Lean to the Left – Mental Illness Unchecked

| Opinion | March 13, 2015

We see them every day, if we’re looking. They are walking the streets, staking a spot under freeway off-ramps and in the Santa Clara River wash. It is our homeless population.
It is a crisis, and one that affects the lives of innocents – those who, by no fault of their own, find themselves without the means to find adequate housing.

If your thoughts are turning to the great job Santa Clarita is doing by providing programs for our homeless population, you’re right, in part. But one of the SCV’s most notable assistance programs is the Santa Clarita Shelter provided by Bridge to Home, and the shelter is scheduled to close on Sunday. The funds are only available to keep the facility open from November 25-March 15 each year, providing emergency shelter to a maximum of 60 single men or women, along with showers, beds and three meals.

But, whatever you do, don’t ask Republicans for extra money.

Look at the party’s biggest hero: President Ronald Reagan.

Everyone knows that when Ronald Reagan was the Governor of California he passed a law that eliminated involuntary hospitalization for a range of mental illnesses. This put more than half of mental patients on the streets.

As President, he put a stop to funding federal community mental health centers. This meant that more mental patients hit the streets.

Thanks, Republicans. It got a big thumbs up from people who care about the government’s bottom line, but you must realize we are still paying. It increases crime, and we still end up (very poorly) providing for them somehow. Ironically, the Right Wing, all who want to tighten the budget, don’t realize this decision was not free.

So, every time you hear about a shooting, a crisis on campus, or a problem caused by the homeless population – like their death from exposure – sing “Hail to the Chief.”

But, wait – there’s more irony. The venerable Ronald Reagan, who left them without government support, allowing them to be free of accountability, was shot by a man now in a psych ward. In addition, he spent the last couple of decades of his life suffering from a mental illness himself. Ironic and sad.

The Good, the Bad and Hillary Clinton

| Opinion | March 12, 2015

One of the bullet points which stands out the most on my resume pertains to my being picked to provide tactical medical care for Vice President Dick Cheney during his visit to Kabul, Afghanistan in early 2008. Not that it was all that eventful (we did intercept several would-be suicide bombers strapped down with chest explosives), but that opportunity provided me the chance to spend some time with various secret service agents over the several days we spent on the mission.

This was after Obama and Hillary had been furiously campaigning against each other, and the agents had some very choice words for the two candidates. They didn’t hold back much in their description of Hillary being a lying, two-faced and disingenuous person once the cameras and microphones were turned off.

I’ve kept that in the back of my mind every time I’ve seen or heard Hillary or news of Hillary, and with the vast number of scandals that have plagued her recently, her “it’s not my fault” and “blame it on someone else” responses don’t surprise me in the least bit. And while I’m no big fan of Hillary (isn’t it obvious yet?), I do have to say I’m quite surprised her PR people are allowing her to get away with trying to shift blame every single time something like this surfaces. I guess the days of President Truman having a “The buck stops here” sign on his desk are long gone from politics in the USA.

But, aside from proving that she’s a spineless coward who can’t own up to her own mistakes, there is a whole new level of understanding Hillary that is beginning to be seen by Americans who are witnessing her failed attempts to dodge scandal after scandal by playing the blame game: that not only is she spineless and two-faced, but that she’s also downright incompetent. While Benghazi and emails may be the scandals most fresh in your brain, there is a long list of scandals that have been following Hillary throughout her career. Take a second to search “Hillary Clinton scandals” online and you’ll find links to numerous scandals, some very loosely tied “conspiracy theories,” but many directly tied to Hillary.

As a career politician with eyes on the most powerful political seat in the world, I hope that everyone who would dare wear a Hillary 2016 button understands that someone whose response is, “What does it matter?” during the Benghazi hearings and who can’t figure out the most basic security fundamentals of using secret-cleared email accounts for state department communications has no place being in the White House (or politics in general).

So, while the Hillary PR campaign has stiff-armed any attempts to have her admit responsibility, they’ve also succeeded in showing her to be someone who is grossly incompetent and has no place on a voting ticket. But, I’m sure she’ll be there anyway in 2016, so please remember: she may smile on camera and tell you she’ll be there to answer the call when it comes, but when the cameras and microphones are turned off, it’s actions that matter most, not just lip service.

Lean to the Left

| Opinion | February 27, 2015

by Sylia Turner
I hate to bring this column backwards to an issue I thought was LONG dead, but unfortunately, we have to revisit the “is Obama a Muslim” question yet again. Yup, I got it in an email again this week. Actually, backwards is the direction Conservatives feel most comfortable with, so I’m sure they won’t mind.
President Obama is not a Muslim. President Obama has never been a practicing Muslim.

It’s both scary and sad that we have to return again and again to the issue of his religion. It honestly makes me wonder if Republicans are mean, conniving, mentally ill, or just plain dumb.

It’s clear they are at least self-righteous. Who has to defend, over and over, the validity of their faith? Only someone who falls under the judgmental accusations of another, who claims the accused’s behavior fails to match the accuser’s definition of a Christian. What happened to “…no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28)?

Okay, here we go again. The argument should end with President Obama’s statement in his book, “Audacity of Hope”: “What was intellectual and what was emotional joined, and the belief in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, that he died for our sins, that through him we could achieve eternal life.”

The End.

Or it should be, but we have to address some of the relentless (and ignorant) accusations that the President has wasted his time fending off. First of all, his name: Barack Hussein Obama. He was named for his father. Next?

His mother and father were an agnostic and an atheist, respectively, at the end of their lives. Does everyone (or even most people) have religious beliefs that look just like the faith of their parents? Of course not.

While President Obama went to a Muslim school for a few years as a child in Indonesia, he also went to Catholic school there for years. Is anyone accusing him of being a Catholic? That’s funny—no one has.

Think about it. Who would accuse someone of being a member of a religion simply because their parents enrolled them in school somewhere?

I love what Dick Staub said in an article he wrote for the Huffington Post in 2010 (Yes, that’s how long this argument has been raging): “Praying to saints in Catholic school didn’t make Obama Catholic; praying with friends inside a mosque didn’t make him a Muslim, either.”

Don’t stop reading, Republicans, just because I quoted the Huffington Post. Let’s take a look at an article in Christianity Today, where Obama told Sara Pulliam and Ted Olsen, “I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

When he was sworn in, Barack Obama had his hand on the Holy Bible—NOT the Quran.

Barack Obama was baptized in 1988 at the Trinity United Church of Christ. Now, go ahead and throw stones if your church is perfect.

That’s what I thought.

Don’t worry, he’s aware of your emails making false claims. I like what else he said in that Christianity Today interview: “I have never practiced Islam. I am respectful of the religion, but it’s not my own.”

I don’t know what more you people want than the adult profession of faith Barack Obama has made claiming he is a Christian. I just don’t get what you’re still hung up on.

That he befriends or meets with Muslims? Take a look at Jesus.

Rising Taxes, Eroding Middle Class…Look, the Oscars!

| Opinion | February 27, 2015

by Robert Patrick Lewis
As much of the country was feverishly anticipating or watching the Oscars last night, I was doing what I normally do—reading up on the news and world events before my Sunday radio show.

While it’s not the best source for news, I was perusing Yahoo news to see if anything had come up in the half day since I had last checked. I scrolled through one, two, two-and-a-half pages of “who’s wearing what on the red carpet” and other Hollywood fluff pieces, when I finally came to some real news.

The news itself didn’t surprise me, and the fact that it was hidden two-and-a-half pages back on the news feed didn’t surprise me either; that’s where I’d hide it if the President (who my media outlet had feverishly supported) was now openly going back on all of his campaign (and even post-campaign) promises.

