First, it was “NO!” to health care reform. Now it’s “NO!” to financial reform.

Meet Frank Luntz, professional word-twister. He’s the man that feeds Republican lawmakers and conservative evangelists the imaginative and fascinating rhetoric designed to kill anything and everything the Obama administration proposes. Mr. Luntz is a political strategist – ok, that’s an understatement – he’s the High Priest of right-wing conspiracy hype, the guy that Fox News and people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck turn to when they need some rancid oats to feed their flock .

Here we have another “smoking memo” . . . a behind-the-scenes look at how politics happens in the GOP.  In the memo, he advises the Republican Party (and provides specific talking points) to intentionally misrepresent facts in favor of hype and hysteria, designed to deceive our citizenry in order to secure a political win. It’s ugly, it’s ruthless, it’s politics in America.

If you’ve got a valid viewpoint, why not engage in an honest, intelligent debate? Why the need for this gamesmanship? The reason, of course, is because it works. It works better than anything else out there. It works because, as a nation of voters, we’ve become too stupid and lazy to think through these things for ourselves.

It makes me sick to my stomach, and deeply concerned about the country my kids will inherit.

Typically, I’m not much of an activist. My support for causes that I believe in tends to be quiet and personal – I’ve never been one to shout from the rooftops and tell others how they should think, feel or act. This time around though, I’m stepping out of my box.

We’ve all read countless stories about how the insatiable greed of Wall Street financial institutions has led them to take ridiculous risks with OUR money, and deserve a large share of the blame for the global economic meltdown that continues to impact just about everyone I know. With our economic system on the verge of collapse, in an unprecedented move, the US taxpayers gave hundreds of billions of dollars to these “too-big-to-fail” banks (namely Citibank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase) in order to prop them up and keep our economy from imploding. These institutions survived only because the US taxpayers stepped in to save them.

One would think they’d be grateful, perhaps a little humble in the aftermath. But no. How do these mega-banks  show their appreciation? By screwing us, in every imaginable way, to restore their profits and feed the Wall Street beast. OUR money is not being used for loans to small business to get the economy rolling again, as intended. OUR money is not being reinvested in communities. OUR money is being hoarded to offset corporate losses and shore up their own balance sheets. OUR money is being used to pay lobbyists in Washington to go to battle against reforms that would protect us from another catastrophe.

These banks have also been very aggressive – more so than ever – in screwing consumers out of billions of dollars through predatory fees and deceptive banking practices. When Congress stepped in to try to put an end to such tactics, the banks used the time period leading up to the new rules’ effective date to pre-emptively raise interest rates and enact even more penal terms on their customers. The greed and arrogance is reprehensible. The biggest banks are now profitable once again, and, blind to the devastation that remains in the wake of their irresponsibility, have decided to reward themselves with billions of dollars in bonus pay.

Pissed yet? You should be. There is a very easy and effective solution. Move your money out of the “too-big-to-fail” banks, and into community-based banks and credit unions. The idea was spawned over the holidays by Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson of the Huffington Post, which just happens to be the most widely-read blog on the planet (see the link in my blogroll to the left). This post explains the “how and why” and points out how it’s a better deal for consumers as well. Please, if you never click on another link in my blog again, click this one and read it. And, do us all a favor and forward this to everyone you know!

By putting our deposits in local banks and credit unions instead of the big four Wall Street banks, we give control of that money back to the people that live and work in our communities, where that money is most likely to be reinvested. It’s so simple, one has to wonder why we haven’t been doing this all along. I applaud the idea, and I am thrilled to see that it’s gaining a lot of traction, not only around the blogosphere, but in the real world as well. Even local and state governments are starting to transfer some of their cash into smaller, local banks, and that can make a real difference, real fast.

Wall Street does what it does because, so far, we’ve let them get away with it. We happily play victim to their perverse loyalties. Not me – not any more. We’re looking at refinancing our house in California, and we’ll be using a credit union this time around. By the way, did you know that credit unions are non-profit institutions? We’ve been customers for some time now, and we love it. With better interest rates on loans and savings deposits, and friendly service, I actually feel more like a valued client rather than a revenue target. And, every extra dollar they bring in is returned to their members (account holders) as dividends. Is that cool or what?

