Brian Williams, Jackie Robinson West & Life’s Lessons Learned the Hard Way

It’s been quite a week.  First, Brian Williams gets essentially dumped (six months, oh yeah) for embellishing a war story.  Next, the Jackie Robinson West boy’s baseball team, crowned National Champs last summer are dethroned because their team included players who were ineligible based on Little League rules which exclude players living outside of the predefined geographical boundaries established for their Team (and ANY Team for that matter).

So what’s the reaction?  Well, based on his place and status in the media, Williams’ transgression(s) couldn’t be ignored.  When a major Network Anchor jumps a plane to put him/herself into a story, there’s no reasonable rhyme or rational for them to report on anything but the truth of what they’ve experienced.  As much as I like Brian Williams, I have to agree with Jon Stewart’s assessment that professional reporters who become celebrities beyond their field of expertise – which Williams did by his many, many appearances on talk shows, cameos in movies, etc. – can very easily lose their way as they try to switch from ‘report’ to ‘entertain.’

So goodbye and good luck to Brian Williams.  I’m sure he’ll be able to live extraordinarily well during his time off – and for years afterward even if he never worked a day again.

Having said that, I feel like I need to add a perspective from personal experience to the Williams story.

I served in the Vietnam War (’68 – ’69).  During most of that time I worked in an air conditioned office in Danang, RVN, with thousands of other rear echelon troops.  While I was there I became aware of the fact that Danang had a nickname ‘back in the World’ (the U.S.).  It was called ‘Rocket City’ in the media.  At the time I laughed at the name as it made it sound like the U.S. Troops stationed there snuck around in underground bunkers covered with camouflage, in flack jackets, armed to the teeth – all to avoid a torrential rain of enemy 120mm rockets launched at the city.

The truth was that indeed the city underwent fairly regular rocket attacks (several times a month, sometimes more often) but the majority of these were targeting the Danang Airbase, located several miles from where I served.

Admittedly some landed fairly close.  (I can tell you that shrapnel from one of these  sounds like a handful of marbles raining down.  That’s how close some of them came to me.)

On another occasion I was flying in a Huey which developed a mechanical problem just after takeoff, filling the chopper with smoke and resulting in a forced landing from around 50 feet in the air.

There are other stories I could tell you about the times I was really in danger, at least in my opinion, however, the point I want to make about Brian Williams is that he was IN FACT in a dangerous place, wasn’t a trained military man, and certainly was not used to living day to day with that little critter in the back of your mind that reminded you something bad over which you had absolutely no control could occur at any minute.

When his chopper landed in that desert and knowing that an RPG had brought down another bird nearby, Williams no doubt was under a lot of stress if not worse.  And no doubt he bonded with those servicemen surrounding him he considered his protectors.

As for his later embellishment of the event, believe me, I’ve heard far, far worse “Enhanced War Stories” from men who actually served in combat arenas but were no closer to danger than a completely random rocket landing on their head.

It’s these types and those who blatantly engage in the activity called ‘Stolen Valour’ in which complete lies are made up and Combat Medals – up to and including the Medal of Honour – are claimed as earned, that truly deserve censure and  ridicule.

So over time, Williams foolishly embellished his experience.  But I can’t help wonder tho how much the passage of time made the truth fuzzier, the actual danger become more near, and Williams’ recollection morphed into the story as we know it today.  To the point it became his reality.

Now onto the JRW fiasco.  Wow.  Talk about a media failure not to mention a moral failure on the part of the adults involved in this who brought in the ‘ringers’ (as we used to call them when I was playing baseball in my youth in Chicago) to create the kind of talent needed to excel at the National level.

The moral problem speaks for itself.  The Coach and all who had knowledge of the ineligible players should be pilloried for their totally unacceptable behavior.  As a matter of fact, I’m fairly certain some if not most the players involved knew they were going around the rules (i.e., ringers  were playing); however, given their age, it’s difficult to place blame there.  One can only hope they’ve learned a life lesson about the penalties involved with not playing by the rules.  Only time will tell on that one.

Then there’s the accountability of the media.  The firestorm of praise, public appearances, parades, visits to the While House, etc. was the product of a media who blare their own horns to the heavens when they uncover some evil doing somewhere.  Their job is to report the news and as they continually brag, through their own investigative reporting seek out those who do wrong.

