Monday, May 28, 2012

Speak your mind

One of my favorite Norman Rockwell paintings, Freedom of Speech, is shown below.

It was one of the paintings in his Four Freedoms series, which he produced in 1943. His inspiration for the series was Franklin Roosevelt, who discussed the four freedoms in his State of the Union speech on January 6, 1941,

If you move forward about 70 years, you’ll discover that there are a LOT more ways to utilize that freedom of speech today.

One of the groups that I get mail from on a regular basis is One of their recent memos contained the following phrase: “ You know that old saying, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain?. Personally, I’d go one step further and say it’s not enough to just vote once every two years. People gotta speak out.”

We’ve all got opinions on a variety of topics, and usually express them by phone, email, Twitter, or on Facebook. (Congratulations, by the way, to the bride and groom). A few of us like to appeal to a broader audience, and use online forums or blogs to reach more people.

If you’re a talented musician, you may decide to write a protest song. The song below, released by Buffalo Springfield in January 1967, still seems appropriate today (it includes the phrase “young people speaking their minds”)

For What It's Worth

If you truly want to change something like you don’t like in politics, though, you have to do a lot more than simply casting your vote. During the reigns of Richard I and Richard II in Chicago, even dead people got to cast their votes, but those days are now long gone.

Since moving to Arizona, I’ve written NUMEROUS letters to various members of the legislature. On at least one occasion, I wrote to EVERYBODY in the House and the Senate, and my input helped to kill three absolutely foolish gun bills (SB 1474, HB 2719 and HB 2729). I’ve discovered that quite a few of the folks in the legislature are actually interested in my opinion, and I’ve received personal letters of support from a number of them.

I recently became aware of the fact that the Arizona Secretary of State, Ken Bennett, is also co-chairman for electing Mitt Romney for President. Since that seemed to be a huge conflict of interest, I sent the letter below directly to Mr. Bennett. For good measure, I also sent copies to Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States, Governor Jan Brewer, one of the columnists for the Arizona Republic, and one of the members of the Arizona House of Representatives.

Listed below is my attempt at “speaking out”:


May 26, 2012

Mr. Ken Bennett

Arizona Secretary of State

1700 W. Washington Street

Phoenix, AZ 85007

Mr. Bennett:

Until I read E.J. Montini’s column in the Arizona Republic last Tuesday morning, I was not aware of the fact that you were the co-chairman for the presidential campaign for Mitt Romney. Since you are the chief election officer of the state, that’s an obvious conflict of interest, especially in view of the fact that you threatened to keep President Obama’s name off the ballot in November, in spite of the fact that Governor Brewer had already received all the verification that she needed several years ago from the State of Hawaii.

By serving in the dual role of chief election officer in the state, as well as co-chairman of the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, you are in violation of article 38-503.B of the Arizona state legislature statutes.

Although I voted for George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004, I have since discovered that he actually STOLE both of his elections. In 2004, Ohio became the state that determined the outcome of the election. The Republican Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, served as both the chief elections officer (as do most Secretaries of State) and the co-chair to re-elect George W. Bush.

If John Kerry had won Ohio, he would have won the Presidency.

I’m in full agreement with House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, who also felt that your dual role was a conflict of interest.

Since a large number of Arizona voters (including me) no longer feel that you can be an impartial judge in the November Presidential election, your only recourse, at this point in time, is to either submit to Federal oversight of the election process in Arizona, or resign your position of Secretary of State IMMEDIATLEY.

Thank you.


Thomas M .Brennan




Cc: Eric Holder - U.S Attorney General

Jan Brewer - Governor of Arizona

E.J. Montini - Arizona Republic

Chad Campbell - Arizona Representative


I don’t expect to receive a personal response from Mr. Bennett, but it’s going to be very interesting to see how this story plays out in the newspapers of our country.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The doctor is in

Few of us enjoy going to the doctor or the dentist. If you’re one of the people who falls into that category, I’d recommend that you play the tune listed below before you start out on the journey to your appointment. If may not cure you of whatever ails you, but at least you’ll feel better about the process.

