Archive for the ‘My DAILY CAMERA COLUMNS’ Category

The Camera’s Dec. 19 headline couldn’t be missed: “Winner hits $5.3M Lotto.” Though most players checked their numbers, I see a real need all lottery players check their motivations for playing.

It helps to ease the greed question when the proceeds from the Colorado Lottery — Powerball, Lotto, Cash 5 and Scratch Games — go to good places. Nearly $2 billion has been returned to the state for parks, recreation, open space, conservation education and wildlife projects since the lottery started in 1983, according to the lottery’s Web site.

Nevertheless, if the main motivation for playing lotteries is to give to worthy causes, wouldn’t voters support taxes to pay for them? Not if the motivation is greed.

We’re not talking corporate Wall Street greed. We’re talking neighbor winning big at the expense of another neighbor. It took lots of zeros, or rather non-winners, to net the one big winner.

Granted, it’s no crime to advertise heavily, even in poor areas. It gives everyone a chance to win, though that chance is about the same as being struck by lightning on a winter’s day. The actual odds were 1 in 5,245,786, said Erika Gonzales, the lottery spokeswoman.

There’s the beginning of the greed ripoff.

But to ease that thought, it might help to say people have the right to spend their money any way they like. Lotteries are entertainment. With a dollar or more, anyone can be in the game. Add to that worthy causes and the incentive balance tips for many. Dreamers and gambling addicts see it’s only a matter of time before they win big.

Stories like Kim Haggerty’s help there. Seventeen years ago when she was 23-year-old Kim Walker, she won the state’s biggest jackpot of $27 million with a ticket purchased in Boulder. She now lives in Steamboat with her husband and three children where she does what she wants. She teaches ice skating and runs the ice skating club.

When I was a CU student, one professor in class suggested lotteries are really an unfairly administered “tax” and questioned whether the poor were disproportionately paying.

Good points. How many stories about winners say the person is already a multi-millionaire? None I can think of.

However, the New Mexico Lottery Web site clarified that middle income Americans were the most likely group to play the lottery and the wealthiest and the poorest were the least likely. It also said lotteries are not true taxes as no one is forced to play and there are no legal ramifications.

Still, if the causes are worthy, they should be shouldered by more than the middle class.

I have serious concerns that lotteries, a form of gambling, go beyond promoting greed. They weaken the work ethic. Work is the foundation of our nation’s prosperity. By the luring message of getting something for nothing, the basis of prosperity gets changed to luck.

You can put in very little and can receive over a thousand times in return. If prosperity isn’t based on work, gambling encourages idleness with all of its resulting bad effects. Among those bad effects are an addiction to gambling, wasting time and neglecting family and work, and diminishing sensitive feelings.

Of course, one-time ticket buying isn’t going to change all that. And, well-respected and employed individuals play lotteries. But the effect comes in increments. The first ticket sets players’ feet on the path.

Then in these difficult economic times, players are more likely than non-players to rationalize that while buying one ticket was good, buying many would be better. The big jackpot can cause a frenzy where they play more money than they can afford to lose. And, for a small number, the result is a gambling addiction.

Frankly, a tax for all would be a lot better all around than lotteries.

Source: Daily Camera Dec. 28, 2008

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An ad for a three-story doll house jumped off the page at me as I looked for little girls’ Christmas gifts. I thought, “Oh, I would have loved having one of those.” What power toy ads have to sell while bringing back memories.

Advertisers know how to maximize that selling power with children. They produce appealing ads for children and place them where children see them, including on TV and Web sites, and in catalogs and direct mail.

Therein lies a big problem.

At least, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood sees it that way. Over 1,440 of its members and supporters lobbied 24 major toy makers and retailers asking them to stop targeting children with their ads.

The group’s Web site says it is “never fair” for corporations to market directly to children but that parents should be targeted instead. The Web site also says that while parents worry about making ends meet, it is “especially cruel to bombard children with ads for expensive toys and electronics.”

Yes, children are bombarded. However, generations of children have fond memories, made even during financially difficult times, of dreaming while flipping through thick Christmas toy catalogs.

