Who Cares? Some Questions for Our Social Care Industry

I write this in the hope that the reader like me would wish to draw attention to the plight of a group of people in our community. These people are amongst the lowest paid and often the lowest regarded while at the same time carry out an essential and vital service that the most vulnerable of us depend on. I speak of social care workers who work tirelessly to ensure that the disabled, the infirm, the elderly and those near to the end of their lives are comfortable, safe and cared for.

Social care workers are charged with massive amounts of responsibility, they are expected to understand and comply with the complex regulations and legislation that apply to social care. During the induction process of the company I work for we were addressed by the CEO who informed us that social care is the second most regulated industry in the UK, second only to the nuclear power industry. Of course this level of regulation is necessary to protect the vulnerable.

We can all look forward to the advancing of years and anyone of us can fall victim to debilitating disease, it's not just our parents or our grandparents that we need to consider but it is us as well. The care we give to those in need now will be the same care the we ourselves will come to need in the future. Will we be satisfied when we are in receipt of the care that our community has to offer? Can we be sure that the care that we want to receive will be as good as the care that we currently afford those in need?

What is it that draws people to work in the social care industry? Is it the financial rewards of being a care worker that motivates and inspires the industries workforce. With most social care workers being paid an hourly rate at or near the National Minimum Wage it would require a person to work eighty hours a week to earn what is currently our nations average income, when you add on the hours of unpaid travel time that most social care workers do. So perhaps it's not the money!

Is it the zero hours contracts, that are widely used in social care settings, that attract people? M'mm I wonder how mortgage providers view applications from people on zero hours contracts, even if they are working for eighty hours a week? Care company executives say their workers like these contracts as it gives them flexibility. What rubbish! What they do is provide a flexible workforce to companies at the expense of their low paid staff's security. Besides, since June 2014 when the Flexible Working Initiative was implemented all workers are entitled to apply to their employers for flexible working conditions. Employers can only refuse if they can prove it would damage their business.

Obviously social care workers are valued by their employers, or are they? The company that I work for are among many that say they value their staff but some of the employment practices they use bring this into question. I will describe below a number of examples:

Payment for sickness absence: Statutory Sick Pay is the norm here, which provides £88.45 a week to staff once they have been off for four consecutive days. Because it is paid on a daily rate and only for the days that a person normally works, not everyone will receive the full weekly allowance. A social care worker who continues to work while unwell and possibly with an infection would put their vulnerable clients at risk and is expected to absent themselves from work. Unfortunately a carers professionalism is not rewarded and it's not too difficult to envisage why someone would prefer to carry on working. I personally have picked up infections from clients which have resulted in me taking time off work to recover. Like all social care workers I am obliged to observe strict infection prevention and control practices but even with the best working practices infections and virus's put workers at risk. Instead of being compensated for the effects of a workplace hazard, social care workers are often penalised financially.

The law states that care workers time spent travelling between care calls counts as working time and should be used in the calculation to ensure all workers receive the National Minimum Wage. Very few care providing companies observe this ruling. My employer has introduced a policy that states if a worker has 30 minutes or more between clients they assume the worker has had time to take a break, irrespective of how long is spent travelling and is therefor not entitled to any pay for their time spent travelling. Unfortunately this policy was agreed by a HMRC National Minimum Wage Compliance Officer (who obviously didn't understand the rules). Discussions with managers has resulted in me being told by an executive that until the HMRC or a judge tells them differently their policy will stand. Does that support the view that I am valued?

A recent ruling by the European Courts on the Working Time Directive means that workers who travel to their place of work but don't have a regular office or workshop base have to be paid for the time spent travelling to their first call and from their last call back to their home. No doubt this will have caused the policy makers in Care Providers up and down the land to draft reasons why they should ignore this ruling. I believe the company I work for are to make an announcement on this sometime in the future.

Most community based social care workers need to own or have access to a motor vehicle to carry out their work. This wasn't a requirement in my terms of employment and I don't know of any other workers who have that in their contract. But in most cases it would not be possible to work without having means of transport. It is a company requirement however for me to have my car insured for business as well as pleasure.

My company pays me 35p per mile for using my car, yet it costs me 52p per mile to operate it (AA 2013 rates). The HMRC say I can receive 45p per mile tax free for using my own car and because of this I am able to claim tax relief on the difference of what I am paid and what the HMRC will allow. So, as I pay income tax at the 20% rate I claim 2p per mile back at the end of each tax year. The result is, I subsidise my employer by 15p for every mile that I use my car on their behalf.

My employer tells me that their mileage reimbursement policy is a generous one in comparison to what other companies pay. This is indeed a problem throughout the industry and is again something that questions the value placed on social care workers by their employers. Also the company I work for charges clients when we take them out in our cars on domestic and pleasure trips at the rate of 40p per mile but only 35p per mile is paid to the member of staff who buys, taxes, insures, fuels and maintains the vehicle. Does this help us feel valued?

