Is Israel the Cause of Palestinian Terror?

Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, recently published an op-ed in the New York Times essentially explaining and doubling down on his recent comments that he made in front of the United Nations Security Council regarding the situation in Palestine (the areas in the West Bank inhabited by Palestinians). In these comments he stated that there was a “profound sense of alienation and despair driving some Palestinians – especially young people”, and that “Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process”. He then continued with the controversial comment that “as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.” In his op-ed he continued “No one can deny that the everyday reality of occupation provokes anger and despair, which are major drivers of violence and extremism and undermine any hope of a negotiated two-state solution.”

Ban’s essential point is that Israel’s actions in the West Bank cause the dozens of violent terrorist attacks that have been committed against innocent Israelis in the past several months. Life in Palestine is just so terrible because of something that Israel is doing that individual Palestinians have naturally decided that the only option that they have is to stab a mother to death at her home in front of her children or shoot to death a couple driving home from dinner while their children are sitting in the back seat. These acts are not the violent acts of criminals committing heinous, gruesome, racially motivated crimes against completely innocent people, but rather the inevitable reactions of people who have been provoked and angered into having no choice but to lash out and kill strangers.

Ban seems to treat this hypothesis as an indisputable fact, but is there not an alternative possible reality? A reality in which Palestinians are self-governed and live relatively free and prosperous lives? A reality in which most Palestinians do not live in absolute despair and poverty? A reality in which extremism, libel, propaganda and hate infiltrate Palestinian culture to the point that relatively ordinary people are being driven to commit horrific violent acts against innocent civilians? A reality in which young people see terrorists treated as heroes and decide to commit terrorist acts to feel like they are doing something important with their lives?

No one can really know what it’s like to live in Palestine other than the Palestinian people themselves. As foreigners we can only attempt to understand this truth based on the information available to us, which is mostly comprised of YouTube videos, articles and statistical data. To support Ban’s hypothesis, we have videos of Palestinians smuggling bread, or having their homes demolished to make way for new housing communities. We have footage of Palestinians caught in the crossfire and getting assaulted by Israeli soldiers after being mistaken for rioters.

We also have lots of misleading and mislabeled information, such as the case of 13-year old Ahmed Manasrah, who stabbed an innocent boy nearly to death with his cousin and was hit by a car as he ran away. The label on the YouTube video showing the aftermath (a struggling injured Ahmed lying on the street) states “Israel shooting of Palestinian kid.” In reality, Ahmed was not shot, and was actually saved by Israeli paramedics and treated at an Israeli hospital (in a room down the hall from his Jewish victim). When viewing these videos we have to take in to account that it is in the interests of Palestinians to appear as victims to the rest of the world. Palestinians might have an adequate supply of bread but still stage a video of children passing bread through a wall to each other to make it seem as though they do not have enough food. Which isn’t to say that all of these videos are propaganda, but simply that they might not all be accurate or accurately reflect what it’s like to live in Palestine.

These videos of despair seem to be heavily contrasted by ordinary “man on the street” videos in Palestine. I suggest that anyone interested in this topic watch the Ask an Israeli/Ask a Palestinian project videos by Corey Gil-Shuster. In these videos ordinary Palestinians on the streets of Ramallah and other towns and cities in the West Bank are interviewed about political issues. These videos seem to show a vibrant, prosperous civilization in Palestine, with streets full of educated people, nice restaurants, stores open for business and cars on the streets.

If you look at the people who are actually committing these terrorist attacks, most do not seem to fall into a category of someone living in a state of despair. Most come from middle class families and have good job and life prospects. Most are well educated and well fed. When interviewed regarding why they committed terrorist attacks, their answers usually relate to the Al-Aqsa mosque libel (the lie that Israel wants to take over or shut down the Al-Aqsa mosque compound) and nationalistic explanations (we need to stop the Jews from taking our land, fight for the Palestinian cause, etc.). Many also cite seeking revenge for another Palestinian killed in the process of committing a terrorist attack or fighting in a violent riot (often not knowing the full details of the person’s death).

These explanations seem to indicate that these people are not killing because they are personally oppressed by the Israeli government, but rather that they are upset at the same things that Ban and other apologists seem to be upset at. Things like the Israeli presence in the West Bank, Israel’s existence in general and the unfortunate transfer of Palestinian refugees in 1948 from coastal regions of modern Israel to the in-land regions of the West Bank and coastal Gaza.

Many would argue that new housing construction in the West Bank authorized by Israeli authorities is evidence of oppression on its face. As though somehow having a town full of Jewish people living on a hillside that is visible to Palestinians is so infuriating that it would drive a Palestinian to kill. In his op-ed, Moon states “Israeli settlements keep expanding. The government has approved plans for over 150 new homes in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Last month, 370 acres in the West Bank were declared “state land,” a status that typically leads to exclusive Israeli settler use” as evidence of Israeli oppression.

These expansions may be a hindrance to a final peace deal, and to a foreigner it is quite difficult to understand why Israel would expand to areas outside of greater Jerusalem. However, living near a Jewish neighborhood should not be seen as a provocation to kill Jewish people. Is it not possible that the Jewish people living in these towns in villages will one day live in the Palestinian state? Why is it a requirement that the Palestinian state be completely ethnically cleansed of Jewish people? Is it not just greed and racism that demands that no Jews live in territory that will one day become the Palestinian State?

Of course there is the argument that these lands have been wrongfully taken from Palestinian residents. On rare occasions there are Palestinians who have been living on these lands for decades without any title to the property, many of whom are relocated into housing in other areas to make way for new construction. One can imagine that this must be quite frustrating for someone who has laid claim to a plot of land. But frustrating enough to kill? And how many of the two million Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank have actually been forcibly relocated in their lifetimes? A small handful. If any of the killers in the current Palestinian intifada (violent uprising) were forcibly transferred I would love to be proven wrong and see evidence of that fact.

