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President's Perspective

UUCVH President Howard Richman befriends a fellow creature with a witty smile!

Saturday
Mar012014

A letter from Bill Schulz, UUSC

Dear Howard,

When I first saw the news I couldn't believe it:

Since the Great Recession ended in 2009, Americans' average income has increased by a healthy 6 percent.

How could this possibly be?  With millions looking for work, and most folks lucky enough to still have jobs struggling to take care of their families?

Because 95 percent of those income gains have gone to the top 1 percent.

It's been a great four years -- a fantastic four years -- for the wealthiest Americans.  For the rest of us, not so much.

Anyone working a minimum wage job for the last four years has seen his or her real earnings drop by 8 percent -- and if she's a single mother of two, for example, she's now living below the poverty line.

A job should keep you out of poverty, not trap you in poverty.  That's why UUSC is pushing so hard to replace the minimum wage with a living wage.

And that's why I'm asking for your support with a special contribution to support these efforts and all of our work to advance human rights.

For those earning the least -- the people who bring us our food in restaurants, who care for our sick and elderly relatives, who clean our office buildings -- it's been a day-to-day struggle to survive on a federal minimum wage that, adjusted for inflation, is one-third lower than it was in 1968.

Narrowing the enormous wealth gap in this country is an economic and political challenge -- but it is, above all, a moral imperative.

Please join our campaign.   Donate at  http://www.uusc.org/donate. Thank you for putting your values into action today.

Sincerely,

Bill Schulz

President and CEO

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Saturday
Feb012014

Howard Richman submits a recent news article for your consideration.

Richest of the rich ponder how to level the field” by CNBC's Jeff Cox

With the global economy slowly getting back on its feet, 2,500 delegates gathered in Davos face a vexing question this week: How to spread the wealth.

As much as any other issue income inequality will tax world leaders in the years ahead.

Aggressive policies from central banks have helped stem the liquidity drain that sent the U.S., Europe, and other countries reeling in the latter part of the last decade. Wall Street banks have come back to life, equity markets have soared and even debt-laden countries like Ireland and Greece are finding their way back into the capital markets.

But the main problem now will be those left behind.

"The kind of people over there (in Davos), other than the professors, are making a great deal of money more than their predecessors were a generation ago," University of Maryland economist Peter Morici said in an interview. "This is a growing embarrassment. The differences in income between Wall Street and the rest of America are astronomical."

Dangers surrounding income inequality are not lost on those attending the World Economic Forum.

In a survey of members, the issue ranked near the top among global economic concerns.

"It raises concerns about the Great Recession and the squeezing effect it had on the middle classes in developed economies, while globalization has brought about a polarization of incomes in emerging and developing economies," the forum said in a statement. "This is true despite the obvious progress in countries such as Brazil and lower levels of poverty in several developing countries in Asia and Africa."

The negative effects of globalization will be especially problematic this week for its advocates, particularly President Barack Obama, for whom one of the key platform tenets in the 2008 election was a pledge to redistribute income.

"In the United Stated, people in the middle and bottom are shrinking and people on the top are rising. That's not what globalization was supposed to do for them," Morici said. "For President Obama, it's very troubling because he's been a big advocate for globalization."

Recent studies have shown American wealth disparity at its highest level since the Great Depression.

Unemployment in the U.S. has been vexing as well. While the headline rate has dropped to 6.7 percent, that's come as the labor force participation rate has hit a 36-year low.

In Europe, youth unemployment in some areas is around 50 percent and about 12 percent overall in the euro zone.

Concerns over inequality "should act as a wake-up call" to Davos attendees, Philip Jennings, general secretary of the labor group UNI Global Union, told media members last week.

Morici, however, said he doesn't expect much to come it, at least at the four-day World Economic Forum.

"This is the biggest problem of our time," said. "We need to have more balanced growth across the globe."

Wednesday
Jan012014

Howard Richman submits a recent news article for your consideration.

Reuters News, Sep 27, 2013

Ex-EPA adviser admits to fraud, CIA stint claim, 13 years of lies
By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adviser pleaded guilty on Friday to cheating the government out of $886,186 over 13 years of telling lies, including claims he had malaria and that he was working on a CIA project, officials said.

