Saturday, December 14, 2013

                                         Texting and Driving: A New Danger on the Road

     In February 2009, "an 18-year-old girl plowed directly into the rear of another vehicle (photo not shown). (To see photos go to She was going 70 mph. She apparently never saw them. You see, she had been texting at the time. There was no blowout, no wet road, no curve or hill or fog to limit visibility. This girl clearly should have bee able to see the traffic conditions at least a half a mile ahead had she been looking and not texting. She nearly killed a beautiful 3-year-old child." (Snopes)

     Driving on American roads has had many challenges throughout the history of the automobile. Road conditions and vehicle quality were the defining issues of the early 20th century. In today's 21st century, however, roadways are well paved and vehicles have incredible safety standards which are constantly being upgraded. A vehicle now can automatically adjust to any road condition and it can even predict an accident before it ever happens. These amazing features are the pursuit of making vehicles that are nearly flawless. Despite the advances of automobiles, the biggest reason behind car crashes is the result of driver inattention or distraction. We are all familiar with road rage, drinking and driving, driving under the influence of drugs, and eating while driving. Now a new distraction has reared its head in the presence of technology - texting while driving.

     Texting and driving is an issue which has really only began to manifest itself within the past decade due to the fact that cell phones are now owned by almost everyone. It "is a growing trend, and a national epidemic, quickly becoming one of the country's top killers. Drivers assume they can handle texting while driving and remain safe, but the numbers don't lie." Each year there are 1,600,000 accidents and 330,000 injuries related to texting and driving. It is "about 6 times more likely to cause an accident than driving intoxicated" and 11 teenagers die every single day from this distraction ( This is a HUGE problem which is affecting everyone on the road, and it is slowly devastating the teenage population. Think about it! If your teenage daughter or son, or any of your friends and loved ones for that matter, takes their eyes off the road for even 5 seconds at 55 mph, they will have traveled the distance of a football field completely blind. Anything can happen within a hundred yards and unfortunately there are dozens of pictures of totaled vehicles on the web reminding us of this potential tragedy.

     The only way to eliminate this catastrophe is to eradicate texting and driving. This can be done in several ways. First of all, we need to encourage everyone to use hands-free devices when they are communicating in their vehicle. When both of your hands are on the wheel, you have a far greater chance of driving safely. Educational films should be shown in our schools since teenagers naturally find themselves invincible and able to do everything safely. Graphic information and disturbing photos should be provided to the general public through advertisement because it is an assumption by most adults that they can text and drive just fine. This is certainly untrue because I have nearly gotten into a couple accidents just trying to upload the Pandora app on my phone. The biggest way we can all prevent this distraction is to saturate social media with this issue. Put pictures on Facebook and Tumblr showing the horrible accidents and Tweet live instances when there is an accident as a reminder to everyone that texting can wait. In these ways the message is being brought right into the home or person's lap and it needs to be known!

     If we implement any and all of the strategies, we can make a difference in the statistics and we can save lives! Listen to the radio DJ telling you not to text and drive. Heed the signs and bumper stickers you see on the road telling you to wait. Exercise your right as an American citizen (yes, citizen, not consumer) to protect our children and loved ones from this senseless act! If you choose to do nothing about this issue than thousands of men, women, and children will die as a result of your inaction. Can you live with yourself knowing you may be responsible in some part for another person's death?

Friday, December 6, 2013

                                        Where Has the Sanctity of the Holidays Gone?

     The idea of Black Friday is a concept which Americans have been familiar with over the past 40+ years, however, it has actually been in existence for over 140 years. According to "[t]he term 'Black Friday' was coined in the 1960's to mark the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season. 'Black' refers to stores moving from the 'red' to the 'black', back when accounting records were kept by hand, and red ink indicated a loss, and black a profit." It also has at least two other lesser known connotations associated with "the unofficial start to a bustling holiday shopping season. In the 1960's, police in Philadelphia griped about the congested streets, clogged with motorists and pedestrians, calling it 'Black Friday.' In a non-retail sense, it also describes a financial crisis of 1869: a stock market catastrophe set off by gold speculators who tried and failed to corner the gold market, causing the market to collapse and stocks to plummet."

     "Black Friday" has always been considered a good thing for business interests because it serves as an opportunity to bring customers into their stores who either shop there frequently, haven't visited in some time, or who have never set foot in their place. Since it is Christmastime, stores can break out with great deals which not only draw attention but also allow them to get some things off their shelves to make room for the next round of goods. The public sees this as a good opportunity to get some inexpensive gifts for their loved ones they otherwise may not have thought of or perhaps couldn't afford at full price. By nature, this shopping day was meant to be a positive effort to enrich the lives of Americans over the holiday season. However, over the past several years, "Black Friday" has begun morphing into something else.

     When my wife and her friends began shopping on "Black Friday" many years ago, stores would open around 6 a.m. and run full steam well into the night. It was a fun time for the girls to get together, have a sleepover the night before, and then head out to their favorite places hunting for the bargains. It really was fun for them because there was a crackle in the atmosphere, other shoppers were just as excited as they were to be able to land the deals, and everyone for the most part got along in the stores and made it a festive occasion. Suddenly, it changed.