I recently experienced another instance of feeling less than valued. This resulted from a letter from our CEO announcing what the new rates of pay will be after the increase to the National Minimum Wage hourly rate as from 1st October. This new hourly rate is 5p per hour above NMW, which is exactly the same as my hourly rate was two years ago before I did a Level 3 Diploma in Health & Social Care. It was a condition of my employment that I undergo NVQ training. I did this study in my own free time in the belief that I would receive an enhancement of 34p per hour on completion and receipt of my certificates. I don't regret studying for and gaining the qualifications I now have, I am however disappointed to discover that my efforts are not valued as much as I was led to believe they would be.

Do we now live in an age where it is unfashionable to value employees? Or is it simply that we can't afford to? Our government are on a programme of reducing costs, services and taxes in a determined effort to reduce our national debt. The wisdom of these measures and whether they will in fact prove effective will be for the future to decide. What is actually happening now, is having an effect now.

The local authorities who are the main commissioners of social care have seen year on year reductions in the central grants that they receive from government. In other words central government is squeezing local government. As a result local authorities have less resources to direct towards social care, the rates they are prepared or in fact can offer to care providers are affected by this. The effect of this is the local authorities/commissioners in turn are squeezing the care providers.

I understand from senior managers that more and more the local authorities offer lower hourly rates for care than the actual cost to the company for providing that care. So then, it's not too difficult to conclude that the care providers in turn are squeezing their social care workers in order to survive. Yes, that means me; I am being squeezed. Why don't they simply say to the commissioners 'no, we can't do that'? I suspect that if they did there would be no shortage of other companies that would say 'we can do it'. Perhaps there are too many care provider companies.

The effect of being squeezed is that I feel less valued than I did. The knowledge that my employers are now taking on work that costs them more than they receive for doing it does not give me confidence or indeed job security. Central government have made laws and regulations that stipulate that I should be paid a minimum for each hour that I work, yet it seems that they contribute to the reasons that in real terms I get less than my entitlement.

This debate is not just about how we as a society treat low paid workers. The fact that low paid workers are valued less than they should be by this continued 'squeezing' is a symptom of the problem which we have to address.

I think it's now an accepted fact that all developed nations have ageing populations. Advances in medical sciences mean that we can all look forward to living longer both when we are in good health and also when we require looking after by others. What we have to decide is, how important is good social care, how do we want to fund it and how much are we prepared to spend on it, simple!

The difficulty, is getting us all to agree. Our politicians, when they want us to vote for them, tell us that they will make sure that our health and social services will be funded so that we get the best care. After the election the government tells us that they have to make difficult decisions that result in cutting the budgets on care. The parties in opposition say they would do it differently but their debating doesn't change anything. Meanwhile the budgets continue to be cut, the services in turn are trimmed and some stopped altogether which doesn't improve the care for those in need or the plight of the social care worker. So perhaps we can't leave it entirely in the hands of politicians. What can we do?

Given that all the influence, control and squeezing is from the top downwards isn't making life any better for social care workers and the people they look after, can we start creating pressure from the bottom and push it back up? I think we can. We can tell our employers that it is no longer acceptable to squeeze us, that we have no one to squeeze. We can tell them that it is their responsibility to manage the company well and not accept work for less than it costs. OK, so they may choose not to listen to us and carry on squeezing and being squeezed. But, if we keep applying the pressure contra to the pressure we are under they may get annoyed enough to start pushing the pressure back up the slope. Then and only then will we have a chance of reversing what is more and more becoming inevitable.

If we don't start doing something about this now the quality of social care will degrade instead of improve. Care providing companies will be forced to cut corners as well as continuing to squeeze their workers. It may be that as a nation we don't want to spend any more on looking after the people who have care needs. What I feel we do need to do is have the debate not just in Parliament or the local council chambers. We all have the responsibility to get involved, say what we want for our future and that of our families and yes we have to decide if we are willing to pay for it.

Can we afford to ignore the problems? I am of the view that we can't, it simply won't just go away. Things will change however, next April with the introduction of the National Living Wage will bring another round of squeezing. How long will it be before the unprofitable care providing companies decide it's simply not worth it and close down. This will happen if we don't do something to prevent it. Perhaps it needs to happen for the industry to rationalise and reform, forcing us to face and make the decisions that have to be made.

We can no longer leave this issue in the hands of politicians and risk an outcome affected by what they think will get them re-elected. We have to decide if we want our parents and grandparents, our brothers and sisters and our children to be able to access care services when they need them and if we do, we have to pay for them.

As a social care worker I have a voice and a vote. I will make sure my employer and the candidates who want my vote know my views. I will be asking my employer, local councillors and my member of parliament to consider them. I will also ask them to consider and seek the views of all the people that depend on the input of their social care workers, they have a voice too.

I would like to invite all my colleagues in social care to express their views, tell their employers and elected representatives what they want social care to be like in the future.

By Ed McMullan

Apologia For Discrimination

How does one describe a prejudiced mind? To me, I have visions of a garage full of old junk piled up high to the ceiling, nothing can be moved therein nor can anything be placed in addition to. Upon opening the garage door, everything begins to flow out as the much needed exhale of breath.