After TV and Christmas specials became common, so did TV toy ads. Now, the list of ways ads reach children seems almost as endless as the number of toys being sold.

Children yearn and dream but don’t need to receive every toy in their dreams. The real problem is most children are not being taught the skill of choosing. When most children see 10 toys, they want all 10. They cannot rank three top choices nor select one favorite.

I talked recently with Dr. Elia Gourgouris. He is a nationally-known speaker, author and relationship expert and a Superior trustee.

Gourgouris said I was correct in stating children are not being taught to prioritize. He added we live in a society where wants are confused with needs, and parents have the responsibility to teach their children the differences.

A second problem is too many parents equate giving lots of presents with giving lots of love. Gourgouris called this way of thinking a “shortcut” because he said good parenting is spending time with your child, resolving issues, talking and explaining why you can’t afford the child’s top 10.

“Honestly, when kids grow up, they don’t remember the toys,” Gourgouris said. “What they remember is the times they spent quality time with their parents. Gifts break. They lose them. They break even within the same day they receive them.”

A third problem the CFCC members neglect with their effort is that too many parents don’t like to say “no” to their children.

I find it surprising parents don’t naturally teach their children to make choices. It would be an easy out to ask their children to rank their choices. When times are tough financially like today’s recession, this skill could help children ward off disappointments.

Gourgouris pointed out, “The right thing to do is to teach kids that ‘no’ is okay, and you can do it with love. You don’t have to get mad at them.”

I agree and see no other way. Life isn’t sustainable when children have the expectation that whatever they want, they instantly get.

As I think about Christmas and other holidays this time of year, I realize children need more dreaming and choosing. They also need spending quality time with their parents who dare to maintain boundaries by saying in a loving way when necessary, “No, we can’t afford it.”

Source: Daily Camera Dec. 14, 2008, under “A child’s Christmas”

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Young children and a dog at the Mamie Doud Eisenhower Public Library in Broomfield look cute together. The children read individually out loud to Shiva, a trained, husky-mix therapy dog, as part of the Afternoon Reading Fun program. But are there real benefits?

The program makes a difference for Carlene Bratach’s 8-year-old son Micah. She told the Camera he was more enthusiastic about reading with Shiva’s help than without it.

Other parents report positive effects on their children. While the dog actually does not understand the stories nor pay attention, those things seem to benefit the children.

“They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I can read to a dog. The dog doesn’t know if I mess up,'” said Samantha Bloodworth, the dog’s owner and University of Colorado law student.

The fact the dog cannot catch mistakes and correct them could be considered a weakness. While children need time to read without constant correction, they also need help sounding out words to avoid drilling in errors. Bloodworth helps there.

I talked with a musician friend who said feedback from her audience alters her musical performance. I see the same situation when children read. In this way, it’s a shortfall when a child reads to a dog as it cannot show excitement or emotion as the story unfolds. It also cannot ask questions or make comments to add to the sharing together.

When I first read the Camera’s story, the first thing that came into my mind was a TV ad I saw years ago reminding parents to pay attention to their children. In the ad, a little boy walked in the front door at home with his big news to tell. One by one family members told him they were too busy to listen. Finally, he ended up on the front porch where he put his arm around his dog, called it by name and asked, “Can I tell you?”

Therapy dogs supposedly listen though they look completely disinterested. What if adults were to act like the dogs? Surely, the children should wonder why the adults didn’t follow along in the books and help them when they needed it.

Nevertheless, reading with a dog doesn’t have to be an either-or situation. Children can have both and receive both benefits.

Programs where children read to dogs elsewhere in the country tout great successes. Therapy Dogs International, Inc. in New Jersey shares its program’s feedback. Children who are a little fearful or struggling to read become confident and happy often with improved grades.

The Intermountain Therapy Animals centered in Salt Lake City is having similar results with their volunteer teams of trained therapy dog and owner/handlers throughout the country. They say their dogs help children read by helping to create a relaxed, comfortable, safe, empowering and fun environment.

