I'd told you "I Love You Dad" more. I wish I could have had more time with you and that your grandsons Kyle, James Russell and Thomas, could have known you as you'd been before your decline, hearing more about your experiences in life, gaining a bit more of the quiet wisdom you possessed and always shared with me from as far back as I can remember. I wish I could play another round of 'catch' with you.

I Miss you Dad,

Love Mark

http://www.alz.org/apps/findus.asp

Friday, June 12, 2009

Two Great Mothers to consider


This week at work, I had the honor of viewing the dedication, love and work-ethic of two great mothers. The first one I had occasion to meet, Robin, became very cross and aggressive with me when she thought I was getting too close to her babies. Robin, actually 'buzzed' me twice, nearly striking my hard-hat as she flew-in close to chase me away from her young, The second mother in question, a 'Chipping Sparrow,' also exhibited vocal displeasure with me when I approached her young.

Far from being offended by either mother's actions towards me, they both earned my admiration! Both of these 'feathered ladies' possessed a level of dedication to and love-for, their young that is all-too-often missing in their human counterparts.

Each and EVERY morning, I would find these mothers sitting in their nests (that they'd built themselves for their new family) warming their young and voicing their displeasure with me whenever I got too close to their nests. Throughout the day, whenever I looked, I'd find the mothers bringing food to their every-hungry nestlings. On Wednesday morning, I cut-up a nice big Night-Crawler I came across. I was certain that the mothers would be thrilled with the gift I'd prepared for them. I was wrong; both mothers ignored my handout (a sign that they both were noble creatures who didn't cotton to any form of welfare or public assistance).

It was refreshing to observe two great, dedicated mothers tend to their young without second thought. Over the course of my observations, neither mother left her duties to 'Find Herself,' or to cavort with any male bird in the area. Their young (kids) came first, PERIOD!

To all the great mothers out there who share these basic 'Motherhood' traits (as my great mother, Judy Ann Baker did), I offer my sincere thanks and admiration. To those many who don't subscribe to their example, I pray for your children and offer that you might pause to learn something valuable from bird-watching.

-Mark

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

His Hand in our lives.


On Monday, General Motors declared bankruptcy, today I learned a good friend is in serious financial distress bordering on disaster. Just two days into the twenty-first week of my forty-seven-something year, I reflected on how tough times are at present; more then I can ever remember in my life.

In preparing to update my blog here, I did a quick review of my previous posts and came to realize that they all seemed to be... Negative in nature (with the exception of my euphoria during MSU's great run back in March, lol).

Less I allow readers who don't know me well to think I'm a 'Negative Ned,' I thought I should reflect on what I truly DWELL ON each and every day of my life and that would be all the things I have been so richly blessed with by God above. For starters, my three sons, Kyle, Russell and Thomas; they have been the most wonderful gift I could have ever received. My late parents, James and Judith Baker; they taught me the importance of love, family, responsibility and patience (with ME! lol) and I have tried to model those virtues for my sons. My extended family (aunts, uncles and cousins) and friends, all of whom have touched my life in positive and wonderful ways.

Yes, I have been hurt by people I loved and trusted, we all experience this at one time or another, but when stacked against the far-larger positive people in our lives, their slights pail and fade away.

Our country and way of life is changing in a manner few of us could have imagined, but at the same time, where it matters, the IMPORTANT THINGS in Life, NOTHING has changed. Family, Love, Friends and every gift He so abundantly blesses us with each and every day we're here are still with us.

Perhaps it's in times such as these, that we can more clearly focus on these most important things He provides by His Hands.

-Mark

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The first 535 people in the phonebook...

I don't know who coined the phrase, but I think it's a good time to reflect on an old adage that is apropos to the times and struggles we Americans face. The adage specifically was: "We'd be better served by the first 535 random names in the phonebook then we are by our current 535 members of Congress" (435 in the US House of Representatives and 100 in the US Senate).

More succinct words could not be applied to a vast majority of those we've elected to 'serve' us as representatives. To those of you who know me personally, you are acutely aware of my less-then-positive feelings for a majority of those who end up in Washington DC as well as our various state capitals. A good deal of these negative feelings are directly attributable to the flawed and undesirable two-party system that overwhelmingly ensures that are choices in the ballot booth are either a Democrat or a Republican. Far too many of my friends and acquaintance's wrongly assume that I fall into the latter camp because of my conservative leanings, both fiscally and socially; this is a mistake. Granted, I have overwhelmingly voted for Republicans since I was old enough to vote, however this was more by default then true choice in that more appealing independent-party candidates either weren't on the ballet or simply didn't have any substanitive chance of winning (or so I thought).

The fact is, conservatives aren't really served that well by the GOP and neither are liberals by the Democratic Party (if you doubt this, just consider for a moment how disappointed dedicated liberals and conservatives become months after 'their' person wins an election and quickly begins to backtrack on the promises they made while running).

Our Founding Fathers would be up in arms if they could come back and see what's happened to the Constitutional Republic they forged for us; and I have no doubt they would rail against the two-party system, seeing it as a form of tyranny. Why do we act so surprised when an Eliot Spitzer, Rod Blagojevich, or Randel Cunningham is exposed for the corrupt fraud they are? The truth is that the very nature of politics is such that it tends to attract the least principled, most narcissistic, egotistical cretans among us.

