State of the Union address: Five sites politicians rather you not look at

President Barack Obama is preparing what some say will be his most contention State of the Union address ever.  Tax cuts for the middle class, free community college, and guaranteed paid leave are among the items he is expected to propose.  With tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans being suggested as a counterweight to the expense of some of these ideas, Republicans are already lining up against this particular set of proposals.

As the political climate in not just Washington, but around the nation, continues to remain polarized, here are some websites which pundits, party faithful, and politicians alike all tend to consider to be rather disquieting for their agendas.  These sites all have one thing in common; they make the everyday voter think.

OpenSecrets.org

As campaign finance has taken on more of a critical role in winning elections, and as big money become the key to winning national races, this website has also taken on new significance.  OpenSecrets is non-partisan, and shows the data.  While numbers don’t always tell the whole story, they rarely miss the mark.  This site’s easy-to-use interface allows voters to see national and state races, and look at who is really funding races, and who are merely boogeyman created by the opposition for the purposes of P.R.  More to the point, it also shows which businesses and contributors are playing both sides, and does a wonderful job of exposing campaign donation hypocrisy by individuals and businesses alike.

Politifact.com

Begun by the Tampa Bay Times, this fact-checking database and commentary site has expanded to seven states and several major newspapers in cities such as Cleveland, Atlanta and Austin.  Where it serves voters is to fact-check quotes by politicians, internet memes, rumors and a variety of statements from sources around the world.  It’s most scathing judgment, the “Pants on Fire” rating, has drawn the ire of politicians on both sides of the aisle.  Those who worried about how partisan this site is need only look to its “Lie of the Year” dishonor awarded to President Barack Obama in 2013 for his statement about the Affordable Care Act.  Politifact have proven, time and again, to be the friend of the voter and a site which politicians get quite defensive about being cited on.

RealClearPolitics

Though mostly an aggregator of information, RCP packages the information in a very effective, efficient and visually appealing fashion.  One of the reasons politicians tend to not like this site has nothing to do with the site itself, but the ease-of-use for voters to find information that’s otherwise difficult to locate.  Polling data, analysis, commentary and opinions from both sides of the aisle of provided here, as well as other political items.  RCP tends to avoid the partisan tilt of other political sites, and instead presents all sides.  For partisans, this is something akin to pouring rubbing alcohol on a festering wound – necessary, but extremely painful.

Infowars

Yes, Alex Jones is a conspiracy theory-foisting kook, but every once and while his site stumbles upon something everyone else misses, or is buried in the back page because nobody else thinks it worth the time.  Jones has, in the past, provided a voice to those who screamed about government cover-ups, warrantless wiretapping, and NSA abuses.   The frightening part for politicians and power brokers alike is that Infowars has a grain of truth to it, and that truth tends to lead voters down a rabbit hole that those in power simply don’t like them exploring.  Yes, he’s a wackjob most days, but there’s a fine line between insanity and true genius.  Infowars straddles that line, and its often up to the individual to divine fact from farce.

Examiner

Not tooting our own horn here – there are some extremely capable contributors to the “Citizen Journalism” site.  There are also some folks on this site who make Alex Jones look like an elder statesman.  One of the most interesting parts to Examiner, and one which politicians tend to be rather abrasive about, is that some of these contributors are party ideologues who inadvertently post links with solid data to back up otherwise out-there opinions.  To make a long story short, the “Law of Unintended Consequences” has allowed Examiner to go from being a site of “amateur hour” writers to a genuine source for information.  Like Infowars, it requires a critical eye and the ability to distill information.  “Trust, but verify” is the name of the game for Examiner viewers.

GAO.gov

The site for the Government Accountability Office is like a library of toast – it’s dry, boring and basically the same thing piled atop the same thing.  It’s also a politician’s worst nightmare when voters are engaged enough to do some digging.  This website has been known for releasing data both sides really hate and, if you have the patience and desire to learn bureaucratese, it can turn the everyday voter into a political headache for either party.  The enemy of a crooked politician is an informed voter, and being able to counter spin with statistics can turn any double-speaker into a blathering idiot in a matter of minutes.  The key to using this website is determination and attention to detail – know what you are looking for exactly, and it come to you easily – assuming that reading through mountains of government-mandated jargon is something you consider “easy.”

A word about prayer

wpid-htc_wallpaper_05.jpg

There’s been a lot of talk in the news and blogosphere about faith and religion.  While discussions about whether a divine power exists is never really good thing to get involved in, I can safely say that I know prayer works, and that we have lost our ability to understand the whole concept of what it means to pray.

