Global warming is here but can humans do anything to change it?

There is no doubt that our planet Earth is getting warmer. Whatever the reasons – and these are being debated “ad nauseam” – the only meaningful efforts should focus on what measures we can take to deal with the consequences of the rising temperature.

Data reported in Nature by the European Organization for Nuclear Research support the notion that cosmic rays and the Sun, not human activities, are responsible for global warming. I wonder whether the proponents (including the Nobel Prize winner Mr. Al Gore) of carbon dioxide being the key culprit will “warm up” to that idea… Interestingly, suggestions that sun and cosmic rays are primarily responsible for the Earth climate changes were proposed as early as 1996. The suggestion was officially denounced as being “scientifically extremely naive and irresponsible”.

The cosmic-ray hypothesis has been the main argument against the poorly defined model of self-amplifying action of greenhouse gases, mainly because of historic evidence of large influences of the Sun on global climate in previous centuries and millennia, with an obvious implication that the same mechanism applies to the 20th -century warming.

Be it as it may, the fact is that Governments globally, after accepting that CO2emissions are responsible for global warming, failed to make any effective in-roads into decreasing such emissions. Further, the Governments failed to stop reduction in the Earth’s forestation – a huge “consumer” of CO2.

Since it is very apparent that we cannot take any effective action to prevent or even slow down global warming, whatever its causes, all efforts should be now directed to preparing for dealing with the global-warming consequences.

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Taxation and fairness – what an oxymoron!

Taxation and fairness – what an oxymoron!

 Much debate has taken place recently on the issue of “rich bosses paying taxes at a rate lower than their secretaries”.  The reason for the difference is in itself interesting. The tax rate on qualified dividends is 0% or 15% (depending on the individual’s income tax rate). If the individual has a regular income tax rate of 25% or higher, then the qualified dividend tax rate is 15%. If the individual’s income tax rate is less than 25%, then qualified dividends are taxed at the zero percent rate.  Whatever the reasons are for this “arrangement”, it is clear that income earned by a person by actually working is taxed at a much higher rate than money coming from an investment interest generated by someone else…  It would seem much fairer the other way round…

 There are other examples showing that the US tax system does not reward work efforts. Recently I used a commercially available tax-preparation software. An answer I was given to a question: If my self-employment and income taxes combined is around 40%, isn’t that high?” surprised me. I was told that “Your tax rate is dependent on your amount of income and your type of income. Since you’re self employed, you have to pay self-employment tax, as well as your regular income tax. As a self-employed individual, you’re required to pay both your portion and an employer’s portion for Social Security and Medicare. You pay 13.3% on the first $106,800 of income for Social Security and Medicare. You’re taxed at a 2.9% rate for income above $106,800.Your regular tax is calculated by including your self-employment income and all other sources of income. You receive deductions for your expenses and half of your self-employment tax. This result is applied against your regular income tax rate. The highest marginal income tax rate is currently 35%. So, depending on your income level, a 40% tax rate might be correct.”

 No matter how one looks at it, a 40% tax rate is just ridiculously high, especially when compared to tax rate on dividends. It is now high time that a tax system that rewards people at work is introduced!

 

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Should you cast your vote?

Should you cast your vote?

 Should you vote in the next Presidential election? Perhaps, but only if you genuinely believe in the promises made by your chosen candidate. And looking back at previous elections, most promises have remained just that…

 Although the U.S. “leadership” has been describing the United States as the “world’s oldest democracy”, the United States is not a democracy; it is a republic, with the claim of democracy being based on a very narrow, and not a fully clear definition. The prevailing impression one gets is that the Government is neither confident nor willing to accept that the people have the time, wisdom or level-headedness to make complex decisions, such as those that are often presented on ballots on election days.

 On what basis do we select our Leaders? The choice is typically made on what prospective candidates say and promise and not on the basis of a well-founded idea and plan. “Selling” the candidate is frequently directly proportional to the amount of money available for the campaign, and hence can be strongly influenced by wealthy organizations and interest groups. The current campaign-finance laws allow organizations to spend millions of dollars influencing politicians and the US politics, without having to disclose such donations to the voters. The message is biased towards the policies of the party with which the candidate is associated. This is motivated by the desire of the party to gain or remain in the position of power and hardly at all by what might be the best for the country and its population. 