Peanuts theme

To paraphrase Lucy (pictured above) there are times that all of us are a little nuts. Democracy, almost by definition, is going to be a messy process, which is why our country as a whole actually functions as “laboratories of democracy”. Under this concept, individual states are permitted to try bold experiments before they are either accepted or rejected at the Federal level. On occasion, some of those state experiments turn out to be a little goofy, which is one of the reasons that Jon Stewart has called Arizona “the meth lab of democracy”.

My years in Toastmasters taught me that there are often valid points on both sides of an issue, and an experienced Toastmaster can usually argue both sides of a topic convincingly.

The influence of BIG money into our political process has distorted how we function as a democracy to the point that it seems like we can’t seem to agree anything any more.

One topic that seems to generate consternation in some circles is the issue of health care, specifically the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act of 2010. Much of the controversy surrounding the law is related to lobbying expenses. In 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent nearly $30 million in opposition to the law. Fortunately, groups in favor of the legislation (the AFL-CIO, the American Hospital Association, AARP, the American Cancer Society, and the NAACP Legal Fund) spent roughly DOUBLE what the opponents to the law did, which kept it a viable option.

Another major factor in the controversy surrounding the new health care act is the organization known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has been responsible for the passage of some very dangerous laws in the last two years. ALEC, naturally, is opposed to the health care act, which has caused 26 states to file legal challenges to it. Florida was the first state to file a challenge, but it has since been joined by Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The discussion of the health care reform act has caused seemingly normal people to take extreme positions on the issue. If you listen to Representative Mike Rogers (from Michigan’s 8th Congressional District), you’d swear that the end of the world must be right around the corner:

I think I see him frothing at the mouth

By now, you should be aware of the fact that some of our Republican friends in Congress have trouble telling the truth. The fact of the matter is that Abraham Lincoln never said, "you don't make a weak man strong by making a strong man weak". The author of that phrase was actually a Presbyterian minister named William John Henry Boetcker, who published a series of "nuggets" from his sermons in 1916. The booklet DID include the phrase mentioned by Congressman Rogers.

One of the things that Abraham Lincoln DID say was this:“nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” Our chief obstructionist in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, is under investigation by the SEC because he provided misleading information to the SEC about the benefits of the Keystone XL. Since Mr. Boehner owns stock in SEVEN Canadian mining companies, he would profit PERSONALLY if the pipeline ever got built. By itself, that's an ethics violation. If you've got a long memory, you may remember that Newt Gingrich was forced to resign the House Speaker position in 1998 after 84 ethics charges were files against him during his term of office.

Since Representative Rogers seems to think that the health reform act is "punishing business owners", he should consider a few additional facts. Under our current system, the medical needs of the uninsured are passed directly to us as taxpayers, or indirectly, through higher insurance premiums. To give you an idea of how big this problem is, gunshot wounds cost our society $126 BILLION a year. If we could somehow pass on those costs to the gangs that caused most of them, and reduce our societal cost by $126 billion, how in the world could that be considered punishing those of us who have health insurance?

The basic question that all of us are concerned with is actually a pretty simple question - is the health care reform act of 2010 a good thing, or a bad thing?

If you have LOTS of time on your hands, you can read the entire bill (H.R. 3962) yourself and make your own decision. The first PDF version that I saw didn’t HAVE any page numbers, but this one does - 1990 pages to be exact.

Even Norman Rockwell believed that you sometimes need to check out things yourself:

However, if there are some other things that you’d rather do for the next six months of your life, I’d recommend reading Fareed Zakaria’s TWO PAGE article that appeared in the March 16, 2012 issue of TIME Magazine

The highlights of his article are as follows:

1) Of all the major developed nations, the United States spends the highest percentage of its GDP (17%) on health care than any other country. In fact, that percentage may actually be even higher.

2) the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, came up with the idea of individual mandates in the 1980’s, and this concept was adopted by a man named Mitt Romney when he was Governor of Massachusetts. For a period of time, Newt Gingrich thought it was a good idea also, but both individuals have since changed their mind.