Also not surprisingly, now that the Oscars are over I can find news on the Yahoo feed about “father’s pregnancy trial,” still plenty of red carpet news, but not the article that caught my attention last night.

I guess once the misdirection of the Oscars is gone, Yahoo doesn’t have the journalistic integrity to keep it up there for people to find.

The article was a piece written on Obama’s plan to increase your investment taxes. Yup. The same entitlement-loving, “Obamacare won’t cost the taxpayers anything,” “free cake for everyone” President wants to raise taxes on your investments.

Namely, your retirement.

Forget that you’ve worked your entire life, pinching pennies and contributing to your 401(k), IRA or other retirement plan. If you haven’t figured it out yet, you don’t matter to Obama in the least bit.

It’s been a common theme throughout his presidency that the hardworking, honest, salt-of-the-earth (conservative) Americans whose blood, sweat and tears this country was founded on are seen as nothing more than a plague to King Obama.

The only people who matter to him are 20-somethings who lounge around all day in pajamas and pose for his website, academics who have never known anything outside of an institution, and people who have never worked a day in their lives, but have survived off the system since the day they were born … also known as lifelong voting Democrats.

As the joke goes, “How do you know Obama is lying? His lips are moving.” One of my favorite economic principles is the “no free lunch principle,” meaning you can’t have something for nothing, no matter what it is.

Obama has been promising a free lunch to his most fervent supporters, and as with every great society which has written its own death letter, they fall right into line and vote the party line for Democrats, who grow increasingly more and more liberal as they budget more and more entitlements for non-producers or taxpayers on the backs of hardworking Americans.

If you already have or already are cashing out your retirement or taking social security benefits, consider yourself lucky. It’s a scary thing to be semi-intelligent and see through the smokescreen, as I know that none of the things I’m currently paying for will be around for my children, or for me, when it’s our time.

But hey, at least we have the Oscars.

And the Smart Money Says…

| Opinion | February 19, 2015

by Robert Patrick Lewis

While most people know me from my former job as a Green Beret and current role as an author and media personality, my “day job,” that I actually quite enjoy, is that of an investment adviser. I spent most of last year studying for and attaining every financial license I could get my hands on, and use my position to do what I love most about that job: to teach people about their money.

While I need to first state that anything I say here can’t be taken as personal advice and needs to be followed up with your own financial professional, I would like to use a recent experience with a client of mine to highlight something that I see in the vast majority of clients I meet: a basic lack of understanding of their own money and how it works.

But, I completely understand. I’m flying to San Jose on Wednesday to see this client who, for all intents and purposes, has done everything right in his financial life. He bought a small condo 20 years ago located just 10 minutes away from where Google decided to build its headquarters, which consequently led to his property quintupling in value. He kept his expenses very low, and in retirement his pension and VA disability will well exceed his living expenses. He took full advantage of his employer’s 401(k) match and didn’t put in a penny more than they matched, knowing it was essentially throwing money away.

But he still doesn’t have any clue about the fundamentals of how money and investments work. Thankfully, he is the father of a good friend of mine, and when he told his son that he spoke with an adviser from a large commercial financial company and didn’t get a good feeling, he was directed to me.

I completely understand his situation because, in all honesty, finances can be downright confusing. I’m lucky that I’m a complete nerd for this stuff and love studying how the same amount of money, invested in 10 different vehicles and investments, will have 10 wildly different outcomes.

It’s up to investment advisers and financial professionals like me to guide you to the appropriate investments for your suitability, time window, amount to invest and financial goals. But, unfortunately, not all advisers are created equal. As my friend’s father found, while most of the advertisements you find in magazines and on television are for big name brokerages or financial entities that are household names, there are some issues with choosing those companies to be your trusted advisers.

First, many of these companies employ what are called “captive agents,” meaning they are only allowed to sell financial products and investments directly from their company. While that may not sound too bad to the average investor, you need to think about financial companies like car manufacturers or your favorite local restaurant. Sure, they may make one great sports car model or your favorite pasta dish, but more often than not, each entity has one particular thing it is best at, and the rest are average.

Unfortunately, they aren’t usually too quick to share this information with you, and a commissioned agent would rather send you to a product that brings you into his/her company (but isn’t exactly right for you), rather than tell you to take a portion of your portfolio down the road to another company. A distinct advantage with independent advisers and agents is that they can create a portfolio for you using any number of companies, ensuring that each vehicle is through a company who supplies the best for your unique situation.

I use this example to stress the importance of educating yourself. I’ve heard countless stories of people getting sub-par advice from the random adviser at a major brokerage who just happened to answer the call that day.
(I heard one just yesterday from a friend whose mom died last week and is litigating a major financial firm for overcharging her, and for choosing extremely risky investments for the 80-year-old woman, who then lost around $300,000 from 2008 – 2010).

Educate yourself about your money, where it is, and how it works. I cannot dole out individual advice here, as each person and his/her portfolio is truly unique, but I am working on a book that will offer education on what different investments are, and who they are best for (aimed, of course, at teaching my brother and sister military veterans).

Once you’ve educated yourself (listen to financial podcasts, read a few books…NOT by Suze Orman), find a local financial professional who will give you some face time and actually explain which portfolio they think is right for you – and most importantly, why they think that portfolio is right for you.

They say money can’t buy happiness, but a lack of it sure can put a damper on your day. Invested properly, it doesn’t take very much, put away every month over a long period of time and in the right places, to retire wealthy. You just have to be dedicated to saving and investing, and take the time to educate yourself and find a trustworthy financial professional who will care for your portfolio as if it was his/her own.



American Sniper Movie Review

| Opinion | February 12, 2015

by Robert Patrick Lewis

I couldn’t be more proud at all the accomplishments that veterans and, especially, members of the SOF (Special Operations Forces) community, have made during the past decade, both in and out of uniform. I’ve seen various spats between other vets working their way towards success in the public eye for books, movies, websites, podcasts, etc., and I can’t help but hang my head in shame a bit every time I see that.

As my former Green Beret brother, close friend and 18D course classmate Klint Janulis (who now has a reality show on the BBC and is working towards his Ph.D. at Oxford) loves to say, “a rising tide lifts all ships,” in respect to those of us who have formed alliances outside of our time in uniform to help each other with our pet projects.

I am part of a group called “The Military Media Mafia,” comprised of book publishers, magazine publishers, and a radio network. The work is of veterans, by veterans, and for, well, anybody who loves veterans and wants to hear what we have to say.

I do everything I can to support other veteran projects. As such, I found myself with a little free time one day last week, so my girlfriend and I decided to take ourselves to see “American Sniper.”

Before I get started, I have to admit that I have not read the book, and as a veteran author, I know that makes me a bad person! But, I should say, I’ve just finished writing my own (“The Pact,” available next week through Tactical 16 Publishing) and try to stay away from reading other military works while writing my own, so as not to subconsciously plagiarize in any way, shape or form.

With that out of the way … I loved this movie. There are people who complain about the fact that the book was written by two ghostwriters, which took it a few steps away from Chris Kyle’s own words, and the screenplay was then written by another non-veteran Hollywood type, taking it another step away from reality. But, all in all, this movie captured things that no other war movie on the OIF/OEF (Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom) conflicts ever have.

There are only two movies I’ve seen on our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan which have done those conflicts the justice of reality, and those films are “Restrepo” (an amazing documentary I suggest everyone see), and now, “American Sniper.”

I loved “Restrepo” because it showed the reality of war fighters in Afghanistan and the real face of war that visiting politicians, generals, celebrities on USO tours and journalists who hide behind the Green Zone hardly ever see.

