Drugs Not Hugs!

Psychotropic drug therapy is the first line of defense for many doctors. Feeling blue? Have a Prozac! Can’t sleep? Have an Ambien! It goes on and on. It’s cheaper than therapy, it works faster than ‘healing from your emotional wounds,’ and above all, it lasts longer than crack!

So, in that light, I rewrote the Lord’s Prayer to more appropriately fit our ideals and our views on what is holy and the true path to happiness.

Our Pfizer who giveth thee heaven, Prozac be thy name.

Thine pharmacy I come.

Crying will be done

On earth as it is in heaven

Give us this day our daily pill

and forget our troubles

as we forget those whom trouble us

and lead us not into depression

but deliver us from bad chinese food

For thine is my savior

and the power of 100mgs

for ever and ever

Ambien!

I hope that made y’all smile.

-Joshua

CARDS Act fun!

Beaucoup De Credit ⓒ Joshua Plant 2008

In 2009, credit card companies collected $22.9 billion in penalty fees from consumers, which is up nearly $4 billion from 2008. On February 22, the latter portion of the CARDS Act of 2009 will be implemented in an effort to help protect consumers and bring an end to erroneous fees. But, what is good for consumers is bad for profit margins; however, this is only good for some consumers and it screws the rest.

The New Rules, as of February 22, 2010:

  • Promotional offers on college campuses and at college-sponsored events are now illegal
  • Persons under 21 must have an adult co-signer to open a new account; exceptions will be made for those whom can provide proof of independent means
  • Death to double-cycle billing
  • Allocating payments: payments over the minimum must be applied to balances with the higher interest rate first, and subsequent balances thereafter.
  • Over-limit fees: consumers must be given the option to opt in for the ability to overdraft one’s credit line

These are just some of the new rules that are coming into play. The former part of the law was enacted in August of 2009, changing several terms of use; including:

  • Universal defaults
  • Extending the mailing period before a bill’s due date from 14 days to 21
  • A 45-day notice must be given before an interest rate hike; and
  • There must be a clear and concise explanation of the Right to Cancel

Same Sheep Different Farm:

Now that the nation’s banks have had $50 billion in revenue ripped off their balance sheets, they have to find a way to make up for the lost revenue. Solution: bombard consumers with fees left and right! The banks are going to, if they have not already done so, charge their customers for “processing” fees for paper statements, swap fixed interest rate cards to variable rates, tack on annual fees and much more!

I am missing the part where this helps the consumer…

Granted, yes, there are several good things to come out of this law, but it does not really protect us. It simply cleans up some ridiculous clauses and fees in our TOS and swapped them for more “transparent” fees.

One must have credit cards to get a good credit score, better interest rates on mortgages, loans, and so on. But, how much are we losing in our profit margins when we are paying out the ass in fees?

For people like myself, many of these new rules are only adding to our costs and eliminating rules that rarely apply. I never overdraft nor do I worry about my interest rates because I tame my credit card use and anything that cannot be paid for in cash, isn’t purchased!

But, now my interest rates are going up from under 10 percent to god knows what Monday morning. Welcome to the land of inevitable annual fees, and variable rates!

All of us “good” customers are being screwed, so the poor can continue to spend irresponsibly and the banks can continue to profit from reckless behavior.

Thanks CARDS Act!

Your Best Line Of Defense:

Call your credit card companies and talk to them. See what you can do to keep your rates low, your fees down and what your standing is with the company. In the past, they have been willing to work with their customers that are in good standing; although, they seem to be alienating them now.

What you should not do is close your accounts! If you close them, your debt-ratio will be out of whack and can do more harm to your credit score than good. Work with the bank the best you can, and tame your use.

There isn’t much else we can do. We are slaves to the banks and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Liberty and Justice for All? Hardly.

Editor’s Note: As of August 4th, 2010 Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker. However, this is not the end of the road, the next step is DOMA.

We are moving forward gayly!