I see no need to discount the benefits to children of reading to Shiva or any other therapy dog. The fact that children love this program and it works for so many is a good enough reason to praise the Broomfield library for including the therapy dog in its program for children.

At the same time, the library is missing out by using a dog where it could be anchoring children to reading by their seeing their parents involved with a reading program in the community. Maybe it can or does do both.

Still, there is something sad about children feeling more comfortable reading to a dog than to a grandma, mother or father, or big brother or big sister. It takes me back to that TV ad I saw years ago. I wouldn’t want people to fail children. But, then, again, I wouldn’t want to have them miss out on the special connection and benefits they can receive from dogs.

Source: Daily Camera Nov. 30, 2008, under “A child’s audience”

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In a CNN interview last week, Dr. Alvin Poussaint talked about the positive power of the images of Barack Obama serving as president of the United States of America.

Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry, studies the effects of images of black people in the media on black people. He said Obama’s images on TV could offset negative images black children see of blacks in the media. He added black parents will feel pride and bring back discussions about the importance of the two-parent family.

Obama’s positive effects aren’t limited to blacks. Whether you agree politically, the Obamas provide a focus on the family for everyone. Then, the Obama win underscores what he and most Americans have been taught. We can achieve anything if we are willing to work hard enough for it. He also opened doors for other blacks and minorities to follow.

Positive news can be drowned out by the stream of bad news Americans face on the economy, bailouts, unemployment and more. If we are not careful, we may forget the right and good in America.

This week I talked with Jannet Downs, of Broomfield, and Scott Starin, of Lafayette, the Republican candidate for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District in the last election.

I asked them both, “What’s right with America?”

Downs responded with a long list. At the top was her church, the Constitution, free enterprise, her vote and the sacrifice of those who serve our country.

The people’s voice through elections matters. Government is of, by and for the people. American ingenuity, creativity, individuality and determination help us take hold of the American dream of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Downs said.

Downs’ list continued with the generosity of the American people and inventions that make our lives better, including computers and washing machines. She said America has the cleanest water, the best doctors and food, fun sports and the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and amber waves of grain.

Starin responded: “Absolutely, we need to focus on what’s right with America because there are so many things right. America is the land of opportunities,” with its “mantra,” the Constitution.

Starin noted most of Downs’ list fit nicely in his four legs of American greatness — freedom, opportunity, national security and morals. He quickly added morals can be secular like America’s drive to rescue people in WWI and WWII and to liberate more people in history than any other nation.

Downs’ reference to America’s beauty didn’t exactly fit in Starin’s “four legs.” Talk turned to America’s diversity in its people and natural resources. That’s when Starin realized he was going to need a new analogy as a fifth table leg didn’t work. For now, he said, diversity is the central post.

America is a melting pot of peoples. Starin and Downs are examples of that. Starin’s mother’s parents immigrated in 1904 from Lebanon. His father’s parents’ family has been here since 1685 from the Netherlands. Family members on his father’s side fought in the Revolutionary War in the Battle of Herkimer and Saratoga, the Civil War and WWI. His father fought in WWII in the South Pacific.

Like Starin, Downs was born in the United States. Her parents were first-generation. Her grandmother on her dad’s side came from Australia. Her paternal grandfather’s family has been in the U.S. since the 1600s. Downs’ mother’s parents married in Italy and came over together.

Whether we immigrated or were born in the United States, our turn is now. As we work through our nation’s difficulties, let us remember what is right with America. Then to our hope and determination, let us always add gratitude.

Source: Daily Camera Nov. 16, 2008, under “What we get right”

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The national presidential race likely will become more frenzied in the days before the election. Despite that, however, now is the time to underscore the value of numerous people’s political involvement locally before they slip away.

“All politics is local,” said Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, the Speaker of the House from 1977 until 1987. This means to me individuals can work on familiar, local issues better than unfamiliar ones far away. They can also see the benefits more easily.