Living in the dirt, daily firefights/mortar/rocket attacks, living on whatever food you can scrounge and a shower every month or so. That was my Afghanistan, and while many who spent their time in Kabul, Bagram or Helmand never lived that, I know my (Green Beret) brothers and I sure did.

“American Sniper” showed another side of war that “Restrepo” touched on, but took it to a whole new level. Academics have pondered the causes and effects of PTSD since the Vietnam War, and while the books “On Killing” and “On Combat” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (must-reads for anyone who loves and wants to understand a combat veteran) were the first to address this in an academic sense, American Sniper was the first I’ve seen to truly address it in the public eye.

This movie portrayed the following in such great and vivid detail that I found myself shedding tears throughout the movie; thankfully, we were all alone in the Town Center theatre at the matinee showing, and thankfully, Natalie knows me well enough that she didn’t have to ask why. They weren’t particularly sad parts of the movie, but several that were glaringly familiar to my life and experiences in war and at home.
Being in Special Operations, both the SEAL teams that Kyle was a part of and Operational Detachments-Alpha (ODA’s) that I was a part of, we have the privilege of going after extremely High Value Targets (HVT’s) while we are at war. A thing that separates us from other units is that we don’t just go get the bad guys; we study them, learn their patterns, the bad things they’ve done, and get inside of their heads.
In doing so, we see the darkest depths of the human soul, and levels of depravity no man should ever have to know exists in the world. Kyle was criticized in the public eye from many fronts by calling the Iraqi’s “savages” multiple times, but those of us who have been in that community and on those missions know exactly what he was talking about.

Sometimes we get the bad guys, and for us it’s a happy ending. We find, target, locate and kill or capture people that do despicable things to other human beings, and the world is a safer place.

Other times, however, we spend all of that time preparing to get the bad guys, and as “American Sniper” showcases his hunt for “the butcher” on his first tour, we return home without the satisfaction of introducing them to a prison cell or their maker.

The toll this takes on your psyche is difficult to describe, and as a parent it keeps you awake at night, knowing that your tour ended before you could get this evil human being, that he’s still out there, and that there is a chance, albeit a small one, that evil could come here to our shores and harm our families and countrymen.

Another aspect of war that is excellently showcased in this movie was that of the time between deployments. Kyle and I were both members of the “four deployments” club, and while his were all in Iraq, mine were hopping back and forth between Iraq and Afghanistan, so at least I had the pleasure of changes in scenery!

A part of multiple deployments that is difficult to describe and even harder to understand is the feeling that you don’t “belong” home.  It defies all logic, but makes perfect sense to us combat veterans.

We know we’ll be miserable back in Iraq or Afghanistan, that the food is horrible, we’ll rarely eat, sleep or shower, and only get to talk to our loved ones via satellite phone or shoddy internet connection occasionally. But despite all of those truths, we know that our place is there. We know that we are the “sheepdogs,” and that it is our place in life to protect those who need our protection. As the Green Beret motto goes, “De Oppresso Liber: To Free the Oppressed.”

Although it is amazing to be back home, in the comfort of our beds, hopefully wrapped in the arms of loved ones, there is an emptiness in our souls, knowing that other Americans are in harm’s way and we are sitting comfortably at home.

Veterans are respected by our country for our selfless service, but it is that very same selflessness that keeps us awake at night, feeling guilty for allowing ourselves a break from the horrors of war.

I don’t want to give too much of the movie away, but I felt that with all of the other people in the country weighing in, veterans or not, I had to give my two cents. This movie was extremely gratifying from an entertainment perspective, and extremely honest from a Special Forces combat veteran perspective.

I highly suggest that everyone see it, especially those of you who know and/or love a combat veteran. There are certain things they just can’t tell you, not because of security clearances, but because of our own walls, barriers, and unwillingness to bring our knowledge of the darkest depths of human depravity back to our own shores.

Go see this movie, enjoy it for the entertainment, but learn something about the veterans around you, what they’ve gone through, what they’re dealing with, and why sometimes they just need a little time to themselves after coming home.

What Is True Diversification?

| Opinion | February 12, 2015

by Arif Halaby
Have you thought to yourself that you may have all of your eggs in one basket? When it comes to retirement account assets, you may be right. If you have all of your accounts in the stock market and it goes down, you may lose your ability to retire the way you had planned. For many people, the loss of peace of mind is cause enough to reexamine where your nest egg is currently held.

Diversification is not sitting in a different seat on the same bus. Instead, it is having some of your money in different financial vehicles that fit your needs. People are happy and believe they are “winners” when they take a gamble and win. Few people admit when they have lost during their time in Las Vegas. But, you know that those big hotels and casinos were not built because people are winning more than they are losing. Who do you think pays all those bonuses to the workers on Wall Street?

If you retire and the market is on a high, then it can instill a false sense of confidence in you – especially in relation to how much money you can spend each month. However, it is much worse than you think. If, during the early years of retirement, you believe the market will achieve a particular rate of return – perhaps one that is unrealistic – then you may be inclined to spend or “splurge” on an item, expecting to recoup that expense in short order. Let’s say you spend $50,000 on a new kitchen or even a fishing boat. That money you spend is money you will never get back. In fact, over the course of one’s normal retirement life, that $50,000 expense could have been as much as $200,000 in lost savings, when adding in growth over the next 25-30 years. Compound interest is an amazing thing.

Make sure the percentage you withdraw each year is a sustainable figure. In the last 19 years of my financial practice, experts have used numbers like 6 percent, 5 percent and 4 percent. They say that if you withdraw that amount of retirement savings account each year, you SHOULD have enough to live on for the rest of your life and the surviving spouse’s life. Have you seen the problem yet? The number has changed. That means if you played under the set of rules that said it was ok to withdraw 6 percent per year (that’s $6,000 for every $100,000 you have saved), then you may have reduced your savings significantly when the market lost more than 50 percent of its value (not once, but twice, since the year 2000). If you had all of your savings in the market, you would likely run out of money years sooner than you had planned. Who wants to go back to work at age 80?

For some, the old way of diversification meant losing money in more than one place. True diversification should include safety. For some, that means not having all your eggs in one place.
Arif M. Halaby is President and CEO of Total Financial Solutions, Inc., a Santa Clarita based financial and insurance services company.

Lean to the Left – The Pope Cares About the Climate

| Opinion | February 6, 2015

by Sylvia Turner

Since Catholics are on both sides of the aisle, it is notable that Pope Francis weighed in on the climate change debate, calling it primarily man’s fault.  The intensity of his message could be seen when he made the claim that man “slaps down nature.”

On a plane to Manila, where he was visiting victims of Typhoon Haiyan, he spoke to multiple reporters, claiming he was disappointed by the U.N. climate meeting in Paris last month. Citing a lack of courage on the part of the 190 delegates at the meeting in Peru, the Pope was pointing out the universal neglect of the earthly crisis.

Now, Pope Francis is a smart man, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to note changes in the environment. According to many sources worldwide, last year was the hottest year in recorded human history.

NASA supports the belief. On its website (www.climate.nasa.gov) there is a reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change statement: “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”

NASA makes statements on its website that underscore man’s responsibility for the problem. It says, “The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.”
You right-wing deniers can keep shouting, but your voices are getting more faint as the obvious reality grows. He’s only trying to prevent the devastation of our eco-system. Why are right-wingers so defensive? I think the Pontiff is worth listening to, because he is able to bring the argument into a moral realm.
“I think man has gone too far,” said Pope Francis. “Thank God that today there are voices that are speaking out about this.”