Finally, the lack of progress on creating a Palestinian state is often cited as a reason that Palestinians are killing innocent Jews. As though not having a nation-state with delineated borders is so infuriating that Palestinians need to kill people. Even though 98% of Palestinians in the West Bank live under the civil authority of the Palestinian Authority and almost half live under its complete police control, there is just not enough independence to avoid despair. Somehow having a fully recognized state in the West Bank that is free of Jews is the only thing that will end the suffering.

Of course most of the blame for the lack of progress on a Palestinian state doesn’t belong to Israel, as on several occasions the Palestinian Authority has rejected offers for most of the West Bank for a Palestinian state in return for recognition of Israel and peace. Surveys of Palestinians show that they do not see a Palestinian State as the most important goal of the Palestinian people. And the one time that Israel tried pulling its military and civilians out of a Palestinian area and handing it over to Palestinians in Gaza, the people elected a militant terrorist organization in to power who immediately turned the land in to a theocratic military dictatorship via a violent coup. What is to guaranty that this won’t happen in the West Bank and that Palestine won’t be sent in to a state of chaos?

This isn’t to say that a Palestinian state in the West Bank shouldn’t be the ultimate goal and solution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem. But to say that violence exists simply because this goal hasn’t been achieved is ridiculous. At this point a Palestinian State would likely just provide terrorists with a military base from which to launch attacks on Israel. Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank is insulating Palestinians from the radical forces sweeping the region. The last thing that Palestinians in the West Bank need is for ISIS or Hamas to gain control and turn Ramallah into another Gaza City or Raqqa.

Yes, one cannot really know what it’s like to live in Palestine unless one is a Palestinian. However, the evidence does not seem to point to a Warsaw Ghetto situation in which people are so oppressed and desperate that they have no choice but to rise up against their oppressors. Rather, the evidence seems to show a culture in which many Palestinians have been egged on to commit violent acts by their leaders. A culture in which children are told that Jews are the enemy, Israel is an illegitimate state and that Palestinians will eventually rise up and push the Jews in to the sea. A culture that treats murderers as heroes and a government that pays stipends to their families. A culture that is supported by a complacent and morally inept United Nations that continues to label the perpetrators of violent acts as victims of an occupation, when in reality they are simply violent criminals who should be treated as such.

Trickle-Down Economics

Trickle-Down Economics

Trickle-down economics is the theory that the economic benefits of tax cuts provided to businesses and individuals of upper income levels will indirectly benefit poorer members of society when the resources inevitably “trickle down” to them. This theory is very difficult to test, as there are many factors that affect an economy. A tax cut for the wealthy followed by economic growth doesn’t necessarily mean that the trickle down actually had a net positive effect. Similarly, a tax cut followed by an economic contraction doesn’t necessarily mean that the trickle down never happened. Rather than use empirical evidence, the majority of which seems to show that trickle-down economics does not work, this essay will discuss the theory on its face. It will not discuss the moral aspects of taxation, but simply the contribution to the economy from different tax policies.

The opposite of a trickle-down approach is a direct expenditure approach. Rather than providing tax cuts to the wealthy, revenues from taxes are used to spend money on infrastructure projects, military expenditures, social programs, welfare, etc. This money is directly injected into the economy, eventually going to someone who is likely to spend all of the money that he makes on goods and services (a construction worker, soldier, senior citizen or welfare recipient with little other income). Even a Government bureaucrat is likely to spend most of his income. Thus, for trickle down to really work, the tax savings afforded to a wealthy individual must have a greater economic impact than a direct expenditure does.

Active Investments

The major argument in favor of trickle-down is that this money will inevitably be invested by a wealthy individual in his or her company. In addition to this I would add other active investments such as real estate development, venture capital and startups. This sort of investment is good for the economy, as it adds jobs and creates new opportunities.

The argument against this theory is that business owners will make investments in their companies based on before tax earnings, not on after tax income. A business with a profit of $1,000,000 will hire a new worker for $50,000 a year if that worker is going to produce more than $50,000 in value to the company. Whether the owner makes $600,000 on her million in profits or $700,000 on her million in profits won’t factor in to whether she thinks that hiring an additional employee will be beneficial to her company.

There is a certain point in which a wealthy individual is taxed so heavily on additional income that she chooses to just stop investing it at all. This rate is very high though, as even if only $25,000 in additional income is gained from an additional $100,000 in profit, it is likely that most wealthy people will take the opportunity to earn that additional $25,000. In general though, a wealthy individual will likely to be more confident to make active investments if she will profit more from it. A tax cut would thus have to lead to a large amount of active investments in order to have economic growth that is greater than a direct expenditure approach.

 

Spending

The other hope from a major tax cut for the wealthy is that the wealthy individual will spend his/her new found money. Spending has the same effect as a direct Government expenditure does on the economy. Spending on homes, cars, restaurants, vacations, etc. stimulates the economy in a great way.

The problem is, wealthy people have the same basic needs as non-wealthy people. A billionaire still sleeps on one pillow on one bed in one room in one home. Less wealthy people are more likely to spend a greater portion of their income than wealthy people do. Savings rates among wealthy individuals have tripled since the great recession, with over a third of new income going into savings. That means that consumer spending will be greatly increased by taxing the wealthy compared to cutting taxes for the wealthy.

 

Passive Investments

The worst thing that happens to money that would be otherwise taxed is that it is simply put into passive investments, especially cash. At one point in time, additional cash in a bank account was a good thing, as it meant that the bank could make more loans. However, today banks don’t lend out money based on their depositors’ cash holdings anymore, so it doesn’t really make a difference in the grand scheme of things. That money is out of circulation and isn’t contributing to economic growth.