How about you? Are you angry enough to do something about it, or are you going to let Wall Street continue to have its way with you and your money?

I got this idea from a friend of mine who posted the challenge on Facebook last night. I liked the idea, and wanted to try it out here. She’s a fan of this blog, so I’m hoping she won’t mind.

What is your favorite first line from a song? The concept is simple enough. It can be any kind of song – rock, country, blues, even showtunes – but to qualify for this challenge, it has to be a song lyric. No books, no movies, no poetry. We’ll hit those categories another time. Leave your favorite as a comment to this post, and do all of us a favor by telling us the source of your selection (song title, artist), and if so inclined, tells us what you like about it.

Is picking a single favorite too much pressure? Fine. Then just tell us about one you particularly like. I’ll even start the ball rolling with a favorite of my own from the Counting Crows:

“She steps out the front door like a ghost into the fog, where no-one notices the contrast of white on white.”

I love this lyric for the creative imagery, and the mood it casts. With that one line, we can immediately understand that this person either feels or wants to feel invisible, which in turn allows us to speculate on what must be a whole host of underlying thoughts and feelings.

So many of you have introduced me to much of the music that I listen to most often, and I’d really like to hear back from you. You don’t have to articulate about it, just share. Have some fun with it. That’s what we’re here for!

Today feels much like the day that George W. Bush was re-elected to a second term in office.

I sit in shock and utter disbelief at the choices we make as a nation. I would have expected this from rural ranchers and Bible-thumping southerners drinking the conservative kool-aid, but these were folks from the most-educated and liberal state in the Union. I saw this post today from Mitchell Bard, and he’s done a fantastic job of capturing my sentiments. It’s worth a read.

I’m not angry, I’m disheartened. There may well be continued efforts to make some meaningful progress on health care reform, but with the Republicans in control we can be certain that any potential reforms will neither be meaningful nor progressive. Such concepts cut against the fabric that cloaks their greed and power. Looking forward, we can expect that every new initiative the Administration puts forth will be promptly and earnestly blocked by the Republicans, not on the merits of the legislation, but simply because they can.

One year ago today, Barack Obama took office as President of the United States. He brought a message of hope, and for me, the hope was that our new leader would have the courage to propose big ideas to make meaningful changes, even if the proposals were politically risky and could jeopardize his prospects for re-election.

That hope is gone now, because our Republican friends have zero interest in doing anything that could upset their ultra-conservative, wealthy and religious base. They’ll simply stall until the November elections, because if you do nothing, you can always blame the other guys. And looking at yesterday’s election results, we’re clearly dumb enough to fall for it.

Hell just froze over. In an epic upset, the Republicans have gained a Senate seat in Massachusetts, giving them a crucial 41st vote and the ability to kill health care reform, and every other attempt at progress the Obama administration makes.

It’s a sure bet that absolutely nothing will get accomplished in Congress between now and 2012. And in the meantime, healthcare costs will continue to skyrocket, with record profits lining the pockets of the insurance companies as more and more Americans fall victim to the greed that bleeds us dry.

The reform bill was never going to be perfect. In its current, anemic form, I’m not convinced it would have even helped as much as we’d hope. But now, I know without a doubt that nothing will get better anytime soon, and Joe Leiberman will continue to have folks from both sides of the aisle lining up to kiss his ass.

I’ve got lots of friends in the medical world, and some of them even take the time now and again to read this blog. I love you all, and hope we can still be chums, but . . .

Why the hell does basic medical care have to cost so much?

Back in November, my son was goofing off with friends at the park and took a fall. He managed to find the one piece of metal in about two acres of grass, and split the back of his head open. He was bleeding everywhere, so we made a call to one of our “friends on the inside,” and the local emergency room staff was waiting for us when we walked in the door. Step aside, swine-flu people, we’ve got real blood here. The service was outstanding, and we are very appreciative of being allowed to get in and out with relative ease.