John Beale, 64, of New York, had skipped work for a total of 2-1/2 years while claiming to be working on a project for the Central Intelligence Agency's operations directorate and other jobs, the District of Columbia's U.S. Attorney's Office and the EPA's inspector general said in a statement.

Beale, a former top deputy to current EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, falsely claimed to have malaria to get a parking space worth $200 a month. He was reimbursed $57,235 for five trips to California for a research project that was never completed.

Beale, who had worked at the EPA since 1989, also was given a three-year, 25 percent bonus to stay with the EPA that instead lasted 13 years.

"An absence of even basic internal controls at the EPA allowed an individual to commit multiple frauds over a long period of time," EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr said in the statement.

Elkins said he hoped exposing Beale's scheme would lead to agency reforms that would prevent abuses.

The plea comes as the U.S. government is bracing for a possible partial shutdown on Oct 1. Lawmakers are at loggerheads over whether to pass next year's federal budget, in part due to Tea Party activists aiming to block implementation of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform in their efforts to reduce the size of government.

Washington also faces an October 17 deadline by which the United States would have difficulty paying its creditors if the nation's debt limit is not raised.

RETIREMENT PARTY

From January 2000 to April 2013, Beale worked for the Office of Air and Radiation as a senior policy adviser, putting him among the highest-paid non-elected federal employees.

As part of his absences, Beale dodged work at EPA offices for about six months starting in June 2008. He claimed to be working on the research project or for "Langley," the CIA headquarters, but never submitted a leave request and still received his EPA salary, the statement said.

Around May 2011, Beale announced he was retiring from the EPA and held a party with two other long-time EPA employees.

An EPA manager believed Beale had retired as he did not see him at the EPA offices again. The manager discovered in November 2012 that Beale was still getting a paycheck, the statement said.

Beale had worked for McCarthy while she headed the Air and Radiation office from 2009 until taking over the agency in July.

The top lawmakers on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Democratic Chairman Barbara Boxer of California and ranking Republican John Vitter of Louisiana, expressed anger over Beale's fraud.

"It is outrageous that this admitted con man lied to his supervisors in order to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federal government going back to the George W. Bush Administration," Boxer said in a statement.

Beale pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to theft of government property. Under the plea agreement, the penalty is a prison sentence of 30 to 37 months and a fine of up to $60,000.

Beale also has agreed to pay back $886,186 in pay and expenses to the EPA and a settlement of another $507,207, the statement said.

Sunday
Dec012013

Holiday Best Wishes Disclaimer

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2014, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only "AMERICA" in the western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms:

This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal.

It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting.

It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher.

This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Happy Holidays!

Friday
Nov012013

Here is an article for your consideration from your President, Howard Richman.

Keystone XL Pipeline Could Yield $100 Billion For Koch Brothers (The Huffington Post, Jared Gilmour, 10/21/2013)

Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline could generate $100 billion in profits for billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, according to a report released Sunday, which revealed the extent to which the Kochs would benefit from the tar sands development the proposed pipeline would help spur.

A progressive think tank called the International Forum on Globalization completed the study, which found that the Kochs and their privately-owned company, Koch Industries, hold up to 2 million acres of land in Alberta, Canada, the proposed starting point of the Keystone XL. Several Koch Industries subsidiaries stand to benefit from the pipeline's construction, including Koch Exploration Canada, which would profit from oil development on its land, and Koch Supply and Trading, which would benefit from oil derivatives trading.

The report also estimates that the Koch brothers have given about $50 million to think tanks and members of Congress who have pushed for the pipeline to be built.

The Keystone XL pipeline is awaiting a final decision from the State Department, which is unlikely to come before 2014. If built, the pipeline would carry about 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries. Environmentalists worry about about the climate and environmental impacts the pipeline could have, including dramatically higher greenhouse gas emissions and a heightened risk of oil spills.

The Kochs are known for their heavy investment in the tea party and their support for congressional inaction on climate change.

In the past, Koch Industries officials have said the Keystone XL pipeline has "nothing to do with any of our businesses."

 

Tuesday
Oct012013

An article for your consideration from Howard Richman.

