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Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

I have a special place in my heart for anyone trying to give guided instruction in current events, especially lately. For one thing, we as a country are in the middle of an incredibly interesting journey on which we’re throwing it all on the table, getting it out in the open, and hashing out some things that have been swept under the rug for a long time. For another thing, the analysis of current events always looks different a month or a year or a presidential term later, so what we first see as truth is bound to change a little eventually. But someone has to get the conversation started.

I have a friend who says he’s teaching a class in civil discourse this coming semester. I think that’s a brave thing to do – I imagine it means he’s going to try to teach young people how to communicate without using anger or irrational behaviour. The more I think about it, the more I think it should be a required class in our schools. All of them. Catch the kids with the attitude problems before they’re old enough to buy guns.

The evidence is piling up in favor of paying extra attention to our country’s educational system. And that’s normal – schools need new rules all the time in response to a changing society. Remember typing class? That changed a bit over the years, didn’t it? In the seventies, it was typing class. In the nineties, it was keyboarding class. I have no clue what they’re calling it nowadays. For all I know, they’re now teaching 5-year-olds their ABCs using the touch typing system, word processing software, and the media controls on the computer, which takes care of all three skills at once.

So I made a little list of the new classes I think ought to be added to each and every school’s curriculum, and be made a requirement for high school middle school graduation. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think these new classes will really make a difference in the lives of the young adults we throw out into the world with questionable social skills.

– Civil Discourse: how to state opinions and discuss issues in productive ways, especially in response to angry and hateful boneheads (must earn a B or better to pass)

– Criminal Law 101: introduction to the nature of crime and punishment, the penalties for various laws in their local area, and the difference between movies and reality (unit on survival skills to be made available in certain gang-infested school systems)

– Beginning Personal Finance: everything from making change to balancing a checkbook to the joys of compound interest (or the avalanche of compound interest, in the case of credit cards), with a special section on how to avoid getting ripped off

– Fifth-Grade Ethics: why and how to act in everyone’s best interest, how to begin figuring out what that is, and when and how to speak up in the face of injustice (violators of other school rules must repeat this class with the fifth-graders, no matter how old they are)

– Introduction to Gun Safety (mandatory in TX, NM, and AZ; optional everywhere else): how to safely handle, clean, and fire a gun; with emphasis on hunting, the difference between self-defense and self-importance, and the dangers of semiautomatic weapons (prerequisite, Ethics; must be taught concurrently with the class on Civil Discourse)

Feel free to add your own, but I think these five classes could be the start of some cool new rules in school – and save lives, and save the government a heck of a lot of money down the road, and…

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1-800-273-TALK. Call this number if you are thinking that it’s time to end it all. Why? You might appreciate it later when you’re in a better frame of mind. It might help you understand that there are people out there that really do care. It might help you see that those thoughts might be just a symptom of something bigger that’s messing up your mind. If that’s all it is, wouldn’t you want to find out what’s wrong so you can get back to the life you really want to live?

There are more and more studies being done to understand how big of a problem this really is in our country. Here are just some of the highlights:

http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/66/4/398

Most suicides committed by males age 18-24 had psych problems at age 8.

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2009/black-teens-especially-girls-at-high-risk-for-suicide-attempts.shtml

Female black teens are at risk for suicide, even if they have never been diagnosed with a mental illness.

http://oas.samhsa.gov/2k9/165/suicide.cfm

Around one percent of adult Americans planned to commit suicide last year, and half of those actually tried it. A little under four percent of adult Americans admitted to thinking about it, and that number almost doubled when they looked at just those between 18 and 25 years old. How many of us aren’t even admitting that we think about this?

Call 1-800-273-TALK. I’ll bet they’ll help even if you’re just worried about someone that is close to you. Pull the old “my friend has this problem” if you need to. Just talk about it with someone who deals with this stuff all the time, and try to find out if there’s something bigger going on that’s making it easier to think that way. You might be surprised at the change it makes in your mood and your motivation to move forward.

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Is it ever appropriate to write the sentence “You need me!” in a cover letter?

What do you say when you’re sending out your 400th resume of the month and you realize that your cover letter has to stand out among 4,000 others? Which line from the job search handbook actually works in real life? Successful job seekers? Hiring managers? Anyone?

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It’s April – have you filed your taxes yet?  Are you going to?  Of course you will – you consider yourself a law-abiding citizen and you’re afraid of the IRS.

There is a case to be made about how taxation borders on socialism.  The ‘redistribution of wealth’ argument has been staring us in the face ever since the beginning of the 20th century, when the tax code began to take shape and become enforceable.  Most people agreed, however, that financing a war or two was a little too daunting for volunteer efforts, so off we went.

When the tax code began to allow for social programs and complicated business practices, it began to get messy.  Various administrations began to use it as a motivational tool for different purposes, and eventually to manipulate the economy. 

Did we go too far with that?  There’s a question – but I’m not qualified to answer that one.  I’d love to hear the answer, though.

The difference is that, while taxation is meant to be somewhat of a mandatory collaborative effort to provide common services to the people, our government and our tax code are kept in check by Congress – the representatives of the people.  If we don’t like how they do things, we can replace them.

In a socialist government, the government doesn’t just keep the economy in check, the government owns the economy.  They own the resources and don’t allow for private ownership.  They plan the economy, they manage the distribution of the GDP, and they make sure everyone gets some no matter who earned what, all without respect for private enterprise.

We are nowhere near socialism.  For instance, whether or not President Obama’s bailouts were the right thing to do is debatable, but they don’t qualify as socialism for the same reason that sane bank presidents generally insist that you prove that you are responsible with your money before they lend you enough to buy a car or a house.  In a way, they own the property, but only until you pay it off.  That’s not socialism.  That’s just good business.

