Saturday, October 19, 2013

In Review...So Much To Cover

Wow! The past several weeks have been a blur. There is so much that has transpired. I'm going to make this a potpourri of topics. Most of what I'll relate here will be of a positive nature. However, there may be a few things that come across as negative. These are my feelings and experiences and accordingly, you may accept them any way you choose.

The Living Free Blog

This blog has now been in existence for five years and seven and a half months. To date I have posted 431 articles including this one and 128 of the posts have been Photos-of-the-Week. It has grown from a very few views per month (my thought was, is there really anyone out there in cyberspace?) to a peak of more than 8,400 views in a month and a current average of more than 4,000 views per month. It has been viewed in 100 countries. Of course, the U.S. is where the predominant number of views come from. The U.S. is followed by France, Germany, Russia, China and the UK in that order.

So, why do I mention this? I mention it because I am in awe of these numbers. Now, let me be honest. I know there are many blogs that have numbers that are astronomical compared to my numbers. I follow many of them myself. However, I find that there is a growing interest in the concept of living free and the fact that people like you are reading what I have to say indicates that you are part of this growing trend and find some ideas and value in my personal thoughts and philosophies. That humbles me. I have a "Living Free" business card I hand out to people when I meet them in person (as I did on Wednesday and Thursday of this week). I have yet to have a negative response from anyone. The vast majority want to learn more and more about the concept seeking a way to implement at least part of it in their own lives. My attitude is that if I only impact one life in a positive way through my writing and/or exposing people to my philosophies I am successful.

The Daily Simple - Blog

While a main premise of my living free philosophy is living simply, I continue to find far more things of value to write about than I can ever get to. Just this morning I was reading one of the blogs I follow, "The Daily Simple," and the writer, Aubrey, made some interesting observations and tips on blogging. She says that writing for numbers, to build email lists, to fulfill a category or fill a niche and blogging on a very tightly maintained schedule are not important to her. Expressing her thoughts, feelings and experiences are what is important. I can easily relate to what she wrote after my eight years of blogging experience and five and a half years with the Living Free blog. If you're a blogger and you're interested in her comments you can read her post IT TOOK ME 8 BLOGS.

Rethinking The Dream - Blog

In another blog, interestingly named "Rethinking TheDream" (that's The American Dream) the blogger, who goes by the name Freedom, provided a link to a recent article in The Futurist Magazine, the magazine of the World Future Society. It's actually an article that appears annually and predicts the "Top 10 Forecasts for 20XX and Beyond." This article is about predictions for 2014. Prediction #5 seems to be one that resonated with Freedom and with me, "Buying and owning things will go out of style."

Here's the gist of this prediction:

"The forecast: “The markets for housing, automobiles, music, books, and many other products show a common trend: Younger consumers opting to rent or subscribe to pay-per-use arrangements instead of buying and owning the physical products. Shared facilities will overtake established offices, renting units will become more common than owning a home, and sales of books and music might never become popular again.” From “Consumption 2.0,” by Hugo Garcia, January–February, 2013."

I don't want to say that I can see into the future, but I've been talking about this for several years now. Consumerism has run amuck and probably done more to deprive people, especially, Americans, from the freedom that people came to this New World to realize. Of course, there is a very significant downside to this forecast. If this is a trend and continues to be adopted by more and more people, it's going to put a huge crimp in our economy. Remember, our entire economy is based on all of us running out to our local Walmarts, Targets, Kmarts, Sam's, BJ's and Costco Warehouse Clubs, Toys R Us, boat dealers, car dealers, motorcycle dealers, etc. and buying, buying, buying so that we can then keep the credit card and banks and  insurance businesses afloat with all the various kinds of insurance we need. And, of course, let's not forget all the housing developers who are building houses for everyone to own to become enslaved to the monthly costs of interest, taxes, insurance, utilities, upgrades, additions and all the stuff we have to fill the houses with.

There will have to be some serious rethinking by all these huge industries and by our governments who are totally dependent on tax revenue derived from the Gross National Product - the Economy. If the GNP declines, so will the taxes they can extract from our pockets. OMG, what will these spendthrifts do - will they be able to borrow MORE money to spend on things we could probably do without and still live very comfortably? Or, do you think they might just figure it out when our economy declines and the countries that have been keeping us afloat (make that keeping the U.S. government as well as state and local governments afloat) won't risk any more money on us and we'll actually have to CUT THE COST OF OPERATING GOVERNMENT? How would that work?

Well, change is inevitable. I personally get rather sick and tired of hearing our politicians urging us to go spend more money so the economy can grow. I love their rhetoric about how they are going to "create jobs." Doing what? If everyone is in a leaner, meaner, cutting back mode and that appears to be the trend for the foreseeable future, if not forever, then businesses are going to cut back and require less and less employees. Government won't have the tax revenue to keep hiring millions of redundant, less efficient, non-essential workers to do less work. It looks like a conundrum for those who are leveraged up to their ears in mortgages, car, boat, huge RV loans and credit card debt. Won't this be an interesting scenario to watch playing out? Those of us who had this figured out a long time ago and took the action to downsize and simplify will be relaxing and breathing easy as we live free and happy. Time will tell.