Russia, Dr. Strangelove and Deterrence Theory

| Opinion | February 6, 2015

by Robert Patrick Lewis

I’ve written about game theory on my blog before in the context of North Korea, but with the reports last week of a Russian TU-95 aircraft being intercepted in UK airspace carrying a nuclear payload, I think it may be a good idea to rehash the idea of deterrence theory to help explain what is going on here. The fact that most mainstream media outlets in the U.S. aren’t covering this story in great (if any) detail is a bit alarming, but that’s another story entirely.

Deterrence theory is mainly attributed to Thomas Schelling, an American economist and professor of foreign affairs, national security, nuclear strategy, and arms control at the School of Public Policy at University of Maryland, College Park. He was awarded the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (shared with Robert Aumann) for “having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis.”

In his 1966 work, “Arms and Influence,” Schelling introduced Deterrence Theory as a form of Game Theory, and brought the idea of mutually assured destruction into popular American thought. This theory has been argued and studied by numerous defense strategy think tanks, military scholars and heads of state and can get pretty complex, so I’ll dumb it down a bit for the sake of time and space.

Deterrence Theory is essentially the idea that if my enemy believes an invasion of my territory or hostile acts against my state will end in catastrophic losses or mutually assured destruction (due to my nuclear or strategic response capabilities), he won’t attack in the first place.

Some scholars have refuted this idea and called it nonsense, but since the nuclear proliferation began between the nuclear superpowers of the world, we haven’t had a major incursion. The upside of deterrence theory: the fact that both sides have nukes and immediate response times prevents any actual nuclear war, unless a real Dr. Strangelove arrives on the scene and doesn’t care that both sides perish.

The downside of deterrence theory: while it may prevent large scale, high intensity conflicts around the world, it increases the proxy wars and use of special, clandestine and covert operations against each other so that no country can be directly blamed for hostilities against the other. Think of how we fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, the proxy wars in Central and South America in the 1980s, and the influx of foreign fighters we fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, now we turn back to Russia flying bombers armed with nuclear payloads over the English Channel last week. Intelligence officials in the UK claim they knew that bomber had a nuclear payload long before it entered UK airspace. The Norwegian listening post who picked up the crew’s communications confirming the payload claims the Russians know that the post can hear everything they say internally while in UK airspace.

Yet, they still went ahead under the auspices of a training mission to hunt British Vanguard submarines (funny enough, the very submarine in the British fleet designed as a nuclear deterrent).

This, by very definition, is deterrence theory. With all of the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West lately, they want to send us a reminder that not only are they still a military superpower, but they still have the ability to “reach out and touch someone.”

Many Westerners (including Obama, proven in his televised debate of Mitt Romney in 2012) made the false assumption that after the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union the threat of the Bear went away. Putin, a former KGB operative and highly intelligent and strategic military thinker, just wants us to remember that, while the Bear may have taken a short nap, it is not in hibernation.

Perhaps the winter has ended, and the Bear is starting to get hungry again.

Robert Patrick Lewis is a former Green Beret combat veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa turned author. His book “Love Me When I’m Gone: the true story of life, love and loss for a Green Beret in post-9/11 war” is currently available, with his next book, “The Pact” scheduled to be released soon. He currently lives in Santa Clarita and works as an Investment Advisor Representative for TransAmerica Financial Advisors.

Trash or Tack?

| Opinion | January 30, 2015

by Steve Petzold

Steve head shotI was personally involved in the effort to defeat the digital billboard development agreement between the City of Santa Clarita and Metro, as the principal officer and treasurer of the No on Measure S Committee. During this process, I became quite familiar with and gained knowledge about onsite and offsite advertising in the City of Santa Clarita.

By developing three large digital billboards along the 5 and 14 freeways, the City claimed that it was attempting to eliminate trashy visual blight within the Metro right-of-way and develop a new revenue stream from a revenue sharing agreement. When it became apparent that a special deal would have to be made to accommodate the family-owned Edwards Outdoor Advertising to gain local support, our City Council agreed to pay them $1.3 million from the General Fund to take down their billboards over a three-year period.

The Edwards’ billboards are typically the smaller ones you see in Santa Clarita. They offer smaller local companies the ability to advertise offsite. As these are gradually removed, we can expect the entrepreneurs who operate these businesses to look for alternative means to grab your attention.

It seems that the first course of action by some businesses seems to be to purchase a cargo van or SUV and have it wrapped or painted with a promotional message. The owners then place these vehicles on their properties or park them on local streets.

As the most glaring example, those who drive Soledad Canyon may notice the large trailer with “Williams Homes” painted on the side. I have to give Lance Williams an “A” for his creativity.

Onsite advertising by businesses is subject to strict rules for the signs located near the street and attached to buildings. Aggressive business owners often attempt to stretch the rules.

At a recent City Council meeting the owner of Fiesta Insurance on Lyons Avenue made an appearance with a company vice president to lament that his mascot chicken was not allowed to stand by the street with a sign. His office is located a fair distance off the street and a chicken waving by the street without a sign was not very effective. This is especially true when the closest business to the street is a KFC franchise.

After meeting with the owner, Councilman Bob Kellar asked the City Manager to work with Fiesta to work out an agreement that would allow the mascot chicken to stand by the street and have some type of marking identifying the business. It was almost laughable when the Fiesta Vice President held up a small patch that presumably could be sewn onto the mascot.

Last Saturday I drove down Lyons and noticed the chicken waving to passing vehicles while a passenger car was positioned strategically in the parking lot with a large sign strapped to the side.  I could not help but stop and take a picture for my archive.

I do not know whether the vehicle sign was placed with the advice and consent of the City or whether Fiesta Insurance decided that a small patch would not accomplish the goal. It is ironic, in my opinion, that the same councilman who loudly proclaimed billboards to be trashy, would intervene with the City staff to accommodate an advertising tactic that is so tacky.

Fiesta Insurance is not the only business that uses the waving mascot. Liberty Insurance on Bouquet has young adults dressed as the Statue of Liberty near the sidewalk dancing wildly from dawn to well past dusk.

The elimination of the Edwards billboards over the next several years may very well put pressure on local businesses to adopt nontraditional means of onsite advertising. As our City pays to take down the “trash,” expect to see more “tack.” Perhaps we will see Colonel Sanders waving side by side with the Fiesta Chicken.

Lean to the Left – Lean Prices & Green Technology

| Opinion | January 30, 2015

Those of you Republicans who like to moan and groan about the economy (despite the fact that you have most of the economic heavy hitters), should look inside your wallets. See all that extra paper?
That’s because of the drop in gasoline prices. Oh yeah, and it’s on Obama’s watch.

Don’t even try to say it has nothing to do with him, because you have no difficulty blaming him for problems with the economy.

It is a huge benefit to Americans. You can scarcely even think of an industry or individual not affected by gas prices. There’s travel, trucking (of everything from groceries to cars), shipping, import/export businesses, commuting workers, the list goes on and on.

At the President’s State of the Union speech on January 13, 2015 he underscored the achievement. He said: “We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is number one in oil and gas … and thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.”

All this without the Keystone Pipeline.

President Obama also said: “Twenty-first century businesses need 21st century infrastructure — modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this … so let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.”

What is most impressive is that the Obama Administration is tackling things from both sides. He also brought up advances in “green” issues. He said: “America is number one in wind power. Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008.”

Even the Right has good reason to thank President Obama for these developments.

Some People Need a Dictator

| Opinion | January 29, 2015

By Robert Patrick Lewis
As politically incorrect as that is to say, I just can’t find another way to put it. My old Army buddies and I have said that amongst ourselves and behind locked doors for years since my first deployment to the Middle East, and the news today just solidifies those words.