 The most likely outcome of electing a different Leader is that nothing fundamental will change. What is the reason? The system designed to maintain continuity unfortunately suffers from the same old practices being used and the same old mistakes being made.  It would be foolish to expect that outcomes will be different! It is not that an individual needs to be replaced, but instead the whole way how the government operates, the whole system of government needs fundamentally to change for the power to rest truly with the citizens of this country. Instead of the current Representative Democracy, Direct Democracy is how the USA should be governed!

So for the upcoming elections I suggest that each voter stops believing party propagandas, but instead listens carefully, examines and understands what new ideas the candidates have to offer. Examine whether their record of past performance support what they promise and hence are likely to pursue and achieve. Support a candidate that is committed to a truly democratic process of changing and developing our society that involves citizens in making important decisions.

 And if you are not sure, do not vote!

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Anyone for tennis?!

 Anyone for tennis?!

Our United States “culture” cannot be said to be high on patience.  Not waiting but instant gratification is much more in vogue.  No wonder than that games like soccer and tennis are not wildly popular.  It cannot be said that either of these two games could be described as fast-paced.

Don’t get me wrong.  A game of football can be very interesting and enjoyable when it is played to win. It is a different matter altogether when it is played not to lose. When pushing and pulling shirts and shorts is a part of the plan, when feigning injury or extreme pain is done to gain advantage, when one step forward and two steps back is a strong tactical element.  What makes it exceedingly tedious to watch is when a well organized team has defense as its sole objective. Twenty one men trying to kick the ball in a crowded one third of a football pitch does not make for a very exciting entertainment.  Beauty of football game is in the skills of individual players, and this is usually lost when the game is too “closed”.

There is a way to change the game and make it exciting again. First, let’s get rid of the off-side rule and let the players “spread out”. Let’s individual skills shine over stolid strategies.  And another thing – the system of using a “warning” yellow card and a red “sending off” card to punish players that commit fouls does not work either. Surely dangerous play and blatant fouls must be penalized but sending off a player for the rest of the game is too harsh. It would be much fairer and would make for a better game if a player is send off for a period of time, say 10-15 minutes with some flexibility depending on the severity of the offence.

It can be safely said that tennis fares much worse than soccer when it comes to “entertainment” value. Changes have been made, and at least in the US Open the tiebreak is used in each set so that the game does not “drag on”. The rest of the Grand Slam tournaments still retain the old advantage set rules. The “merit” of this was demonstrated last year at Wimbledon where the world’s longest tennis match lasting 11 hours and 5 minutes was played.  Even with the tiebreak in use, it is not uncommon for tennis matches to last 5 hours or so (with a significant part of this time being spent by the players in toweling themselves, going through their routines like bouncing the ball many, many times before serving, sitting in their chairs after each game, etc., etc., so the actual playing time is indeed much shorter). On the technical side, service, i.e., the initial introduction of the ball into play, has gained too much significance over the years. Is it really still necessary to give players two chances to “get it right” when serving? It would make the game flow better if each serve is counted as one point. Deuce and Advantage should be scrapped. Let’s make each game consisting of a number of serves, 11 would seem a good number, and whichever player gains 6 points wins that game. Reliance on a heavy serve would be largely eliminated, or at least much reduced.

Anyone for tennis!?

 

 


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How do we stop being lied to?!

How do we stop being lied to?!

 The US population tends to be somewhat gullible, loving gossips and believing what it is being told especially by those in a position of relative authority, be it politicians, medical profession, security forces, and generally as reported by journalists. The need for correctness, accuracy or the truth does not often enter the recipient’s minds. This makes the work of folks involved in unethical marketing quite easy.

 Telling untruths about products, their performance and quality, is common place in the US advertizing. Where would seem to be most blatant is in promoting nutritional supplements, sometime referred to as neutraceuticals.

 For example, millions of Americans with osteoarthritis take glucosamine, often with chondroitin sulfate, making these two of the top-selling dietary supplements. Glucosamine is now a $2bn global blockbuster!

 Formulas combining glucosamine and chondroitin are claimed to provide healthy joint support, supplying joints with the “building blocks needed to address changes from normal wear and tear. Chondroitin sulfate protects the cartilage and attracts fluids that give the tissue its shock-absorbing quality.”