3) Although many American business leaders talk about the need to reduce regulations, the single most important factor working against American business interests is health care costs. While American companies spend billions of dollars on health care costs, their German, Canadian, Japanese, and French counterparts spend next to nothing (at least in the author’s opinion). China, as you might suspect, spends a LOT less than we do on health care, as a percentage of GDP.

More exact figures (as presented by the website Visual Economics) can be seen in the link below:

show me the money

For those who consider the individual mandate on health insurance to be unconstitutional, they should consider the fact that our country HAS mandated compliance with other laws for the good of society:

a) In the vast majority of our states, automobile liability insurance has been mandatory.

b)If you're a citizen, and you want a job, you need to have a Social Security number so that you can pay taxes. Even illegal immigrants are forced to pay taxes, by virtue of the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

c) In order to keep guns out of the hands of people that are considered to be too dangerous to own them, the Federal Government passed the National Firearms Act in 1934, and virtually all states now require that gun owners must possess a Firearm Owners Identification Card.

By far, the most popular article that I’ve published on this website is an article that I titled “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”. It also discussed the health care reform act of 2010. To date, it’s had over 10,000 “page views” in roughly 100 countries around the world, which tells me that it’s still a pretty hot topic.

Regardless of what your opinion is of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 is, I’d think we’d all agree that we’d be better off if we could somehow figure out either how to use it sparingly, or not at all.

How to we do that?

The picture below gives you a clue:

Further details are found in the link below:

California Dreaming

However, the BEST advice that I can give you about staying healthy is this:

Don’t worry. Be happy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Liar, liar, pants on fire

As often as possible, I avoid writing about religion and politics, since both topics seem to inflame passions beyond the tipping point. For that reason, this article isn’t about either one of them.

It's about reading.

All of us learned how to read in first grade. What all of us DIDN’T learn how to do is to read (or listen) CRITICALLY, which I would define as acquiring the ability to quickly determine whether whatever you happen to be reading (or listening to) at the moment is either likely to be true, or likely to be false.

I spent roughly 27 years as an insurance underwriter, which made me naturally skeptical of any information that I hadn’t taken the time to check out personally, especially information that I perceive as negative.

Unfortunately, there’s a large number of people in our country who no longer read at all, and get all of their information from television or talk radio. The problem with TV, and talk radio, is that neither medium allows time for reflection, or quick spot checking of facts. I have no way of measuring, but my guess is that the folks who listen to National Public Radio, and watch MSNBC, are also pretty well read people.

However, if the viewers (or listeners) are listening to, or watching, an unreliable news source (like FOX News), they’re going to make some serious errors of judgment on a wide variety of topics.

I’ll be the first to admit that I spend more time than I should on the computer. In addition to the four newspapers I read every day, I also get news from a variety of other sources, both “conservative” and “liberal”.

Let me quickly add that there is nothing inherently wrong with having either a conservative or a liberal point of view, and I’ll also admit that I’ve been in both camps at various parts of my life.

In my lifetime, I’ve been exposed to a number of “conservatives” who were actually very good people - George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and Barry Goldwater, no name a few.

In order to answer the question “so what IS a conservative?”, I’d like to refer you to an article that recently appeared in my “old hometown” newspaper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

do you know how to talk Minnesotan?

In the last decade or so, though, Big Money and Big Oil interest groups have caused at least some of the “conservatives” among us to become more extreme, and a lot less truthful.

As succinctly as I can, here are some quick examples of a little “bending of the truth”:

1) Al Armendariz recently resigned from the EPA due to an unfortunate choice of words in a speech that he gave two years ago.

Self described ultra conservative Bob Livingston had this to say about the resignation:

they’re all out to get us

The more moderate Huffington Post looked at things a little differently:

I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

Although more than one of the Republican Presidential candidates has expressed a desire to dismantle the EPA, many of them seem to have forgotten that the Environmental Protection Agency came into being during a Republican administration (Nixon), which also passed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

Although Love Canal achieved a fair amount of notoriety in the late 1970’s, the location that actually led to the 1980 passage of the Superfund law (officially, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980) was the little known “Valley of the Drums” in Kentucky.