As children, we are often taught to say our prayers before going to bed.  This may seem like a nonsensical exercise to many, but there is wisdom in it.  For one, prayers tend to calm the mind and allow us to focus on the task at hand in relaxed ways.  As humans, we too often tend to rely on scientific and empirical means to explain things.  It is the rare instance when we attribute something unexplainable to either a divine force, the esoteric, or something mystical.  This tends to be where we have the greatest difficulty understanding life.

There is absolutely nothing in the rulebook of life saying that prayer is bad.  It also doesn’t say we have to necessarily pray to an individual.  In many instances, prayer to ancestral spirits, cosmic consciousness or simply to “whoever is listening” is enough to slake our mental and emotional thirst for calm.

I’ll admit something – I pray every day.  Often it is unconscious; a little something under my breath asking for strength, or something to help allay the fears which have been lodged into my mind from past experiences.  By taking a moment to allow ourselves to pray, we give our brains a break.  After all, our minds cannot do all the heavy lifting – at some point, logic and empirical knowledge must yield to the possibility of something more powerful at work, and the ability to let ourselves surrender to the seemingly random and chaotic often lends itself to the greatest discoveries of our lives.

If this post seems a bit random, that’s because it is – I have no earthly clue why I’m writing it.  I just felt it was the right time, and perhaps that, in and of itself, is an answer to a prayer or two.  Hopefully, it is an answer to one you may have sent out.

To my readers – a call to help one of my good friends in his hour of need!

As many of you know from reading my blog, I really enjoy helping an underdog.  Recently, one of my childhood classmates, Eric Kreiger, became one of those underdogs.  Through no fault of his own, Eric and his family now face the very real possibility of losing their home to foreclosure as the result of unforeseen medical bills.  While the loss of anyone’s living space to unintended financial pressures is difficult to witness, this is a specifically painful event for me to watch, and I refuse to allow this to go unanswered.

Eric and I were in Boy Scout Troop 207 in Conyngham, Pennsylvania years ago in our youth.  He was one of the few people I can remember who displayed consistent, genuine kindness towards me.  Though we drifted apart over the years, social media afforded us the opportunity to reconnect and catch up.  He is a better man than I could ever dream of being, and he provided moral and emotional support to my family when we went through our time of need following our relocation to the Atlanta area in 2013.  As far as I’m concerned, he is a genuine, original man of character and deserves to have a life as free of financial fears as can be expected.

I would like to throw out a challenge to all my followers:  I am asking that you donate $5 to his GoFundMe campaign.  With nearly 200 followers, that would be $1000 – 1/5th of the way to get to his goal of the $5000 needed to pull his home out of the bear trap of foreclosure.  Please, share this post with anyone you can, and remember that karma has a wonderful way of rewarding us when we need it most, and expect it least.  I will be making my donation to his campaign this week as well.  Thanks in advance for all you can offer, either financially or otherwise.

Let’s help bring light in Eric’s darkest hour.  We can do this!

Click to donate to Eric’s GoFundMe account to save his family’s home!

A lesson in handling criticism

Okay, boys and girls!  All of us who are aspiring and emerging authors dread the day we get that first bad review or critique.  Well, tonight my “author cherry” was finally popped, and it was by a friend of mine from college.  Here is the comment from my friend Mereann Lineberry, posted on my Facebook feed (she has allowed her real name to be used in this blog):

I’m sorry man, I just gotta be honest, I can’t even get past that second sentence. I do a lot of reading, I mean ALOT, and I just can’t. And I guess..I am assuming you want constructive criticism right? Its why you do teasers? Your trying to get more readers. So you don’t want people to be put off on just that second sentence right?

Well, when you said “first coming together back in April of the previous spring”

You know how you when read a book, and it flows like a natural conversation. Where the voice of the book assumes the reader has common knowledge of either generalized situations of life, like ” you know how high school was”, or the reader has some understanding of the story either because there was a flashback chapter of the previous spring your talking about, or the writer wove in the back story gently but in a natural pattern of speech or action that still feels like that conversation, or the reader reads “not like what it was before” and internally the reader goes “what before?”” What was it?” And this intrigues the reader to keep turning the pages, and eventually they get to that chapter or a character tells the back story, “oh before!!! Now it get it!! It was last spring!!!” You know what I’m saying?

Like if you sat down and told me a story of what your day was like, you wouldn’t say this sentence “things were very different for us since coming together in April of the previous Spring” in a story your telling me, you just wouldnt.That’s more robotic than Data talked. It just doesn’t flow, at all. That sentence is just halting and crammed in. Its like when I write a paper for a class and its got to be at least 5 pages, but I don’t want to write 6 pages, because…why do I want to do extra work right? So I put a lot of stuff into run on sentences to get as much gradable material in the least amount of space. That’s what that is like. And now that I kinda think about it, April is always in spring…that’s one of the charms of April. So wouldn’t the short “last April” shorten up that run on sentence and the reader will know it was last April…thus also the previous spring, in their heads. Without that having to be spelled out.