-J

Photo by Bob Johnson

The Will Of The Majority v. The Rights Of The Minority
By Joshua Plant

The infamous Prop 8 was passed a year ago and, just two weeks ago, Maine voters repealed gay marriage by a 53 percent majority. These laws are a complete contradiction to several cases that have fallen before the Supreme Court over the past sixty years — cases that explicitly state that marriage is a fundamental human right under the Equality Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Furthermore, according to The Principles of Democracy, “majority rule is a means for organizing government and deciding public issues; it is not another road to oppression.” Yet, in 31 states we have used majority rule to justify the oppression of LGBT Americans.

The Conservative Right has offered us an olive branch with a separate but “equal” system, marriage for them, and civil unions for us. Gay marriage has become the water fountains of the 1950s: LGBT individuals are separate but by no means equal.

Thanks, but no thanks.

If religious leaders and other naysayers want to keep the so-called sanctity of marriage intact, they should demand a constitutional ban on divorce. Such a ban would ensure that our country will preserve the sanctity of marriage. With a divorce rate higher than 50 percent, heterosexuals have shown us that unions cannot stand the test of time.

If the majority wanted to keep marriage strictly as a religious institution, then so it should be, albeit with the understanding that a marriage has no legal merit. Marriage would simply become a union of one man and one woman under God.

In order to receive the benefits that the LGBT community has been deprived of, all couples would be required to get a civil union. This would be equal. This would be fair. Because Churches and other religious institutions do not receive federal aid and will no longer be able to perform a ceremony with legal merit, our country would experience a genuine separation of church and state.

This, however, is only half the battle. Even if all 50 states pass laws allowing same-sex couples to marry, LGBT individuals will continue to be denied federal marriage benefits.

In 1996 when the United States Congress passed the ‘Defense of Marriage Act,’ signed by President Clinton, the federal government started denying same-sex couples all federal benefits and defined marriage as one man and one woman. So, regardless of how tolerant our state government may be, our country will still have a separate and unequal system under DOMA.

How can the Supreme Court allow states to segregate by way of public referendum? They continue to do so even though Justice Antonin Scalia, a foe of gay rights, wrote in Lawrence v. Texas: “What justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising “[t]he liberty protected by the Constitution”? Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry”

The U.S. had this same debate for another ‘class’ of individuals until 1967 when the Court unanimously overturned laws of more than 20 states that prohibited interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia. There is no logical argument to justify the inequality that exists today for same-sex couples.

The LGBT community has suffered through relentless oppression, violence and inequality under the law for long enough. It is time to change this country and bring the U.S. out of a puritanical mindset and into the year 2009.

Joshua Plant is a New York City-based writer

Capitalism: A Love Story… right.

Greed

Wall Street’s newest attempt to capitalize on the poor and undereducated is to buy life settlement life insurance plans back from the policyholder(s). After which, they will securitize them into bonds that will be traded like pension funds. The funds generate profit when the former policyholder dies and the policy is paid out – not to mention, the earlier the policyholder dies, the bigger the return.

These exotic options come with an obvious risk – if people live longer than expected, then the fund will lose money. Rest easy, we needn’t worry about the firms, they will still turn a profit by pocketing the sizable fees that are associated with creating, reselling and subsequently trading these bonds.

Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse have already created these so-called death indices that are traded similar to tradable stock market indices that allow investors to bet on the overall direction of a market without actually buying stocks.

Why?

Why would people be selling their life insurance in the first place, you ask? Some people whom are strapped for cash may sell their policy for a portion of the face value. Other’s simply let policies laps because they no longer have dependants that would require the extra money in the event of their death. Therefore, the insurance companies no longer need to pay out after the former policyholder’s death.

Profit!

This is where Wall Street comes in; they want to capitalize on the $26 trillion of life insurance policies in the US. Rather than letting policies laps, you can sell it to a firm for x amount and then the firm assumes the responsibility of the premiums. Then, upon the former policyholder’s death, the firm collects the policy payout. Same thing goes for those whom are selling them for cash infusions. Sounds innocent, right?