Prejudiced minds leave little room for outside influx and interpretations and ergo, growth is stagnant, logic is deemed illogical and even if one were to find logic in an argument, it wouldn't make an iota of a difference. People, by default, are prejudiced in many categories of life, be it religion, philosophy, a particular economic system, a political party or race. It's quite understandable then, that xenophobia be part and parcel of the package. If a person hates Muslims there's little one can do to change that inbuilt perception. You may fight the good fight by producing ample reasons to like them, to tolerate them, you may even resort to screaming on their behalf but all those pleas of justness and justice would be moot.

Our prejudices, and let's be fair, we all have them, constitute a huge fraction of our personalities, should we openly concur to have them or not. It's but a general fact of life. The issue is that sometimes they may lay innate, lurking at the bottom of some mental lagoon wherein through only osmosis does it gradually begin to lain waste upon the surface of our psyche. Many reasons could account for us developing prejudices; growing up with a cruel or neglectful father, a sick mentally deranged mother, one's own terror, from undertaking loathsome tasks or even from enduring unnecessary punishments. The prejudice can even assert itself from being brainwashed with the lye of hatred. Much like phobias, they are so deeply rooted that if by chance we were to become acutely aware of them, we'd only be at their mercy and be rendered helpless to do anything by way of curing them.

The wise question to ask is not whether we are prejudiced but rather what our numerous are. Reasonably, we're against the word 'prejudice' itself as it has been ingrained into us that it is both socially and politically incorrect to be biased about anything. I, like many folk, am prejudiced against racists and bigots. Deeply, I'm not ashamed to admit that I have a loathsome view of lawyers and on a lighter note, pork. As far as lawyers are concerned, I'm aware I'm not alone in harboring a negative opinion towards them as they are not only snooty and arrogant figures of society but rather, seem inept at pursuing anything that doesn't have a dollar bill hovering over its head. Now about the my attitudinal bias; they represent only interests of people and corporations without really caring who they are, what they did, what harm was caused or how reprehensible they are. Cronyism runs today's law firms and because of this "I scratch your back, you scratch mine" routine, gender and color neutrality is crushed. Furthermore, the justice system serves and oils the hands of a few white men who influence business and politics in a way that often resonates to being hostile to more than half of the general populace. Can you catch the stereotypes that I've come to place due to my own prejudiced mind?

Their malevolence against the destitute reflects their own deep, abiding, ugly favoritism. A lawyer or an elitist would pass a starving man on the street but will never turn down a fundraiser or benefit committee where they can hobnob with their own pretentious friends. To digress a little, I am against pork as my religion forbids me to be but also because I hate the smell of bacon. This in turn has created a prejudice against pigs and I'm blown away as to how anyone could eat anything that feeds on filth and refuse. As we have confirmed already, prejudices grow out of early experience and can be blamed largely on our parents' hate towards a certain race or people of a certain vocation, like lawyers. We inherit these like recessive genes. Our own life experiences also pave the way to our prejudices. Like for instance, if we were mugged in New York City by a black man, throughout our lives we would never live it down and would grudgingly begin to hate all blacks due to that one lone incident. The problem is, that people who are prejudiced are often not only ignorant but find a comfort zone in that very attitude. They see it as nothing but the truth.

Perhaps it is in the way they live that I find blemish. If you know a lawyer, you can be sure that he won't be driving a hatchback, nor would he be living in the ghetto and likely never did, will probably be not affiliated with any church and you'd be safe in assuming none of his friends are part of the Communist party. Likes of him would never have had the misfortune to spend a night on the streets, would come from affluent families and have graduated from an Ivy League university. His suits would be tailor-made and he would most likely vote the Republican ticket. A thought provoking poem would be unheard of, as would be a painted portrait coming from him. I give you free reign to point to the exceptions of the above biased yet totally generalized statements, for there are always and certainly many.

People like him continue with the thought that if you're not working, then you're obviously incompetent or a lazy git. He views the black community as the main reason for disruption in the streets and gang related violence. Of course, through a sly smile he will try to convince you that he is solely without prejudice against the blacks, but upon probing him will soon discover he serves and caters to only a small fraction of their community. Delightedly he'd agree that the government should extend the death penalty and not eliminate it, thereby adhering to the view that society should kill off more people who show the slightest tendency towards delinquency in their youth.

Notably, it is dangerous and immoral to lump members of society into categories by race, ethnic background, economic status or profession like I just did, but we live in a culture that encourages it, which is an ill-fate, mind you. It might be self-serving and politically incorrect but it's significantly better than what's on the other side of the pulpit. The youth often wonder what it takes to be a killer shark or any other calling, but shouldn't they need to learn what it is to be human first? If we want to be successful in any field, it's my opinion that we ought to be proficient in understanding our fellow man. Unfortunately, we do not learn how to behave this way by going to school. Even those lucky enough to come from moneyed parents, given the opportunity to attend private schools where they soak up Latin and the arts, sadly only know the ways of the elite and are immediately at a disadvantage when it comes to comprehending a simpleton. The point is, our perception of the people who we meet along the way, depends largely upon who we become ourselves; who we are.