Stocks theoretically provide capital to corporations. However, the stock market today is heavily rigged in favor of the wealthy. Wealthy individuals are able to invest in hedge funds and other sophisticated financial companies that are able to play the market in a more sophisticated way, whereas middle class individuals can only invest in mutual funds and 401k plans which hold pools of stocks. When the market goes south, wealthy individuals are able to capitalize off of the losses, whereas middle class individuals take a huge hit to their personal savings.

Passive real estate investments in existing apartment buildings drive up prices and lower capitalization rates on real estate investments for the middle class. This consolidates real estate ownership into the hands of the wealthy, which does not stimulate the economy.

The bond market provides funding for Government services. However, austerity has meant that the market for new debt and interest rates on bonds are shrinking. In a perfect world, the wealthy would invest their money in Government debt which stimulates the economy and leads to more Government revenue to pay off the debt. However, austerity has meant that this isn’t the case.
Conclusion

Trickle-down economic policies will only have a greater economic impact than direct expenditures if the money is invested in active investments. Rather than providing a tax cut, Governments should engineer the tax code to spurn active investment. A tax credit for hiring a new worker, for example, will ensure that the business owner uses his tax cut to hire someone rather than stashing those funds in a savings account. Simply cutting taxes will not lead to a trickle-down effect that is more advantageous than using the proceeds from those tax revenues on Government spending. All that it serves to do is pad bank accounts and increase inequality.

Are Aliens Visiting The Earth?

The question of whether we are alone in the Universe is one that has perplexed humans for centuries. Reports of unidentified flying objects, alien encounters, and Government conspiracies have led many to believe that there might be Alien visitors that have come to the Earth. But are these reports really accurate? Is it really likely that foreign visitors from distant planets have visited us on Earth?

The Fermi paradox proposed by Enrico Fermi and Michael Hart in the 1970s postulated that with the vast size of the Universe, there must be other intelligent lifeforms abound. This was related to the Drake Equation, an equation postulated by Frank Drake, which assigned probabilities to various likelihoods, such as the fraction of planets that could support life that actually do support life. Using their probabilities, these scientists all concluded that intelligent alien life must exist and that it would be likely that those lifeforms have visited us.

The calculations created by the scientists made various assumptions about the probabilities of various facts with which we really have no idea regarding their accuracy. All we really have as evidence is our own knowledge of life on Earth. I would argue that our knowledge should lead us to have serious doubt that alien civilizations have visited modern humans.

In order for alien lifeforms to be visiting us on Earth, the following questions must all be answered in the affirmative:
1. Does life exist outside of Earth?
2. Are any of those life forms complex?
3. Have any complex lifeforms reached the level of complexity of humans?
4. Have any human-like or more intelligent lifeforms been able to leave their planet and explore other civilizations in distant solar systems or galaxies?
5. Have those intelligent lifeforms come across or near Earth at precisely the moment that Humans have ascended to having the capability to record their presence.

1. Does life exist outside of Earth?

The probability that there are living things outside of Earth is almost a certainty. Recent astronomical research has revealed that there are thousands of nearby, observable planets just in our galaxy. With over one hundred billion stars in the Milky Way and over one hundred billion galaxies in the observable Universe, there is almost a certainty that the process that occurred on Earth which brought about life could also have happened on other planets as well. There are too many planets for it to be a one-time occurrence.
That being said, we only have one concrete example of the formation of life, and we still haven’t been able to replicate the process, so we don’t really know how likely it is for sure. But, it is pretty safe to say that whatever natural process occurred on Earth could likely have occurred on another, similar planet.

2. Are any of those life forms complex?

Assuming that the Universe is crawling with bacteria or similar simple life forms, how can we know for certain that any of these bacteria have teamed up to form multi-cellular organisms? For over two billion years, life on Earth was perfectly content to remain in a single cellular form. It wasn’t until the Cambrian explosion, 542 million years ago, that we started seeing the abundance of complex life begin to form.

Life needed billions of years of uninterrupted prosperity to reach a point in which it started evolving to complex levels. One asteroid could have wiped out the whole process. All we know is that life takes a long time to advance from simple, unconscious forms into breathing, conscious beings. We know that the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, and thus it took about one fifth of the total duration of the Universe for complex life to form on Earth.

Knowing that it did happen here, we can probably safely say that over that time, some of those living beings on distant planets formed into complex lifeforms, but even with the vastness of the Universe, we really can’t know how often the conditions were perfect enough for long enough to facilitate that occurrence.

3. Have any complex lifeforms reached the level of complexity of humans?

With hundreds of millions of years of various evolutionary paths taking place between the Cambrian explosion and the evolution of early humans, we can see that the path to intelligence is riddled with unintelligent dead ends. There are millions of species of animals on Earth, but only one has the complexity necessary to communicate with language, let alone travel throughout space (although we out-survived any competitors like Neanderthals, but they were part of the same unique evolutionary path).

There could be billions of planets in the Universe that meet the requirements of question 2 above, but only feature animals with the intelligence level of the rat or lizard.
We can see how unique our intelligence is by observing our closest living relative, the chimpanzee. Only seven million years ago, the ancestors of chimpanzees and humans were the same people. A very unique, small set of genetic mutations for the ancestors of humans separated the two of us over that short time. Without those specific mutations, we could still be living in a world of chimpanzees.

Given another seven million years, would the descendants of chimpanzees have human-like intelligence? We have no idea. All we know is that there are many more possibilities leading to non-intelligence or moderate intelligence than there are to human-like intelligence.

Based on our earthly observations, I would say that we can’t assign a more likely than not probability to the fact that human level intelligence could evolve on multiple occasions, even with the trillions of possible worlds in the known universe.

4. Have any human-like or more intelligent lifeforms been able to leave their planet and explore other civilizations in distant solar systems or galaxies.