     Greed is a terrible motivator because behind all greed come dire consequences. News channels and local papers began covering stories of how shoppers had been caught stealing things from other people's carts and putting them into theirs when a shopper would get distracted or leave their cart for a moment. Arguments broke out in stores, turning into screaming matches, with many escalating into fist fights. People were being trampled in the doorways when stores would open, some of the injuries very serious, and there were even some deaths which resulted. All regard for another person's safety, whether an elderly person or even a child, are thrown out the window. The wild-eyed frenzy to make sure the deal was gotten by (a) greedy individual(s) is now a goal to be attained at all cost. To a substantial degree, we have lost our moral values and social ethics for the pursuit of material gain.

     Let's take a look at another point of view. Stores are now opening at 2 and 3 a.m., and this year I have really noticed that many businesses are jumping on the bandwagon of opening on Thanksgiving Day. Where is the sanctity of the holidays? There are living, breathing people who have to work on a day they should be spending with their families. We already have huge problems with family unity in this country with high divorce rates, parents not being parents, the effects technology are having with television, ipads, computers, video games...the list goes on! We do not need another factor disrupting society's welfare. Will there come a time in the not so distant future when all stores will be open 365 days a year with the true reasons behind the holidays being blown into a materialistic obscurity? My wife and I refuse to shop on the holidays, no matter how good the deals are advertised. We believe in preserving a long family tradition and we will teach our children to do the same. Material things really are not that important.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Effects of Obamacare: Confusion and Insecurity

Recently my company sent a representative to my place of employment and set up a meeting with us. In this meeting we were informed that, effective January 1st, if an employee did not meet a required work year of 1,560 hours, he or she would be reclassified as a part time employee. We would not only lose all insurances but also lose the ability to accrue sick and vacation time. Also, in an effort "to do the right thing", our company is going to give us a one time raise which is supposed to be the equivalent of the value of that sick/vacation time, given outside the normal 1-3% annual raise. I am not sure how that will work out or even if their commitment will be fulfilled honestly because a confusing equation is being applied to ascertain what "the value of this time means to me."

Now, I do work 40 hour weeks, but it is only when the school year is in session. I am considered a seasonal worker. Each year there are roughly 6 weeks when the business is shut down entirely. During the summer I do try to work as much as I can, when work is much slower, however this year my employer was unable to give me enough hours to earn a living. It seemed to me that management was trying to keep labor costs to an extreme minimum in an effort to boost bonuses. For the past five years I have always been able to work sufficient hours during this slow time, now suddenly hours were cut dramatically. As a consequence, I will not have accumulated enough hours to meet the minimum requirements to remain a full-time employee and will be on the chopping block to lose my family's insurance- not only health, but dental, vision, and disability as well. I wonder, is there some correlation between an obvious move by management and the new rules of The Affordable Care Act?

My family and I have been shocked by the effects of Obamacre. We have always had good insurance, comparable to the policies that hospitals themselves provide for their employers. We have taken comfort in knowing that even though paying the premiums are quite a monthly expense, it is very much worth it to have the peace of mind that my family always receives the best health care available.

On Friday, November 1, 2013 New York Times writers Katie Thomas and Reed Abelson headline with this issue reporting three situations where individuals are being "forced out of their existing health insurance plans." In the article they quote the President in 2010 referencing The Affordable Health Care Act with saying "If you like your insurance plan you will keep it. No one will be able to take that away from you. It hasn't happened yet. It won't happen in the future." My family is an example, like thousands of others, who will lose our insurance and be thrown into a vortex of confusion and uncertainty. Then what? The security we now have with my entire family under one policy will be eroded. And the worst part is that we are not given any options. Since our family is on the lower wage scale, we will be forced to take whatever plan the government chooses. It is not our decision. This is very frustrating, to put it mildly.

So, it should be easy to see that we are livid about the changes brought to our lives because of Obamacare. I believe a very important freedom has been stripped from us because we did not choose to drop our insurance nor are we able to decide even what the new changes will be. I do understand that with every new policy enacted someone has to be negatively affected. But in this case, why can we not shop our options? My family is in a rat race to get as much treatment as we can before the end of the year because we have no idea who our new doctors, dentist, or pediatricians will be. The people we have grown to know and love over the past 20 plus years will more than likely no longer be a part of our lives. This is scary and very worrisome. It takes away our faith in our government and creates an air of uncertainty about the future.

I am absolutely certain, however, that the company I work for loves the changes brought about by The Affordable Care Act. Using figures which I apply to my own family as a base model, for every employee they do not have to provide insurance, this will save them $15,000 a year on average. Multiply that by the 15,000 employees who will be affected by these changes and annually my company will save $225 million. Although I am told that this money will be put back into permanent insurance policies, I fail to believe that there will not be a huge revenue surplus. I can envision upper management salivating over those figures because those huge savings will convert into huge bonuses. Although it would never be spoken out loud, I am apt to believe that the more employees a manger can kick off the insurance, the greater the bonus. I am calling The Affordable Care Act a "Corporate Gold Rush" for just this reason. To exacerbate the situation further, it is my understanding as well, the government did not make any written mandates that a company was required to eliminate sick and vacation time. This was a move by my company to piggy back more money saving policies to a mandated policy. Pretty much like "pork" is added to a Senate bill.

We do not know exactly how our lives will be changed by The Affordable Care Act over the next year. What we do know is that we feel very confused because there are too many unanswered questions and absolutely no game plan for us in January. The probability that there will be a gap in our insurance seems pretty eminent. God forbid anything should happen to us during this gap period because we will be uninsured. When we do get a policy or policies, will it be cheaper than our rates now or will it be too expensive? Will the coverage be the same? We do not know. For us, the security we have worked so hard to achieve will be taken from us with the stroke of a politician's pen.