“Distracted Walking” Is No Walk in the Park
Dr. Rock Positano, Health Columnist for the New York Daily News, 09/22/2013

“Health care providers are seeing an increase in "walking while texting" accidents, with terrible injuries undermining the "viral" explosion of tragi-comic trips, pratfalls, and collisions. "Distracted walking" is a matter of concern to public health professionals, slowly joining "distracted driving" as a matter of urgent national attention.

The evidence is indeed slowly gathering, but a good indication of the severity of the growing problem is the almost constant "doubling" of the incidents from one year to the next: this is a geometric progression that amounts to a pandemic which makes the fictional, movie "outbreaks" of designer epidemics and Zombie flicks literally pale in comparison.

Seattle's intersections were monitored by the University of Washington and they got an eyeful: pedestrians who texted were four times less likely to look before crossing streets, stay in crosswalks, or obey traffic signals.

Ohio State University studied local emergency rooms and discerned that more than 1500 people were treated for cell phone related injuries, a triple increase from previous years. Cell phone abuse is a close cousin of texting while walking abuse. Cell phone usage while driving has already been addressed by state legislatures in almost every state. Texting while walking has not received the same attention. But that is changing.

ABC News reported back in May 2012 that the reported number of distracted walking accidents doubled each and every year, with 100 percent compounded increases logged in from 2006 to 2007 to 2008. If the ABC stats hold true, a geometric progression of pandemic proportions has reached the point where those scattered "incidents" now cover the technologically advanced world from continent to continent.

The humor of the incidents, sometimes reported on social media, itself distracts from the seriousness of the problem. Anecdotal "viral" stories such as the "texter" Los Angeles man almost bumping into a prowling black bear, the "Fountain Lady" in Pennsylvania who walked, and texted, her way into a mall decorative fountain, "distracted walkers" who took a long walk off a short pier into Lake Michigan, a New York woman who texted herself into an open sewage manhole, and other "LOL" favorites gather some laughs, but how funny they really are depends on your point of view. Safety officials are not amused. They are alarmed.

Last year, the Associated Press reported that reports of injured distracted walkers treated in selected American emergency rooms "more than quadrupled" in the seven years surveyed, and were "almost certainly underreported." A spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association told the AP: "We are where we were with cell phone use in cars 10 years or so ago. We knew that it was a problem, but we didn't have the data."

Blame the universal myth of Multi-Tasking for the problem: human brain evolution does not allow for texting at the same time as walking, and that's a fact. You cannot think as a split screen: you are always limited to one task at a time, one requiring full attention and one which becomes a hazardous distraction. What appears to you to be multi-tasked activity are really two tasks half-heartedly attended to, with sometimes-fatal results. You can walk but not text, or text but not walk, much as you can drive but not text or text but not drive, and never both at the same time. If you get away with doing both at the same time, it is mere luck, not your superior multi tasking skills. Luck is fickle.

Solutions will be hard to come by. State legislatures refuse to seriously consider "distracted walking" statutes outlawing the practice, showing a preliminary reluctance to any control on the practice, much as "distracted driving" laws, now common, drew great controversy when first codified in law. But that changed when the body count leaped from year to year, much as the body count of "distracted walking" barrels upward. It remains to be seen whether the distracted walking remains a viral joke or is treated with the somber urgency it truly deserves.”

Sunday
Sep012013

New York Post
posted August 20, 2013

Christian prayers at council meetings endorsed by Obama administration in landmark case

Nestled along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, the town of Greece, N.Y., with its population of 96,095 people and median household income of $53,541, would appear to be everything the town boasts of being in its promotional literature: namely, "a great place to live, work, and play."

It is also a great test case -- in what is shaping up as the most important church-state litigation to reach the U.S. Supreme Court in three decades, with the Obama administration taking what is perhaps a surprising stance on the matter.

As far back as 1997, local officials in Greece opened the town's monthly council meetings with a prayer, usually delivered by a Christian clergyman who responded to the town's invitation to do so. "Grant these servants of yours the help they need to guide our community wisely," intoned a priest from the Holy Name of Jesus parish to kick off the meeting of July 21, 2009.