Maybe the evolution of beings with human intelligence isn’t incredibly improbable and we are not alone in the Universe? Maybe there are thousands of civilizations throughout the Universe that have been capable of the exact technological capabilities that we currently possess- sending out signals to the cosmos, flying non-living objects to the reaches of our solar system and sending living beings to orbit and nearby moons?

In that case, it is still highly improbable that we would ever make contact with those other civilizations. We can only hypothesize based on the level of our current technology, not based on some future technology that we may have. Our first radio waves are 100 light years away, relatively close in the grand scheme of the Universe. In order for us to be able to contact another civilization it would have to be really, really close, and that’s just to get a radio signal.

As of right now, we have no way of travelling beyond our solar system. We would have to hypothesize a civilization much more advanced than our own that would be able to send space ships that could arrive here from distant stars and galaxies.

An alien species capable of reaching us is thus a purely theoretical one, with no substantiation in our actual known Universe.

5. Have those intelligent lifeforms come across or near Earth at precisely the moment that Humans have ascended to having the capability to record their presence.

Perhaps an alien species somewhere in the Universe is (or was) more advanced than humans, satisfying all of the requirements in questions 1-3. Perhaps this alien has surpassed all known human technology and created space ships that travel near the speed of light, sending probes to the distant ends of the Universe to search for life.
Even still, the probability that this species would have stumbled upon Earth during the precise period of time that humans evolved to our current level of intelligence seems highly improbable. The dinosaurs were around for hundreds of millions of years. It would be much more likely that an alien species would have stumbled across the dinosaurs, seen no evidence of intelligent life, and continued on their journey.
Humankind has only been interesting from an intelligence perspective for a few thousand years. The odds of the alien species leaving its planet in search of distant life forms and coming across Earth at the exact moment that humans have ascended to technological advancement seems almost ridiculous.

In conclusion, the possibility that we will be visited by aliens during our lifetime seems so remote and improbable that the rational belief would be to conclude that we are “alone”. There hasn’t been a credible enough account of an alien encounter, and the unidentified flying objects spotted in the sky almost certainly have a terrestrial or celestial origin (not an extra-terrestrial one).

We have no idea how life forms and how likely that occurrence is. The Universe is relatively young when compared to the known gestation period for complex life. Even on Earth, a planet abound with life, intelligent life is incredibly rare. Humans are still incapable of traveling outside of our solar system, and thus aliens would have to be far more advanced than we are. Even if these aliens have more advanced methods of travel, the odds of them stumbling upon us at this exact moment are minuscule.

We still have no idea how many planets in the Universe are capable of supporting life, but even if that number is high, we should not believe that aliens are visiting the Earth.

Locked Up At The Border

Locked Up At The Border

By Dan

Viva La Mexico

It was January 30, 2013, a cool, overcast winter day in Southern California. It was about two o’clock in the afternoon, and I had just left a brunch with a friend at a café in Oceanside, about 40 miles North of the Mexican Border. I was driving south in to Mexico to renew my work visa at the American border station in San Ysidro. The plan was to drive in to Mexico, turn around, file some visa paperwork at the border, get my visa and continue on with my life as an attorney in Los Angeles. As a Canadian citizen, I could only work in America with a work visa, and mine was set to expire on February 1, so this trip was necessary to keep my immigration status legal.

My previous two years were spent living in Los Angeles, working as an entertainment lawyer. When the time came to renew my visa, it became apparent that it would be much easier to renew at the Mexican border station than to fly all the way back to Canada just to turn around and return to L.A.

The last time I had been to Mexico was five years prior, in 2008. At the time, I was attending law school in San Diego. Some friends were visiting from Toronto and wanted to party in Tijuana. We had taken a taxi to the border and walked in to Tijuana for a night of drunken debauchery. On the way back to the border we were robbed by the Mexican police. Needless to say, I was not exactly looking forward to my return to Mexico.

My anxiety began to kick in as I arrived at the Mexican border. The car entrance in to Mexico was not heavily guarded. There were a couple of guards pulling over a few cars to search, but when they saw me and my new silver Ford Focus, I was profiled as a safe entrant, and was able to drive right through into Tijuana without an interview.

When I got into Mexico, I was extremely stressed and confused. The road signs were all in Spanish, and none were directing traffic back to the American border. The three options were to take the 1 highway to Rosarito/Encenada, the main road to El Centro, or a road to Paseo Centenario. I didn’t want to go to Rosarito or downtown, so I took Paseo Centenario. This road spun me around into a little traffic circle. I immediately realized that this was where the Mexican police had robbed my friends and I five years earlier.

After circling around the Paseo Centenario a couple times, I decided to take the road towards El Centro and try to turn around at the first place I could. As I took the main freeway towards El Centro, I noticed the traffic going the other way towards the border. There were cars backed up as far as the eye could see.
I got off at the first exit I could. The line for the border was immediately apparent. A huge line of cars greeted me along a main road heading towards a freeway. I found a small opening in between two cars and began my wait. The line was moving, but ever so slowly. Every couple of minutes I would move another car length towards the border.

In between the cars, all sorts of peddlers, vendors, buskers and beggars were wandering up and down, going car to car trying to sell their wares. A little girl stood on her mother’s shoulders and juggled for change.
I really had to pee, but there was nowhere to get out of my car. I just held it in, hoping that the time would pass.

The car in front of me was filled with a Mexican American family. They would rotate drivers, giving each family member an opportunity to take a rest.

I was too nervous to open my window after my previous trip to Mexico. Small children came up to my car and tapped on the window, asking for change. I just continued to drive, pretending that I didn’t notice. The family in front of me seemed very comfortable, getting in and out of their cars and talking to the locals. I didn’t want to take any chances, and continued to drive.

