Friday, January 23, 2009

A Small Act of Kindness in a Cold World

This article was originally published at americanchronicle.com on Jan. 16th, 2009

On Friday, January 9th 2009 I was laid off. It came as a shock to me. I´m in a position in the company where I didn´t think they could afford to lay me off. I know and do things in the company no one else knows how to do. I was the supervisor of a department and we had just started a new project that likely will not get done now. It was a startling and sobering moment, to say the least.

My boss informed me that it was nothing personal, that it was strictly an economic move. I have no idea what they´re thinking. My job saves the company tens of thousands of dollars a year. Now they will have to outsource it which will cost them more. I know because I´ve worked for people they´ll have to outsource it to and I know how much they charge and how much they make. I´ve kept records of the repairs I´ve done and I know how much I´ve saved the company over the years. And I´m the only person there who knows how to do some of those repairs. Still, since I was the highest paid in my department, I was the one who was laid off. Trying to make sense of this will only drive me crazy.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn´t believe I was being laid off. I haven´t been without work since 1985, when I moved with a new wife and baby to start a new life. I´ve always had some kind of work and I´ve always done my best. So I handed in all my keys and my radio, packed up my tools with a bit of trepidation, and said my goodbyes to my friends and coworkers, some of whom I´ve been working with for 13 years. For a moment I thought one of my guys was going to cry. I could see he was fighting to maintain control. It was quite emotional.

As I left the building I had already decided that I was going to make this event into an opportunity. I´ve been working too long at the same job, it had become a rut, and I´ve known for quite a while that I was very underpaid for a man of my knowledge, skills and experience. I had simply been working there because it was steady work and I had a family to raise. Now, since my ex had decided last year she didn´t need me in the household and since my work decided they didn´t need me to perform my duties any longer, many doors should open. Perhaps in the long run we only need ourselves.

So, I had decided earlier in the week to make a usual Friday stop at Chile´s to have a couple of drinks and some conversation with a good friend of mine, John, who also happens to be a coworker. I wasn´t going to let a little thing like being laid off prevent me from keeping that arrangement. I left work an hour early and I headed to Chile´s. On the way I called and told John what had happened. He was also surprised, to say the least.

When I arrived at Chile´s the bartender made the comment that I was early. She was used to seeing me come by around four or so and it was only two thirty. I told her I had been laid off and ordered my usual margarita. She made the drink, poured it and walked away. A moment later she came back and asked if I´d like to see a menu. I told her not just yet and she insisted, then told me to pick whatever I wanted, that it was on the house. I was aghast. I told her no, but she insisted saying that I was a regular and she took care of her regular customers. I hadn´t thought of myself as that much of a regular seeing as how I only visited every couple of weeks, but she apparently did. I couldn´t refuse the offer.

I ordered a steak dinner with a stuffed potato and veggies. When it was ready the manager, a man I had seen maybe once before and hardly ever talked to, brought the meal over and told me he was sorry for my misfortune. My eyes began to tear. I told him thank you, that they were being too kind. It was one of the best meals I´d had in a long time, mostly because of the kindness which had brought it about. I couldn´t help but get a little emotional.

My buddy showed up a while later and we conversed for a time. I told him about the meal and he was impressed. As we talked about work and the economy and the events of the day I found myself having to fight to contain my emotions. I knew things were going to get rough financially but I was sure I was going to land on my feet. There are people around me who care about me and I know this more than ever now. When it was time to go, John paid the bill for our drinks and we went our separate ways.

Last Friday my faith in humanity was restored. I received an act of kindness that I did not ask for and I did not expect. I suppose that makes me appreciate it all the more. In times like these, one often discovers who really cares for him and who does not. I suppose we all decide who we should support and who we shouldn´t. Whether that support comes in the emotional, physical or financial form, or in any combination, is another thing for one to decide. The important thing about support and acts of kindness, however, is that it comes voluntarily. That´s what gives such acts meaning. No one forced the people at Chile´s to give me a meal, and if they had then it certainly would have lost all meaning and may have caused bad feelings between all parties involved.