I tried to read that free book on kindle you had, but the first few paragraphs…I just couldn’t. I guess a lot of people go by the school of thought “if you don’t have nothing to say, don’t say anything at all” and I’m not trying to be mean. I just thought…maybe everyone is just saying nice things, and maybe you would want some constructive criticism. Maybe it might help, maybe not. But B— and me both tried to read a bit of your book and couldn’t get past a couple of pages, then when we looked at your teaser, and we saw you were doing it again…I dunno dude. I have heard of artists wanting many different eyes/ears on their work, and wanting many different opinions (both good and bad) so they can chisel their craft to appeal to more people. Take it for what you want. Or just forget about. I dunno, I just finally was like hey….say something and it might do some good. Please don’t be mad.

The last statement is what really took me by surprise.  Well written, thoughtful criticism is something any respectable author, aspiring or established, should crave!  I love it; without this sort of statement, I would go through life with endless pats on the head and kisses on the cheek, figuratively speaking.  Granted, I love those who give me needed jolts of confidence, but I cherish real, detailed, hardcore criticism, and this comment on my Facebook page is exactly the sort of thing I’m looking for.

Let’s face facts; I’m not perfect, and I’m certainly not a Pulitzer Prize candidate.  I’m just beginning what I hope is a very long journey down the road of publishing, and I’m really just happy to be here.  For my friend to be worried I’d be mad at her is concerning because it speaks more to a fear of speaking one’s mind, and that’s something I always encourage others to do.  I want to personally thank “Ellen” for this, and her spouse as well, for being willing to put it out there for all for all to see.  My Facebook page is public for a reason, and that being that I want my readers and prospective readers to understand the sort of writer I really am; one who is unafraid to take criticism, and willing to engage my readers and explain to them my plans to improve.  Without that sort of honest dialogue, no writer can ever hope to grow!

Thanks, Mereann, for showing both candor and courage!  It’s appreciated !

By the way, if you want to see the books this critique is about, click here and see if you agree!

A new dream, a new vision, for our nation

l’ve decided it’s time to get a little perspective on the things which have been ailing this nation.  If you don’t like reading stuff which challenges your way of thinking, or makes you consider other points of view, this may not be the right blog to peruse.

If you have no problem with learning something new and challenging yourself, then get ready for a clinic.

What is the definition of “conservative?”

What is the definition of “liberal?”

We’ve forgotten who we are, and what we really want.

Do we want the America of the 1950s?  Some people are stuck in a warped world that has been foisted upon them by pop culture, showing us a nation which was happy, economically robust and had no problems.  In the eyes of these folks, we were one big happy country, everyone led moral lives, crime was low, and social problems weren’t spoken of because they didn’t exist.  Life was meant to be lived out like a 20 minute television plot, and what was bad for you was only so because some eggheads who weren’t tough enough to make in private life had to control everything.  It was “better dead than Red,” and we were damned proud of it.  These folks never really grew up, and electing a minority President was their worst nightmare made manifest.

Do we want the America of the 1960s?  Others are stuck in a perverse world which states never to trust anyone over 40, get high, stoned, and make love, not war.  To them, the world was about railing against “the man,” and nobody should have to work hard to achieve fortune or status.  Capitalism was the devil, socialism and communism was groovy, and those in power just didn’t “get it.”  The only way to stop war was to overthrow the very institutions which stood for everything evil and wrong.  America was the bully, not the hero, and we were running roughshod over smaller nations in the interest of supporting industrial imperialist pigs who merely wanted to enslave.  Marriage was passe, God was dead, and the notion of rules was something which was squares and fuddy-duddies.  These folks also never really grew up, and a white good ol’ boy from a connected old money family being elected President was the realization of all their worst fears.

Do we want the America of the 1970s?  I think everyone can agree that particular decade sucked so much that our brief dalliance with the culture of that time was dismissed as a very bad trip, pun entirely dependent on point of view.

Do we want the America of the 1980s?  How about the 1990s?  After all, both decades saw Olympic games played in our nation, both eras saw Presidents who were both reviled and adored, and saw culture wars wages on both sides.  There were booms, and busts, and national debates and ideological foolishness threatened to tear us apart.  Still, we held together, and the nation continued on.

So what America do we really want?  Who are we really?  Conservatives say we are a “red” nation.  Liberals say we are a “blue” nation.  Is it really that simple?  Are we really a nation which can be explained with a “paint by numbers” template?

Hardly.