My satellite radio kept me busy while waiting. A call to my father in Canada to update him on my current situation also passed the time. It was a nice, pleasant conversation. Little did I know that it would be the last contact I would have with the outside world for two days.

The line of cars was five hours long. By the time I got to the border crossing, it was already dark outside. I pulled up to the border guard and gave him my Canadian passport.

“Canadian. Alright, go on through” he said.

“Actually, I need to renew my work visa.” I replied.

“OK, drive on to the parking lot to the right, and give them this piece of paper”.

He handed me a piece of paper, and I began driving towards an area where cars were being searched. It was difficult finding someone to tell me where to park. I looked over and saw a younger African American woman, and rolled down my window.

“Excuse me, where do I park” I shouted.

She directed me to a spot and I parked my car. I grabbed my law degree, as well as my visa paperwork, including my letter of employment from RK Attorneys, my visa sponsor. I got out of the car and started walking out towards her.

“We’ll need your car keys” she instructed.

She took my keys, walked them over to an older man sitting in a small booth about 20 feet away and handed them over. She then walked back towards me.

“I need to renew a work visa” I said when she returned.

“OK, come this way”, she replied.

She walked me around a few cars, back towards where I had driven in from. We walked into a brick building, with a large gray room with a white counter. Behind the counter were two agents, a man and a woman, both in their late 20s.

“Wait here, someone will be with you shortly” she said, and walked out of the room back towards the parking lot.

“Where is the restroom?” I asked the female attendant. She pointed me the way, and I was finally able to get some relief. I returned to the waiting area and took a seat, waiting for my turn.

The Interview

After spending five hours in my car, all I could think about was getting back home to Los Angeles. In front of me in the immigration room was a family of four of Mexican descent, and a Mexican American man in his late 50s. The family had to pay a filing fee for their visas, and were able to quickly leave the waiting area and return to the United States.

The Mexican man had been stopped with a pile of gambling slips. It appeared that he had taken gambling orders from his friends in California and had gone in to Mexico to place their bets. The female border agent behind the counter was reviewing his case, trying to figure out what to do. She was sitting at her computer at eye level with me. She never made eye contact while she was reviewing his case. She was a short Caucasian woman, with brown hair in a short pixie cut, narrow brown eyes, and an angry stare that never left her face.

I sat in my chair, calmly playing Angry Birds on my smart phone while waiting for my chance to talk to the border guard. It was about 10:00 pm on Sunday night. Once the male guard processed the visas for the family of four, he called me up to take my case.

The guard was about six feet tall, with brown hair and a gentle face. He reminded me of the sort of guy I would have seen at a bar in Pacific Beach, the area of San Diego in which I had lived for three years while going to Law School.

The interview went really well at first. I gave him my law degree from California Western School of Law in San Diego, and my letter of employment from the law firm that was sponsoring me. He asked where I was working, and what I was doing. I answered him casually, in a relaxed manner.

He then proceeded to take my fingerprints on an electronic scanning machine.

“Please place your right thumb on the machine”. He said.

“Alright”, I replied, placing my thumb on the machine. An awkward silence came about while he was taking my prints, causing me to interject with a casual comment:

“I actually have a lot of experience using these fingerprint machines. I had to give my fingerprints when I got my law license from the State Bar. I also got them done when I first got my work visa, and when I got my real estate broker’s license.” I said, just trying to make small talk while he processed my visa.

“Cool. That’s impressive. You’ve accomplished a lot” He replied, as he continued to process my prints.

All of the sudden, the female guard who had been sitting quietly got up from her chair and walked over to the counter where I was standing and looked me in the eye.

“Why do you have your real estate broker’s license?” She asked in an abrasive, inquisitorial manor.

“Well, I was working with a client in the real estate industry, so I got my broker’s license to be able to know more about the industry.”

“Have you sold any real estate?” She replied.

“Well, no, it’s not allowed on my visa” I replied, seeing where she was going with her questions.

“So, you just got your real estate license because you had a client in real estate? So what, if you had a client who was a doctor, you would get your doctor’s license?” She replied smugly.

“Well, no. I just thought it would be a good thing to have, to make me more marketable as an attorney. I never sold any real estate or anything.” I replied, starting to worry that this could become a problem.

“Please have a seat sir”. She replied angrily.

I returned to my seat in the waiting area. She walked back to her computer and sat down. She began typing on her computer. Again, I was looking straight at her, but she didn’t make any eye contact.

The first male guard had a slightly frustrated look on his face, like he had seen this happen before. He began working on something else, now that my case was in the hands of his colleague.

The agent’s issue with me was related to the work visa that gave me permission to live and work in America, called the Temporary NAFTA visa, or TN Visa. One of the peculiarities of the TN Visa is that the holder of the visa is only allowed to work for the company sponsoring his or her work visa. That means that the visa holder can’t take any side jobs, start any businesses, or do any work that is not for the company that is his or her visa sponsor. The agent suspected that by getting my real estate license, I was trying to do work outside of the narrow confines of my work visa.

All of the sudden the woman’s face changed. She looked over at me.

“I think we’re going to have a problem here”.

My heart began to beat faster. I looked at her with a puzzled look. Dealing with border agents was always a stressful experience, but this agent was particularly unfriendly.

“Why does your LinkedIn profile say that you work for MD Music, but your application says you work for RK Attorneys?” She asked, like she had just cracked a case that she had been investigating for years.

The agent had thought she had discovered that I was no longer working for my visa sponsor.

“My profile says that I’m Of Counsel for that company. It means that they are a client of the firm that I work for. They are my biggest client right now. My LinkedIn also says that I work for RK Attorneys, my visa sponsor.” I replied.