 Is this true? These statements “have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”  Hence, there are no safeguards, no verification of the products’ performance. And what evidence is being offered to support such statements? Vague or none!

 Independent investigations have yielded conflicting findings over the years. A report that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine described a study that involved some 1,600 people with osteoarthritis of the knee. Participants were randomly assigned to receive one of five treatments daily for 24 weeks: glucosamine alone (500 milligrams three times a day), chondroitin sulfate alone (400 milligrams three times a day), glucosamine and chondroitin combined (at those same doses), a placebo, or Celebrex (a prescription drug approved for arthritis pain). Overall, neither glucosamine nor chondroitin, alone or in combination, worked significantly better than the placebo.

 Lack of efficacy is not the only issue with these products. It is their quality. The highly unethical practice known as EMA – economically motivated adulteration – boarders on being a criminal activity.

 

 It has been reported that Americans spend about $10 billion a year on unproven arthritis remedies. It is perhaps not surprising since sufferers are prepared to try nearly anything to relieve their pain. There is no cure, but because there is such a strong placebo effect (even as high as 60% as reported in a recent study!), practically everything appears to work for some people for a while. And since arthritis pains come and go, whatever happens to be tried at the time receives an undeserved credit. Hence, temptation for unethical marketing and easy profits are great.

 Losing weight is another area in which consumers are prepared to try “anything” at a promise of an easy success! One such product, Lipozene, promises to be a “diet pill clinically proven to help reduce body fat & weight”.

 • 78% of each Pound Lost is PURE BODY FAT.

• Lipozene diet pills are backed by multiple clinical studies.

• REDUCE POUNDS of Body Fat and Weight WITHOUT a change in lifestyle

• Lipozene weight loss supplements are safe and effective

 And the claimed clinical evidence? Hard to find! It is true that the main ingredient of Lipozene is glucomannan, a natural fiber supplement that is clinically proven to lower cholesterol and decrease body weight.  But there is no evidence that making a concoction of glucomannan with trace ingredients present in Lipozene makes this any more efficacious. Further, based on the current knowledge, one would need to consume some 26 to 40 capsules a day to expect shedding about three pounds a month on Lipozenes..  Product recommendation is to take two capsules of Lipozene three times a day. At that rate, a one-month supply would cost $90. Multiply this 4 to 7 times to get to an effective dose, and you’ll be spending $360 to $630 a month. Taking enough fiber in your diet is definitely a much better option.


 

 

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Evolution or revolution? Is the US ready?

Evolution or revolution? Is the US ready?

As societies change globally, there is much to be learned from history. Over time, social evolution modifies and adjusts the “rules” of communities to meet changing conditions and demands. When evolution falls behind, or when majority of a society is ruled by a minority, changes tend to take a more abrupt course, taking the society into entirely new directions.  Such significant changes were in the past often revolutionary rather than evolutionary – French Revolution, American Revolutionary War, Russian Revolution, Velvet Revolution to name just a few.  Revolutions destroy the old before building, at least sometime, a better new.

 

Let us take French Revolution as an example of causes that typically feed revolt. There were economic factors – rising food prices. Francewas near bankruptcy as a result of the many wars fought by its successive rulers. This was also made worse by France’s participation in the American Revolutionary War, with the national debt amounting to some 2 billion livres.France’s inefficient and antiquated financial system was unable to manage the national debt, not helped by the burden of an inadequate system of taxation. The royal court was seen as being isolated from, and indifferent to the hardships of the lower classes.  The demise of regimes such as inFrance or later of theBritish Empire is clearly linked to their own rigidity. Does it sound familiar?

 

Revolutions have one thing in common – the masses no longer want to be governed by those in power at the time. We have the latest example inEgypt, where changes are in progress for exactly this reason. I wonder whether you see a similarity between the situations that led to the fall of governments in the past, and the situation theUSAfinds itself in 2011. And I wonder whether you have asked yourself a question: “Have citizens of theUSAbeen satisfied with the way the country has been governed by a succession of governments over the last 50 years or so?” And if you have, I suspect that your answer is most likely to be a definite “NO”.