The working man understands his fellow working man better than a scholar understands the working man, you see? Perhaps it's life's little irony which makes it so amusing to hear a lawyer argue in front of simple ordinary jurors. His vernacular, his approach in choosing words, the metaphors used and the design in syntax; basically all his ideas which to him seem persuasive and skillful, often come off as snobbish, hubristic or patronizing. The people aren't familiar with his type and so to empathize and trust him becomes rather difficult. To take a step back, anyone who wishes to be successful, must learn as much as they can about the human condition, hopefully through experience. It should be a rite of passage for young individuals to work as tirelessly as they can in their adolescence so they may educate themselves with the general republic and how best to prepare for running alongside it in their future lifetime. Wiser still, for them to learn the value of money, the arduous labor involved and to worry about where next month's bill is coming from. They should write poems, play in a band, acquaint themselves with what it means to be a free human, to have and try all the options in front of them that our forefathers strived so hard to get. Dream during the days and daydream in the nights but at the same time understand what pain is, what loss is, how it's like to be underprivileged with a wide range of responsibilities. From a being who understands, prejudice is unlikely to be borne.

So having discovered how prejudice works in society through my own biased opinion, we ought best to recall what we have already learned; that arguing and confronting a prejudice or a preconceived notion is nothing except futile. Not only does it promote stereotypes but also begins to represent the negative practices against the humane condition. Adopt and build upon inclusive communities while fighting the various discriminations that exist in our society. It is in this that bewildering lawyers after having lost, would understand that their failure was not in the art of expression but rather in their inability to uncover a prejudice residing in the people and learning how to deal with it. Changing people's attitudes and practices is difficult and requires dedicated work so look upon it as investment for our future generations and toil hard.
Mahak Malik https://zentreve.wordpress.com/

Has The Internet Killed Our High Streets?

In 1993 I visited County Hall in Durham with my family to take part in a science exhibition. I have always been interested in computing and remember being fascinated by an enthusiastic postgraduate student who demonstrated that he could connect his computer to a machine in Moscow and download data. How right he was. In the future, I was told, thousands if not millions of computers would be connected on a worldwide network and would exchange data freely across the world. We were informed that everyday tasks like banking, shopping and communication could and would be transacted through your home computer. It all seemed a bit far-fetched as only wealthy families even owned a computer at the time.

Fast forward to just after the millennium and these predictions proved to be a conservative estimate of how computing technology developed. The world had been permanently changed with infinite opportunities being made possible by the Internet. Royal Mail panicked over the use of email and Napster revolutionised music forever. Microsoft had seized the moment and tapped into the insatiable demand for home computers and families were quickly buying computers to get hooked up to the internet. Everyone wanted a piece of the action and it was only a short time until the multi-computer family became the norm rather than the exception. The revolution continued.

Moving to the present and the pace of change on the Internet shows no sign of abating. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are now such a fundamental part of online culture that we can scarcely imagine a world without them. All television adverts now come with details of the Facebook page, complete with blue 'F' logo and website details. Not to do so would look silly. Internet users want more interactive ways of communicating and interacting online and we are at the precipice of the next major development online with the development of 24/7 mobile computing. Either through a tablet computer, mobile phone or even the new product Google Glass the internet can be with us wherever we go.

The world of ecommerce drove development online and it is this globalisation of business that is a contributing factor to what I believe is a permanent change in the composition of our high streets. Customers can now shop from home for everything they need, accessing the full market to find the best deal. Those who do venture into the high street can download a free app for their iPhone which scans the bar code of a product and immediately offers price comparisons to the deals available for the same product online. As the use of such technology widens businesses must face the reality that there competitors are potentially every seller of their product in the world, rather than just their town or region. Margins that were already tight, particularly in these tough economic times customers want the best value for money.

One of the many benefits of the Internet is that it empowers the customer to find the best deal. The mass supply has seen prices move towards a wholesale prices than retail prices we find in shops. The cartel of the high street has been broken as we have access to almost infinite choices. A business in a small rural town now has to ensure they are competitive compared to their entire industry niche. Some would say that this ensures ethical pricing, others would say it places small to medium sized businesses (SME's) in a very difficult position to survive in today's business environment. When I was a child I remember my mother was keen on knitting clothes. In our small rural village of Lanchester in County Durham, there was a wool shop which was well-used and valued by the local residents. This business closed many years ago through retirement of the owner, however, I doubt that such a business would be viable on our high street today.

Bricks and mortar businesses must still pay wages, insurance, utilities and the biggest drain of all for an offline business, commercial unit rent and business rates whilst the online enterprise exists with no overheads which allow their pricing to reflect their reduced costs. Shop frontage does remain desirable and gives you footfall to turn into customers on the high street but it comes at a price. There is a strong argument that investing in a branded website, integrated ecommerce facilities and a search engine optimisation program is more useful in today's business world, but spare a thought for the empty shop units that are becoming a relic to a bygone era where people browsed the high street rather than Amazon or Google to shop.