A few weeks later, we got the bill from the hospital. And then we got a separate bill from the doctors. Needless to say, I was stunned. Hospital charges totaled over $1600, and a separate bill from the doctor was nearly $900.

Wah? That’s $2500 for 2 bottles of saline solution to clean the wound, a novacaine shot, and 5 staples. Really! No ambulance, no fancy scans, no lab work, nada. Just a textbook case of stitch-em up and send-em home. The whole procedure probably took 30 minutes.

Yes, we’ve got insurance, so we won’t end up paying that much, but c’mon . . . $2500? No wonder we’ve got a health care crisis in this country.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question in the past couple of weeks. As if I can explain it. I can’t even explain some of the dumb stuff that I do, so I’m completely unqualified to speak for Tiger.

He had it all. Dream job, dream gal, dream family, ungodly amounts of money, a loyal, adoring fan base and a squeaky-clean public image. But maybe it all came too easily, and he wasn’t content with that.

Maybe the prospect of skirting around with tramp du’jour (the current tally is 8, but it’s still early in the day) without getting caught offered him a bigger challenge. Maybe, growing up under his dad’s wing, he never got the chance to explore his urges and indulge some indiscretions. Maybe he’s just as clueless, ay! more so, than the common man when it comes to relationships.

Maybe its all-of-the-above.

Whatever his reasons, he’s created quite a mess, and I’m not sure he’s even begun to come to terms with it. And, as the saying goes, the bigger they are the harder they fall. When this all plays out, he’ll still have a career in golf and more money than he can spend, but the rest is gone. Not even the great Tiger Woods can pull out a win this time.

His ill-advised attemp to buy Elin back with a re-negotiated prenuptial agreement is perhaps the most humiliating gesture he could make. As if it weren’t bad enough to make a colossal fool of her, now he’s treating her like a whore. 

Game over, Tiger. No playoff holes. You’re done. Don’t even bother signing the scorecard.

A fellow blogger has a series of posts titled “What You Will Do For Your Children,” wherein he’ll spotlight some of the selfless, and sometimes humiliating, hoops we’ll climb through for no other reason than to show our love and support for the little ones in our lives. So Matt, tally this one up in your column.

A while back, I posted a little piece about my disdain for Dunkin Donuts’ coffee. Considering all the hype I’d heard and read, I was more than a little disappointed when I finally got around to trying it, and shared my thoughts with the world. Well, guess what? I’m now hawking DD’s coffee to my friends and family, or anyone else who needs a bag or two. It’s a fundraiser for my son’s soccer team (those tournaments get expensive!) and we get to keep a pretty good share of the proceeds.

So, I never thought I’d be saying this, but . . .

Anyone care for some Dunkin Donuts coffee?   Options are: regular, decaf, vanilla, or hazelnut (all ground). Whole bean coffee is available in regular or decaf. Nine bucks a bag, and you can have it by Christmas. Yeah, I know the grocery store sells it for less. That’s why we call it a fundraiser.

Lots of folks really like this stuff. Makes an easy holiday gift. Any takers?

Ah yes, Black Friday cometh. But before we join the stampede to grab the latest gadgets and gizmos, there’s something I’d like to share with you – a little twist on our conventionally held notions of gift-giving.

So many of us get caught up in the “spirit” of the holidays. We peruse the door-buster ads in advance, rank the priorities, and map out the most efficient course to hit all the best sales. We have lists and more lists of whom to buy for, what to buy, and how much to spend. It’s the world’s largest scavenger hunt. For many, it’s become a seasonal tradition, cherished as much (if not more than) our Thanksgiving feast a day earlier, and I actually think that’s fine.

We’ll spend the coming month shopping, singing, baking, and decorating. We’ll attend a never-ending stream of school plays and holiday parties, planning and coordinating and burning every ounce of energy we’ve got until at last, Christmas Day arrives. Gifts are presented, packages ripped open with elation, and thank-yous exchanged. Another meal, a glass of wine, and then?

We need to follow through.

Huh?