So why was it that not one person in the media undertook the simple step of ascertaining the JRW’s team members were legitimate and eligible to play according to the rules?   I’d really like to hear an answer to that one. And why didn’t this occur earlier – like BEFORE the team became National contenders and media stars?

Is it they didn’t want to spoil all the feel good stories filling their air time?  Did they not want to miss the opportunity of standing in front of the mic night after night with crowds of celebrants dancing around in the background?

Who can say?  But I for one want to hear the answer.  I want the media held to account on this one.  And I want that ass hat Pfleger to shut his mouth about how the revelations of foul play are indicative of racism.

What these events have in common is the incompetence and lack of credibility in the crap we’re spoon fed by the media.  They get wars wrong.  And why should that be a surprise?  They can’t even get Little League right.

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Get Ready Illinois – Things are Going to Start Happening Soon

I’ve lived in Illinois my whole life.  I spent my first 28 years growing up, living and working in Chicago.  Since then I’ve lived in what are referred to the ‘Collar Counties’ – those surrounding Cook County which includes the City itself.

To begin with, Illinois is and has been for as long as I’ve lived here a Blue State.  With the exception of brief periods the legislature in the past 60 years has been controlled by  Democrats.  In other times, Republicans have exercised Executive ‘Power’ through winning the Governorship. (I put ‘Power’ in quotes insofar as a Republican Governor facing a Legislature completely controlled by the opposite Party is politically hamstrung and must either bend to the will of the Legislature one way or another or risk the likelihood of becoming a do nothing Leader.  The consequences of the latter are unlikely to portend either a long or successful Political career.)

Since the 1990’s the Illinois Legislature has been under Democratic control.  And by control I’m talking about the virtual dictatorship of two men – Mike Madigan (Speaker of the House) and John Cullerton (President of the Senate).

While you might think that a solid and continuous Democratic legislature is a true reflection of the ‘will of the people’ of the State, the fact is that the residents of Cook County are the actual voters who maintain the status quo.

Why is that?  Well, for one, Chicago and Cook County from a population standpoint represent a majority of the eligible voters in the State.  As Chicago/Cook County vote, so go elections in this State – at least insofar as the Legislature is concerned.  The result of this is to effectively disenfranchise voters outside of Chicago/Cook County.  Who cares how they vote?  It really doesn’t matter as long as Chicago/Cook County vote Democrat.

So, you say, that’s the way our Government works and too bad that the rest of the voters in this State largely vote Republican but are unable to change how Illinois does business or treats its citizens.

And therein lies the basis for the enormous problems facing this State, the most egregious of which is our virtual bankruptcy – a situation which is sidestepped on an annual basis through Accounting trickery, adding on unaffordable debt, and kicking the can down the road.

Well, the piper can no longer be stiffed and this year, this month, this week we are facing the undeniable reality that the Democrat Legislature and its Cullerton/Madigan manipulation of State affairs MUST  change the way business is done in this State.

Of course, these words are nothing new and have been the mantras of our inept and corrupt Governors for years.  However, as much as lip service has been paid to them, the Legislature has been content to follow their leaders regardless of the obvious, predictable and totally evident negative and financially unsustainable results of such leadership.

Which brings me to the subject of the new Sheriff in Town, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner.

Rauner’s great personal wealth is a matter of record and need not be rehashed here.  He ran on the promise and profile of a one percenter office seeker not interested in making a career of Politics. His objectives are to clean up the town, set the State on a path to financial stability, reestablish our spending priorities, improve education, reduce property taxes (highest or very near highest in the land) and make Illinois once again a desirable place to do business.

Quite an agenda considering the ‘Usual Suspects’ whom he will have to deal with to achieve his objectives.

So, the question is:  How will he accomplish this?

A couple of thoughts and scenarios we may see come into play in the next several months:

1)  Rauner is able to leverage his close personal relationship with Rahm Emmanuel (Mayor of Chicago) to swing Democratic votes in the Legislature to implement  solutions to problems shared by Chicago and the rest of the State which would otherwise be blocked by Madigan/Cullerton (driven by ego, political debts to lobbyists and unions, whatever).

There are plenty of shared problems impacting Chicago and Illinois at large which could be addressed if these two formed even an arms length coalition to do the right thing.