In your own town you will notice there are increasing numbers of empty shop units which show the battered remains of a once proud business. Empty shop units constantly appear and at present they can sit empty for years. I always take note of the empty unit, complete with broken shop sign and the "Come to the Circus" poster that seems almost obligatory and I am reminded of a once ambitious business that the owner invested many hours, months and emotion into growing. Unfortunately many businesses fail and I do not envy the ambitious and proud business owner having to tell a loyal worker who earns a small wage in the hope of a better tomorrow that unfortunately the realities of the balance sheet means the business has failed. Small to medium sized enterprises could be the biggest casualty of the Internet. Now look at your large buying history on Amazon or eBay, do you feel guilty yet?

Business owners do not expect any sympathy and I would get short shrift if I attempted to lament their plight with colleagues of mine who are self-employed. Lord Sugar would be the first to say that business owners must adapt to the world around them rather than lament that in different conditions they would succeed. However, I would argue that having a healthy number of SME's remaining viable businesses on our high street is vital to resisting the financial redistribution to the wealthiest in society. If SME's leave the high street we get more empty units and only the largest companies offer the goods we can buy. We never see that money again. For business owners there is the incentive of social mobility for the upwardly mobile wealth creators. Unfortunately a by-product of the Internet and the tough economic times we are enduring is that small businesses like shoe shops, sandwich shops, family butchers, wool shops, electrical shops find it almost impossible to exist in today's market, even if they utilise online sales to help their revenue.

Taking advantage of the void are large companies who have began to set up business on our high streets, offering loss leaders to compete for customers. This retail behaviour prices out smaller businesses that cannot compete. In tough economic times, customers are forced to buy food and important life items as cheaply as they can. Years ago smaller retailers like Spar, Presto, and Co-op were the high street food outlets but now large companies like Tesco are a common sight with their Extra stores which can be no larger than your corner shop or newsagents. This increases the amount of revenue generated by the huge retailers like Tesco, hitting the black hole of their bank accounts and only paid in dividends to already very successful and wealthy directors.

The ongoing evolution of our high street presents different and equally worrying problems for society, namely the increase in the number of bookmakers and cash converter businesses that have popped up everywhere in recent years. Unfortunately whether we like it or not these industries are massive growth industries, but they offer society an easy route to very bad decisions. Within a two minute walk from my place of work, there are two cash converter businesses, four bookmakers and a product rental outlet that offers goods on a rental basis targeted at capturing benefit claimants who cannot buy the goods outright. Reinforcing a previous point I made, even the bookies in the town used to be owned locally, but they were bought by a national brand who knows that it is money in the bank.

Whatever our feelings towards these companies if they were not there then we would have empty shop units. I'd rather have the shops filled by someone, just not by businesses that either give people a bad deal or sell opportunities that are not really opportunities. It is tough enough for the consumer as it is. Larger retailers are doing very well from the changing face of our high street and our government must address the farce that is corporation tax and ensure that these companies pay the correct amount of tax. Labour can make great strides to economic credibility by demonstrating and following through on a tough line to combat tax evasion. Voters will remain disillusioned as they are continue to pay lots of money for petrol, food and even bedrooms whilst the wealthiest companies manage to evade paying anything with the political system apparently complicit in this evasion, whilst talking a tough game. The current system is not fit for purpose and needs urgent attention and the HMRC, albeit overseen by government, must share the blame for this debacle.

This article should not be read as a technophobe rant on the Internet. I would happily join whatever petition or campaign you liked if there was an attempt to save the high street by taking my Internet away. But I will pledge to try and spend at least a little of my money in local businesses rather than falling for the seductive comfort of online shopping and home delivery. I hope you will do the same. Business people don't need your sympathy, you should only buy from good companies that offer a good service and competitive prices. However, keep in mind that great companies exist that might not necessary have the modern flash websites and one-click purchasing options, they might have a till and, god forbid, shelves and items. The development of mobile technologies may break the shackles of the consumer to the home computer allowing even the most hardened Internet addict to leave their home and explore the many businesses that are worthy of your consumer support and at least a cursory glance into their shop.

They will be pleased to see you.

Malcolm Clarke

The Cost of Victory

Has Israel accomplished its goals and objectives? The last real victory was the 1967 War and unless Israel's military echelons instill that victory "cost something" there will be continued bombing from Gaza. Israel must destroy every element of Hamas and this includes those who support them. When Israel listens to public opinions, policies of the US and Europe and makes decisions based on those opinions then Israel will surely fail. The axiom "What will the international community say" strikes a chord. Israel must ruthlessly destroy the enemy stronghold expel the population and then annex it. A plan of removing the Palestinians from Gaza should be implemented quickly.