At least with the first 535 random names in the phonebook, we'd get a true cross-section of Americans. So regardless of your political leanings, I encourage you to consider the 'road less traveled' when it comes to voting and pull the lever for an independent third-party candidate and where confronted with only a choice between a Republican or a Democrat, choose none-of-the-above.

-Mark

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Great Oil Hoax and where we go from here


If some well-informed experts are right, Saudi Arabia's oil reserves are a fraction of what they've been telling us. Why does it matter? Because everyone has believed for decades that Saudi Arabia's oil supply is virtually unlimited. That's what the Saudis have said over and over again for more than 30 years. If an oil shortage threatens to cause a recession or a market crash, we can count on the Saudis to come through. So people think. But in a private briefing, one of America's top oil experts told President George Bush exactly what I'm telling you. In fact, this same man was a consultant to the secretive task force that drew up Vice President Dick Cheney's energy plan in 2001.

In other words, the guy is a heavy hitter who knows the energy business. He warned Bush that the Saudis don't have anything near the oil reserves they claim. They already pump less oil than most "experts" think, and here's the real kicker... Saudi oil production is about to drop sharply. And it will keep going down for good. Other experts have analyzed the numbers and come to the same conclusions. If the charges are true — and I believe they are — we could be facing...
Oil at $150 per barrel and gasoline at $6 a gallon or more. The oil is running out. It's as simple as that.

But that's not what you hear from so-called experts. If you ask government officials, our intelligence agencies and even powerful Wall Street financiers, they tell you the opposite.
They say the Saudis could quickly double their oil production from the current level if they wanted to. And given a few years, they think the Saudis could produce four times as much oil as they do now.

Why 2008 was a year of crisis? The oil and gas shortages we've seen lately are nothing compared with what's on the way. When the truth comes out, it will send shock waves through the world economy. Everyone will find out too late — when gasoline soars to $5 or $6 or more per gallon. The cupboard is bare and nobody knows it. Americans used to run Aramco, the huge oil company that manages the Saudi fields. But in 1979, the Saudis booted us out and took over.
And then a funny thing happened... The Saudis started keeping everything a secret.

No one knows for sure how much oil they've got in the ground, or how much they produce each year or how much they could produce if they wanted to push it to the max.
It's all secret. Experts try to figure out how much oil the Saudis sell by monitoring tanker traffic in and out of the world's ports. That's how little we know for sure. But wait, it gets worse!

After the Saudis took over, an even funnier thing happened... Their figures for proven reserves kept going up and up and up — even though they didn't find any major new oil fields!
In 1979, the Saudis adjusted proven reserves upward by 50 billion barrels. Then eight years after that, their proven reserves magically grew by another 100 billion barrels. Their estimated reserves increased by 150% in nine years — to a total of 260 billion barrels. And they didn't find a single major new oil field!

And here's the funniest thing of all... For the last 18 years, they've claimed they own 260 billion barrels of proven oil in the ground. The figure never goes down, even though they pumped out 46 billion barrels during that period. Let's see... 260 minus 46 equals 260. Saudi math!

Based on these bogus figures, the Saudis claim they can produce as much oil as the world wants for the next 50 years. As recently as 2004, they claimed their reserve estimates are actually conservative. That's why most of the world's governments and intelligence services believe the Saudis could pump 20 million barrels of oil a day if they wanted to. Trouble is, we've got no proof except their say-so. If it were true, we wouldn't have a thing to worry about. But it's not.

It's horse hockey. Before Aramco's American owners were shown the door in 1979, they told Congress that Saudi Arabia had proven reserves of 110 billion barrels. There have been no major new discoveries, so 110 billion barrels was probably about right. And since then, about half of that has been used up. So why do the Saudis insist everything is just fine and they have 260 billion barrels of reserves? One reason is they wanted to discourage non-OPEC nations from looking for more oil or switching to alternatives.

It was a devious plan, and it worked perfectly. But that wasn't the only reason the Saudis lied about their reserves. They did it because everyone does it! Everyone in OPEC, that is.
The Biggest Lie of All: OPEC's Imaginary Oil. In the 1980s, OPEC's claim of total reserves magically leaped from 353 to 643 billion barrels without a single major discovery. Industry experts call it the quota war.

You see, OPEC had to limit how much oil each member could sell, because prices were too low. The quotas were based on... each member's oil reserves! That's right: The amount of oil OPEC would let a member pump depended on how much that member had in the ground. So it paid for OPEC members to claim the biggest reserves they could. And that's what they did.
The Saudis alone jacked up their estimate by about 100 billion. Kuwait added 50% to its reserves in one year, 1985. Venezuela (remember Hugo Chavez leads that nation today) doubled its reserves in 1987. Iraq and Iran doubled their estimates, too.

What's more, OPEC members did like the Saudis and kept their reserve estimates the same year after year, as if no oil were being pumped out and sold. Everyone claimed to have a bottomless well. Now, if you're like me, you prefer to base your financial decisions on the real world, not on a fantasy.