It had never occurred to me that a border agent would go to the extent of searching my on-line profiles. Fortunately, I had deliberately made sure that my LinkedIn profile listed me as “Of Counsel” for the music company that was my major client, just in case I might have to one day answer regarding my position there. A lawyer who is “Of Counsel” for a company is not technically an employee of that company, but provides legal services for that company on a regular basis.
“I think that you’re not working for RK Attorneys anymore. You’re working for this company now.” The guard replied.

She continued to search the Internet, trying to find more evidence to show that I was violating the terms of my visa.

This whole predicament came about because work at the firm I was working at had dried up. The partner had encouraged me to find additional clients so that I could keep my job. The music company was brought on by me as a major client.

She looked up at me again:

“Has this company been paying you or the firm?” she asked.

It hadn’t really occurred to me, but I had been doing so much work for MD Music that often I didn’t even get the firm involved in smaller payments. The owner of the firm didn’t care, as long as I did a good job working with his clients when he needed it. This turned out to be a big mistake.

“Well, sometimes I accept the checks I guess?” I replied.

There was no response. She looked back at her computer for about five minutes, and then looked back at me.

“You know we screen lawyers here all the time, that’s part of our job.” She said smarmily.

“Well, yes.” I replied politely, wondering where she was going with her questions.

She didn’t say another word to me after that. She continued to type on her computer, avoiding eye contact with me as much as possible. I went back to my phone, playing more Angry Birds to pass the time.

She dealt with the Mexican American man with the gambling slips, confiscating the slips from him and sending him on his way out the door and back in to America.

She and the male border guard spoke quietly to each other for a second, and then didn’t say a word to each other for another half hour. Various other guards were coming in to the office from their shifts, casually chatting with each other. A pretty guard with long, well coiffed dyed blonde hair came in and was chatting with a couple of the other guards. She said a casual, phony hello to the guard that was giving me trouble. You could tell that it was an insincere hello.

It seemed like many of the guards were heading home, as it was getting late. I sat waiting for almost an hour, feeling so frustrated that they had such little disrespect for my time.

It began to occur to me that I could be turned away and sent back in to Mexico to get my affairs in order and provide more proof of employment. This seemed like the worst case scenario at the time. Most likely my visa would be granted, I thought. I still had the two hour drive to L.A. ahead of me, and didn’t want to have to deal with this situation anymore.

The long wait was making me nervous, and it felt like it would never end. All of the sudden the female border guard stood up from her chair and gave a nod to her male co-worker behind the counter. She looked over at me.

“Please stand up Mr. Revich”. She said loudly.

I stood up from my chair and put my phone in my pocket.

The two guards began to walk up to me. The woman pulled out a set of hand cuffs. My jaw dropped.

“Please face the other way. You’re not under arrest, but we are handcuffing you for security purposes.”

“Okay.” I replied, in a state of disbelief. This would have been my first time in hand cuffs if not for being handcuffed by the Mexican police when they had robbed me the last time I had visited Mexico.

The guard put my hands in the cuffs behind my back. The two guards grabbed me and began walking me back to the door that I had entered through, out into the parking lot.

They didn’t tell me where I was going, or what was about to happen to me.

The Search

Rather than walk back to where my car was parked, the guards walked me around the building that we were in. We walked across several lines of traffic, towards another building. This building looked like a fortress, with beige concrete walls with vertical grooves running through them.

At this point, I had no idea where I was being taken, although I was hoping that I would have a chance to explain myself to someone higher up at the next location.
We walked into the next building. At the entrance was another guard station, with a tall, older white gentlemen with gray hair and a pot belly sitting at a desk.

He took my documentation from the guards. The female guard then proceeded to search me. She asked me to empty my pockets and remove my belt. I took out my phone, wallet and keys and gave them to her. She then asked me to take off my shoes. I gave them to her and removed the shoe laces. I was wearing a gray dress shirt and black Calvin Klein dress pants.

“Please put your hands on the counter” she asked.

I placed my hands on the counter in front of me.

She took my wallet, and started searching through it.

“Where is your driver’s license?” she asked.

My hand instinctively reached out towards my wallet to point out where my license was stored.

“Excuse me sir, keep your hands to yourself” she shouted. “I know you’re trying to be helpful, but you need to keep your hands on the table.”

I felt extremely nervous at this point. It started to occur to me that this was a serious situation. I was being treated like a criminal.

Once she finished searching me, she asked me to walk through a metal detector.  She put all of my belongings into a plastic bag, including the phone and watch, and gave me a small paper tag with a number written on it.

“You’ll need this to get your stuff back”. She said.

She also gave me the remaining cash that was in my wallet, all $7.

“Alright sir, you’ll need to walk over and have seat over there, someone will be with you shortly.” She walked me over to a set of seats past the entrance, and I sat in the front row facing a wall. She turned around and walked back out the door with her colleague, both never to be seen again.

Behind me in the waiting room was another guard, a middle aged black woman, sitting alone, chatting on the phone. I told her I needed to go to the restroom again. The stress of the situation was affecting my bladder.

The older male guard walked me to the restroom, and stood outside while I peed. I got out and sat down, waiting in the seats. About 15 minutes later, two Mexican men came out of a room and sat behind me. I sat there, staring at the wall, wondering what would happen next. About 20 minutes later, a guard walked in.

“Canadian” the armed border officer looked at me. He was a six foot tall, white male in his early 40s, dressed like a police office. He was in full uniform, with a gun in his holster. He had a Homeland Security badge on his chest.

I looked up at him to acknowledge that I was being called.

“Come this way” he continued.

“You guys come too”. The border guard signaled to the two men. They stood up and followed.

My thought was that we were being called in to speak to an immigration officer. The two Mexican men followed the border officer down the hallway, and I followed along. As we walked down the hallway, a second armed border guard who had been standing in the hallway joined along.