Hardly.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”

This isn’t very different from the subprime scheme. There is no telling where the boundaries would be drawn as to how brokers secure these policies from people. I am sure they will impart the same predatory practices that they used to get people to buy into subprime loans.

This, on the surface, does not directly affect the original policyholder. But, because the insurance companies will have to payout on many more policies that which would have been defaulted — the insurance companies are losing profits. Losing profits means anything from raising premiums on new policies to laying off employees to compensate the difference. As this bubble grows on Wall Street and the policies get more and more expensive as the insurers try and recoup their losses; the bubble will lose stability. Eventually, people will start defaulting on their premiums or not taking out policies at all and with less capital coming in and more capital going out… you understand where I am going with this.

Pop.

These exotic investment options crumble, those uninitiated to Wall Street’s ways that bought into these funds have now been wiped out and we have a life settlement insurance meltdown. “Just as all mortgage providers have been tarred by subprime mortgages, so too is the concern that all life insurance companies would be tarred with the brush of subprime life insurance settlements,” said Michael Lovendusky, vice president and associate general counsel of the American Council of Life Insurers. No one can say when this meltdown will happen or what its impact will be, but it is inevitable.

I would like to believe that the industry will be able to find allies in government, but when Goldman Sachs runs our treasury department, the blocking of these potentially predatory practices is unlikely. We cannot allow greedy brokerage firms to create exotic, and therefore, very risky and unstable investment options that set the stage for meltdowns.

This bubble and burst system has to come to an end. Regulate Wall Street or we will have to endure these financial collapses every 8-15 years until kingdom come.

The Paradox Of Happiness

happiness_by_wint3r88Given this past year of financial woes, health problems and a myriad of other ‘downers,’ I found this article to be enlightening and wanted to share it.

Josh

Six common barriers to personal happiness and fulfillment and how to overcome them.

By Annie Stuart: WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD


Happiness can be a paradox: The more you reach for it, the more it seems to slip through your fingers. “Ask yourself if you’re happy, and you cease to be so,” says Darrin McMahon, PhD, author of Happiness: A History.

How could this be true? Could it be you’re looking for happiness in all the wrong places? Do you think happiness is what you get when you get what you want? Some say happiness is a little like falling in love, that you can’t make it happen. If that’s the case, then how can you become happier?

At the 2008 Happiness & Its Causes Conference in San Francisco, a wide range of people — from scientists, doctors, and psychologists to artists, philosophers, and Tibetan Buddhists — offered their thoughts on the topic. Here are a few of their tips for overcoming six common barriers to happiness.

Happiness Barrier No. 1: Complexity
Solution: Simplify

Schooled in Buddhist monasteries since childhood, Thupten Jinpa, PhD, knows a thing or two about the benefits of simplicity. Why do you think monks and nuns shave their heads, he asks? For one, it simplifies their lives.

A principal English translator to the Dalai Lama, Jinpa is no longer a monk. But he still holds on to some of the lifestyle’s spartan values. “My family has a one-car policy,” he says, pointing out the hassles of owning more than one — the costs, the maintenance, and the time managing the details. Multiple credit cards? They don’t create freedom or happiness, he argues — although, these days, he might get less of an argument about that.

Modern life has elevated individual choice to the highest level, he says, but these choices come at a big price. “We often conflate quality of life with standard of life,” Jinpa says, “but after a point, the connection [between the two] disappears.”

If you simplify your life, you create more space in your day, making it possible to reflect on your life.

Happiness Barrier No. 2: A Breakneck Pace
Solution: Take a Pause

The same culture that entangles you in a web of complexity may also have you on the constant chase, Jinpa says. “That kind of tension takes a toll on your soul and your psyche.” Whether you call it meditation, silence, or prayer, taking a “pause” just a few minutes a day can help you “recharge your batteries” and make you feel happier. A good time to do this is in the morning. Without it, your life may feel out of control.