Let's look at how much oil there really is... In the 1970s, when Western managers were still in charge, they believed for a time that Saudi output could reach 20 million barrels a day. But by the time the Americans lost control in 1979, they figured the peak would be 12 million.
They also predicted that peak production would last only 15–20 years. 1979 plus 20 is 1999. We're past the peak, if these men were right. But we already know they were too optimistic.
The truth is that Saudi production never got to 12 million. "In all probability, output peaked in 1981 at an unsustainable level of about 10.5 million barrels per day," according to Matthew R. Simmons, a leading oil industry authority.

And yet the lies go on... In 2004, Saudi officials claimed they boosted production to 9.5 million barrels per day and maintained that level for five months. It's almost sure they were lying. The International Energy Agency is the group that keeps an eye on these things for the developed, oil-importing countries. The IEA could find no sign the Saudis were selling more oil.
As far as anyone can tell, they pump only around 5 million barrels a day, and that's all they've pumped for years.

It's déjà vu all over again. In spite of being lied to at least once, the IEA, the U.S. Department of Energy and other forecasters believe the Saudi claims. ALL their projections of our energy future ALWAYS assume the Saudis could produce 15–20 million barrels a day.
The lies have worked. Not only do Western politicians believe them, but so do many oil industry experts and investors with huge amounts of money at stake. They've been had.

Our whole economy is at risk. Your investments are at risk. Your retirement plans are at risk.
America has been so prosperous the last couple of decades, a lot of people forget what the energy crisis of the '70s was like... The price of a barrel of oil shot up 400%. Long lines formed at gas stations practically overnight. Folks had to pay four times as much for a gallon of gas, and there came a week when one out of every five gas stations in the United States had no gas to sell at any price.

The U.S. had three major recessions within 10 years after the first oil crisis in 1973. And those recessions were deep, with double-digit unemployment, double-digit interest rates and double-digit inflation:

Think 10–12% unemployment.
Think 15–18% mortgage rates.

Got the picture? That was the ‘70s. Not fun. My take is that a similar crisis will rock the nation before we solve our problem with clean coal, liquefied natural gas, oil from tar sands, high-mileage cars and safe nuclear plants. More than likely, the politicians will quarrel for years before they do what has to be done.

The hybrid engine isn't it. And the hydrogen car isn't, either
The race is on to design the car of the future. Every player in the industry is scrambling for the prize, and the winner will dominate the world car market for decades. The three big contenders are the hydrogen fuel cell, the electric hybrid vehicle and the diesel.

Let's take a look at the three cars in this race... The hydrogen fuel cell gets the most hype
Detroit put all its chips on fuel cell technology, and it's been telling us since the late 1990s that a breakthrough was just around the corner. In 1997, German-owned DaimlerChrysler actually predicted 100,000 fuel cell engines on the road by 2005. In 2001, General Motors projected about the same timeline. Even George Bush got into the act, declaring in his 2003 State of the Union message that "America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles." It didn't happen and it probably won't. The short explanation for Detroit's failure is that the engineering problems were bigger than it thought. On top of that, the fuel cell engine costs 10 times as much as a conventional engine.

Worse yet, there's also the problem of building a national network of fuel stations where you can fill the tank with hydrogen. Hydrogen isn't found in nature in a usable form, and it's very expensive to produce. A national hydrogen rollout could cost $100 billion. There's still hope that hydrogen will come through in the end, but the National Academy of Sciences believes the "hydrogen economy" is decades away.

Meanwhile, electric hybrids roar ahead. When Toyota announced a heavy investment in electric hybrids a few years back, Detroit snickered. To Detroit, it just seemed like a halfway solution on the way to the fuel cell car. Wrong. I don't need to tell you that the electric hybrid Prius is a sensation, and Detroit is now rushing to play catch-up. It'll come out with a number of hybrid models in the next few years, many of them using technology licensed from Toyota.
What's more, the electric hybrid is not just an underpowered small car. Toyota now offers a high-end SUV hybrid with better acceleration than the standard model!
So hybrids are where it's at, right? Wrong again!

The Prius has problems. First off, the gas mileage on the Prius is not all it's cracked up to be. Consumers have noticed, and some aren't happy. What happened is that the EPA tests vehicles under ideal conditions on a flat surface. In the real world, it looks like Prius' mileage is not so hot. Also, most of the hybrid's big mileage gains occur in stop-and-start city traffic. On an open road, the conventional engine actually gets better gas mileage. When you look at the Prius' true mileage, there are plenty of conventional vehicles that do as well or better. Add in the high extra cost of the hybrid engine, and some say you have to drive the car a hundred thousand miles to recoup the extra money you pay for the fancy technology.

There's a third alternative, a "sleeper" technology that's going to surprise everyone.

And the winner is..
.
The humble old diesel engine — the third and final competitor for car of the future.
How can that be? Diesels are loud, dirty and smelly. A pollution nightmare.
You can hear a diesel truck from a mile away, see the soot from halfway down the block and smell the exhaust as it rolls by. Except — surprise! — those diesels you hear and smell are antiques. Thanks to new technology, diesels aren't so dirty anymore, and the gas mileage is better than ever!