All local communities make it easy for people to be involved. I had the opportunity to talk this week with Andrew Moore, the mayor of Erie, and asked him what he would tell the newly politically involved. He said he’d urge them to “stay engaged.” He added, whether with the school board, the municipalities or county government, “the change you see and feel the most on a day-to-day basis is at the local level.”

Moore said he and Erie’s Board of Trustees work to achieve transparency and openness. One town goal is to “develop and promote proactive fluid communication between government and the citizens of Erie.” Such a goal can only help people be involved.

Erie’s efforts include the town’s Web site, which caught my attention first several months ago. I was most impressed. The Web site is easy to navigate with information grouped by theme such as “Living in Erie,” “Doing Business,” “Government” and “Community Center.”

I found the On Demand Video quite exciting. One side of the screen is the agenda coupled with clickable links to the On Demand Video on the other side. All I needed to do to watch a particular item was click on it on the agenda.

Erie’s live and archived town meetings are available from anywhere in the world at any time. The same is true for some other local communities. This convenient feature is tremendous in informing and engaging people politically.

When I saw On Demand Video for the first time on Erie’s Web site, I immediately thought what an improvement it would be for viewing the Boulder Valley School Board meetings. Then, people wouldn’t be limited to just a few hours a week or every other week when only people with cable can view them.

Like other communities under various names, Erie’s e-news updates go out at least once a week. “It’s pushing information,” Moore said while describing the Web site as a destination. “We’re saying what we’re doing and we’re doing what we’re saying.”

Then, to help those where online information and resources don’t work, a one-page update on a timely topic called the Erie Edition goes out with the water bill. It seems like Erie has thought of everything but certainly isn’t the only community reaching out to its residents. All any of us need to do is go to our own community’s Web site and look around. I’ve gone to Boulder’s, Broomfield’s, Superior’s, Lafayette’s and Louisville’s Web sites and found helpful information.

Two things I have not found elsewhere, however, are done only by Erie’s mayor. Both are aimed at communication and building trust. He set up his own Web site and sends out a personal e-mail to anyone interested in adding their name to his list. If someone has a question, all they need do is reply to his letter. He welcomes everyone’s input and questions.

Moore explained the rationale behind his efforts, which could go a long way to improving the federal government’s woes. “The more accessible we are as elected officials, the more trust we build,” Moore said. “You fix the transparency problem and you build trust.”

Moore is right about transparency and openness and right about staying involved. Now, let’s do our part.

Source: Daily Camera Nov. 2, 2008, under “Act locally”

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With thousands registering to vote near the deadline, the pattern continued from last spring when record numbers attended caucuses. Their getting involved politically is admirable. However, their sudden springing into action raises a bunch of questions.

First and foremost, is where have all these people been? We’ve got to assume they all didn’t turn 18 recently en masse. I also doubt they all were finally granted citizenship recently or moved to Colorado in the past 30 days.

Certainly, some had just turned 18, and some had moved here after voting in other elections in their home states. But, what about the rest? The only conclusion I see is these citizens have never voted.

The John Kerry-John Edwards ticket didn’t activate them in 2004 nor did the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney ticket. With the numbers in the polls right now favoring Senator Barack Obama, I wouldn’t be surprised if these people were the same people now crying, “We can’t have four more years of the same.”

Maybe they don’t get it that a vote for Sen. John McCain isn’t a vote for Bush. As McCain said in the last presidential debate on Oct. 15, if Obama wanted to run against Bush, he should have done that in 2004.

Understandably, the state moving its caucuses from March to February to be a part of the “Tsunami Tuesday” helped generate interest in the caucuses. Still, presidential elections always bring out voters, and swing-state status definitely helps generate interest.

Nevertheless, there should be a level of “country first” to vote in non-presidential elections. How about “change you can believe in” by voting in city council or school board races, too?

Once the election is behind us, what can we expect? Will these thousands exit as fast as they entered? How about the rest of us?

Citizenship and civics responsibilities extend beyond casting votes. The president is only one person, a powerful person but still only one. The people are many, and government is set up to be of, by and for the people.