Based on recent history (and perhaps a large measure of Hope), many solutions to our problems which would be the right thing to do have been discussed to death and agreed upon.  However, the power exercised by Madigan/Cullerton have precluded movement forward to implement these.

2)  Rauner is able to convince enough of the electorate to motivate even the Democrat majority in Chicago and Cook County that the changes we MUST make are Political Party Agnostic and that these voters must be willing to make their voices heard loud and clear on an ongoing basis, and not just at election time.

To do this, Rauner is going to have to convince enough urban voters that the ‘dole’ on which they’ve become reliant in Illinois will no longer be there but can be replaced by opportunities enabling them to take control of their own destinies. This implies changes (i.e., reductions) in social programs, streamlining of State Government operation (i.e., reductions in the work force, elimination of redundancy or just plain uselessness, etc.)  changes in retiree benefits (i.e., work longer, fewer perks, etc., etc..) and numerous other actions which Rauner has thus far alluded to but not yet packaged.  (His State of the State speech  will no doubt be a doozy!)

3) Rauner is able to and makes the effort to work effectively with the Madigan/Cullerton cabal to actually move ahead meaningful legislative changes which really do improve Illinois’ position as the laughing stock of the United States.

This will probably be the most difficult approach to achieve his objectives, but it’s worth a try.  Rauner makes much of his business expertise which his lifetime achievements underline.  Cullerton’s sarcastic remark that Rauner “Needs to learn a lot about how State Government works’ could backfire on him seriously if Rauner acts in a CEO manner and is able to show Cullerton et al that it is THEY who need to learn how State Government SHOULD work.

The next few months will tell us all which way the wind is going to blow in Illinois for years to come.  Whatever happens, we’ll no doubt see controversy, mud slinging, and, as Rauner has promised, we’ll all be asked to sacrifice something.  It’s going to be a rough ride.  All we can say with certainty at this moment is that it isn’t going to be a free one.

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The New Age Discrimination in Employment

I am in that group of early boomers entering the ‘golden years of retirement’.  So are most of my friends.

I’ve been retired for a little over four years now and during that time have watched a number of colleagues of my age finish their working years under circumstances which point to subtle new forms of age discrimination in the private work force.

What follows is a description of several different practices and tactics Companies are using to ‘get rid of’ older employees’ in (strictly speaking) legal, yet highly questionable ways. Ways which stretch the rules governing age discrimination in employment, denigrate the individual, and take advantage of older employees who are often at their most vulnerable economic point in life.

Why are Companies doing this?  The answer(s) are fairly obvious.

1.  Older employees tend to be among the higher salaried component of the work force.
‘Dumping’ such people presents an immediate expense reduction for a Company.

2.  Older employees, particularly those in middle management, present a blockage to
promotional opportunities for younger, less expensive talent.  The ‘baby boom
particularly exacerbates this situation with so many older workers in the work force today.

3.  ‘Right to Work’ laws offer Companies extreme leeway to discharge employees ‘without
cause’.  Although as written, there are so called restrictions against age discrimination,
the  ‘without cause’ clause is a virtual blank check for Companies to come up with
excuses  for getting rid of older employees – supposedly legally.

4.  Older employees possess the least leverage in protecting their jobs.  For example,
individuals nearing retirement are less likely to ‘put up a stink’ when confronted with
changing work conditions which younger employees may challenge under threat of
leaving and taking their future potential, desperately needed by Companies, with them.

Older employees are viewed as having already reached their maximum potential and
are thus considered ‘expendable’.

So let’s categorize and discuss the tactics being used by Corporations to rid themselves of older employees.

REDEFINING PRODUCTIVITY STANDARDS

This is probably the most frequently used tactic.  Companies always need to reduce costs by finding ‘cheaper, better and faster’ ways of doing business.  It’s the nature of business.

Although there are a number of totally valid ways of accomplishing this, including such things as introduction of automation, and analysis and redesign of processes to eliminate redundant and otherwise unnecessary effort, these ways require financial investment on the part of Companies.

It is far cheaper and easier to ‘raise the bar’ as the saying goes in the Corporate Land by simply increasing the number of widgets employees are expected to produce in defined timeframes (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.).  This requires no more investment than the editing of existing Performance Standards and publishing of new Standards.