Property taxes have always been around in some form, but we are still free to own the property.  Income taxes have been around for years, but we are still free to start our own businesses and charge our own prices.  Our government has been running the country for over two hundred years, but we are still free to elect our own representatives to participate in setting policy.

In America, there is no danger of us giving up our property rights, our entrepreneurial spirit, or our free market economy.  In this country, we can implement social programs without practicing socialism.

Socialism is not in the future of the United States of America – not even with a qualifier of “if we don’t…“.

The loud voices of the people do serve a purpose.  Be loud to keep things in check, though, not to scare people about something that isn’t going to happen.

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A lot of people seem to be trying to psychologically explain what happened to the economy.  Was it greed?  Impulsive risk instead of calculated risk?  How about the need to crawl back into the womb?

I don’t know about that last one, but even Freud would have acknowledged that the other two are getting a lot of press.

There is a certain perception of the people who control the financial markets.  We don’t hear their stories very often, so all some of us see  are guys and gals who dress up in fancy suits, playing an adult version of Monopoly with other people’s money, and thinking “what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”   It’s easy to attribute that to greed and impulsive behaviour.

Most of those guys and gals are probably thinking that they worked hard to get where they are, they are just normal people with nicer clothes, and in their business, they have to think fast to keep up.  If they take a risk and lose, that’s the way the game is played.  That’s why they call it RISK.  True, true, and true.

Perceptions aside, there’s one phrase that keeps popping up when the psychologists speak up:  human nature.

Scientific American ran an interesting article today about this, with a word or two by the author for those who think that the free market will work everything out itself. 

He’s not so sure about that, given the “what they don’t know won’t hurt them – and if it does, that’s the breaks” mentality.  He seems to think that completely rational behaviour isn’t as common as people think it is.

What do you think?  Are you feeling it?  Is it really that simple?

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Here’s another encouraging bit of news:  mental health is getting more funding in the form of grant money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  The main requirement is that those funds be used for research projects that have the potential to make a difference in scientific advancement in under two years.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which bills itself as The Nation’s Medical Research Agency, really does sponsor a great deal of medical research, so feeding over $8 billion to the NIH was probably the best way to provide research funding to the most projects at once.  Autism research was one of the main target areas, along with opportunities for science educators and existing short-term research projects which were running out of funds.

Some of that money is going to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  On their web pages, I found a couple of interesting grant opportunities that I’d like to keep an eye on.

One priority area is developing new ways of evaluating the brain without actually cutting into it.  From what I understand, just about every other organ in the body can be biopsied and analyzed without significant damage to a person’s health.  I’ll bet there aren’t very many people who are willing to give up a chunk of their brain for the advancement of science, so this new technology (whatever it is) will be great.

They would also like to get a report card on the current system of “community re-entry programs” for prisoners in need of mental health services.  I have a hunch that they’ll find that it needs major help.  I know a guy who knows a guy who regularly steals something when he’s having a hard time coping just so he can go back to jail.  He thinks that the struggle to survive is easier there.  Most jails are now being seen as modern variations of the “funny farms”, so new information here could have an impact on quite a few areas.

The grant money will also target the nature of schizophrenia and other major mental disorders, the genetics of mental illness, how to improve services for racially and ethnically diverse populations, intervention strategies for youth and young adults, and how to develop low-risk drugs that might be better solutions for some of us, among other things.

The big news will have be the results of the “Grand Opportunities” grants.  The NIMH is going to give out money to anyone who comes up with research studies which will find out more about brain development (or which part of our brain went haywire at what point to impact our symptoms), which genes specifically affect the risk of mental illness, and – my personal favorite – “Neurodevelopmental Genomics:  Trajectories of Complex Phenotypes”.

In plain English, this means we could end up with a better understanding of how genetics, physical growth, environment, and behaviour all work together over time to make us who we are.  We could end up with a more accurate system of categorizing mental and emotional disorders, which in turn might make it easier to accurately diagnose and treat them.

Click here for the full story on what the National Institute of Mental Health is doing with their piece of the pie.  I’m really looking forward to the “How Are We Doing?” page on the federal government’s ARRA website to see how this all plays out.

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I try to be open-minded, but I’m done with this guy.  In case you didn’t catch my last reply to the thread, I thought it needed repeating.  I am done trying to listen to Mark Levin.

I was on another long drive yesterday, and tuned in to his radio show again.  Right after I found the station, a lady named Lisa called in to ask a question, and she happened to have a mousy little voice.  I’m sure she was asking a legitimately intelligent question, but I never did hear it.

Mr. Levin started to groan as she was talking, and upon hearing the first few words of her question, he decided he had to make fun of her instead of treating her with respect.  In his whiniest voice, he started to talk over her.  “Honey, what do you want for dinner?”  (Imagine a very sad, mopey Edith Bunker impression.)  “Waah, waah, waah…are you married, by any chance?”  He continued to hassle her, and ended the call by saying, “Get off the phone, you big dope.”

For a constitutionalist, he sure did a great job of revealing his true nature by slamming free speech yesterday.  Callers who were saying, “Thank you just for being you,” got through, and callers who had the nerve to ask him to defend his opinions were cut off.  Fine – the caller’s voice was annoying, but his rudeness was scary, considering how whiny his voice is.

Mark Levin is not educating anyone, really.  He is preying upon decent, hard-working, traditional American families who are very angry at our current economic situation but who aren’t quite sure who to direct their anger to because the answer is complicated for most of us.  We rely on the media to help us narrow that down, and he’s jumping on the opportunity to stir the pot in his own direction, keep the conservatives outraged, and promote his book.

I take back what I said about wanting to buy his book and see what he’s really about.  I don’t want to learn anything from this guy.

So this one’s for all the Lisas in America:  Get off the radio, you big dope.

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