Here's what happened: Europeans have to pay heavy gasoline taxes and they worry about global warming, so they invested in the diesel engine as a stopgap, just in case the hydrogen car hit a snag. As you know, hydrogen DID hit a snag. Now the stopgap looks like the winner in the great auto race. You see, diesel gets about 30% more miles to the gallon than gasoline, and those savings are real, in any kind of driving conditions. What's more, people who worry about global warming prefer diesel because it emits up to 20% less carbon dioxide.

But wait, it gets even better... Diesels have a huge, surprise advantage. Diesels now rival traditional gasoline engines for quiet, and European refineries have removed most of the pollutants from the fuel. The engines cost more, but the fuel savings almost make up the difference.

Diesel's biggest edge is something you'd never expect... You don't need crude oil to make diesel fuel You can make it from coal, plant matter or even cooking oil. (No kidding! A restaurant can invest in a cooking oil converter kit that lets you fry a batch of potatoes and later reuse the oil in your delivery truck). In India they make diesel fuel from cow dung!

Every year and, indeed, every month the world will grow more desperate for the alternative fuels and technologies. India imports more than 75% of its crude oil. It's so desperate for alternatives, it recently promoted cow dung as an important energy source. A new use for sacred cows! The problem is Asians these days are buying cars like... well, like Americans.
The Chinese would have to buy 650 million vehicles to reach American levels of car ownership. That's not likely. But a fraction of that figure will create an oil and pollution crisis big enough to finish us off.

In the vast markets of India and China, a vehicle that runs without crude oil will be irresistible. But there's still more to the diesel story... A hybrid diesel engine is the next step. A combination of hybrid and diesel technology will take the fuel savings up a notch. Make that two notches. And it will happen soon. An MIT study predicts the diesel hybrid could outperform a hydrogen fuel cell engine on both gasoline mileage and carbon emissions — within 10 years.
In other words, the hydrogen fuel cell car may never get to market. It's dead in the cradle thanks to breakthroughs elsewhere.

-Byron King

'Est iustus alius falsidicus politician.'


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEUif1--r38

Check the YouTube Video yourself, if that isn't a bow then our President was perhaps checking to make sure that Abdulla's shoes were tied properly? As John Lovitz used to say in his 'Chronic Liar' stitch: "Yeah, that's the ticket."

Personally, I don't really care if our President (who I didn't vote for by the way)bows in person to the Saudi King because in truth, America's BEEN bowing to Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC since 1973.

What does irritate me is when our current President's handlers feel they can 'LIE' to us and say he didn't do what he clearly did! Where's the integrity? Just tell the TRUTH (how refreshing that would be actually)!

Just like his 'I Bowl like a kid from the Special Olympics' on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, this event (and his staff's pathetic attempt to deny or cover-it-up) exposes Mr. Obama for what he is, just another politician who lies as easily as he puts his socks on. I'd expected more from a guy who ran for office espousing CHANGE.

Obama est iustus alius falsidicus politician (Obama is just another lying politician).

-Mark

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Michael Moore Spoof on Gun Control


For those of you who are nausiated by the sight and emminations of fellow Michigander Michael Moore (especially those of us who really wish he'd STOP wearing that MSU ballcap), I received this YouTube clip from a friend and I think you'll get a kick out of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WKLXCHgOiA

16 Depression Era Money Saving Tips


BillShrink Guy
April 7, 2009
File under Tags: cost cutting, recession, savings, tips & tools
We are often told that the current financial meltdown is the most serious since the Great Depression. And while that may be true, comparing today’s times to such an awful and demoralizing crisis has the effect of scaring people, thereby making the situation worse. This is the wrong way to react to the situation. Rather than passively absorbing fear and uncertainty, we would do well to remember that some people managed to stay afloat during the Great Depression - and to learn how they did it. In that vein, here are 16 Depression-era money saving tips and how they can be utilized today.


Pay Yourself First

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Without a good-sized chunk of money stashed aside, there is literally nothing standing between you and financial disaster. While you may manage to chug along the way things are now, the slightest change (a sudden spike in credit card rates, temporary loss of income, etc.) could send you reeling. That being said, it’s no surprise that paying yourself first by continuing to save was a common trait of people who survived the Great Depression. You should do the same today, no matter how uncomfortable or counter-intuitive it feels at the time.

Only Buy What You Truly Need

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Together with regular savings, buying only necessities forms the bedrock of the Depression mentality to surviving economic turmoil. You can bet that when people were jumping out of skyscrapers because their net worth evaporated overnight, the people who held it together were not blowing their money on excesses. Similarly, until you conduct a thorough inventory of your spending habits, methodically eliminate waste and ensure that you are only buying what you truly need to survive, you will not be as fortified from disaster as you could be.

Awaken Your Inner Bargain Hunter
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Another defining characteristic of Depression survivors was their relentless spirit of bargain hunting. When money is scarce and the future uncertain, there is simply no excuse for paying full sticker price on any of your purchases. Such times call for a different mentality, one of price comparisons and serious research into where the cheapest prices can be found. Luckily, the Internet makes this task far easier for today’s consumers than Depression-era bargain hunters. A few minutes of research before making any major purchases will usually assure you of getting a better deal.