Venerable Robina Courtin, a Buddhist nun and organizer of the Happiness & Its Causes Conference, recommends spending these minutes practicing mindful meditation. “During the day, we’re completely absorbed by our senses,” she says, “so we don’t pay attention to our minds.” Sit in a quiet place and simply anchor your mind on your breathing. When your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath. Through this process, you learn to observe what your mind is saying.

Happiness Barrier No. 3: Negativity
Solution: Let go

“Your prison is nothing in comparison with the inner prison of ordinary people: the prison of attachment, the prison of anger, the prison of depression, the prison of pride.” wrote Lama Zopa Rinpoche to a California prisoner, a student of the Liberation Prison Project, which offers Buddhist teachings to people in prison.

Some might view this statement as a bit of an exaggeration. But negative, compulsive thoughts do have a quality of stickiness to them, Jinpa says. How you see things and the way you experience the world are strongly linked, making it critical to adopt a positive outlook. “You interact with the world through your senses and mind,” he says. “If you can find a way to stand at the doorway of your senses, you can have a say in how you experience the world.”

In our culture, though, we take it as natural that people are angry, depressed, or dejected, Courtin says. “No wonder we get depressed — it’s a depressing world view. It says you can’t do anything about it.” If you believe your abusive boss, father, or partner is the main cause of your suffering, for example, then you’ve tied your own hands and risk becoming imprisoned by toxic thoughts.

The Buddhist view, by contrast, is that happiness is what you get when you give up a neurotic state of mind, Courtin says. It’s empowering, she says, because knowing you can change it gives you the courage to look inside, pay attention, and take responsibility for your thoughts. Rather than judging negative thoughts, Courtin advises observing them with compassion. Then ask yourself, “What can I do about this?”

Techniques like mindful meditation can help with this, but may not be for everyone, especially those experiencing severe depression, says Philippe R. Goldin, PhD, research associate in the department of psychology at Stanford University.

But there are other simple steps you can take to counteract negativity and enhance your happiness. Practicing gratitude is one. People appear to have a certain set point for happiness, a range that’s influenced by genetics. But those who regularly practice gratitude can enhance this set point by as much as 25%, reports Robert Emmons, PhD in his book, Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. Through his research, Emmons found that people who kept gratitude journals felt better about their lives, exercised more, and were more optimistic.

Happiness Barrier No. 4: Despair
Solution: Stay hopeful

Did a parent attempt to protect you as a child by saying, “Don’t get your hopes up”? There’s no evidence that hope is hurtful, says David B. Feldman, PhD, assistant professor of counseling psychology at Santa Clara University in California. Instead, hope can greatly enhance happiness in people.

Happiness Barrier No. 4: Despair continued…
But genuine hope isn’t a yellow smiley face or the denial of death at the bedside of a loved one in hospice, says Feldman, who’s pursued research and clinical work addressing the question: “How do people maintain hope and meaning in the face of adversity?

Three components are essential for hope to thrive, Feldman says. They are having goals, as well as a plan and the motivation to achieve them. “Those who succeed don’t internalize the blame game, either internally or externally,” he says, “They ask, ‘what now?’”

In addition to reaching goals, these people perform better in sports and school, Feldman says. They have a greater tolerance for pain. They use health-promoting behaviors. They also have a lower risk for depression, anxiety, and heart disease.

Feldman advises setting personally meaningful goals and checking to see where your hope falters — is it with the plan or the motivation? Allow yourself to daydream, he says. It’s a wonderful source of hope and, therefore, happiness.

Happiness Barrier No. 5: Suppressing sadness
Solution: Feel the real

Having a positive outlook doesn’t mean you never allow yourself to feel sadness. The parents who try to protect their children from dashed hopes — or any kind of sadness — may actually produce the opposite effect than is intended, says James R. Doty, MD, director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. Some suffering, he says, makes you a whole person and allows you to acclimate and move forward in your life. Doty speaks from experience. He had an alcoholic father and invalid mother. He lived on public assistance for much of his youth.