In the end, people will look after those they care about. Sometimes, we may find ourselves surprised at who cares about us. I believe there are more caring people in the world than uncaring. At least, I certainly hope so.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Blagojevich, the Media and the Race Card

This article originally appeared at americanchronicle.com on Jan 8th, 2009.

I don´t like to write about politics. That last statement might come as a surprise to some of my regular readers. "Szandor," you might think, "You love to write about politics. You do it all the time." Well, the last part of that statement may be true, but the first part is actually a misconception. I write about politics because I feel I have to. Given the choice I´d much rather write a horror novel or some fantasy. That´s what I really consider myself good at. I love to let my imagination run wild.

I read very few other writers who share my views on politics, however, even though I speak to many people, common folk like me, who do. It seems that there is quite a lack of pundits out there who are in touch with the common man. I believe there is a very large contingent of people out there who just want the government to leave them alone and yet hardly anyone voices this opinion. Certainly no one I know of in the mainstream media does. It makes it so that common folk find it difficult to truly express the principles they want to live by because they can´t quite put their finger on what those principles are. Anyway, that´s why I started writing about politics, after all my opinion is just as good (or bad) as anyone else´s.

Politics is a dirty, foul business. It seems to bring out the worst in people. Or perhaps it simply attracts the worst kind of people. After all, it takes a certain personality, one who longs for power and the ability to control people and events, a control freak so to speak, to be a politician. At least, that´s the impression I get from the actions of most of the politicians I see. So I was not in the least bit surprised when I heard that the Illinois governor, Mr. Rod Blagojevich, was caught by the feds doing something illegal. What did surprise me was that he was indicted. After all, he didn´t really do anything most other politicians wouldn´t have done. Indeed, I would bet that ninety percent of all politicians have done something illegal (not to mention unethical) at some point while in office, that is, if betting on such things was legal. What I wonder is, "who did Mr. Blagojevich piss off?"

Yet all that doesn´t seem to matter to the mainstream media or most of the public. Perhaps we do get the government we deserve after all. There is no doubt in my mind that the corruption in our government on all levels is endemic and only God knows why we continue to put up with it. We as a society do, however, continue to put up with it and when one politician goes down it seems that we as a society have a tendency to view it as good entertainment rather than with the disdain it should be viewed with. And so the media has made jokes and a show of Mr. Blagojevich´s follies and the pundits are out in force opining about his actions.

But perhaps Mr. Blagojevich isn´t as dumb as those pundits might think. Sure, he got caught in a manner that makes one think he should have known better, but he also knows the law and the law says that one is innocent until proven guilty. The prosecutor in this case hasn´t even set a trial date yet, let alone found him guilty. So Mr. Blagojevich decides he needs to start working for a change and appoints Mr. Roland Burris to fill the senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected president. This was probably a pretty smart political move by the governor. Mr. Roland Burris is a fairly popular personality in his community, and he´s black. Nothing like stirring up a little controversy to take the focus off an impending impeachment.

Personally, I detest talking about race. Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, it really doesn´t matter. What matters is that we´re all human beings. These collectivist terms we use to classify our brethren into different groups serves only to divide us. But in this particular case the color of the man´s skin seems to have become very important to those involved in this whole debacle and those reporting on it. It was Mr. Roland Burris himself who made a statement that he would be the only black man in the Senate. So what? Is he thinking that is reason enough to seat him in the chamber? Does he feel he would be the voice of the entire black community? Well, call me cynical, but I´m not so sure about that. Besides, wouldn´t he serve the people of Illinois, no matter their race, better if he concentrated on preserving states´ rights? That is, after all, as far as I´m concerned, the main reason the founders crafted the upper chamber of congress in the way they did. There was a time, after all, when all senators were appointed by their state´s congress rather than elected by popular vote.