“You take them” the first border guard pointed to the two Mexican men. “I’ll look after him” he looked at me and continued to walk me down the hallway. The guard was about 5’9”, of Asian ancestry, with no distinguishable accent.

We suddenly stopped in the middle of the hallway. The guard turned to the right, where there was a pile of brown cloth blankets sitting on a ledge.

The two Mexican men and the second guard continued down the hallway.
“Here, take this” The guard grabbed a blanket from the top of the pile and threw it at me. I looked down at the blanket, wondering why I would need one.

The guard then turned to the left side of the hallway, grabbed a key from the holster in his belt and began opening a door. I looked inside, astonished by what was in front of me. It was a jail cell, filled with people.

“Are you serious?” I asked, completely flabbergasted at where my situation was heading. I had never been in a jail cell before, and was certainly not expecting to end up in one on this day.

“Well, you don’t have to take the blanket, but you’ll probably be cold without one” The guard replied, pausing from opening the door to look at me with confusion. He didn’t realize that I didn’t know that I was about to be put in a jail cell.

Up to this point, nobody had told me where I was going. Now it was becoming clear that I wasn’t going to be seeing an immigration officer any time soon.
The guard continued to open the door to the jail cell. This was really happening.

As I looked in to the cell, the terror immediately began to flow through my body. I walked into the cell and turned around to look at the officer.

“I’ll get you a floor mat when one becomes available. We’re all out right now”. He stated. He then proceeded to shut the door and lock the cell. The smash of the bolt locking sent another wave of terror through my veins.

The Cell

As I stepped in to the cell, I slowly turned my head to look at my surroundings.
My eyes wandered to my right passed the door. A pair of wide open deep brown eyes staring at me sent me into a state of shock. An olive skinned man of European descent, perhaps in his early thirties, wearing a brown puffy synthetic down jacket and skinny blue jeans was sitting on a stainless steel bench. His arms were crossed and his back hunched. He stared straight ahead with an angry gaze on his face. He continued to sit and stare, anxiously vibrating his right leg up and down, balancing himself on his toes. He didn’t acknowledge my presence.

My gaze continued to wander around the room. It was packed with sleeping bodies lying on the floor. About 12 men lay on every square inch of this tiny holding cell. Each was sleeping on a tiny floor mat, similar to a Yoga mat, but of much poorer quality. Each had a cloth blanket on top of him like the one I had received.

The floor felt like solid concrete with no softness or give.

The room was long and narrow, angling to a point at the end. The ceilings were high, about 12 feet tall. The room was lit by bright fluorescent lights, and there was nothing on the white walls. There was no clock to keep time and no television. There was no radio playing or books to read. Just a plain white room filled with people.

The room smelled of human waste and body odor. The sounds of two men snoring overwhelmed the buzzing from the fluorescent lights and ventilation system.

My cell phone had been taken, and there was no light from the outside to indicate what time it was. From this point on, time would carry a very different meaning.

Opposite from the door leading in to the cell was a nook, which housed two steel toilets, similar to those on an airplane, but with a built in seat. Both toilets were out in the open, only separated from the room by a body length steel divider.

There was a long, tinted glass window facing out towards the hallway. There was also a small, eye height glass window built in to the door.

I stood at the door in a state of disbelief for about a minute, coming to grips with my incarceration and figuring out what I was going to do.

There were three rows of stainless steel benches, one down the center of the room, and one along each of the walls to the cell. The European man was sitting on the bench next to the window, adjacent to the hallway from which I had been brought in. The middle bench had a jug of water on it, with several Styrofoam cups lying around it. The third bench was empty.

My instincts took me to the third bench, opposite the one in which the European was sitting. My journey there required tiptoeing around several sleeping bodies, trying not to wake anyone up. As I sat down, I found myself facing the European, trying not to make eye contact with him. He kept staring, not budging an inch.

The steel bench felt cold and uncomfortable and I lay my back across it. I unfolded and put the blanket over my body to stay warm.

A million thoughts began swirling through my head. How long would I be here? Was I every going to go back home to Los Angeles? When would I get a chance to talk to someone?

I covered my eyes with the blanket and pretended to be somewhere else. My mind began to wander towards all of the popular prison dramas that were in my memory. Was I going to be raped? Was I going to get into a fight? Who were my roommates? Were they Mexican drug smugglers with gang connections?

My appearance would make me look vulnerable to the other inmates. A 5’7” white, blonde, Jewish guy dressed in business clothes; an easy target.

All of the sudden the cell door opened again. A guard opened up the door.
“Here’s your mat” he said to me.

I got up from my bench and walked over to grab the mat. The European man sitting on the steel bench hadn’t moved an inch, and was still staring straight at the wall, rocking his legs.

The mat was thin and dinky and smelled like pee. I walked the mat back to my spot and laid it out along the bench. I lay down along the bench again and returned to my hibernation under my blanket. With the mat, I was much more comfortable, although half the mat was hanging off the bench.

Suddenly, one of the sleeping men lying below the bench pushed my blanket away, startling me. The blanket had inadvertently dropping on his face. I grabbed the blanket, adjusting it to make sure that it was on top of me and not dangling. The man didn’t say anything.

The loud snores of the people sleeping below sent vibrations through the bench. I lay awake, thinking about how long I would be stuck in this place, and wondering what would happen to me.

Was I going to be deported? Would I ever see my friends again? How would I deal with all of my belongings? Would my roommate have to sell everything? What would I do with the rest of my life in Toronto, my home town? My law license was only valid in California, would I go back to school in Canada and get my license there, or try a different profession?

My bladder was full again, but my situation left me too afraid to move.
About an hour passed. The door opened again.

“Sanchez and Garcia. Come this way please”. The guard shouted out. Two of the men sleeping below me opened their eyes and took off their blankets. They stood up, looking somewhat dazed and confused after being awaken from their slumbers. They were both of Mexican descent. One of them had been the loud snorer sleeping below me.