They're Baaaack . . .

Yes indeed! The nearly 800,000 non-essential federal government employees are back on the job again doing their non-essential work. Wait a minute! If they are non-essential employees that means that their work really is non-essential. So, if it's non-essential - why the hell are we tax payers paying for this work and these people? Seems to me that this is just another form of extremely expensive WELFARE with very expensive lifetime BENEFITS. And not only that, the government can't even call a spade a spade. If they were private sector employees they would have been laid off. But, golly gee Uncle Ned, they weren't laid off, they were furloughed. Now, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the definition of furlough in the case of a non-military individual is: a period of time when an employee is told not to come to work and is not paid.

But, wait...the reason we had to "furlough" these non-essential government employees and relieve them from doing their non-essential work was because there was no money to pay them.

But, never fear, the modern day Uncle Sam is a very benevolent kind of guy. When private sector workers get laid off and whine about how they can't afford to pay their bills, how their mortgages will go into default and their vehicles will be repossessed, etc., I never see anyone in the government shed a tear or lose a good night's sleep over it. But, oh my, if a non-essential government worker is going to have to bite the bullet and struggle, suffer, maybe even endure some economic pain, well, our representatives can't allow that to happen now, can they. So, they furlough them, no non-essential work gets done, some of them even apply for unemployment insurance and get paid for not working. And good ole Uncle Sugar comes through and grants them all FULL BACK PAY for the time they were at home sitting on their asses, whining, sobbing and double dipping in some cases.

Wait! We didn't have money to pay them, which is why they were furloughed in the first place. But, hey! That's okay; our representatives passed a bill allowing the government to borrow more money on top of the 17+ TRILLION dollars (actually an estimated $123 TRILLION dollars in unfunded liabilities) visible national debt. So, the Chinese and Japanese and any other "sucker" country will pay all that back pay and continue to pay the non-essential workers doing non-essential work. Additionally, they'll pay my (our, for those of us receiving our BENEFITS - they are NOT entitlements, thank you very much) Social Security and Medicare since those same shameless, incompetent elected supposed representatives of "We the people" blew all the money they were entrusted with to make grow to pay to us one day. Social Security and Medicare are NOT entitlements. They were funded by involuntary contributions everyone has to make. If one is self-employed it costs about 15.6% of your annual salary or if you are employed the 15.6% involuntary tax is split 50/50 with your employer up to a cap of $113,700 of your salary.

Unfortunately, those funds were swept into the general fund and the Social Security and Medicare trusts were left with IOU's which are, for all practical intents and purposes, worthless because they are backed by the good credit and faith of a government that has unfunded liabilities of about $123 Trillion dollars and no way to fund them. In real world terms, that's called BANKRUPT!

So, did anyone REALLY think that the "so-called" government shutdown (which it never really was since we only furloughed, WITH FULL PAY, 800,000 non-essential workers who were doing non-essential work) would stay "shutdown" for long and that at least a temporary increase in the borrowing ceiling wouldn't be passed at the 11th hour? Of course you didn't and neither did I. It was all just posturing. It's like a bunch of bullies on the playground when we were in elementary school. There was only one loser from all of this bullshit and that was the average American citizen. I just keep wondering how long it's going to take for the majority of this country to wake up to reality. But, here's the real clincher. Some of those people who were furloughed actually did have important, or shall we call them essential, jobs and lots of other truly non-essential government employees were kept working because they served the pleasure of the "ruling class." I'm sure the president's chef and butler's and all the secret service, etc. weren't furloughed. After all, our employee, the president of the United States couldn't be expected to have his wife cook him a meal or worse, yet, the president open a can of soup and warm it up in the microwave. And many of the people furloughed, maybe even a large percentage of them, were furloughed to make the American people feel pain for political purposes. Bottom line, the entire shutdown, in my opinion was a political sham, blackmail.

The Informed vs. The Uninformed

I took an online quiz this morning sent to me by an old high-school friend. The quiz, The News IQ Quiz, was from the Pew Research Center and asked only 13 questions. It compared my results against those of 1,052 randomly selected participants in a controlled survey. I scored higher than 95% of the rest of the population regardless of gender, education and age. Now, let me make this clear, I'm not boasting. It's really sad that someone like me, just an average American, can score higher than 95% of the rest of the surveyed individuals. The survey is, of course, supposed to represent a sampling of the population as a whole, as all surveys normally are designed to do. Actually, I find it scary that I found these current event questions so easy as to score in the 5% of the population who are informed on what is supposedly happening in our current course of events. My concern is that the other 95% of the people in the U.S. also vote and support the incompetence that is displayed by our government.