As long as we´re grouping people, here´s something to think about. Sure, we don´t have a black man in the Senate, but we also don´t have a common man either. I believe that the vast majority of these senators, if not all of them, are very well to do. Most if not all of them go to the same clubs and eat at the same fancy restaurants. Most of them are worth more than you and I put together could ever hope to be worth. Judging by Mr. Roland Burris´ bio, I would tend to put him in the same category with the other elitist politicians that seek power over us poor slobs. Perhaps I´m misjudging him and he isn´t so privileged, but I´m betting he harbors elitist, socialistic ideals like so many of our politicians today. I´m betting he´s just as much a control freak as anyone on Capital Hill.

If Mr. Blagojevich really wanted controversy, he should have picked a regular Joe off the street and put him in office, someone with a reputation for honesty and with no political experience at all. Better yet, he should have picked someone with libertarian ideals who would fight for individual rights and smaller government. That would really have thrown a wrench into the works. I can´t think of any minority that would be more upsetting to the power elite in Washington DC than a minority of one who has never made more than 40 or 50K per year (or less) and who infiltrates their club as their equal. Yet such a man would most likely "serve" his constituency better than those who were ordained could ever hope to serve. Perhaps such a man would even expose the corruption and hypocrisy of these career politicians right on the floor of the Senate for the world to see. There I go again. I said earlier I liked to let my imagination run wild.

But then, maybe I´m wrong about the whole situation. Maybe Mr. Blagojevich didn´t even consider the fact that Mr. Burris is black and that had nothing to do with why the governor picked this former bank examiner/comptroller/attorney general. Maybe he did it because Mr. Burris will actually fight in congress for the little guy. Maybe Mr. Burris is not concerned about himself and his friends and will fight to restore individual liberty for all Americans. Perhaps this isn´t politics as usual. Perhaps Mr. Burris won´t do what most other politicians do, use his position to reward his friends and supporters and punish his enemies. Maybe Mr. Blagojevich appointed Mr. Burris because the governor realizes Mr. Burris is not a political insider and would be a maverick in the Senate. Perhaps Mr. Blagojevich is just trying to get even with those who are trying to put him in jail by appointing someone who will really take the rest of the Senate to task.

You know, I really do prefer writing fantasy.

Courtrooms, Cameras, Police, Kopbusters and Yolanda Madden

This article originally appeared at americanchronicle.com on Jan. 4th, 2009

Here in Illinois, at least in DuPage County, when one walks into the county courthouse one is not allowed to take so much as a camera phone in. I´ve often wondered about this. I´ve thought to myself, at times, "I wonder what they´re so afraid of." It seems to me that this is a public building, so aren´t the citizens of the county the actual owners? If they want to film on their own property, shouldn´t they be able to do so with impunity? If they want to take pictures of their public servants, doesn´t it make sense that they should be able to? Other counties in other states allow cameras and filming in their courtrooms, and if we are to have an open and honest judiciary system it seems to me that the best way to keep them on the up and up is to be able to film and record their activities. And yet, for some reason, the state of Illinois feels too paranoid to allow cameras into this supposedly public venue.

I believe that some would reason that cameras aren´t allowed in the courtrooms because those who would dispense justice contend that allowing citizens to have cameras in the courtroom would disrupt proceedings. Well, I can say that as a father who has raised five children that I´ve been to many a school recital where over zealous parents have brought numerous video and flash cameras and the proceedings were hardly disrupted. It seems to me that if a group of nervous school children can pull off a performance in front of the lights and bustle of parental recording, a group of serious men who have been arguing cases in front of each other for years should be able to perform their jobs in front of quiet adults with video cameras. Besides, as I´ve said earlier, this is a public forum and certainly the public should be aware of what its servants are doing and what they can expect should they ever be accused of participating in some sort of crime and be forced to partake in a trial.

So, I wonder why no cameras are allowed in Illinois courtrooms. I wonder what they´re afraid of. Perhaps its not justice they dispense, but injustice. Perhaps if we citizens were to start videotaping these proceedings from beginning to end it would be easier for us to discover that our justice system is actually corrupted to the core, from top to bottom. I seem to remember that when I was growing up the justice system of the United States of America was the pride of many of the adults I knew and trusted. It was said to be one of the best in the world because everyone was supposed to be "innocent until proven guilty" and our officials were incorruptible. At least, that´s what I was taught. It doesn´t seem to be that way anymore. Perhaps if we could bring our cameras into the courtroom and see the evidence that judges don´t allow and hear some of the pretrial motions that seem to predetermine the outcome of a trial, perhaps then the general public would have a better understanding of just how rotten our justice system has become.