It went into the open-source media available to the public today that Iraqi tribal chiefs are pleading for more U.S. aid (again), asking us to assist them in the fight against ISIS, or ISIL, or IS, or whatever they want to call that ragtag group of goat herders these days. Really? Color me not-so-surprised.
When people ask about my experiences in combat and deployments to the Middle East, I’m quick to answer that, as strange as it may sound, I actually enjoyed my time in Afghanistan. Sure, I got blown up and shot at quite a bit and still have metal fragments in my body from those trips. But I would still look back on that part of my life and say I enjoyed it.

Not because I’m some strange sado-masochist who enjoys living my days in fear and pain, but because the people of Afghanistan were generally good people. They were nice, hospitable, appreciative and thankful to us for what we were trying to do for them and their country, and never hesitated to invite my friends and me into their homes for some tea and a conversation. And then people ask me about my time in Iraq and whether I enjoyed it as much as Afghanistan. Not so much.

Although many people try to lump both countries into the same “invaded by America” group, they couldn’t be more different. The weather (Afghanistan is more Southern California weather, while Iraq feels like the warm side of the sun), people and their attitudes are almost polar opposites in those two countries. While I was a little sad both times, I left Afghanistan for the people and experiences I had, I was overjoyed to climb on the plane out of Iraq both times.

The news that Iraq is once again asking for the U.S. to come back and help comes as no surprise, and is just a reflection of that country. I often compare my time in Iraq and the people I had to interface with there to dealing with a room full of children who are tired and need their naps: ornery, ungrateful and never satisfied.

And while I can’t justify that the groups of people I came in contact with during my trips to Iraq accurately represent the entire population, one could argue that their legislative bodies do, as they are created in the parliament to do, just that (represent the entire population). And seeing that the same people who, over the past few years, have changed their minds, from jumping up and down screaming and demanding that we leave to asking us to come back and help at least a half-dozen times, are once again pleading with us to come back is almost laughable.

Much like the tired children, they pay no mind to the millions of dollars, countless time and logistical nightmare of moving troops & equipment back to their country (which is why we gave them so long to make sure they really wanted us gone before closing down our bases and sending our troops home).

We tried to give them democracy and allow them to sit at the big kids’ table of world politics, but all they did is prove that very unfortunate fact about humanity: some people just need a dictator. Some people prove the age old saying that “if you give them an inch, they’ll try to take a mile,” and either will never make up their mind or will make a snap judgment and change their decision immediately and repeatedly.

As a veteran of OIF I was overjoyed when I saw the cell phone video of Saddam Hussein being hanged in a dirty basement, glad that we had ridden the world of an evil dictator who had rivers of blood on his hands. But, watching the Iraqi parliament act like spoiled, tired children unable to come to agreement on anything and blaming us no matter what we do, I’ve come to the cold realization that, like much of humanity’s dark history, he may have just been what that country needed.

Jaso vs. Doug – A Differing Opinion Irresponsible Corporate Freedoms Again

| Opinion | January 16, 2015

Dear Mr. Ranter,

It is time to stop corporate carte blanche in the pursuit of the best bottom line.

This time it is not about polluting our oceans or air as a byproduct of profit, nor is it workplace safety issues falling short in order to cut costs. This time it’s something different—the for profit abuse of freedom of speech.

A couple of weeks ago Sony nearly released a humorous film depicting a comedic plot that assassinates a foreign leader. Sony saw this project as another great profit maker. Nothing more and nothing less.

One must wonder how we Americans would have received a foreign film with a “humorous” story that culminated in the assassination of a U.S. president. Whether your preferred leader is Bush or Obama, America would have been offended. Yet, from conception to release date, Sony executives failed to wake up and say, “This is in bad taste, offensive to an entire nation, and is not a good idea.” The oblivious juggernaut marched ahead.

Ultimately, the film was not released as planned. Was it withheld for the moral reasons mentioned above? No. Rather, after receiving threats of violence and terrorism, many theaters began pulling the film. To avoid a poor opening weekend showing and the possibility of many expensive lawsuits for the loss of life that may have occurred at said opening weekend, Sony opted to pull the film completely. Once again, another decision based solely on bottom line results.

Mr. Ranter, we know you righties love unbridled corporate freedoms. But, really?


My Comments about Public Comment

| City Council, Opinion | January 15, 2015

by Steve Petzold

Steve head shotI went to the City Council meeting on Tuesday evening planning to make a statement regarding the lack of a meaningful response to the voter’s rejection of Measure S on November 4, 2014. Unfortunately for me, a large number of individuals had already signed speaker cards and I would be required to wait until the end of the meeting to make comment.

For those of you unfamiliar with council procedure, let me provide a quick background. Following an invocation and time for awards and recognition, the council allows public comment from a maximum number of ten individuals for up to three minutes. This time is typically reserved for issues from the public that do not relate to items on the published agenda. If the number of public commentators exceeds 10, they must wait until after the council has finished the normal business, and public comment is allowed to commence again. In general, the members of the city council are not allowed to publicly comment on items not on the agenda.

For items on the agenda, speakers are allowed three minutes for comment before consideration of the issue.

In my opinion this system works fairly well, although the public speaker is at a disadvantage, because they do not have the ability to respond to, or rebut statements made during council consideration of the item.

What I learned during the time that I sat through public comment is what I would like to share with you today.  There are several issues that we should keep our eyes on over the next few months.

Santa Clarita, as most of us know, has several mobile home communities, concentrated in the Canyon Country area. These mobile homes are usually owned by residents, but sit on spaces that are leased from the landowner. There is a rent control ordinance that covers these parks and the City Council is considering an ordinance that allows for an update on allowable rent increase. The number that I hear is a maximum three percent increase.

A large number of the speakers at the beginning of last night’s meeting are residents of the mobile home parks who object to this increase, because they are on fixed incomes and the increases on their Social Security are less than those on the proposed lease increases.

If I learned one thing during the billboard battle over Measure S, it was to have a degree of empathy for the concerns of others, even if I did not find a great deal of value in the issue itself. I recognized one of the speakers as a dear man who I often see at the Senior Center. He and his “wife” sat through the meeting to hear a response to the plea for rent increase relief. It really touched my heart to see the sincere concern on their faces.

The City plans to make a decision in the late winter or early spring. It certainly appears to me that the City Manager, staff, and Council members are attempting to find a good balance, although I expect that the residents will be unhappy with the result.

The other issue for us to watch is the proposed expansion of the Chiquita Landfill in Val Verde. On this issue, the City has no meaningful control and the decision is in the hands of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Next to the mobile home residents, the next largest number of public comments came from citizens concerned with this issue.

But, Santa Clarita City Council will not make this decision; City staff does evaluate the public documents and makes recommendations and comments for the City Council to review. There are many serious concerns that the public has about this expansion, but powerful interests are in favor of it and there does not seem to be a reasonable alternative plan for future solid waste disposal requirements.

It was rather nice to sit back and see the important issues that affect our city and the Santa Clarita Valley discussed by citizens like you and me.
It is important for our representative democracy and the future of the SCV that citizens utilize the City Council public comment period. My advice is to take advantage of this process … and get your speaker card in early.

Lean to the Left – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

| Opinion | January 15, 2015

by Sylvia Turner
The Cold War is over, Republicans. Thanks to President Obama’s copacetic demeanor and penchant for unity, he recently put to rest the contentious relationship between the United States and our neighbor to the southeast – Cuba.

Who would’ve thought the lyrics from a song taught to high school Spanish students – “Cuando Sali de Cuba” – would finally resonate enough to institute change.

“When I Left Cuba” is the title in English, and the lyricist wrote such statements as:

*I left behind my life, I left behind my love
When I left Cuba I left my heart buried in the ground
*A sad storm
Is battering me without rest
But the sun of your children
Soon will make the calm reach you

Wow. We really did learn something in high school!