As an American, I am both proud and ashamed of my country, and my fellow citizens.  Rather than trying to find common ground and compromise, we continue our foolish dash down the ideological road towards an ending which is neither enlightening nor hopeful.  Rather than allowing ourselves to consider alternate points of view, we have resigned ourselves to be content with the “echo chamber” mentality of like-minded commentators, pundits, entertainers and politicos.  Nobody wants to consider another’s perspective, and few souls wish to express their disdain for a nation which has lost its way.

This entry is written and published in the desperate hope that we can overcome our prejudices towards others, and our seeming unstoppable predilection towards ideology-based conflict.  What good is it to fight a war when nobody wins and everyone loses?  A war of principle is only worthy when the principle is truly absolute.   Fighting wars of faith and morality too often end in extremists taking power, and freedoms squelched in favor of a twisted moral dictate.  The words and ideas of Mr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony and others are beginning to be regarded as obsolete by so many who feel as though the world doesn’t care about them.  Rather than looking for ways to lift others up, those in power have convinced us to look down upon these folks as being malcontents, lazy, uneducated, and backwards.

The most striking example of this attitude came some months ago from retired radio host Neal Boortz, who admitted to being a “culturalist,” a term which describes one as believing their culture superior to others.  This mindset is pervasive in the minds of many and, while some cultures are violent and repressive, we are neither superior, nor are we inferior.  We merely are.

Here is the sort of America I wish to see someday, and I hope to live long enough to realize that vision.

I would love to see an America in which the promise of the “new world” boldly envisioned by our Founding Fathers is actualized.  I would love to see a sundering of our dependence on the words of plutocrats to guide our passions.  I would love to see Dr. King’s words ring true everywhere, not just where it is convenient or profitable.  I would love to see Abraham Lincoln’s statement of a nation of the people, by the people and for the people, truly be reclaimed as our national birthright.  I would love to see Susan B. Anthony’s dream of universal suffrage and treatment of all genders become something that others don’t simply dismiss as socialist nonsense.  I would love to see America become the more perfect union I know it is capable of being.

This requires one thing I would love to see happen – those who masquerade as adults but are, in essence, children, step aside and let the grown-ups come in fix things.  I’d love to be able to hand this nation to our children and our children’s children in better shape that I found it, and I would love to be able to say “We fixed it.  Please, be better than we were, and don’t break it again.”

Time to start 2015 – right here, right now, musically speaking

We have arrived at 2015!  The year is full of new possibilities, and now it’s time to announce my theme song for the year.  Yes, shameless self-promotion here, but it’s all in good fun, right?

The year 2014 saw Katy Perry’s Roar highlight how my year would go.  Funny, that; last year roared, all right – just in so many of the wrong ways.  Between snowstorms, career storms, and all around family storms, 2014 was a challenge and a half.  It was one of the busiest, most challenging, and excruciating years of my life, and one in which I discovered aspects of myself which I never knew existed.  Certainly I roared, but the world answered right back, and some of those answers were simply not to my liking.  Still, lessons were learned, karma balance, and faith restored in many ways.  I found my strength was not in physical strength, but in my own endurance.  The foundation had been laid for the future.

It’s actually quite interesting that the year we just closed out was about foundations.  For so many years, my own had been one built on sand, which just couldn’t hold the weight of my own excess and arrogance.  It forced a true re-evaluation of my life and forced those around me to finally stand on their own feet and push forward into the world in such a way that they can now take care of themselves.  The next step is coming.

This new year is about taking a step back and planning, getting ready for the gangbuster year that will be 2016.  My writing work will continue to build itself to its logical end of good fortune.  It may not be immediate financial windfalls, but the planning stage is what is most critical at this juncture.  That is why stepping back is so essential, and why I have chosen to step back in time to find the song which will define my year.

I cannot overstate the importance of understanding that this tune isn’t about immediate action, but about waking up.  Arising from a long slumber and planning one’s day, cosmically speaking, is about as huge an undertaking as you get.  It requires thorough planning, understanding and patience.  For this reason, the song chosen must be viewed through the lens of one who is preparing a plan for execution, and must now dive deep into that planning stage, focusing on what’s important and keys to success.

Sweet Jesus…Jones, that is, gets the nod for my theme song.

jesusjones

Right Here, Right Now!

Yes, it sounds like a call to immediate action, and that it is, but that action is about planning to reap the rewards of 2016, when I know my true goals will be achieved and I will step into the light for good.  This has been a long, dark, often arduous journey, full of pratfalls and ego-busting bouts of humility shoved straight down my throat.  To be entering this year is all about reflection, preparation, and getting started on that road which will take me to my own promised land.

It’s time to get that done…right here, right now!  And it’s time for me to wake up from my own history.  Happy 2015, everyone!  Time for me to live in the moment, and focus on the plan.