But courtrooms aren´t the only place video cameras in the hands of common citizens have become unwelcome. It seems police on the street have become paranoid of humans bearing cameras as well as judges in courtrooms. Their paranoia is evident in many Youtube videos where we see these miscreants demanding cameras be put down. These are the same officers of the law who would make the claim that one has nothing to fear from them if one has done nothing wrong. They would state that one need not worry about one´s rights being violated so long as one has broken no laws. But in these Youtube videos one can see that it is no wonder the police are afraid of cameras. It becomes blatantly obvious as we watch the misguided officers violating the civil rights of human beings and that is the greater law being violated by them, not by the citizenry.

And yet the deception created by such actions and paranoia does not end there. Its fingers creep out into society and affect us all. Many do not even realize the extent to which the corruption has spread. The mainstream media refuses to inform the general public which many of the older folks are still addicted to. Many in this older generation refuse to believe that their public servants are no longer servants of the public, but are instead trained to control and manipulate. The servants have become the masters and we are to obey them or be crushed. They will stop at nothing to perpetuate the perception that they are always in the right and will stoop to the lowest low to promote the illusion that they can do no wrong.

It is the common man using the tools that modern technology has made affordable that has exposed this, not the mainstream media which seems to have forgotten or neglected its usefulness as a check and balance on the power of government. The youth of this country are beginning to understand that it is up to the citizenry to protect their own rights, that no one else will do it for them and that those entrusted with such a duty will only run roughshod over them if given half a chance. That is why we are seeing the old media dying, a new media springing to life to replace it and those in power becoming afraid. They run when the light of truth is shone upon them and the people are better off because of this.

Take as an example the case of Yolanda Madden from Odessa, Texas. She was sentenced to eight years in prison for possession of methamphetamines. "What´s the big deal about that?" the most indoctrinated among us might ask, "She broke the law and she needs to be punished!" they might cry. I´m not going to use this space to explain the argument about the right of someone to decide for himself what to do with his own body and how despicable this thing called by some "the war on drugs" is. The necessity for us to grant freedom to others so that we can have it for ourselves is self evident. The problem with Yolanda´s case is that it was all a lie. The drugs they found on her were planted by a police informant. How do I know this? It´s a matter of public record. The informant testified as such in court. Both the informant and Yolanda passed many tests to prove her innocence. Even that didn´t matter to the corrupt system. She was still found guilty and sentenced. She has already lost years of her life sitting in prison when she could have been contributing to society in a positive way.

The police lied. They lied about many things. There is video tape of the bust that they said didn´t exist. They lied when they said they didn´t have evidence planted. They lied when they claimed she broke down and cried at the traffic stop and allowed them to search her vehicle. They continue to lie. The injustice that their lies bring is immeasurable. The harm they continue to do not only to the people that were wronged, but to the reputation of the American justice system is massive. To those who say "the law is the law," I say "wrong is wrong." What the police did was wrong. The law is secondary. When we spot injustice, we should all demand that it stop and that those wronged are made right again. Remember, if something like this can happen to someone like Yolanda, it can happen to your son or daughter or even to you. Where is Yolanda, or anyone else for that matter, supposed to get their justice when the justice system is so compromised?

Enter Kopbusters. This group of brave individuals has decided to take on the establishment using the same methods that corrupted law enforcement has been using for years. Normally I would be against entrapment, because normally entrapment is used when a thought crime and not a real crime has been committed, but in this case a real crime was committed and I feel a taste of one´s own medicine is justified. So Kopbusters set up a couple of Christmas trees inside a house and through lack of jurisprudence and proper investigative work, the police came to believe that a large grow operation was in fact taking place inside that house. A judge improperly issued a fourth amendment warrant and the police improperly served said warrant. Cameras inside the house caught the video of the illegal activity and streamed it live so that the video could not be confiscated and later "lost." The police and the judge in this case, if justice is to be served for the people of Texas, should be in some real trouble and should face criminal prosecution, but we shall see just how deep the corruption of the system goes.