Avoid Debt Like the Plague

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Today’s recession (much like the Depression of the 1930’s) was caused by excessive borrowing and debt. That being the case, it would be utterly foolish to exacerbate the problem by going into debt yourself (especially if you already have outstanding debt in the form of credit cards or loans.) Going into debt during a recession takes you from the frying pan into the fire, exposing you to the full wrath of collections agencies, ruined credit scores, and possibly even bankruptcy. Rather than allowing this to happen, adopt the Depression mentality: see debt as a plague to be avoided at all costs.

Discard Catalogs or Enticing Advertisements

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It is well known by psychologists that one’s environment has a great deal of influence on their behavior. Interestingly, a survey of Depression survivors by the Healthcare Council of Illinois revealed that many of those survivors promptly threw away mail-order catalogs and other enticing advertisements as soon they arrived. It was (and still is!) much easier to stay on your chosen path of frugality when you are not constantly surrounded by ads for things you don’t really need. Heed this advice today and you will be less tempted to splurge!

Question Every Expense
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Notwithstanding trust fund babies and lottery winners, people who survived the Great Depression didn’t do it by accident. One of their strengths was a refusal to accept any expense without tirelessly scrutinizing it. Only when it was determined that they were spending the least possible amount of money would they rest easy and pay it. You should adopt this same attitude with regard to any kind of services or ongoing fees that you pay, be it for insurance, home security systems, warranties, Internet connections, and even electricity. Haggle, negotiate, and shop around until you know it would be impossible for someone to spend less and still get what you’re getting.

Use Less Energy

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One of the familiar stories of the Depression era is homeowners who turned their home thermostats down and bundled up in coats and sweaters around the house. It’s uncomfortable to imagine going to that extreme and no one gets excited about using less of something to save money. That said, there is no faster, more straightforward way to save money so far discovered. Rather than seeing it as a painful sacrifice, make a game out of it. See how much less of everything you can use without making life unbearably worse. You might be surprised at how frugal you can be (and how much you can save) with heating, lights, and gas!

Buy in Bulk - Intelligently

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It’s no secret that buying in bulk can save you money by enabling you to take advantage of volume discounts. Unfortunately, it can also be taken too far, such that it actually costs you more money. Without careful discretion, you might wind up buying things you don’t actually need in bulk, because it’s in bulk, rationalizing that after all, you’re “saving money” on it. This completely defeats the purpose of buying in bulk, which is saving money on things you need to buy. Avoid this pitfall by only bulk buying necessities (ie, nutritious food) and not excesses (ie, 50 gallon drums of shampoo.)

Keep or Start a Garden

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Cutting down on restaurant meals means eating more meals at a home, but if you have to buy all your food ready-made, you still wont be saving as much as you could be. That’s why many Depression survivors kept backyard gardens to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. While there is still the cost of seeds and maintenance (ie, water costs), this is far cheaper than buying from stores and ensures that food costs are kept to the absolute minimum

Move to Where the Work is
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A tragic fact of the Depression is how many people suffered by staying in stagnant areas when they could have (perhaps at a high cost) moved somewhere more prosperous. Don’t make that mistake today! Many of those who came out of the Depression financially intact had the prescience to see that the job outlook at home would only get worse and the courage to move somewhere else. If you have the opportunity to do the same, take advantage of it.

Develop Multiple Income Streams
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It wasn’t called the Great Depression for nothing, but the gloom and doom we associate with it overshadows the fact that not everyone was hurting. Amidst all the mass suffering and despair, a small minority of people actually managed to thrive by diversifying and developing multiple income streams. You can do the same! Whether it’s investing (Warren Buffet says to be greedy when everyone else is fearful), starting a business, or picking up a second job, anything you can do to spread your risk across more than one thing will make you safer and more secure.

Spend Less to Entertain Yourself
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A hallmark of Depression-era spending habits was spending less to entertain yourself. Rather than spending gobs of money on extravagant nights out on the town, people found joy in life’s simpler and less expensive pursuits - exercise, reading, or enjoying the great outdoors. While you may not be ready to cut all entertainment expenses out of your budget, you can at least buy your thrills wisely. Fly during non-peak times of the year, see matinee showings of movies, and split entertainment costs with friends in a group.

Buy Used
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Buying used clothing is an extreme that many are unwilling to consider, regarding it as “going too far” and scoffing at the idea of ever doing it themselves. But the bare, crass fact is that new clothing is expensive, and when times are tough, the difference between spending $50 or $500 for a similar outfit could mean the difference between keeping the lights on or not. Depression survivors bought used clothing without shame, and if you are feeling the crunch, perhaps it’s time to consider following suit.

Don’t Pay Others For What You Can do For Free

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While it’s true that nothing is truly “free” (there is the opportunity cost of your time to consider), in recession, it often makes sense to do yourself what you would normally pay others for. This includes everything from haircuts to lawn care to accounting and tax preparation. If you have an abundance of free time, spend it on tasks like these and avoid shelling out money for them.