In a recent survey conducted by an Israeli firm on August 1, 3,450 people were surveyed and the results were astonishing. A whopping 97.2 percent wants the government of Israel to completely destroy Hamas. This staggering number shows that there is no room for neutralizing Hamas by just destroying tunnels. The survey crossed all sections of Israeli population from the left to the center and the right. This clarion call of destroying Hamas proves again that Israel is united in ending a terrorist organization in their mist. Since this is the desire of Israeli citizens every effort should be made to implement the wishes of her citizens. Anything less than the complete removal of Hamas will embolden more attacks against its citizens.

What would it take for Israel to dismantle Hamas completely? It takes a willingness to lose soldiers and sacrifice their lives for the good of the nation. Here lies the problem. Israel's reluctance to lose soldiers in order to halt the bombing is the "real issue". The second issue is what to do with a hostile population? What is Israel left with? The complete destruction of its military apparatus and its terrorist network is the key to victory and expulsion of the entire population. If Israel expels the population they would not have to worry about administering the 1.8 million hostile pro Hamas inhabitants.

If this sounds drastic it is not. There is precedent it expelling populations. In 1970 Jordan expelled 200,000 Palestinians. In 1994-95 Libya expelled thousands of Palestinians and demolished their homes. In Kuwait 400,000 Palestinians were expelled during the Iraq war. The demilitarization of Gaza is not the answer because it still allows the population to remain in Gaza. The government of Israel must act quickly the citizens of Israel have spoken they don't want rockets and missiles looming over their communities. With the influx of Jews coming from France, Great Britain and other parts of the world, these new arrivals can settle in Gaza and make it a flourishing economic oasis.

Spinning Yarns About Genetically Modified Crops

A compelling narrative often makes a good engine to pull public policy. Unfortunately, this means we are sometimes unwilling to let facts get in the way of the story we want to tell.

Consider, for example, the science and pseudo-science behind the ginned-up opposition to genetically modified crops ("organisms" in the parlance of critics who want to skip past the detail that crops are useful for feeding people), or GMOs.

Out in the real world, genetically engineered crops are helping to boost yields, reduce pesticide spraying and its associated runoff, improve product quality and conserve water and soil. Farmers, agronomists and biologists know this. But their voices are often drowned out by critics whose main objections appear to be economic and political (some people just don't like it when other people make money), but who wrap their agenda in claims of health problems, genetic contamination and "superweeds" whose actual existence is about as well documented as Sasquatch.

But don't take my word for it. Lest you dismiss me as some sort of profit-loving, coldly logical Republican CPA (charges to which I would mostly plead guilty), let's look at a recent story in the eco-sensitive columns of The New York Times. A story, as it happens, that is about the investigative activities of a councilman in the Democratic island paradise of Hawaii. (1)

The Times focused on Greggor Ilagan, a member of the County Council on Hawaii Island (known as the Big Island). When the Council considered a measure to ban most GMOs from the island last year, Ilagan set out to try and verify or debunk the various claims the measure's supporters used to argue for such a ban. To his initial surprise, the councilman found that most reputable scientists agree that genetically engineered crops are no riskier than others. The American Medical Association has stated that "there is currently no evidence that there are material differences or safety concerns in available bioengineered foods." (2) A group of prominent scientists wrote an editorial for Science Magazine last fall standing up for the benefits of GMOs.

Yet the accepted wisdom on GMOs among many of its opponents is that such crops are big agriculture's attempt to maximize profits at the expense of public safety. When Ilagan and others trying to get at the truth of GMO research have pushed such claims, they have found that the evidence is disputed, when it exists at all. Though certain future GMOs, just like future non-engineered crop breeds, might be dangerous, the evidence so far that genetic engineering is itself a dangerous process is vanishingly slim.

Jon Suzuki, a molecular biologist at the national agriculture research center in Hawaii, told Ilagan that genetically engineered food had so far proved safe. "With scientists, we never say anything is 100 percent certain one way or another," he said, according to The Times. "We weight conclusions on accumulated knowledge or evidence - but often this is not satisfactory for some." (1)

Nuance and uncertainty are hard sells. It is easier to demonize the process than to discuss the actual results of decades of GMO use. Moreover, objections to GMOs are a true "First World problem." Wealthy people can afford to pay double for organically grown food and whatever is left over after yields are reduced by a variety of diseases or pests. Yet for many in the developing world, crops modified to grow in less than ideal circumstances or to resist blight can mean the difference between nourishment and hunger.

There are 7 billion people on the planet, all of whom need to be fed. We have finite supplies of fertile land and usable water, and these resources must be employed efficiently if we want to succeed at feeding our planet's population. Such efficiency is what GMOs are all about. It is what selective breeding has been about it for centuries, too. Genetic engineering is not totally new, but rather a new advance in an existing process.

The consequences of rejecting this progress are easy to imagine, and in some cases may have already arrived. Citrus crops, especially oranges, are threatened by a greening blight spreading among producers via insects. If unchecked, such fruit may revert to the luxury it was in medieval Europe. Agricultural threats spread at the speed of jet planes, and this one is no exception. Citrus greening disease now threatens the $9 billion Florida citrus industry, and has shown up in Brazil, an even bigger producing region. California is at risk as well.