All this was done to shine a light upon the Yolanda Madden case. Who knows how many cases like hers are out there? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? It´s hard to say. Now, the Odessa authorities are scrambling to do some damage control. They are trying to find out if any laws were broken in regards to the sting operation. They are seeking the identity of an anonymous tipster. They are not saying "thank you for exposing such behavior" to the men and women of Kopbusters. They are not promising to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. They aren´t so much as talking about cleaning up the corruption or making things right for Yolanda and her family. They are looking for an excuse to put someone in jail and hide behind some inane law so that they can continue their corrupt ways. They aren´t supposed to issue warrants based on the word of anonymous tipsters, so seeking the identity of one seems irrelevant and beside the point. These people need to admit their mistakes and face the music. They need to free those they´ve wrongfully imprisoned and stop imprisoning those who haven´t harmed anyone. They need to stop acting like a criminal gang and once again become the peace officers that at one time were the envy of the world.

The police and the justice system continue to investigate this case not because they want to right the wrongs they´ve committed, but because they want to try to spin it into a political win by shifting the focus from Yolanda to some anonymous tipster who doesn´t matter. It won´t work. The people are mad, and well they should be. They are mad about the abuse that has taken place. They are mad that their rights are no longer honored. They are mad that their money is stolen by this corrupt system. They are letting their anger show. You were caught red handed, gentlemen, admit your mistakes and take your punishment like the men you are supposed to be and quit whining and crying "no fair" like sniveling cowards.

If you are interested in learning more about Yolanda Madden´s case and Kopbusters, visit their website at here.
The people of Kopbusters are, in my humble opinion, true American patriots working to protect the rights of the individual and the principles upon which our country was founded. They should be applauded and supported by anyone interested in maintaining the principles of freedom and liberty.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The United States is No Longer the Land of Opportunity

This article was originally published at americanchronicle.com on Jan. 3rd, 2009.

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

As you likely know, the above quote is from the poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus. It is the statue herself speaking at the end of the poem. The poem emphasizes the liberty offered to those who would come to the shores of the United States of America to escape the state regulations and tyrannical laws they faced from the governments of their home countries. It was the freedom from such government regulations that made America the land of opportunity. I´m afraid that kind of opportunity is quickly going the way of the dinosaurs in this country as our government becomes the same kind of intrusive entity our forefathers were trying to escape from.

There was a time in this country when a man could start a business from nothing. I´ve heard and read stories about people coming to this country penniless and working hard to build a life for themselves and their families. Some came to these shores and found work with their fellow countrymen who had come earlier and set up businesses. Others opened their own businesses or started moving westward as the country expanded. In this way we grew to become a mighty and prosperous nation. Those times are long gone.

Some might say that this is because times have changed. Others might claim that there is no longer any room to grow. I respectfully disagree. Times have changed to such an extent that opportunity and growth should now be more prevalent than ever due to our ever changing technology. And there is always room to grow, for wealth is created not something stagnant and finite. There is no reason there shouldn´t be ample opportunity for all of us to create our own wealth. In fact, there is no reason why people all over the entire planet shouldn´t be improving their lot in life. There is but one thing standing in the way of common folk improving their worth and creating a world of plenty for all. Government. Government restrictions and regulations and government imposed monopolies have stifled our independent interactions with one another and created the economic mess and political turmoil that pervades our everyday existence at this moment in time.

Opportunities still exist in this country, but not if you don´t have the money to pay the bureaucrats running the system for permission first. And, of course, if you are a friend of someone in power, even at a local level, then opportunities are much more available to you than they are to a poor schmuck like me. It´s not what you know, it´s who you know. Money begets more money. Etc, etc. ad nausea. These tiring clich├ęs, although true, do not represent what made this country the shining example of prosperity it once was. What made it great was the fact that the common man could become uncommonly wealthy with hard work and ingenuity. That is no longer true. That is what we need to recapture.