Make Things Yourself Instead of Buying Them

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You would be amazed how far a little ingenuity and resourcefulness will go in preparing your own food, stitching your own clothes, and making other things that you would usually buy. In addition to saving the money you would’ve spent, you will have the satisfaction of using the things you yourself created!

Pretend That You Are Worse Off Than You Are

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People who lived through the Great Depression will tell you that your mindset and overall attitude was just as important (if not more so) than the specific money-saving strategies you used. It took a pervasive mentality of penny-pinching and getting as much from what you had as possible. The best way to cultivate this mentality? Just pretend that you’re broke. Even if you are not technically on the brink of financial ruin, pretending that you are will force you to make decisions differently and more prudently than if you assumed a more comfortable state of affairs.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Still a great season for MSU


Like millions of Michiganians, I'm a little down that our Spartans fell to a great N. Carolina team in tonights NCAA Champioship Game. However, the fact remains that they put together a fantastic season and had a great run in the hardest bracket of the big dance, kncking-off two #1 seed teams on their way to the championship game.

We should all be very proud of our Spartans and our great Coach, Tom Izzo for providing us a memerable year.

-Mark

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bubbling Green Baby!


Go right through for MSU, watch the points keep growing

Spartan Teams are bound to win, their fighting with a vim

Rah, Rah, Rah

See their team is weakening, we're going to win this game

Fight, Fight, Fight Team Fight

Victory for MSU!

Bump pa, bum bump pa da, Bum, Bunp Bump Bump Bump Bump, Pidda Bum
Bump pa, bum bump pa da, Bum Bump Bump Bump Bump Bump, Pidda Bum
Bah Bah pa dump-pa ba bump bump bump bump bump Pida Bump,
Bah, Bah, Bah,
Bump Bump Bump Bump Bump Bump

Go right through for MSU, watch the points keep growing

Spartan Teams are bound to win, their fighting with a vim

Rah, Rah, Rah

See their team is weakening, we're going to win this game

Fight, Fight, Fight Team Fight

Victory for MSU!

Umm, ah, excuse me. Feeling a wee-bit exhuberant about now...

GO STATE!

-Mark

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Financial Accounting Standards Board Rule Changes.

Mark-to-Model Returns with a Vengeance, by Samatha Burker.

The heat is on in Norwalk, Conn., this week. The Financial Accounting Standards Board’s headquarters quakes down to its foundation as Congress bullies it toward sweeping rule changes. Those changes govern the balance sheet values of those very pesky loans and derivatives that started us on this road to crisis in the first place. And the rule overhaul could strike as early as this week.

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Right now, the FASB recommends a mark-to-market practice for a majority of financial assets. But Congress wants to mark to model — because that’s what ailing banks want. To see what marking to model looks like, let me give an example of how that would work for your 401(k) quarterly report.

Each quarter, instead of finding out your current account value, you’d get a figure derived from a series of equations using various probabilities for what the value of your fund might be at your target date for retirement. In my case, something like 2045.
Of course, I don’t think I’ll be living in the same America in 2045 — even if I never move overseas. And that’s the problem. As the mortgage-back securities blowup taught us, these models — especially those developed by and for the banks — didn’t price things correctly in the first place.

Sure, we all have moments when we think the market’s current valuations are crazy. Maybe because we know the industry better than anyone, or we have a friend who’s found some old land on the books, or we’ve seen the heights of a cycle and expect it to return. If stocks are at the mercy of the market — and its potential for misinformation — shouldn’t we hold other assets to the same standard?

This mark-to-market accounting rule change isn’t the Change the president was after. As a step toward further protectionism of Frankenstein financials, it’s more of the same. Switching over to a mark-to-model system is like a college student who must present her dorm room for inspection. What’s to be done? The floor has a throw rug on it, so she lifts up a corner and swishes all the dust bunnies, dried vomit, spare change, and other detritus under the carpet.
Bloomberg offers the take from former Lehman Bros. managing director, Robert Willens:
“By letting banks use internal models, instead of market prices, and allowing them to take into account the cash flow of securities, FASB’s change could boost bank industry earnings by 20%.”
We note that the April 2 changes will apply to first-quarter financial statements. So I’m assuming that means all the recent earnings announcements will head back to the SEC for restatements in the hopes of attracting new suckers…I mean shareholders. Such a ruling would allow Citigroup to cut losses by 50-70%. Of course, this rule change threat has been afoot since late 2007, but the rush is on as our can-do Congress takes control.

It’s all about swinging those net losses into net gain territory come hell or high water. (Fargo, N.D., for one, is drowning under the Red River as I write).
The industry rhetoric always ends in a rousing “just say no to fire-sale prices.” Funny, I thought Wall Street had an awfully large conflagration going upon which Congress and Treasury are eager to throw more cash. (Well, I’d rather they burn through decimal places than burn books, I guess. But I don’t see the FASB quenching these flames). How March 12 Changed Everything
On March 12, the House Financial Services subcommittee called FASB chairman Robert Herz to the stand. His statement blames the underlying financial conditions — and not the standards — for the write-downs banks are having to suck up. He also says that capital adequacy “is beyond the purview of the FASB.” He makes it clear that the FASB exists to protect investors’ right to information.