Even if a team of scientists announced tomorrow that they had engineered a blight-resistant orange, the demand would far outpace the potential supply. Still, introducing a resistant strain could preserve a larger, heartier population than would be possible without it - much as Hawaiian papaya farmers said an engineered version of the fruit saved their crops. It would be a travesty to ban or reject outright new citrus breeds that could resist this threat.

Invasive species are a fact of modern life. They travel with us wherever we go. Crops and other native species have had no chance to develop resistances against them at a natural pace. GMOs are a way to fight back against an existing problem, and to use our resources efficiently. Banning GMOs will not leave us in a natural state. It will simply leave us in a contaminated state, complete with crop failures and dangerously unbalanced ecosystems. I only wish we had genetically engineered chestnuts and American elms in time to resist the blights that virtually wiped out these beautiful trees during the past century.

On the surface, it seems odd that so many people who accuse climate-change skeptics of being anti-science have jumped on the anti-GMO bandwagon, while many of those who fall into the climate-skeptical camp (and I consider myself a skeptic of conjectural computer modeling and breathless climate hype) tend to be more accepting of genetically altered crops. Psychologists might say we are all just exhibiting confirmation bias, in which we accept only the facts and arguments that support our pre-existing conclusions. Let's grant that the psychologists could be right.

But it could also be the case that the climate skeptics want hard evidence for their views. It's difficult to point to specific weather and say it was caused by man-made climate influence. But we can point to scientifically modified crops that grown for decades all over the world without ill effects, yet remain the targets of bans like the one that passed in Hawaii, despite councilman Ilagan's efforts.
We all love a good story. It seems we hate to let facts ruin one for us.

1) The New York Times, "A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops"
2) Los Angeles Times, "GMO foods don't need special label, American Medical Assn. says"

America - America Today, Tomorrow, and Beyond

America, America Will You Be Heard

Something is definitely going wrong in the World and the America that we once knew and cherished. Our children, and grandchildren and future generations may be growing up in an America, that no one will recognize, all in the name of "political correctness, or for fear of being labeled". Radical Islam and Sharia Law must be stopped from making any further inroads into America. Just look at Dearborn, Pennsylvania for one example.

Enough is enough people, when Jews, Christians, priests, and non believers are being murdered, and churches are being burned to the ground, it's time to stand up, and voice your free speech opinion and be counted folks.

Recently in a Mall in Kenya, anyone that was not of Islam faith were gunned down and murdered. There was some outcry, but certainly not enough. When it happens in a Mall in America, it will be far too late. An American citizen was recently savagely beaten by "Muslim Sharia Law Patrols" in London, while on vacation.

We need our leaders and everyone, to speak out in a uniformed voice and condemn this type of violence everywhere it occurs. We no more can simply hide from this issue in the 21st century, and just expect it to go away. It will only gain in strength and numbers and more violent acts will occur and more innocent people will be murdered as a direct result of this kind of radical violence.

"Political correctness" is causing the spread of Sharia Law in America, where honor killings are far too common and women are treated as sub-human slaves. It is a fact that over 50% of Islam are illiterates and 80% are ignorant of the Qur'an. All over Europe there is no political will to stop their conquests. In fact, Germany, Australia, France, Belgium, England and now even Russia are facing serious bankruptcy, due to the massive immigration of Muslims. Most of the immigrants live off public assistance and simply do not want to integrate into society, but rather want to dominate and establish Sharia Law where ever they immigrant to. They want Islam to be the dominant religion in the World and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

I know that there are good Muslims out there that do not follow a strict interpretation of the Qur'an, which when read calls for the killing of all infidels. Many Muslims are silent for fear of their lives; in fact if they leave their religion, they are subject to death.

Prayer and love for sure, are the good things to do for mankind, but much more is needed. I want to give my children and grandchildren and future generations a better America and World that exists today. How about you? When good men and women are silent or do nothing evil will always win, simply don't let that happen, speak out loud and clear every chance you get.

For now I have joined a non violent association across America, called actforamerica, or simply ACT. The goals of the organization are to stop the spread of Sharia Law in America and to help prevent textbooks, in school and universities, from not telling the truth about Islam. It might not be for everyone, but it is spreading across America with over 200+ chapters now.

Simply do a Google search on the Muslim Brotherhood and see for yourself their hidden agenda to destroy America from within.. They have recently went underground and have become a hidden stealth front organization here in America, via over 200 political organizations and are making inroads into every America, town, city, universities and government, mostly at taxpayers' expense.

Recently, they have been successful in re writing many social and history books in all schools, to put Islam in a more favorable light. This should never be allowed to happen, but again, due to political correctness there is no political will to stop them, so they succeed. "Act" has been successful in preventing and stopping textbooks in history from being changed in our schools, but much more is needed.

Would very much like to hear your recommendations as to how to improve America, stop the violence and Sharia Law from being imposed on our judicial system.

Most of American families are simply far too busy, trying to raise a family, and many work two jobs, and quite frankly have no time to get involved or research any of the violence and causes of the violence in America and the World today.