“Happiness is not the absence of sadness,” says David Spiegel, MD, medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. It is not a stiff upper lip or the pop psychology mantra, intoning “always stay upbeat” in the face of cancer. “Phony happiness is not good.” By suppressing sadness, you suppress other, more positive emotions, as well, he says, so people who try to suppress emotions actually become more anxious and depressed.

By finding outlets for sadness and frustration, you gain some measure of control, Spiegel says. Using others as a sounding board — not as a toxic dumping ground — can help convert generalized anxiety and depression into targeted feelings you can address with specific solutions.

Happiness Barrier No. 6: Navel-gazing
Solution: Connect with others

How important are social networks to your happiness? Perhaps even more important than you realized. A recent 20-year study of more than 4,000 people showed that happiness is influenced not just by your immediate friends and family. The happiness of a friend of a friend of a friend — someone you’ve never even met — can also influence your happiness. It turns out that happiness can spread through social networks, like a virus.

Happiness Barrier No. 6: Navel-gazing continued…
Unfortunately, many people spend so much time by themselves navel gazing, they don’t benefit from this positive “contagion.”

The more self-absorbed you are, the more your world closes in, and the less realistic you become, all of which produces a vicious circle. “You become oblivious to the needs of others, and the world shrinks still more, making you less able to see outside yourself.” If asked, ‘Why are your problems so special?” says Jinpa, you might respond, “Because they’re mine!”

“If you have such a huge ego, you’re setting yourself up as a huge target, which can easily get hit,” Jinpa says. But using a “wide-angle lens” instead helps you see connections you wouldn’t otherwise see, such as the universality of suffering. All it may take is having a loved one diagnosed with a serious disease to realize how many people are grappling with similar challenges. Feeling joined by others on this journey provides some comfort and happiness.

The straightest path to making connections like these? Compassion and caring for others.

Even primates seem to understand this, says Robert M. Sapolsky, PhD, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and research associate with the Institute of Primate Research at the National Museum of Kenya. Primates that groom each other after a stressful event experience a reduction in blood pressure. The clincher? Grooming others has a greater impact than getting groomed, says Sapolsky.

Compassion engages us with others, removes isolation, builds resilience, and leads to deep fulfillment, says Doty. “Without compassion, happiness is simply short-lived pleasure.”

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, may have said it best: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; if you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy”

-Guillaume Apollinaire

An open letter to Apple, Inc.

apple-logo

Dear Apple,

What were you thinking? You have presented yet another failed Keynote speech. It is beyond me why you keep taking steps backwards. Listen to your consumers! Your chokehold on the market will, inevitably, slip if you do not smarten up.

Remember the first generation iPhone? That was a disaster. Over two years after the debut of the iPhone, arguably the world’s most sophisticated mobile phone, users are finally getting to use technology that became ubiquitous in 2002: MMS. This fact boggles my mind to this day. I needn’t mention the laundry list of basic functions that were omitted from the iPhone and were only achievable via third-party installers.

Now, on the ever-auspicious September 9, 2009, you release a new iPod Nano with a camera, when logically, and what shareholders/consumers wanted, this should have been an iPod Touch. Yet again, you dumbfound me with your complete and utter oblivious nature.

My hope is that Apple will rise again as a great and customer oriented company.

How does a hypocrite answer a question?

A guest writer for this week: Bob Johnson.

_____

Ms. B.S. Herself!

Ms. B.S. Herself!

Tuesday night I attended a Barnes and Noble author event: Andrea Batista Schlesinger on her new book,The Death of “Why”? I attended for two reasons: one, because Christine Quinn was introducing the author at the event and, two, to hear more about this new author’s work (I actually was very intrigued by the book’s description, I was even thinking about buying a copy.)

In Quinn’s introductory remarks, I was surprised to hear that Quinn said that she is a strong supporter of encouraging everyone to ask critical questions (even questions posed to her). I was especially surprised about Quinn’s revelation because I have been trying to ask for Quinn’s help for more than three years (more on that in my next post).