In his speech announcing the triumph, President Obama said, “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” and continued to call our previous relationship with Cuba a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”


Predictably, however, Conservatives want to shackle us to the past. Thus, they had words of opposition to the President’s action. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) accused President Obama of tossing Cuban Americans aside. He said, “This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people. … All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.”

Rubio also called Obama the “worst negotiator” since “Jimmy Carter.” I’m glad you brought that up, Senator. It reminds me how silly it is to act as though we’ve never become friendly with countries run by tyrants. President Nixon opened up trade with China (I’ll bet you’ve purchased plenty of “made in China” merchandise, Mr. Rubio). And President Clinton normalized relations with Vietnam. (Have you looked at your clothing tags lately?)

Look at how much good it did the U.S. having George W. Bush at the helm, sticking his nose in the air and snubbing leaders who didn’t follow his formula for governing in a Judeo-Christian fashion. Have you noticed how Republicans like tall white picket fences around their homes (literally and metaphorically)?

What happened to “Love thy Neighbor”?

Ignorance & Arrogance: the Charlie Hebdo Tragedy

| Opinion | January 15, 2015

By Robert Patrick Lewis
To begin, I should state that I firmly believe if everyone in the world routinely watched the cartoon “South Park,” the world would be a better place. Is this because I think the world needs more sophomoric jokes and making fun of people? No, not really, but there is a very important vein to South Park that I think many seem to miss completely when criticizing the show: they make fun of everyone.

I am a very conservative fellow, probably one of the more conservative that you will meet, but I firmly believe that once you lose the ability to laugh at yourself for doing something silly or stupid, or to find the humor in situations, you might as well climb into the grave. I think humor is part of what makes us human, and if you don’t take advantage of a good laugh every once in a while, well, you aren’t much of a human at all.

This brings us to the popular, satirical and envelope-pushing French magazine “Charlie Hebdo.” Most Americans have only heard of Charlie before this week as the only magazine in the world (that I’m aware of) with the courage to actually print pictures of the Islamic prophet Mohammad; others have said they would immediately back down when threatened by the religious zealots in the Islamic faith.

Now, unfortunately, the magazine will be remembered by the tragedy that took place last week, in a three-day rampage of violence resulting in 17 dead, two of whom were my brother masons. Many people will have a hard time believing or understanding this, but as many Masonic websites around the world have posted, at least they died in standing for their Masonic virtues of free speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of the people, for which I know they are proud.

It is an absolute shame that there are people (and I use that term loosely) who would be so vile and have such a lack of respect for humor or life that the mere drawing and publishing of a cartoon would drive them to a murderous rampage. It truly is a sad state when this can be condoned by anyone, and all I can ask is that God have mercy on their wretched souls.

But, there is a valid point to be made here, and one that I feel must be addressed. I have heard many people (now, after 9/11, and numerous other times) blame horrible events like these on the religion of Islam. Being that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East and with Muslims, I have to call that general assumption that all Muslims would condone this, just as the ignorant animals who enacted this tragedy.

By using that same logic, all Catholics are guilty of harboring Nazi war criminals, as members of the Vatican were found to have helped the highest echelons of the Nazi military to escape to South America after WWII. By that same logic all Christians are bloodthirsty racists, as churches in the south not only condoned the Klu Klux Klan during the worst parts of our nation’s history, but also provided places for them to meet and had clergy comprising its ranks.

As a man who’s been around the world many times over, I can say that some of the best human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing were Muslim; of the same token, some of the worst human beings I’ve ever known were Muslim.
Some of the best human beings I’ve known were Christian; but, in the same respect, some of the worst human beings I’ve ever known were Christian.

You cannot blame a religion for its followers, just as you couldn’t blame a rock band for lunatics listening to their music. By making those broad generalizations you become just as ignorant and hate-filled as the pestilent scum who enacted this massacre, and you’re better than that.

E-Books Make a Comeback in 2015

| Opinion | January 10, 2015

Peter wrote in to ask me what happened to e-books in the last couple of years, as it seems you do not hear anything about them anymore. I am devoting this month’s column to answering this question in great detail.

An e-book is simply a book in electronic format. You may be more familiar with books on Kindle being electronic, but that is actually a different method for delivering information written as a book to your computer, smart phone, or tablet. E-books are written using any word processing program, such as Microsoft’s Word, and then converted to PDF (Portable Document Format) using Word, Adobe Acrobat, or any of a host of similar programs.

Your e-book can be attached to an email message, uploaded to a website, or delivered in any number of ways to the intended recipients. The goal is convenience, and this is actually the oldest method for sharing large amounts of data digitally.

When I first came online in 2006 people were teaching this model of writing an e-book on a niche topic and then selling it via their own one-page website. Now you do not see that being discussed much.

But, my guess is that Peter was more interested in learning about e-books as a way to earn income than just wanting to know about their history. The fact is that e-book sales are alive and well, and you will earn significantly more income if you sell your content yourself rather than going through Amazon.

The prices of Kindle books have plummeted in recent years, due to an oversupply and a stagnant demand. My own books on Kindle sell for only $2.99, and I give away thousands of copies just to be able to sell a hundred or so more each month. That same book prepared and delivered as an e-book would sell for anywhere between $10 and $25, and there are no fees involved.

So, why don’t more people sell their non-fiction books on their own blogs and websites rather than turning them over to Amazon to sell them for the Kindle? I believe it is because of the convenience Amazon offers in the way of marketing, delivery, and customer service. You must decide if it is worth the money you are spending for their services to take such a huge reduction in profits for your business. It works for me, because I also have 11 books available for sale in paperback that Amazon handles and fulfills for me.

I recommend selling most of your information on sites you own and control in order to earn much more money. Learn how to get more traffic and visibility to your sites, build a list, and hire someone to help with the customer service part of this business.

You can get started with this business model today, no matter what your level of expertise or your topic. This is exactly what I am recommending:
Choose a niche topic where you can solve a problem
Research your topic and make an outline before you write
Write the e-book yourself, or hire a ghostwriter to do it
Set up a simple website and start making sales

Of course, I am simplifying the process here. But, the truth is that you can still do very well by selling e-books on niche topics that are of interest to large numbers of readers. The most lucrative topics include educational, how-to, DIY (do it yourself), hobbies, relationships, games, and embarrassing health problems, such as hair loss or acne.

If you want to take this business model to the next level, teach a course based upon the subject matter of your e-book. Take people through a step-by-step process where they can solve, or at least improve, the problem they are dealing with in their lives.

I sincerely hope you choose to write at least one e-book during 2015. It will definitely change your perspective on doing business online, as well as increasing your bottom line in the long run.

Connie Ragen Green lives in Saugus and has been working exclusively on the Internet since 2006. Her eleventh book, “Write. Publish. Prosper.,” will be released by Hunter’s Moon Publishing at the end of January. Other titles are now available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. Find out more by visiting http://HugeProfitsTinyList.com and download an audio recording on marketing at http://NewRulesforOnlineMarketing.com.

Questions? Email Connie at crgreencrgreen@yahoo.com and be sure to put “Home Business Question” in the subject line. Your question and answer will be included in a future article.

Who’s Better for the World: Government or Corporations?

| Opinion | January 9, 2015

I recently heard a lecture on corporate responsibility and image, and this question immediately popped into my head. While those on the Left tries fervently to replace religion with government, they also indoctrinate their followers to believe that corporations are evil, greedy institutions with no goodwill for the world. But, is that really true? And if so, are politicians any better?

While Obama tells small business owners that “you didn’t build that,” and Hillary makes the bold accusation that “businesses don’t create jobs,” they hope that nobody will do their due diligence and actually look into those misrepresentations of reality. For, if they did, they would realize the organizations doing the most good for the world, from our country at least, are corporations.