I´ve had a little dream since I was a child. I´ve always wanted to own a little magic/Halloween costume/party supply/novelty store. Recently, that dream came back to the forefront of my mind as I saw a sign in a storefront window advertising a $10,000 grant to someone willing to open a store in the area. I began to think that it might be nice to try to realize this lifelong dream so that I would have something of significance to leave my children. I decided to look into it.

The grant was offered by the local chamber of commerce, but the city council would also be involved. They would have to ok the idea for the store. They would also need to look at a business plan. I have no idea how to prepare a business plan, but I was instructed in where to look and what to do by a friend of mine who happens to own a candle shop. My business plan would have been to buy wholesale the products I planned on selling retail, perhaps advertise a little on the Internet and in local papers, and set up a storefront which hopefully would have attracted customers looking for the kind of wares I planned on selling. I also thought I´d partner up with local talent such as magicians, clowns, etc. who would perform in my store to showcase their services to potential costumers and help sell my wares.

They also would have helped me obtain a loan, which would have been quite sizable. It would have more than likely taken some time before I could make enough profit to be surviving off of something other than borrowed money. Also, there were many restrictions on what the ten grand could be spent on and I would have to come up with the money in the first place. The deal wasn´t as appealing as it first appeared to be.

To top things off, the grant money I would have been receiving was taxpayer money. In essence, I would have been subsidized by people in the city who may not have necessarily been interested in purchasing the goods I would have offered. This seemed just plain wrong to me. Had I succeeded, I would have in essence become part of the gang which sees nothing wrong with stealing peoples´ hard earned money through taxation and redistributing the wealth to those who haven´t necessarily earned it. Perhaps ten years ago I might have looked at things a bit differently, but not today. I decided not to even apply for the grant. If I´m ever able to open a shop like the one I dream of, it will be through my own efforts and with only my own finances at risk. I will succeed or fail on my own terms.

I visited that area again not long ago and noticed that someone had opened a bridal shop in the same storefront I had seen the grant offer in earlier this summer. I had to wonder if the store had opened in hopes of receiving said grant money. Another thought occurred to me as I admired a beautiful wedding dress in the window. I wondered if the owner of the store knew someone involved with the chamber of commerce or on the city council. I wondered if I would have even had a chance had I decided to apply for the grant.

After some time, I began to wonder what shop had occupied the storefront before the bridal shop. Perhaps it had been a thriving store at one time, employing a number of people, but the products it offered had fallen out of favor and it had failed. Perhaps many shops had occupied that storefront and many had failed. I simply didn´t know. Whatever the case, it occurred to me that one person´s failure had become another person´s opportunity, only now that opportunity may have been pinned upon the hopes of receiving some involuntary help from taxpayers who may never use the goods or services offered by those who receive their money. I wonder if anyone will ever be able to apply oneself and create a successful business from scratch again, or are we now all destined to become dependent on the state and stolen tax money in order to offer any goods and services to our fellow citizens.

And, of course, things could still get worse. Perhaps this bridal shop will not be allowed to fail. Perhaps it will become too big or too important to fail. Perhaps one day the city council will determine that it has to bailout the shop, that it´s too important an institution, that they can´t let it go out of business for fear other downtown businesses will follow suit. Perhaps they will be shoveling more taxpayer money than they have into a poorly run institution just to keep it afloat. When this happens then there will truly be no opportunity left for the little guy. Hard work and innovation will no longer make much of a difference.

Such is the problem with the financial and now the auto maker bailouts. Soon, there will be no room for the innovative entrepreneur. Soon, the state will own too much and too many institutions will be too big to fail. As this happens everything stagnates. Eventually, something has to fail so the new can take root. If the government owns too much and stumbles under its own weight, the failure that occurs will be bigger and hurt more than it would have had we let the private institutions fail when they should have. Perhaps civil society itself will be the biggest casualty. Perhaps all of creation will come crashing down upon us. I hope not, but if such a catastrophe happens I hope that someday we have the intelligence and foresight to create a free and open society where competition is rampant and opportunity presents itself to anyone willing to work for it.