Black and White and Shades of Gray . . .

So, I was talking with a friend (a retired federal employee, who probably would or could have been considered part of the 800,000 non-essential employees) on my way back from my short trip to Pennsylvania yesterday for the Ribbon Cutting and Dedication of the Charlie "Tremendous" Jones Conference Center. I've written before about my late friend, Charlie Jones. You can look up earlier posts if you're interested in who he was. But, the friend I was speaking to on the drive back (by cellular phone with speakerphone) is a very liberal Democrat. He has told me on several occasions that it doesn't matter who the candidate is, whether he can spell his own name and tie his own shoelaces or if he's brilliant and informed or if he's a convicted rapist, murderer, money launderer or mobster, if he's a Democrat, my friend will vote for him. To him there is only black and white.

Now, to be fair, I have conservative Republican friends who have that same black and white mentality. It doesn't matter who the candidate is or his qualifications, if he's a Republican, he automatically gets the vote.

So the conversation slid into the current events of the 800,000 non-essential employees being back at work doing the non-essential work they are assigned. My friend, who lives right outside Washington, DC said he was glad they were back to work because the traffic and congestion was back down to normal weekday levels again instead of being as bad as the weekend traffic in that region.

Now, let me offer a side note, if all these government workers who were furloughed were whining and whimpering about being in such peril of losing their homes and defaulting on their credit card debt, what the hell were they all doing out on the roads burning $3.50/gallon gas in their gas guzzling SUV's and buying, buying, buying stuff in all the stores? Me thinks something stinks in the Nation's Capital area.

But, back to my friend, he immediately expressed that all the Democrats were right and the Republicans were stupid, wrong and trying to bring the nation down. My comment was that I thought that both sides were nothing more than juvenile kindergarteners fighting over a toy and neither wanted to give an inch and should all be thrown out of their offices - fired, if you will. He immediately started to object to me classifying his beloved incompetent, liberal, Democratic Party as juvenile kindergarteners. I cut him off and said, you had your say and believe your way - and I have my right to my beliefs and to express them. So, let's stop the conversation and agree to disagree because since there is nothing that he or any extreme right wing Republican could say to change my beliefs.

The Crux of the Matter

And that is exactly why we have the problems in the U.S. that we do. People let other people think for them and tell them what they should believe - and they do. I find no difference between the two parties as far as their mentality, behavior, ethics and, in some cases, morality. And, further, I don't think I can count the number of people in elected positions on one hand who are not there for their own self-serving reasons. Frankly, if I still had a young child, I wouldn't trust any one of them to baby sit my kid. I believe there are some positive things that are supported by each side of the two party system. Unfortunately, I find it virtually impossible to accept and agree fully or even halfway with either side. If you want to be free you have to think for yourself. Others may not agree with your way of thinking or your philosophies, however, to be free everyone has to have the right to their own beliefs and to live by those beliefs as long as they don't infringe on the rights and freedom of anyone else.

Passing judgment as to the choices others make is way above my pay grade. But, I don't want some elected, appointed or hired individual who is in their position - at my pleasure - and that of all the other citizens they represent, telling me how to live or run my life. They are there to serve us, not the other way around. That's right! They are our hired hands and should be kissing our rings if there is any ring kissing to be done. We pay their paychecks, they don't pay ours. I'm not interested in having anyone telling me I have to do anything, including buying health insurance or penalizing me if I don't. That's my choice.

Life is not black and white. And life is not only all shades of gray. Life is a pallet of 256 million colors and we should each have the right to paint our lives any way we choose.

Anyone choosing to work for any government agency at any level is fine with me. Obviously  I have my feelings about how many government employees are needed especially at the federal level. If you happen to be one of the 800,000 federal employees deemed non-essential and you don't like what I have to say, it's not personal. My issue is with the system. But, you'll have to Deal With It! Since I, the private sector and the GNP are paying your salary, we're ultimately the boss. I, like you,  have the right to think and express what I think. It's probably damaging to your ego to find out that you're non-essential, as it would be in the private sector. But, that's okay. That's a choice you made and I don't judge you one way or the other. I've had many friends who were government employees or are retired from government service. I lived my life the way I chose and you lived yours the way you chose. If/when the government finally gets to a point where it can't afford to sustain 800,000 non-essential workers any longer you may find yourselves among the millions of your private sector brothers and sisters who can't find good jobs. They may already have or you and they may lose your homes and will have to adjust to a more minimalist and simplified lifestyle, probably for the rest of your lives. This will be difficult for you and you'll probably be depressed. You'll have contempt for the private sector and probably for people like me who realized where things were going and voluntarily modified our lifestyles making us freer and happier than we've ever been. Life is nothing but choices and when you let someone else make them for you, you'll most likely never be happy with them.

I leave those of you who choose to live in a black and white world to your choice while I live in a brilliant, full-color world full of adventures and experiences. 

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