Before my first trip to North Africa as a Green Beret (which I discuss at great length in my first book), we were given a hefty intelligence brief about the country we would be visiting – Niger. On the Department of Defense list of countries, in terms of wealth, Niger ranked dead last, and was considered a “welfare state,” meaning its primary source of income was donations.

We were told that Gaddafi (former Libyan dictator) had been giving large sums of money to the Niger government to help feed their people, and stopped when he learned that only one-tenth of his donations were actually going to the people, with the other 90 percent lining the pockets of politicians.

Having been witness to government funded projects in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa, I can tell you that we fell into the same money pit as Gaddafi with the billions we’ve piled into those countries, but we were never smart enough to turn the cash faucet off. American politicians don’t really care about where the money goes or how it’s spent, because, in the end, it’s not their money, and rarely are they held accountable for their ignorance of reality.

A corporation, on the other hand, actually puts effort into making sure its  money goes to the right place and is being used for good. Yes,  companies get tax incentives to donate money, but they have another factor that drives them, to ensure they are actually doing good for the world: image.

We have entered a new era in the corporate world, with businesses finding that both employees and customers are now willing to go to a corporation that pays less or costs more, but provides more in self-fulfillment. Many Americans would now rather work for a company that builds wells in Africa, or buy products from a company that gives shoes to children in India, than another that may have ethical issues or gives nothing back to the global community.

As such, many corporations are very careful with how that image is maintained and portrayed, because while we neglect to hold politicians accountable for their mistakes or ignorance, the media and public love to hold the feet of Fortune 500 CEOs to the fire and call for their resignation for any small mistake.

You can visit the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (www.CECP.co) to see just how many and which corporations are giving massive amounts of money to causes around the globe, focused on not only helping their corporate images, but also to making the world a better place.

I also encourage you to visit OpenSecrets.org/BigPicture to take a quick look at the cost of political campaigns and elections in our country; that should help you put things into perspective regarding where politicians’ true motives are.

At the end of the day, it’s not the amount of money given that really matters, but how much of it actually goes to help that makes the difference. So the next time a politician from the Left tries to tell you that businesses are evil and don’t do any good for the world, have a look at how much that same politician spent on his/her last campaign, how it compares to the charitable support given by the very corporations the politician is railing against, and decide for yourself where his/her true priorities actually lie.

Lean to the Left – Watch for Falling Politicians

| Opinion | January 9, 2015

Now that a new U.S. Congress is sworn in, we are bound to see the downfall – or at least the shortfall – of Republicans in office. Any time that a Democrat is caught in some sort of compromising position, the Republicans take it as far as they can run with it.

But, don’t forget it cuts both ways. There have been plenty of God-fearing, family-focused Republicans we have watched going down in flames. Remember Louisiana Republican Congressman Vance McAllister, who won a key election in 2013, only to be videotaped a few months later kissing one of his married employees.

The Right loves to point at Illinois Democrats and their shortcomings. But, again, there was Republican Mike Bost and his, er … uh, “fiery” temper. Sometimes called “Meltdown Mike,” he is another poor Republican outed by a video. The public took notice of his over-the-top ranting and raving as an Illinois House Representative in 2012. Of course, it caused media to dig up his least flattering history, which included opposing police officers and even illegally killing a beagle – granted, back in the ‘80s.

December of 2014 proved to be a downer for a Republican Congressman from New York, Michael Grimm. Again, just months after reelection, Grimm plead guilty to two counts (and many others that he side-stepped) of felony tax evasion and admitted to other charges, including lying in a deposition. He resigned and will be sentenced later this year.

Well, we could discuss non-felonious, just offensive faux pas by Republicans (Florida Congressman Steve Southerland defending his male-only campaign event by asking his female opponent if she had attended a “lingerie party”). But, alas, there isn’t enough space in this column to even get started with that one.

Lean to the Left – Fair Trade in ‘15

| Opinion | December 27, 2014

Just for fun, I looked up some of the democrats’ holiday gift ideas. I was pleased to note that we are as clever as some of the top notch marketing experts. Among the creative slogans on T-shirts, coffee mugs and lapel pins was the name of this Gazette column – “I lean left” said some of the items.
On www.democrats.org shoppers are supporting the elections of democrats across the United States while, at the same time, ordering message bearing merchandise. There were cups with “I hate tea (parties)” and “Stop the GOP.”
One of the greatest accomplishments of the left-leaning public, I believe, is its financial support of fair trade companies and the drive to remain mindful of the less fortunate. And our world is full of the less fortunate. Whether it’s Brad Pitt’s clean water crusade or Alec Baldwin’s support of PETA, democrats pretty much have the market cornered in speaking for the powerless.
Fair trade has become more mainstream, however. There are charming stores doing a bustling business, selling baby products, home décor, soaps, clothing, etc. My hat’s off to those who will only carry fair trade products. I’m thrilled that many are succeeding.
To clarify, one way to define “fair trade” is to refer to the act of doing business with companies whose production processes adhere to certain labor, environmental, and human rights standards.
Let’s make fair trade a winning argument in 2015. Let’s ALL band together to protect foreign workers from unfair practices, to maximize the ability for those in poverty to make a living, and share the generosity that America possesses.

Stuff or Time, What’s More Important?

| Opinion | December 26, 2014

I used to truly believe that whoever coined the phrase “money can’t buy you happiness” was a real jerk, someone who was obviously born into great wealth and never had to toil in the coal mines like the rest of us, stressing and worrying about keeping up with the Jones’s, putting food on our kids’ plates, money into our retirement, and paying off a bigger mortgage every few years.

And then I paid attention to my kids. It’s funny, we always think that we have all the answers as the adults, the educated, the learned ones who have grown wiser throughout our years and learned from past mistakes. But, it’s amazing the life lessons that we adults can sometimes learn from our kids and their childhood innocence, if we’re smart and patient enough to just pay attention every once in awhile.

This year I celebrated Christmas with my kids early, last weekend to be exact, and I was so spun up and stressed out throughout the week planning and preparing that I felt as if I was back in the Middle East gearing up for a mission. Even shopping a week early was met with long lines and crazed masses trying to get to the stores early enough to buy the perfect gift for their kids, the required meal for Christmas day, and the right wrapping paper and Christmas tree decorations.

Even picking my kids up on Friday I was pre-planning distractions and diversions to keep them away from the tree, worried about how I could fill their little heads with activities so as not to be pressured constantly to open the presents before the perfect time, that crescendo of Christmas craziness after which parents can finally relax and take a deep breath.

But it never came. They saw the tree upon entering my home, and didn’t give it a second notice until it was time to open gifts. Instead, they wanted something from me that didn’t come wrapped in shiny wrappers, require batteries, or cost me a single penny. They just wanted my time. In their minds, the stuff under the tree was of no real importance … I realized the only person who had worked himself into a frenzy making sure everything was perfect was me.

The greatest gift I gave my kids this Christmas, and the one I now realize was the one they cherished the most, was time with dad. And when the wrapping paper was thrown away and batteries were installed in all of the toys, it was the only gift that they will remember, and the only one that really matters.

Please take that to heart, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve found myself over the past year pushing my schedule to the absolute limits working on the various projects I’m involved in, which in my mind was all for my kids, so I can one day send them to the best colleges and ensure they never want for anything. But, they don’t care about that; all they care about is our time, and that’s the gift that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

Merry Christmas everyone, give your kids an extra hug for me this year, and I promise it will do you much better than any material gift on any store shelf.