We need to follow through on the gifts that we give. You see, the value of a gift is not in its price, but rather in its worth. And what makes a gift worth giving is the follow-through. I’ll give a couple of examples . . . If you give a kid a football, make the time to play catch. If you’re giving the Monopoly game, follow through by taking the time to play along. If you present your wife with some beautiful new jewelry, plan a night out where she can actually wear it. The gift isn’t the “thing,” the gift is you. Am I making sense here?

Without the follow-through, gifts quickly lose their value. Sometimes, a gift without the follow-through is worse than no gift at all.  We give anticipation, and set our loved ones up for a big let-down. In the end, nobody feels good about the gift. I’ve been guilty of this in the past. In fact, I’m a repeat offender.

It’s taken me 40-something years to figure this out, and with any luck I can make up for some lost ground, starting now. Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful season of giving. Cheers!

My Saturday began on Friday, strategizing with my wife about how we were going to conquer the events of the next day. By any measure, the itenerary was nuts – 3 soccer games, 2 parties, and a planned outing with my daughter’s volleyball team to watch the ASU-Stanford volleyball match – but not far from ordinary for a family with active kids. We could have taken our usual approach, to divide-and-conquer. That would have been a slam dunk. But with just enough time between events, we embraced the challenge to stick together and do it all as one big, happy family. We went over the start times and locations, factored in drive time and necessary stops, and plotted our course. 

Saturday morning, I was in charge of packing enough food and drink to get us through the day. What’s faster than fast-food? Easy, PBJ in the car! By 8am we were out the door.

Game 1: My son’s soccer team had been struggling against higher-caliber competition all season, and morale was sinking. This game was more evenly matched, and the boys played hard. As the game progressed, we could see some of the training and teamwork start to show through, and my son scored on a great offensive run. The game ended in a 3-2 loss, but some confidence had been restored, and we looked forward to the afternoon game.

Game 2: The final game of the season for my youngest daughter, and honestly, we were all glad to see it come to an end. She’s a great little talent and usually plays with heart and passion, but her enthusiasm was squashed this year by a coach who really just had no business leading a little girls team. He was loud, scolding and intimidating, and he’d lost the respect of the girls (and most of the parents) a long time ago.

I actually missed most of Game 2. My son wasn’t feeling well after his early game, and I had to make a run to the pharmacy. We’re still not sure what the underlying ailment was, but I had a feeling that dehydration was probably a factor.

Party #1: We wrapped the birthday gift in the car on way, and dropped our young soccer star off for a sleep-over party on the way to the next game.

Game 3: My son’s afternoon game was in serious doubt. He’d improved slightly in the past half hour, but wasn’t moving quickly and said he just wanted to go home. Knowing that he’s really good at acting miserable, I did my best high-wire act, suggesting that he at least come down to the field and make an appearance. If after warm-ups he wasn’t feeling any better, I told him we’d go home. As it turns out, I’d played the hand perfectly. Come game time, he was revved up again, and ended up scoring in that game as well. By the time it was over he was completely spent, but I could tell that pushing through was a great confidence-booster for him.

Party #2: We gathered with my older-daughter’s volleyball team for an end-of-season BBQ. Since I’ll be taking over as head coach for the upcoming season, I saw this as a unique opportunity to carry some momentum forward into the new season.

And finally, the big-girls game: Most of the girls had never played volleyball before this season, and it was great to see how far they’d come in just a couple of months. It’s one thing to teach the technical skills of how to pass, set, and hit, but how does one teach awareness, anticipation, and strategy? I seized this opportunity to drag the girls out to see ASU’s final home game, against #6-ranked Stanford. I was hoping the girls would benefit from seeing what it looks like when a team has all the pieces in place – positioning, movement, communication, focus and intensity. It’s possible that it was too much to comprehend. Volleyball is a very different game when played “above the net,” so they may have been confused by much of what they saw. Even so, it was a great night out, and a fun bonding experience. Our first practice under my supreme rule is tonight. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

So there it is, a busy day in the life of me. I came home exhausted, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I’m really digging this family thing.