They must rely on the mainstream media, which quite often is bias and under the "political correctness doctrine" can never really tell the "true" news for fear of repercussions. Thus their fear becomes an indirect endorsement of the violence, by way of default.

Whatever happened to our first amendment right of free speech folks? It is long overdue, to stand up for America and be counted in one voice against the spread of radical Islam and Sharia Law in America. Can we count on you?

Thank you, for you, your children, your grandchildren and future generations of America.
Ray Lanfear

Why Obama Is Not A Communist

A continuing lie from the Right is that Obama is a communist or a totalitarian.
I've lived under Communism, and I can tell these people right now that, if he had been any such thing, they would not be here to say what they are saying.

A Communist, or a totalitarian, would have put these people away in labor camps or had them shot. Instead they are free to spread their lies, using the government-built Internet of all places. And that shows just how far from reality the claims of this kind are.

A Communist would have nationalized the banks and the car manufacturing industry. Instead Obama bailed them out. And while that took a lot of outlays up front, the car manufacturing industry is recovering and is now posting strong gains. Obama has saved American capitalism from what would have been a much worse and much greater crisis. And American capitalism owes a lot to this president.

There are in fact totalitarian-minded people in America, and most of them are on the Right. These people claim that they are America and that the rest of America isn't. These people want to force everyone to be the same person and live the same way. These people want to do everything in their power to prevent Obama administration from being successful, then blame whatever problems there are on Obama and then come riding in proclaiming themselves saviors of America. And they think that the American people would be stupid enough to fall for their gag.

The people who howl wolf become not credible when a real wolf appears. And the real wolves are not on the left; they are on the Right. The Tea Party for one is a completely despicable organization. The problems they claim to address, such as the large deficits, started under Bush; but under Bush the Tea Partiers were nowhere to be seen. Obama had an excuse; he had an economy to rescue. Bush however had no such excuses even as he put America, completely unnecessarily, an additional 5 trillion dollars in debt after Clinton had the debt problem solved.

And that makes the Tea Party complete hypocrites.

Why does Obama get labeled with such ugly things by these people? Obviously because he is not one of them; and the thing that the conservative hates the most is to see someone who is not like himself be in a stronger position than is he. Clinton wasn't of them either, and he got maliciously attacked throughout his administration as well, even though by the standards of conservative "money talks BS walks" logic he was the best president that America has had - as by the standard of peace and prosperity. This is not a problem with Obama, and it is not a problem with Clinton. This is a problem with the American Right.

Not enough is being done to confront these people's lies and abuses; and there should be. When unchecked, conmen pull all sorts of tricks on the people. America's primary education system is so weak that many people fall for these conmen.

It's not enough to just reach the educated people. The rest of the population need to hear the truth as well.
Ilya Shambat

What We're Fighting Against

Today was like every day of my life; there was something about it that I observe, feel and know through my experience every single day. And my life is no different to yours if you're reading this. Chances are that you're reading this because you're a caring person. You care about people, our planet, and yourself, for instance. And you see the same thing I do each day. It's part of life, frustratingly so.
That thing that we see each day is the motorist that thumbs their nose at the road laws, or the adult that abuses or neglects a child, or the legal system, which yet again, decries the victim. One feels for authorities like the Police and Customs who are at the pointy end of the cursed life where things routinely get just plain ugly. We could certainly understand a hardening of attitude in these circumstances over years of one person's career. There's no immunity. But, we all taste this life because none of us is immune to it.
What we're fighting against each day is a lack of justice and respect and often a sense of gross unfairness. Only today I had to counsel a couple of contract employees for horseplay--that phenomenon we don't see much of these days. Horseplay is not only "rough and boisterous play," as the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it; in the workplace it's often a reckless endangerment to parties beyond those engaged in it.
The types that engage in this rebellious behaviour normally take a dim view of being taken to task, and they normally have a rampant distaste and disregard for authority. And we might ask, 'How did they get these attitudes?' There are probably many reasons why the minority don't respect authority figures, and thrive on injustice to others, creating the sort of inequity of fairness that leaves us outraged, if not simply bewildered.
Is there a comparison we could make here to the typical spoilt child? Perhaps these people have never been disciplined and trained to conform to societal norms, i.e. sacrifice of self for the benefit of the many. We look at parents of young children who can't control them and we just want to take over and be firm; and this is where I believe it starts. These children who've never been exposed to strong, firm but fair parental discipline will either be disciplined by others who love them less later in life (and this is rare) or not at all.
And then there is us. We are the people left to deal with the problem. We ought not to give up and get despondent--although there are times when we will, inevitably. We need the support of our own; people who will encourage us to go on in our good work in the defence of justice, respect, and fairness. That's what we're fighting for.
Copyright ? 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
Steve Wickham is a safety and health professional (BSc) and a qualified lay Christian minister (GradDipDiv). His passion in vocation is facilitation and coaching; encouraging people to soar to a higher value of their potential. Steve's key passion is work / life balance and re-creating value for living, and an exploration of the person within us.

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