Lean to the Left – All or Nothing

| Opinion | December 20, 2014

All-or-nothing views seem ridiculous to me. Right wing proponents who pay homage to any leader from the Republican Party (or worse, the Tea Party) and conservative talk show hosts (seriously?) without question are sometimes backing the wrong horse. I don’t know why they can’t tease out the hairs of each leader – making choices to support individuals, or even individual views, not just drink the Kool-Aid.

It just creates hypocrisy – you know, saying one thing, but doing another. Take Ronald Reagan worshipers, those who claim to have extremely conservative views on spending. Did you know he is the one with the first budget over one trillion dollars?

How about Republican Mark Souder from Indiana, who advocated abstinence in education, along with the usual “family values,” etc. He was brought down with an affair with a staffer.

Of course, there was the now famous fact that Newt Gingrich was cheating on his wife during the persecution of President Bill Clinton after his affair.

And how’d Arnold Schwarzenegger work for ya?

Be careful who you put up on that pedestal. They might break something when they fall.

If you think conservative talk radio will save you – think again.  A post on Savingcountrymusic.com calls it “radio’s biggest problem,” and says it’s “in a tailspin.” Rush Limbaugh is the cause of woes for the media giants, says the article, adding that Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey blames Limbaugh for the loss of millions last year. Almost every top radio advertiser in the country refuses to work with Rush Limbaugh or conservative TV host Sean Hannity.

Almost no one is on a pedestal higher than these guys. Brace yourself, because a fall by these guys could get messy.

Too Broke to Stop Spending

| Opinion | December 18, 2014

What made you most upset about the recent passing of our $1 trillion spending bill? It seems the only thing that can be agreed upon by everyone is that it’s a very bad idea. Interestingly enough, it seems to be hated equally from both sides of the political aisle, as well as the American public … you know, the people whose money is actually paying for the thing.

The part that struck me as the most odd and, quite frankly, made me upset was the defense appropriation. The lobbyists, I mean politicians (is there any difference at this point?), decided to give the Pentagon twice as much as they asked for in the defense budget.

Here’s why this makes me very upset.

Yes, I am a combat veteran, and yes I’m saying that giving the DOD too much money, especially more than the generals and staff who know better than the politicians what the military needs, is a very bad idea.

But why would I want to keep money from the Pentagon and leave our nation’s finest and bravest without the funds to buy hot meals, bullets, body armor and adequate housing?

I had the benefit of finishing my undergraduate business degree before entering the military, so I looked at many of the modus operandi during my service through that lens. The absolute waste ingrained into the system made me furious, and this is exactly why. For those of you without any governmental budgeting experience, here’s a quick tutorial; I hope it makes you as upset as it does me. My experience was on the military side, but many sources from other governmental agencies tell me it’s the same all around.

Let’s say I’m the commander of Unit X (sounds like a cool unit, doesn’t it?). My unit is given a budget of $1,000,000 this year to spend on things that I need. If I’m smart, I’ll even ask for more, because one of the bullet points on my military resume is how much money I commanded while in charge.

Throughout the course of the year I buy the things my unit needs: MRE’s, training, gear, etc. But, when the end of the fiscal year comes around, I find that I have $250,000 left over. In private industry I’d be commended for keeping overhead low, but in government that is considered a very bad thing.

You see, if I have money left over in a military unit, the budgeting overlords look at it as if I was given too much, and they’ll decrease my budget next year. So, what am I to do? I do an “end of the year buy.”

This is where most soldiers and units get their warehouse full of sunglasses, new boots, knives or things they don’t really need (or already have), but the logistical soldiers know can be purchased quickly and used to ensure that no money is left at the end of the year.

On top of this culture of waste and punishing commanders who spend efficiently, we have programs with massive waste like the F-35. The Pentagon is already planning to spend almost a trillion dollars on these fighters (purchasing 2,443 of them for $382 billion with an operation and maintenance estimate of $650 billion).

These are the same fighters, mind you, that Canada refused to buy because they “add no edge over other fighters” for their forecast of planned engagements.

It reminds me of a joke I once heard: An astronaut and cosmonaut are on the space station together.  The astronaut is bragging about his pen, which NASA developed for $20 million and can write underwater, in zero gravity, upside down, right side up, and every which way. The cosmonaut listens intently, laughs, and says that Russia gave him something that can do all of the cool tricks his $20 million pen can – a pencil.

Our culture and education system do an abysmal job of teaching our children anything about money. It falls on us as parents to do everything we can to teach our kids fiscal responsibility, but when they see our politicians doing the exact opposite and spending their future away right in front of their eyes, what lesson do you think they are learning?

Hosting Live Workshops Locally to Grow Your Business

| Opinion | December 13, 2014

By Connie Ragen Green
Chrystal wrote in to ask me what I thought about hosting live events and workshops in the city or town where you live. I am devoting this month’s column to answering her question in great detail.

I can remember years ago when I visited Home Depot and saw the schedule for their live workshops prominently featured by the main entrances to the store. For the life of me, I could not figure out why this was so important to them. Then I attended one about how to replace the tile on your bathroom countertop and suddenly the bright light went on in my brain. These workshops gave them the opportunity to show off their expertise, showcase their staff, and recommend their products. Very smart.

So, how can we emulate this model in our own business? The answer is to start small and grow over time. The first event I hosted here in Santa Clarita took place in a small room at one of the local hotels. They charged me $25 and gave me a three-hour time frame. I had five people show up, mainly because I only invited people by calling or emailing them personally. This was in 2006 and I did not yet have the confidence to ask more people to attend. It went very well. We had a mastermind style discussion, with each of us sharing our thoughts and ideas on the topic of marketing ourselves and our businesses online. And I still know all five of those original people!

Within a year, I decided to partner with a woman named Dr. Jeanette Cates so that we could host larger events and workshops across the United States. We did five of these over a two-year period until we both decided to go our separate ways. Jeanette and I remain good friends to this day and continue to support each other in our business endeavors.

With this experience under my belt, I was ready to offer more events to attract people who would be interested in what I was doing in my online business. Now I offer two live events each year, either in Las Vegas or Los Angeles, as well as three or four retreats in Santa Barbara for smaller groups. My goal is similar to that of Home Depot in my example above. I get to show off my expertise, showcase my clients, and recommend my own courses, products, and programs.

You can do the same thing, no matter what your level of expertise or your topic. This is exactly what I am recommending:
Commit to hosting a small event within the next 30 days
Choose a local venue and invite three to five of your friends
At the end, ask for constructive feedback on your presentation
Schedule another event within 60 days and invite more people
Typically I prepare a PowerPoint presentation to use throughout my event, but you can also do it with just some notes or handouts. I like to prepare a workbook for attendees to use to follow along, as well as to provide them with resources, additional information, and my contact details. I also give everyone who attends a copy of one of my books to thank them for coming.

If you want to take this to the next level, plan out in advance what you will offer people who attend as a follow up to your presentation. For example, at my last event I offered my Platinum Mastermind program to those who wished to apply. I handed out applications on the last day and several people joined my mentoring group. You may also want to offer special deals on your books, products and courses throughout your event.

I sincerely hope you choose to incorporate live events and workshops into your business in 2015. It will definitely change the way you are perceived by the community and increase your bottom line in the long run.

Connie Ragen Green lives in Saugus and has been working exclusively on the Internet since 2006. Her 10th book, “The Transformational Entrepreneur,” was recently released by Hunter’s Moon Publishing and is available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. Find out more by visiting http://HugeProfitsTinyList.com and download an audio recording for 2014 at http://NewRulesforOnlineMarketing.com.

Questions? Email Connie at crgreencrgreen@yahoo.com and be sure to put Home Business Question in the subject line. Your question and answer will be included in a future article.

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