And who is more likely to be able to meet (or at least TRY to meet in the short term) the new expectations?  Is it the sixty-something employee or the bright eyed bushy tailed twenty year old?

Whether or not the new standards are realistic or sustainable over time is immaterial.  The mere establishment of them provides an immediate opportunity to turn an older, long term ‘valued’ employee into an underachiever who can be placed on probation and let go for non performance.  After that’s been done and expense reduction benefits achieved, Companies can simply redefine Productivity Standards again to adjust to the threat of burn out on the part of the overworked younger employees.

REORGANIZATIONS AND REDUCTIONS IN FORCE (R&R’s)

It is common practice for Companies to reorganize internally for a variety of perfectly valid reasons.

Many Companies go through cycles of centralizing or decentralizing operations.  This is common in the Services Sector.  There is always some rationale associated with these kinds of organizational moves; however, as often as competitive forces drive them (e.g., the need to open a new office to expand business), once again, expense reductions are also, and often exclusively, a prime incentive – particularly in a contracting economy.

In either case, reorganizations – whether internal to an individual office or as part of a centralize/decentralize move – are most often accompanied by Reductions in Force (RIF’S in common parliance.)  RIF’s can be achieved as a result of economies of scale, elimination of redundant positions or even changes in business or product strategies.

When Companies reduce their work force they generally are very careful in documenting exactly who has been let go and the distribution of personnel let go by age (among other things).  The reality, however, is that RIF’s can be used to eliminate non performing younger (i.e., less costly) employees but at the same time eliminating older, more expensive employees.  On paper it all looks legal and above board and the Company achieves its objectives but the end result to older employees is the same.

REDEFINING PERSONNEL POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

This is a tactic which was used by a colleague’s Company to enable them to include her as part of a RIF.

It involves the constant revision of Personnel procedures defining the circumstances under which employees may be placed on probation or Performance Plans, for how long, and how they can (or more accurately, cannot) achieve what is necessary to be taken off and considered as contributing employees.

In my colleague’s case, she was a twenty five year employee of a Company which desperately needed to reduce expenses.  She was also the highest paid employee among her group.

First, she was a victim of the Redefinition of Performance Standards ploy described above, accompanied by a deliberate reduction in her workload which precluded her from being able to meet the revised Standards.

When first put on a Performance Plan for non-performance (almost two years ago) the Company’s Policies and Procedures contained a definition of how the Performance Plan worked.  When she achieved what was defined in the Procedures Manual she discovered the Procedures had been changed and she was still considered a non-performer.  This process was repeated several performance cycles until, when the RIF finally occurred, she was included as part of the RIF and her high salary saved.

In her case, the Company was able to justify including her in the RIF on the basis of non performance; however, it is a clever way of disguising age discrimination on an ongoing basis.

ELIMINATION OF RESPONSIBILITIES

This is a tactic used to ‘nudge’, ‘encourage’, and even ‘force’ older employees at higher levels of management out of the work force.

It is an insidious tactic which preys on the psyche of employees by gradually reducing their job responsibilities to the point where they feel useless, their daily activities are largely make work, and pressure is exerted as their peers observe what’s going on and even commiserate with them.  The latter simply reinforces the loss of self worth to the point where what amounts to non-voluntary retirement becomes preferable.

I saw this tactic used by a Company to force another colleague of mine into retirement earlier than desired.

CONCLUSION

Although my retirement was voluntary, what happened to me at the Company I worked at for twenty five years was disturbing and left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  I won’t go into details here as a sop to my then Management hierarchy with whom I’ve remained friends since that time, however, after years of outstanding performance my ‘good bye’ and ‘thank you’ were colored by an unfortunate administrative move.

Bottom line, age discrimination comes in many shapes and colors.  Only those with deep pockets can even begin to challenge Companies for this most onerous treatment of older employees.  And even then the scales are weighted so heavily in favor of Corporate America that a successful challenge under current employment laws is unusual and even unlikely.

Where for preceding generations retirement was a life event to be looked forward to, in today’s business and economic environment, surviving as an employee UNTIL retirement is possible and affordable is more difficult than ever.

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Time Goes By

It’s been a year since I visited this space so I thought I’d add some thoughts.
 