As part of our civic responsibilities, we need to be ever vigilant to guard against socialism squeezing out capitalism. The bailout for banks was essential. However, the American people need to insist at some point that banks be returned completely to the private sector.

It is tempting to nationalize health care and the educational system. However, both are socialistic. A better alternative is for health care to remain private and the educational system to remain locally controlled.

In addition to the economic system we want, we need to identify what kind of people we are. Are we as Michelle Obama described us on April 8 at the University of California, Los Angeles, as she campaigned for her husband?

She said, “The truth is most Americans don’t want much. Folks don’t want the whole pie. Most Americans feel blessed to thrive a little bit but that’s out of reach for them.”

Excuse me. I want as much of the good life as I can get. The Americans I see are the same. We want the good life and are willing to work for it.

Michelle Obama went on to say, “The truth is, in order to get things like universal health care and a revamped education system then someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more.”

That’s not my view of America. Is it yours? America is the land of opportunity. There is no zero-sum where one person wins at another’s expense.

Still, during these tough economic times we can live on less than we earn, save what we can and spend wisely.

Source: Daily Camera Oct. 19, 2008, under “Where have you been, new voter?”

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As of Oct. 1, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began administering its revised naturalization test to citizenship applicants.

The 100 possible questions and their answers focus on U.S. history and government. Question 98 points out our national anthem is “The Star-Spangled Banner,” not anything else. Question 100 asks for two national holidays. Acceptable answers include Memorial Day, Christmas and Independence Day but not Cinco de Mayo.

Question 11 is particularly interesting given the current state of affairs on Wall Street and the government’s bailout efforts with increased governmental regulations. It simply asks: “What is the economic system of the United States?”

The only two answers the USCIS accepts as correct are: “capitalist economy” and “market economy.”

That’s reassuring for now, but how long will that be the case? Unless our children actually learn capitalism, they won’t know what capitalism is. I discussed the issue with Tom Schiola, a fourth grade teacher at Birch Elementary where he conducts the Mini Society program.

Depending on the school in the Boulder Valley School District, Mini Society gives students in the third, fourth and fifth grades one or more years of experience with an economic market. The students get quite involved in deciding who gets paid, what they get paid for and how. They pay rent, create a product, conduct market research and receive profits and sustain losses.

Many good things can be said about Mini Society and Schiola’s efforts, including his discussing the issues honestly and openly with me on record. Nevertheless, changes to the acceptable sources of resources, the lack of diversity in products and the rationality behind the changes raise questions.

Several years ago, students looked around home or elsewhere for their own resources. The school set a limit of $5 on purchased materials and anything obtained from Mom and Dad was to be paid for with Mimi Society money the parents could use. Products were diverse and showed creativity and individuality.

Now, as Schiola explained, parents donate to a class store where students purchase resources. The rationality is kids that cannot afford resources are provided them this way as “an equal opportunity.” However, products do show less diversity since they come from the same materials.

Capitalism nurtures creativity and individuality. Lessening those is a real strike against it. Now, put the Mini Society’s economic model in national context and you’ve got government owning all the resources and selling them to businesses. Though it seems like a small thing in a classroom setting, these students are not being exposed to true capitalism.

Schiola agreed. “In that regard, it isn’t,” he said. “You’re right. It’s more of a socialist view actually because everybody has the same opportunity.”

Not quite the same reason for my concern, but we’re now more accurately defining Mini Society.

Schiola added, “But, I think, on the other hand, we have to look at the differences in economic levels that we are dealing with that are different than before.”

Now, isn’t the same rationale with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae? We’ve got to be compassionate Robin Hoods for those who cannot afford it. Let the economically disadvantaged who cannot afford homes have them anyway and let those who cannot afford bigger, more expensive homes have them, too.

I know about being disadvantaged from several angles and demonstrate my personal compassion in more than one way directly with those in need. However, our country cannot afford to replace capitalism in the classroom or the country with socialism, communism, Marxism or any other -ism.

When are we going to teach our own country’s economic system to school children? The sooner the better would be wise.

Source: Daily Camera Sept. 21, 2008, under “Civics and economy in school”

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