 

TheU.S.“leadership” claim to theUSbeing the “world’s oldest democracy” is not exactly accurate. The United States is not a democracy; it is a republic, with the claim of democracy being based on a very narrow, and not a fully-clear definition. Let us not forget that theUSAwas born as a result of a revolutionary act. Although traditionally theUSis to be administered by the “… government of the people, by the people, for the people…”, this ideal concept has long turned into a representative form of democracy that has become far too removed from the “people” to be both effective and just.

 

So what has caused in the years that followed such a wide gap between the intended ideal and the current reality? How is the will of the people determined and implemented? This is done through relatively few individuals that represent ideologies of main political parties. How do we select our representation and hence the Government? The choice is typically made on what prospective candidates say and promise and not on the basis of a well-founded and thought-through ideas and plans. In most cases, the success of “selling” a candidate is directly proportional to the amount of money available for the campaign, and hence can be strongly influenced by wealthy individuals. organizations and interest groups. The current campaign-finance laws allow organizations to spend millions of dollars influencing politicians and theUSpolitics, without having to disclose such donations to the voters. Further, the message is biased towards the policies of the party with which the candidate is associated. This is motivated by the desire of the party to gain or remain in the position of power and hardly at all by what might be the best for the country and its population. 

 

Despite the claims by the representatives of both the major parties – Democratic and Republican – that they want to serve the country, there is a number of major problems with this.

  • Each party proclaims ideologies that may or may not be compatible with what the country and its citizens want and need;
  • The parties often reverse decisions made by the party previously in power in line with their ideology and not according to what the majority of citizens would want;
  • As a result, government manages largely on a short-term basis rather than creating a long-term vision and leadership;
  • The primary goal of each party is to defeat the other party; the need to be in the position of power overrides any other considerations. Naturally, failures present and past, are blamed on the opposition;
  • Importantly, governments tend to overspend to meet their short-term objections, without having a long-term responsibility for the outcome and its consequences.

 

It is no surprise then that pre-election promises are hardly ever delivered. Taking as an example the current administration, here are few examples:

  • Create 5 million jobs
  • Impose windfall profit tax on oil companies
  • Cut taxes for 95% of workers and families and (quote:) “no family making less than $250,000 will see their taxes increase.”
  • Cut pork-barrel spending
  • Make government spending more accountable and efficient
  • Health care: Lower health care costs by $2,500 for a typical family
  • Make the R&D tax credit permanent

There is no need for me to tell you how these promises have come to pass – you know that already. Similar lists could be generated for other administrations of recent years.

Taking spending as a very important example, regardless of what has been promised by recent governments, the national debt continues to increase at a rate of over a trillion dollars a year. Against the background of this spending-rate increase, claims of spending cuts being made seems to be largely an “optical illusion”.  For example, “Republicans lambasted a White House plan to make an extra $6.5 billion in spending cuts to the budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Democrats in turn slammed the House Republican proposal, which would cut $61 billion from the fiscal 2011 budget.” Billions are only “few drops in the ocean” of trillions that are still being overspent…

 

As a popular opinion suggests, it is madness to keep repeating doing the same things and expecting a different outcome.  It is not a matter of what individuals should be selected as representatives. Instead, the whole way of how theUSgovernment operates, the whole system of government needs fundamentally to change for the power to rest truly with the citizens of this country. Direct democracy is how the USA should and needs to be governed, starting at the local and state levels, and extending it to the federal government!  A prevailing argument against such notion made by politicians is that this cannot be done, that this would not work, that the people do not have the time, wisdom or level-headedness to make complex decisions, such as those that are often presented on ballots on election days. Politicians’ contempt for the voters is obvious.

 

TheUShas enjoyed a period of relative social stability. This has been largely due to the economic prosperity of the country, with generations after generations expecting a steadily improving standard of living. If one can go by the present global development, this “easy-comes” prosperity may not continue much longer for a vast majority of theUScitizens. The US Government should remember that “history repeats itself” and that a combination of underestimated and ignored electorate combined with economic hardship was in the past found to be an explosive combination…

 

The US Governments have become accustomed to the hard-working masses and business financing their bad decisions and inefficient management. This will not go for ever. Is the society ready to accept steadily but not so slowly rising prices and a gradually declining standard of living? If I were a politician, I would not be too complacent about this. The future is still in the hands of elected governments – will they be able to evolve for the better, or will a revolution be needed again?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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