Nationally, the last three months have seen improvement in the economic environment in the U.S., but today specfically blew chunks.  I’m still waiting for things to get back to the point where I’m  comfortable being retired (again).
 
Obama certainlyh has taken control of a lot of things, including the banking system, GM, and moving quickly on Health Care.  Lots of bitching out there about the U.S. moving towards socialism.  I can’t really argue but that that seems to be the direction; however, I prefer to think that the political moves going on are both a temporary necessity as well as temporary expedients.  For example, i believe we have GOT to get off of our reliance on foreign oil.  We’ve paid much too high a price in blood, treasure and respect for the U.S. as a result of the need to coddle those in the Middle East who hate us (and from all appearances will continue to hate us no matter what).  If it takes majority ownership on the part of the government to force development and sale of vastly more efficient vehicles, then so be it.   I really don’t care  a fig about ‘freedom of choice’ when it comes to this issue.  Just because Americans are used to getting what they want at virtually any price doesn’t mean that’s the right thing to have happen.  We’ll see.
 
As time goes by, as expected, work relationships are fading with interactions with my former colleagues becoming fewer and further in between.  This was, of course, totally to be expected and I have maintained some good relationships which do appear lasting so no real issues there.  As a retiree with more time alone on my hands I’ve learned to live with and by myself quite well.  The wife continues to work (thanks, Economy) so I am pretty much free to set my own schedule an do things  as and when I like.  All in all quite a liberating experience.
 
This has been the second consecutive year where Spring weather has been unusually cold and wet.  Today is June 15 and we’ve had perhaps two or three days of summer weather (i.e., higher than 80 degrees).  At the same time, last winter was one of the worst in terms of snowfall in years.
 
Speaking of which, I think the old bod has told me that I’ve done enough snowmobiling.  Too much back pain resulting from the constant beating on the trails.  In fact, a friend recently made the comment that “Getting old means a day never goes by when something doesn’t hurt”.  I find that to be a bit of an extreme at this particular point in time but can feel this is where things inevitably end up.  Sort of answers the question I always wondered about, to wit:  “Why do professional golfers lose their skills as they age?”  Of course, this is also indicative of my overall total lack of any talent in the playing of the game, but I used to look at the pros and think they made it look so easy and were so good, I wondered what it was that led to their loss of the ability to play at the pro level.  I now understand the pain involved in just performing routine movements for no reason (other than naturally occurring arthritis).  And I can’t imagine actually walking 18 holes anymore (the dual hip replacement thing there).
 
I finally finished my Vietnam memoirs and have sent them to my brother Larry for a look.  He plays a large role insofar as he and I were stationed together over there.  Not sure what I’ll do with them after he comments.  Possibly may publish them just for yucks and to have a few copies of a book I wrote.  We’ll see.
 
Still not sure what I’ll do with this space, if anything, but plan on stopping by once in a while just to rap.
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Still on the Fence

It’s now August and we’re less than 100 days from the election.  Surprise!  Since my last comments Obama has changed his positions on several issues and is sounding more like McCain than McCain does.  I guess on a positive note he hasn’t had to apologize for any more whacko preacher friends.  A little disturbing news came out this morning with Obama claiming that "he doesn’t look like the other Presidents on the dollar bill" which is being touted as his having played the race card.
 
Obama recently toured Iraq and announced that he would establish a timeframe for U.S. withdrawal in agreement with the Maliki government there.  Iraq has largely been stabilized now (for which Bush will get no credit, either for the regime change, the elimination of a potential nuclear terror state, or for persistence in pursuing the Surge strategy which paid the current dividend) and while McCain would see a continuing U.S. Military presence there ala Korea, Germany et al it is possible the Iraqi government will not choose this to be in their best interests.  McCain has shown no indication he would move ahead against the wishes of the Iraqis so in my mind that makes his position and Obama’s very similar.
 
The economy is still tanking, although July has been a better month; however, I am concerned about the go forward strategies of both candidates.  Obama appeals to me because he’s talking eliminating personal income taxes at certain levels which would benefit me greatly.  Beyond that, however, neither candidate seems to have a strong go forward strategy.  My instincts are that whatever gas price reduction we receive through normal market forces, we ought to maintain price stability at a high level through federal taxation and invest all such funds in alternative energy research.  I think this is the way we finally get the oil monkey off our backs.  I’ve heard nothing from either candidate indicating such a move.
 
