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The European Union is at a crossroads in terms of deciding what it is to be. Most Europeans have an opinion, however there are two main groups: the Euro-federalists who believe that the European Union is an intermediary step in the evolution to a supranational European federal state, and the anti-federalists who believe the current economic union is the final stage of evolution for the European Union. (Grigoriadis, 2006). The question of Turkey’s accession to the European Union is at the crux of the debate. As many current EU member nations continue to struggle with immigration issues, racism, and religious intolerance of Muslims—specifically in England and France (Roskin, 2011), it is not surprising that the question of Turkey’s accession is bringing discussion of these social cleavages to a head. The outcome of the debate, while far from certain, will have lasting impacts in terms of what Europe will or will not become. Immigration to EU member nations is not likely to decrease with the increasing trend of climatic change and the forecast of over two-hundred million climate, or environmental, refugees by 2050. (Kolmannskog and Myrstad, 2009). A supranational United States of Europe may be better able to cope with the influx of immigrants and coordinate future disaster and relief efforts than the present European Union and may provide the impetus to bring the nation states together into a supranational federal state. But before that can happen, the people and nations of the European Union must answer questions about their own individual and national identities. To forge a supranational European identity, the people of the European Union nation states must embrace their cultural diversity. It is only then that they can make a decision about what they want Europe to be.

Click to continue reading “Cultural Diversity, the European Union, and the United States”

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One year ago today my heart stopped beating. No, I did not become a vampire, but for a few hours there was total unconsciousness. No dreaming. No movement. No memory. I went to sleep not knowing if I would wake up again, and when I woke up the fatigue was so great my memory is fuzzy, but detailed—a series of sharp images and the activity around me. It must have been the morphine drug cocktail. Still, I remember quite clearly my first conscious thought upon waking: get that damn breathing tube out! Nearly panic stricken, through a series of gestures well-honed from years of debate, I made it quite clear that I was…uncomfortable.

Removing the breathing tube was the first step in my recovery. The next step was the banana popsicle, which was the only food I could keep down for the first two days before I was forced to eat solid food again—just a couple small bites of jello or turkey of the blandest kind. But on the second day, I started walking again three times a day. It was very painful at first, especially being connected to all the tubes, monitoring devices, and I.V.s. But by day four I was walking a couple hundred feet with relative ease and no support or assistance. On day five I went home, driven by my father to the Walmart for meds, and then home.

I spent the next two weeks lying on the couch in front of the television set, watching Pawn Stars and Man vs. Food marathons because despite popular belief, there really isn’t anything on 200 channels of cable television.

Slowly, my appetite returned, my movement got better, sneezing wasn’t the worst imaginable pain pulling every chest muscle out of wack anymore. 24 days after my surgery, 19 days after I left the hospital, I returned to work.

Having gone through the experience of a heart attack, bypass surgery and recovery I am at once profoundly changed and at the same time incredibly lucky. There was less than 5% damage to my heart and my heart is functioning absolutely normally. I have zero physical restrictions and am on minimal medications. Other than the scars running down the middle of my chest and on my left leg, no one would ever be able to tell I had bypass surgery. It could have been a lot worse.

In cardiac rehab, I met men both younger and older than myself. Every single one of them struggled with the most basic physical tasks. They had trouble lifting five-pound weights, trouble walking on the treadmill, trouble stretching, trouble breathing. One man, Floyd, even had to be taken to the ER twice during the three months of rehab sessions. In contrast, I was maxing out the treadmill and exercise bikes effortlessly and would have been running full out if it were allowed. The other men looked at me with obvious longing for a heart that was still young and strong, and perhaps with some regret for some of the choices they had made in life. While it would seem that I’ve been given a do-over, I regret those same choices.

Some days, I look in the mirror and wonder about the choices I have made and the path I took to get to where I am now. The poor choices I have made are so obvious now, but they are by no means atypical of choices most Americans make every single day when they grab that Coke from the vending machine down the hall, stop at a McDonald’s drive thru while running lunchtime errands, stopping at Krispy Kreme when they flash their “Hot Donuts” neon sign or ordering that Dominos pizza for dinner because it’s already 7:30 when you get home from work or the gym and you don’t have time or the energy to cook, especially with the game starting in fifteen minutes.

As long as my bypassed arteries stay clear of plaque buildup, I’m in great shape. But I’m still angry with myself that I didn’t pay more attention to my health. My mother had a massive heart attack eight years ago that almost ended her life at the age of 63. My father has had issues with blood pressure, cholesterol, and has had stents. Both my grandfathers had heart attacks, and my father’s father died immediately from his.

But as of one year prior to my heart attack and bypass surgery, my EKG was normal so because of my relatively young age, 44, at the time of the EKG, no doctor had ever ordered a stress test. The crazy thing though is that you can have an 80% blockage in a coronary artery and still have a normal EKG. And what is even crazier is that my cardiologist found that my heart attack last year was NOT my first heart attack. Apparently I had suffered a really minor one at some point in the past and I never even knew it happened. Talk about a wake-up call.

Unfortunately, it’s still a struggle every single day to eat healthy, to get the right exercise, to get the right amount of sleep and rest. Even with what I know. Fast food, fried food, soft drinks, most candy are now gone from my diet, and as of this week I’m back in the gym working out again. But most Americans keep doing what they’ve always done, oblivious to or disregarding the risks of their behaviors to their own health.