But not all of the opening prayers were so ecumenical. "We celebrate your son, Jesus," said a pastor from Lakeshore Community Church that December. "We ask all this through Christ, our Lord," said another pastor, closing his prayer with the ritual "Amen."

In February 2008, two residents -- one Jewish, the other an atheist -- sued the town, claiming that the nearly exclusive reservation of the opening prayer for Christian clergy violated the First Amendment's prohibition on laws respecting an establishment of religion. However, to the surprise of many, the Justice Department filed an amicus brief earlier this month siding with Greece by arguing that the prayers do not violate the Constitution.

Thursday
Aug012013

A Guest Opinion Column from keepmecurrent.com

By state Sen. Rebecca Millett
Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 5:47 pm

Poverty and the minimum wage

One in five children in Maine lives in poverty. These children are more likely to lack basic needs such as a permanent home, consistent meals, preventative health care, and warm clothes. This causes unnecessary stress on kids at a young age and puts them at a disadvantage in the classroom.

When a child lives in poverty, succeeding academically becomes a greater challenge. According to KIDS COUNT, only 20 percent of students who receive free or reduced lunches are proficient readers in fourth grade. In comparison, twice as many of their peers who don’t receive free or reduced lunches are reading proficiently in the fourth grade. 

One of the best ways we can help children in poverty is by lifting their parents out of poverty.

Minimum wage in Maine is currently $7.50 per hour. A parent who works full time at a minimum wage job earns only $15,600 per year--not enough to support one person, let alone a family. Furthermore, the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation, which is why it takes more than an hour of minimum wage work to buy a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and the gallon of gas needed to get to the grocery story and back.

No one who works full time should have to worry about putting food on the table for their children.

Last week, the legislature took a step forward by passing a measure to increase the minimum wage and link it to inflation, so that as the cost of groceries increases, so will a person’s paycheck.

There is an antiquated view that increasing the minimum wage increases unemployment, but we know this is not true. In fact, five years ago, Vermont tied its minimum wage to inflation. It now has the highest minimum wage in the region, and the lowest unemployment rate in New England.  Additionally, the child poverty rate in Vermont in 2010 was 13 percent which is less than Maine’s.

Maine people are hard workers. They don’t want handouts; they want jobs with dignity that pay a decent wage. We should reward that and ensure an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. 

Unfortunately, not everyone shares this perspective, and the governor has not yet taken action on this bill. I am hoping that when he does, his focus will not be on how little we can get away with paying Maine people, but rather on what we can do to lift families out of poverty. I hope he will sign this bill into law.

State Sen. Rebecca Millett serves Senate District 7, which includes Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, and part of Scarborough. She lives in Cape Elizabeth.

Monday
Jul012013

Half full or half empty?

The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious of the rose

Kahlil Gibran

The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection

Thomas Paine

A pessimist sees only the dark side of the clouds and mopes; a philosopher sees both sides, and shrugs; an optimist doesn't see the clouds at all - he's walking on them

James Cabell

Optimism is the foundation of courage

Nicholas Murray Butler

A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties

Harry Truman

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier

Colin Powell

For myself I am an optimist - it does not seem to be much use being anything else

Sir Winston Churchill

You see things; and you say 'why?' But I dream of things that never were, and I say "Why not?'

George Bernard Shaw

Random Thoughts:

  • I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.
  • A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
  • I intend to live forever.  So far, so good.
  • My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion.  He said okay, you're ugly too.
  • I used to be indecisive.  Now I'm not sure.

Howard Richman, President

Saturday
Jun012013

Mom and Dad were trying to console Susie, whose dog, Skipper, had recently died.

"You know," Mom said, "it's not so bad.  Skipper's probably up in Heaven right now, having a grand old time with God."

Susie stopped crying and asked, "What would God want with a dead dog?"

*** 

A funeral service is held for a woman who just passed away.  As the pallbearers carry the casket out, they accidentally bump into a wall.  They hear a faint moan.  They open the casket and find that the woman is actually alive.

She lives for 10 more years and then dies.  They have another funeral for her.  At the end of the service, the pallbearers carry out the casket.  As they are walking, the husband cries out, "Watch out for the wall"!

 

Howard