More than 30 years later, there are still a number of locations in this country that are pretty scary places. The link below provides of list of 28 of them:

this place gives me the willies

2) “Obama bashing”

We’ve all seen unbelievable stores that are linked to Barack Obama. As of this week, has investigated 317 rumors about Obama. All but 20 are FALSE. The remainder are a mixture of truth and fiction:

sticks and stones may break my bones …

3) the Koch brothers

The Koch brothers recently spent more than $6,000,000 on some ads that were critical of the current administration:

cross my heart and hope to die.

The only appropriate comment that I can add at this point can be found at the link below:

why is that girl dancing like that?

If the Koch brothers were a cartoon character, they would look like this:

4) Rush Limbaugh

Years ago, I used to enjoy listening to Rush expound on the air. As it turns out, a number of the “facts” that Rush tosses out to his listening audience aren’t exactly the truth. To learn more about Mr. Limbaugh, I’d recommend reading a book written by Minnesota’s newest Senator, Al Franken:

Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot

5) Wonder bread builds strong bodies 12 ways

The makers of Wonder Bread and Twinkies recently filed for bankruptcy for the second time, for a very strange reason - the government took too seriously their claim that their bread helped build strong bodies 12 ways, and wanted them to prove it:

are you serious?

The truth is that Wonder Bread DOES contain added vitamins and minerals, which you can read about at the link below:

the history of Wonder Bread

6) Is KFC chicken REALLY made with 11 secret spices?

Rumor has it that the original recipe was destroyed in 1964, and no one knows for sure what the spices actually are. It’s also been rumored that some locations skip on the ingredients in order to save money:

are you sure what you’re eating?

If you’ve had the patience to read through the more than 1000 words in this article, you’ve probably come to the same conclusion that I have: sometime the truth matters, and sometime it doesn’t. If you’re interested in getting “just the facts”, then you deserve to see a couple of versions of St. Joe Friday one more time.:

When I was a kid, one of my favorite shows on TV was “Dragnet”, which was aired from 1951 thought 1959, and also from 1967 through 1970.

Due to some clever editing, you can watch the pairing of Sgt. Joe Friday and our current President:

what a dangerous Webb you weave

The original version is posted below:

who ARE those kids?

To quote Forrest Gump, “that’s all that I got to say”.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

You talkin' to me?

The scene that is best remembered from the 1976 movie, Taxi, is the one of Robert De Niro (Travis Bickle) practicing his assassination of a local pimp named “Sport”.

Throughout history, we’ve always had a desire to communicate with each other. The earliest known cave paintings (a form of communication) go back to the Aurignacian period, which was roughly 32,000 years ago.

100 years ago, very few people had telephones, so the most popular form of communication was by telegram. The peak year for telegrams was 1913, when an astonishing 82,000,000 were sent in England. ”

Although Western Union stopped sending telegrams in 2006, you CAN still send a telegram today by clicking on the link below:

clickety clack

When I was a kid, most people still had party lines. In spite of the fact that party lines were cheaper than private phone lines, my mother still MAILED a postcard to her mother EVERY DAY, because the postcard was still cheaper than making a phone call.

Today, pretty much EVERYBODY in the world has their own cell phone. In March of 2012, there were 5.6 billion cell phones in use, which meant that nearly 80% of the entire planet had a cell phone. China alone has over 1 billion cell phones in operation, and the United States had more cell phones than people.

What I’ve noticed lately is that our communication styles differ significantly by our age group.

The “baby boomer” generation still communicates primarily by phone and email, but the younger generation prefers Facebook and texting (as well as “tweeting”).

Few of us have the time for extended telephone calls anymore, and most of us don’t write (or receive) hand written letters very often.

Since I’m a former school teacher, I have a tendency to send out a lot of emails about topics that I find interesting to a wide variety of “family and friends”. However, since the younger crowd prefers different communication styles, I recently changed my “friends and family“ email category to the “baby boomers”, and will send my thoughts to the younger crowd via Facebook.

We may disagree on how to solve the problems of the world, or how to communicate with each other, but the most important thing that we can do is to “keep talking””.