Our government is doing every American a great disservice by not doing a far better job in working to promote better health. We all know cigarette smoking is harmful, so cigarette advertising and warning labels are strictly regulated. Why isn’t McDonald’s under the same scrutiny when we all know Big Macs are not among the healthiest food options out there? And why are Coke and Pepsi products allowed to be sold in school vending machines? Even Gatorade contains excess sodium that no one needs in their diet unless they are an extreme athlete. Water really does suffice.

On this, my first anniversary since my heart stopped beating and started beating again, I strongly encourage all my friends, coworkers and everyone I know to make an appointment with a cardiologist. Assess your heart health and know the risk factors and what you can do to prevent a heart attack and bypass surgery.

They say out of sight, out of mind, and in terms of our heart, it is usually out of sight and out of mind—until it decides to demand your attention. When that happens, time has run out. Emergency intervention is needed to survive. And then, your life becomes a conscious decision every single hour—do what’s right for your heart, or suffer the consequences. I urge all of you, on this Memorial Day, to think about your heart health. In addition to taking time to remember and honor our fallen heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice, remember those other fallen heroes in our lives: parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, children and friends whose lives were cut short because of choices that were made in disregard to their own heart health.

Thanks for reading.

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America is at a major crossroads and it is time to decide what we want for our society. Do we want to work together to solve our issues and contribute to the positive growth of our nation or do we want to live in a society of hate where the left and the right are always at odds, where bullying and scapegoating is accepted? Do we want to lead the world in the promotion of human rights and democracy, or do we want to be the bully imposing our will on sovereign nations for our own benefit, even if our actions conflict with our most cherished ideals?

In many ways, our response to gay marriage is a microcosm of these larger questions. Paradoxically, while we condemn nations like China for their human rights violations, we still embrace racist practices here at home and give hate a forum. The Obama administration’s decision to no longer support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a step in the right direction to end one of our nation’s last great frontiers of hate and denial of dignity and respect to a significant segment of our nation’s citizens. It is probably the best decision of Obama’s presidency to date, no matter what your politics and views regarding gay marriage are if for no other reason than the decision recognizes the humanity of gay men and women and that they are entitled to equal protection under our laws as citizens of the United States.

At the end of the day, gay marriage is not about you or me or what we think is right and wrong. Gay marriage is about the dignity and respect our fellow Americans deserve as citizens of the United States and equality under the law exactly like the way we have extended dignity and respect, under the law at least, to African Americans, Jewish Americans, Asian Americans, women and the disabled.

In terms of gay marriage issues, the United States is behind other nations of the world. “At a time when the legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships has been proceeding apace in advanced industrial nations around the world (most notably, in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Canada, Germany, and Hungary and partially or locally in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Colombia, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), the efforts of U.S. legislators to prohibit legal recognition demand explanation.” (Adam, 2003).

Click to continue reading “Gay Marriage: Our Choice Between Hate and Civil Society”

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As the threatened United States government shutdown continues to be avoided and the controversial collective bargaining bill passes the Wisconsin State Senate, the dire situation of crippling budget deficits at both the national and state levels is emerging as potentially the number one issue in the upcoming 2012 election season as we count down to New Hampshire and Iowa.

The Wisconsin State Assembly will take up the issue tomorrow morning at 11:00 am CST, as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal. Should Governor Walker’s collective bargaining bill pass, adjustments of the citizenry will be painful and most likely herald more to come in other areas, but Wisconsin will achieve a major success in learning how to live within its means—something our federal government hasn’t yet figured out how to do or realize the impending necessity.

Last Saturday, President Obama stated in his weekly address that: “We need to come together around a budget that cuts spending without slowing our economic momentum. We need a government that lives within its means without sacrificing job-creating investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure. The budget I sent to Congress makes these investments, but it also includes a 5-year spending freeze, and it will reduce our deficits by $1 trillion over the next decade. In fact, the cuts I’ve proposed would bring annual domestic spending to its lowest share of the economy under any president in more than 50 years. Over the last few weeks, members of Congress have been debating their own proposals. And I was pleased that Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together a few days ago and passed a plan to cut spending and keep the government running for two more weeks. Still, we can’t do business two weeks at a time. It’s not responsible, and it threatens the progress our economy has been making. We’ve got to keep that momentum going. We need to come together, Democrats and Republicans, around a long-term budget that sacrifices wasteful spending without sacrificing the job-creating investment in our future.”

Click to continue reading “Will “Downsizing” Be the Buzzword of the 2012 Election Season?”

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Representative Chris Lee from New York has resigned from Congress over his misrepresentation about his age and marriage status while apparently attempting to date a woman from Craigslist.

Anyone has the right to date and to enter into a relationship and to meet people by whatever manner they choose. However, we expect people to conduct themselves and live their lives with integrity, and most especially our elected officials.

Be who you are, be authentic, do what you say and have some self respect. If you are going to represent Americans, act in the best interests of the American people. If you are elected to Congress and you lie about your marriage status and age online to have an affair, how can the American people trust you to act in our best interests? Especially when your decisions affect our lives in countless ways and you control how our tax dollars are spent?

More importantly, when our elected leaders act such as Representative Lee, they send the message to all of us, young and old alike, that lying, cheating, misrepresentation in any form is acceptable conduct. If our country is to continue to be great, our elected leaders must demonstrate behaviors that are above reproach. They have to set the example. If they are not willing to do so, they should not run for office. Plain and simple.

Representative Lee is not the first elected official to have an affair. He will not be the last. But one would hope his resignation and the internet publicity he has already received will serve as a lesson for all of us on the importance of integrity.

Thanks for reading.

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