However, House Financial Services berated him, belittled him, and told Herz he couldn’t make the rules anymore. Last I checked, the FASB was actually an independent private sector organization. But that’s not so important anymore. Check out this exchange:
“Chairman Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA): You do understand the message that we’re sending?
“Herz: Yes, I absolutely do, sir.”

So now Herz has to get a new fair-value rule finished by April 2. Technically, it’s the SEC who has the oversight here, not Congress. But that’s not the worst part.
Herz admitted, after his congressional grilling, that the financial industry and their trade groups are doing the heavy lobbying. Not investors.
Who holds political action committee strings? None other than beleaguered Citigroup, and others like the Bank of New York, Mellon, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
Take a look at what the Federal Election Commission tracked for just one representative’s, Chairman Kanjorski’s, re-election. Citigroup put up $6,500. Bank of America topped that with $7,000, and Wells Fargo offered the most: $13,000. Of course, it was all chump change to them. And we, the chumps, are already down about 50% this year and don’t have the spare change to dump in the House Financial reps’ pockets. Our only influence comes by selling short more bank stock.

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Congress Follows Newton’s Sacred Law: Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal, opposite reaction. Chances are you heard that an awful lot in grade school, and have seen this reality break up many a marriage. Well, in the case of the FASB, Congress, and the bold new plans coming out of Timothy the Timid (who stood firm as a lion on his recent Meet the Press junket), we are left with a big naught.

You see, the new age of mark to model that Congress asks the FASB to inaugurate runs directly opposite to what Geithner fixes to do for the banks. Geithner wants to allow banks to sweep this trash from their balance sheets (and onto our Treasury’s and those of “private” investors tempted in yenta-like matches — whose prospects may be read in that famous attempted union of Citi and Wachovia. If you’ll recall, Wachovia fled at the altar for Wells Fargo). But Congress — with the help of the FASB — wants to let these banks keep the stinking assets…every last one. Mark to model will be left up to the bank’s choice of equations plugged into its internal modeling of future market conditions — and not it being made to write these assets down to below “fair market value.” Thus, they won’t be selling these suckers to the Treasury.

Before you think that means we’re home free, that it’ll keep those dollars in the Treasury (or from being printed in the first place), realize that in five years, 10 years…whatever the fixed term…those assets will actually hit the marketplace.
It could send banks swimming with their favorite enemies — the short sharks — all over again. And those sharp-eyed shorts have every right to signal to the market, “Here are the weak fishes — cut the school down to size.”

What the New and Improved “Fair Value” Could Look Like: Right now, fair value is determined by marking these assets to their market price once a quarter. Is that really so much to ask? The sally from the banks is always the same: Some of the banks will hold these assets to maturity, which could be 10 years down the road. The model, on the other hand, is only the most mathematical guess where the market will be in 10 years. There’s just one flaw. Even holy Goldman doesn’t know the future, and no matter how many ex-execs it puts in public service, we’ve seen it can’t MAKE the future.

When the math guys, fondly called “quants” — short for “quantitative” — modeled these derivatives the first time around, their calculations indicated what would happen 99% of the time, when there would be some measure of profit, and neglected the other 1% of the time, when losses would be catastrophic. Obviously, Congress would do better by putting a ban on all “black swan” events. But most important of all, some banks could be freed from tapping the government bailout if mark to model rules the day: Wells Fargo, M&T Bank, U.S. Bancorp, and PNC Financial.

For edification, I leave you with a quote from Wells Fargo’s own CEO, John Stumpf:
“If you’re a pessimist, there’s a lot for you to like about 2009.” He further says that you should look for more bankruptcies; more borrowers in a bind — hence more loan losses — and, icing on this mud pie: higher unemployment…signaling more borrowers underwater and more loan losses. However, Stumpf sweetly echoes the best politician (or Mr. Pollyanna, Warren Buffett) when he offers: “We continue to believe in the spirit, ingenuity, work ethic, creativity, and adaptability of American workers. We’re capitalists and proud of it.” What he really must believe in is the work ethic of folks like Rep. Paul Kanjorski and friends on the House Financial Services Subcommittee. Stumpf should know he’s the one paying for it.

Regards, Samantha Buker

Sunday, March 29, 2009

We Single '40-Somethings'






by, Mark Baker





Hmmm, for whatever reason, it seems that lots of us Baby Boomers (1946--1964), especially those towards the tail-end of the boom (1958-1964) married BADLY! Perhaps we were naively imprinted by the idealic environment a vast majority of us experienced in our formative early years: Our Mother's were at home, 'Pong' hadn't even been invented yet, so we spent hours on-end 'OUTSIDE' with our friends playing sandlot games, riding our bikes, shooting BB-Guns, 'Lawn Darts/Jarts,' Hoops, etc. We reluctantly 'came in' only after our mothers hollered at us for dinner (or we’d taken a Lawn Dart in the thigh, lol), and then we had to scrub-off the top layer of grime before we helped Mom set the table and go fetch Dad from the watching Walter Cronkite, or fiddling in the garage. After dinner we (if we were the oldest kid, which I was damn-it) cleared the table and washed the dishes and then joined the rest of the family for TV (if our ‘homework’ was completed). We together watched (what a lost concept) the likes of 'Gunsmoke,' 'My three Son's,' 'The Wonderful World of Disney,' 'Mutual of Omaha's WILD KINGDOM' (remember how Marlin always had poor "Stan" do all the hard work for him, then he'd 'step-into' the shot to look victorious (I NOW FEEL THAT THIS WAS A SUBLIMINAL WARNING TO US, THAT IN OUR FUTURES, WE WOULD ENCOUNTER SUPERIORS (Boomers born before 1958) WHO BEING UN-IMAGINATIVE, UNETHICAL PRICKS, WOULD TAKE CREDIT FOR OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS, lol).