After Ms. B.S. finished talking about the importance of asking questions and the dearth of intellectual curiosity in our country. Ms. B.S. selected me to ask the first question. I had a question that pertained to Ms. B.S.’s talk, my experience with Quinn as well as Ms. B.S.’s book.

I carefully framed my question to make it relevant to the evening. Thepublicity for the event noted — in big, bold letters — that the event was “with Christine Quinn, Speaker of the New York City Council.” So, a question opening with a remark about Quinn certainly was germain (and Michael and Tito, for that matter!).

I began my question with, “I am so sad that Christine left because one of the reasons I came was to ask her why she refuses to help the disabled…” Here’s a video of me asking the question (and you may be able to watch it on CSPAN Books if they don’t edit it out):

After Ms. B.S. dismissed the question that she would not allow me to ask, several others in attendance spoke up to my defense and asked Ms. B.S. that why, if she is a proponent of asking questions, would she dismiss my question before I could even ask the question. Her response “His question was irrelevant.”

Ms. B.S. is the executive director of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (although currently on leave). From their YouTube channel:

The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy is a non-partisan, non-profit think tank generating the ideas that fuel the progressive movement. From releasing nationally recognized studies of our increasingly fragile middle class to showcasing progressive policies that have worked to advance social and economic justice, DMI has been on the leading edge of the public policy debate.

Kinda makes you go, “hmm,” doesn’t it?

After Ms. B.S. spoke, she barreled her way towards me and asked me, ”Do you really think it was appropriate to ask a question about Christine Quinn and not about my book?”

My response: “Absolutely. You didn’t even let me ask my question. But right now my question is ‘How can anyone ask someone like you a question when you refuse to listen to the question itself?’”

Ms. B.S. walked away in a huff.

While she was signing one copy of her book, I rudely interrupted her to give her my flier (stay tuned for details in my next posting) and asked if she could get the flier to Quinn. She snarled at me, pushed the flier onto the floor and barked “Why don’t you get it to her yourself!?”

The police asked me to leave as I thought to myself, “And you work to advance social and economic justice? No, no, no, silly Bob, Ms. B.S. is interested in one thing: her book.*”

For someone who had just finished talking about the importance of asking questions and the importance of intellectual curiousity, I would have expected something more than petulance. Perhaps what she meant by “intellectual curiousity” was “intellectual curiosity of a turnip.” [Turnips: please do not be offended. Mea culpa.]

Hypocrites come in many colors: red, blue, white, black. The Drum Major Institute has a wonderful mission. Perhaps Ms. B.S. should reacquaint herself with it. Her book is about the importance of questions. Perhaps she should read it.

As my friend Josh said, “For someone who wrote a book about addressing a symptom to a larger problem — not listening — she’s only perpetuating the problem by not listening herself. Here’s a clue: people don’t ask questions for fear of being shut down. Batista is my case in point.”

And, by the way, be sure to tune in to the broadcast of the evening’s event on CSPAN’s BookTV to find out how a hypocrite answers a question. I’ll give you a hint:  ”I don’t know” was one of her favorite responses.

Love,

Bob

P.S. I learned early Wednesday morning that Ms. B.S. is working for the Bloomberg re-election campaign. If you do not know, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (and Christine Quinn) both ignored the voice of the people of New York City regarding term limits. Ms. B.S. is for the people? Give me a break! At least now I know why she is so rude: she works for Bloomberg. I can finally get some sleep…

*Ms. B.S. is not just interested in selling her book, she’s interested in a political career with the people who do not give a hoot about democracy! You live up to your name, Ms. B.S.! If I had known on Tuesday night that Ms. B.S. was in bed with Quinn (to whom Ms. B.S. gave a big embrace and kiss) and Bloomberg, I would have addressed the relevance of my question when she confronted me with its appropriateness. I’m so glad that I didn’t contribute money to my new hypocrite friend’s coffer. I think I’ll buy a copy of “The Company of Wolves” instead.