Net net is I am still on the fence.  I am tired of Obama’ Change theme by now which really has been overplayed and lacks substance.  McCain is about as charasmatic as a mastadon but at this point at least he has the track record over Obama who would definitely be a ‘learn as you earn’ kind of guy with, I am convinced, a lot of baggage he’ll be carrying in with him.
 
Still no VP picks yet on either side.  Probably a good thing as selection now would diffuse even further the lack of substantive discussion of real issues.   Keep tuned.
 
SG
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Now it Starts…

Well, this week Barack Obame finally clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination for President.  As phony and transparent as I find Hillary Clinton,  I was actually pleased at the outcome of the Primary, although it seemed to go on forever.
 
Hillary is now in the obviously uncomfortable position of having to decicde whether or not she’s willing to play second fiddle to Obama.  He, on the other hand, is faced with the unpleasant decision of whether or not to offer her the VP slot.  I don’t believe that choosing her for VP will do Obamas’s campaign much good or that she would complement him as a Vice President.  The pundits are already highlighting the fact that as VP, Hillary would likely choose to toot her own horn, likely at Obama’s expense.
 
What troubles me is the lack of substance thus far of Obama’s platform.  Ending the war in Iraq is easy to say but will be more difficult to accomplish – at least in any short timeframe post election which would satisfy his promise to end the war quickly.  To think the United States could turn on a dime and withdraw troops in a matter of weeks or even a few months without it looking like another Saigon evacuation is naive.  His stated position that he wants to talk to radical national leaders like Iran’s Ahmadinejad is also a risky proposition.  As McCain’s camp has already noted, what would be a positive outcome of such discussions?  Would the expectation be that Obama could talk sense into such a madman?  Unlikely.  More likely would be the enhancement of Ahmadinejad as a ‘player’ whom the U.S. fears and with whom we need to reach an accomodation. 
 
Regardless of how many times Obama finds it necessary to distance himself from the likes of Wright and Pfleger, it seems to me that at least to a degree the old saying that “You are known by the company you keep” (or words to that effect) comes into play here.  For starters, whatever distance he tries to put between himself and these kinds of people, the fact is he needs their constituencies to vote for him in order to be elected.  If they do, it would not be unreasonable for them to expect some quid pro quo if Obama is elected.  And of course we haven’t yet really heard from such established nut jobs as Sharpton or ideologues like Jackson.  When these and others like them weigh in with their support , what will be the pound of flesh they will demand and how will such demands be addressed without appearing like Obama has betrayed them?  And will he be able to resist the pressure which will be brought to bear on him by such supporters?
 
I plan on giving Obama fair consideration as the Presidential campaign proceeds but he’s got a lot of work to do to convince me of his electability.  As a general statement I find it difficult to turn over leadership of the world’s most important and powerful natiol to an individual with no more than four years experience in the political arena.  I can’t think of any sizeable corporation that would appoint a CEO with such a lack of credentials.  We’ll have to see as time goes on.
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For Starters…..

Hi;
 
If you’re reading this, welcome to my blog.  If you’re not, please skip the following
 
This is my first time blogging so the content wil evolve over time.  What this means is that I frankly don’t know dick about blogging but will learn as I go.  I have a lot of friends and acquaintances from many age groups, backgrounds and even cultures.  I retired at the not quite ripe old age of 60 and have as of this writing been goofing off for about a year and a half.  One of the things I would like to do in this blog is share my experiences and insights as an early retiree.  Of course, as time goes by I will no longer be an early retiree and eventually will be a dead retiree; however, I did retire in advance of most of my contemporaries who have encouraged me to write about my insights into the retirement process.  
 
Being retired, of course I now have the time to follow Current Events more closely.  This would include things like National, State and Local politics as well as international events.  I’ll exercise my right as an aeging crankster to bitch about just about anything and to offer my clearly self interest solutions for how to solve the many dilemmas which face our society.
 
I will try to maintain civility in my writing but will warn you in advance I do use some earthy language (see above ‘don’t know dick about blogging remark).  If you’re offended, feel free to click the Back button or whatever the hell button it is that gets you out of here!
 
Thanks for visiting.
 
Stevie G
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