This grand incubator primed allot of us to expect a safe, idealic world and life ahead of us. We were mistaken. Not all of us shared this naive worldview, because they were the ones we married, "For Better & Worse" (Bata vs. VHS), "Through Sickness & Health", "Forsaking all Others..." (this is where the mates of us who married very badly, would later 'DIVIATE' from the game-plan on us (who'd of ever pictured Mike or Carol Brady 'Shaking-up' on the side?').So, then, with that realization, like a few others (who'll know what I'm saying here), I dedicated myself to being the best parent I could be, and raising my kids to be as strong as they could be having come from a 'broken home' (a term the PC world has banished). Now, with my youngest on the cusp of graduating high school and leaving the nest, I find myself at a place where I can consider the possibility of finding HER. 'She,' wherever she is (and I am old-fashioned enough to still believe that a good man and women can find each other). What I will not do however is continue to be so naive to allow myself to be hemmed-in by conventional wisdom that states that she necessarily be from my home state (Michigan), or even necessarily the United States itself.

While physical beauty is something I'll admit DOES play a role, I wisely no longer necessarily equate it as a primary factor of attraction. Rather, a woman who possesses integrity, wisdom, autonomy, passion, discretion and a good degree of HUMOR is a rare woman indeed. She may be white, black, Asian, or Polish/Italian, whatever. She could be next door, across town, state, country, or ocean. But regardless of any of that, the women I'm seeking fits the following:

She wakes with a smile and considers what she has before giving thought to what's missing in her life.She is comfortable with who she is, and the hand that she's been given to deal with.If she has them, she puts her children’s needs ahead of her own and NEVER resents having been blessed with them.She isn't caught-up in the neon-glow of the world we find ourselves in, but instead carries herself with dignity and grace driven by an in-dwelling desire to please the Lord. She thus possesses the inherent intelligence (or has learned through grand revelation) that 'the world does not rotate around her (or any person for that matter), and that we are all at our best when we pause to consider the needs of those around us.She is physically active and enjoys activities outside the home; a hike through a forest or along a secluded beach is far preferable to her to "hitting the bars." She is an 'Observer' of people, their actions and motivations and has developed a strong sense of discernment as to who's sincere and those who may not be.She has a strong sense of autonomy and self-respect, and although she'd prefer to have a man in her life, she isn't willing to "settle" for just anyone who pays attention to her, but instead has been holding out for the man she wants. She is PASSIONATE in love and with her affections toward the man she loves.She has a strong desire to travel and see so many places that she's yet to visit, but ultimately would love to do that with a man she loves and who loves and adores her.She is loyal and dedicated to her friends, but not led-astray by them because she has a strong sense of self-worth and autonomy; she values her extended family and maintains contact with them. She has a good HEALTHY SENSE of HUMOR and can laugh at herself and the folly of mankind in general. Wherever she might be, -on a 'date-site;' in another state or country (hopefully New Zealand or Italy, then, lol), SHE'S the women I'm seeking.

I'll start by stating that I think first dates are WAY over-rated actually. My experience (and I'll trust that it's the same with smart, discerning women) is that you generally know (or seriously suspect) within the first 10-15 minutes (sometimes less then 2!) if they’re someone you're truly interested in? Now, even IF you ARE interested in her, 'Murphy's Law' dictates that she may well NOT feel the same vibe for you, or visa-versa (that's what 'Restraining Orders' are for, lol). I guess courtship is a bit analogous with making sausage, 'It NOT a pretty process, but we're attracted to it nonetheless.' But still I like my odds better then that of a male Black Widow Spider (those guys have it WAY worse).

So, we roll our dice and try to partake in the grand game that is Courtship in hopes of finding that ONE SPECIAL person (a TRANSCEIVER if you will) who both 'receives' our vibe and 'transmits' us theirs. Courtship is an ART, not a science. Some art is beautiful, timeless and classic, while other art is...NOT. So to answer this silly, obligatory question, I'll state that a successful 1st date is when both he and she CLICK (Transmit a mutual positive vibe). THAT seed is all that's necessary to usher-in something far more relevant then a 2nd date, but rather the ingredients for a new life together; a thousand walks on the beech at sunset, and many times that, ‘coy glances’ to each other in crowded places, and countless trips to bed hand-in-hand at the end of a day… That’s all I’m really waiting for .

*UPDATE, March 1st, 2011: I found my 'Transceiver.' Actually, she found me, but that works fine with me. Her name is Annette and we graduated High School together back in 1980. She's amazing in every way and we're re-discovering 'Life' the way it should be... -Mark