All of the faces around the room looked up to see what was happening. I was finally able to survey the people sleeping around me. There were several young black men, one red-haired young white man, and several Latino looking men, as well as the European, who by now was lying down on a mat on his bench.

“Grab your blankets and mats”, the guard shouted at the two Mexican men.

The men picked up their blankets and mats and began walking towards the door. They had a sign of elation on their faces, looking ecstatic that they were finally getting out of this place.

The two men walked out the door, never to be seen again.

As they left, the European man, still on his bench, perked up and talked to the border guard.

“ Excusa me… When can I make a phone call”. He asked, with a thick Italian accent. It was somewhat comforting to know that this strange man was from a familiar country.

“You can make a call after you’ve had an interview”. The guard replied.

“When can I have interview?” the Italian asked.

“We’ll call you when it’s your turn”. The guard replied. He closed the door and walked away.

The Italian sat back down on his chair. He suddenly got off his bench and walked to the spot in which the two Mexican men had been sleeping, taking up both of their spots. He lay down his mat, and passed out on the floor. Before long he was asleep and snoring.

Too afraid to try and squeeze in next to him, I resumed my position on my bench, closed my eyes, and waited for another spot to open up.

“This is great” I thought. “I’ve been here an hour, and two people have already left. It should only be a few more hours and I will be out”.

Breakfast

The time kept passing by, ever so slowly. The guards hadn’t been back in a long time. I was getting tired and really had to go pee. The snoring of the Italian man below me was driving me crazy. The bench was extremely uncomfortable.

A trip to the toilet was finally a necessity. It felt amazing to empty my bladder after holding it in for hours. I didn’t flush the toilet, afraid of waking someone up and getting someone angry. The water only trickled out of the push button sink. There was no soap. “How disgusting”, I thought.

After returning to my spot, a thin strip of space next to the Italian man opened up. It was just large enough to lay out my mat.

I grabbed my mat and laid it out on the floor, next to the man. At first I lay down head to toe, trying not to have to look the Italian man in the face. As I lay down, a young black man with braided corn rows who was sleeping adjacent to me opened his eyes and started staring at me. His head was right next to mine. My feet were under the bench, and my head was in the middle of the room.

The awkwardness made me decide to get up and turn around, so that I was lying down with my head underneath the bench. It was much darker here. The bright fluorescent lights were slightly dimmed by the shadow of the bench over my head. This made it much more comfortable.

There were no pillows, and my blanket would be the only thing between me and my floor mat. Bunching up the blanket under my head provided some neck support. Some of the other inmates were using their jackets as a pillow. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a jacket, as I was not planning on leaving my car for more than a minute to renew my visa. As uncomfortable as it was lying on this concrete floor with a thin mat, it was much better than trying to sleep on the stainless steel bench.

My eyes began to close and I began to doze off.

“BREAKFAST, BREAKFAST. Wake up gentlemen, it’s breakfast time.” The guard shouted at the door.

I hadn’t heard him come in to the cell. I had only been asleep for a couple hours.

“What time is it?” Someone asked the guard.

“5:30 in the morning”. He responded.

It had felt like the longest seven hours of my life. No one else had gone home since the two Mexican men. Everyone stood up, dusted themselves off and found their shoes.

“Leave your things in here. You’re going to leave the cell one at a time. Clean your hands with this sanitizer.” The guard had a squeeze bottle of hand sanitizer. I waited for the others to walk by and then made my way to the door. The guard squeezed some sanitizer on my hands as I walked in to the hallway outside of our cell. Instead of heading back to the waiting room in which I had come in from, we walked towards the other end of the hallway. There was a second guard in the hallway waiting in front of a cooler full of wrapped food.

“We’ve got burritos or sandwiches”. The guard said, shouting to the crowd. He was another larger white male.

The last time I had eaten was at the Café in Oceanside the previous day, about 18 hours earlier. I wasn’t very hungry because of the stress. When my turn came, I reached out for a burrito, as it looked warm. There were also Capri Sun fruit juice boxes.

We walked down the hallway and out a door to an enclosed outdoor area. It felt amazing to get some fresh air. The area had several picnic benches. There were solid concrete walls, and a semi-enclosed metallic roof. There was an echo of the voices of people talking outside of where we were eating. The cool morning air sent chills through my spine. I was only wearing my dress shirt and slacks. The inmates in jackets looked much more comfortable. I tried to sit at a bench, but felt too cold and stood up to get some circulation.

My burrito contained eggs, some stale pinto beans, potatoes, and some strips of cheap ham. It was nice and warm, and felt good to eat, even though it didn’t taste very good. After eating half of the burrito, my appetite was gone.

I looked around me and noticed an out of place face. A young man with long red hair stood eating his burrito on the other side of the room. He was wearing what looked like pajama pants and a tee shirt. He didn’t say a word.

No one said anything, except for a few of the young black men who spoke to each other in some foreign language that I had never heard before. They couldn’t have been more than twenty-one years old.

After surveying the crowd more closely, I began to feel more at ease. No one in the room looked like they were going to cause trouble. We were just a group of cold, unfortunate non-American men.

We finished up our food and were called back in to the cell. We threw out our trash, and on the way in, were greeted by a guard.

“Here is your tooth brush. The tooth paste is already in there. Please brush your teeth, then put the brush back in the package and give it back to us.”

Everyone walked back in to the cell and grabbed a toothbrush. I opened my package, and looked at the brush. It looked like a little square sponge on a straw. The sponge felt strange rubbing up against my teeth. It felt gritty, but it was slightly minty and fresh. I rubbed for a while, trying to cleanse myself, then packaged the brush back up and gave it to the guard, who was collecting the brushes in a trash bag. Everyone returned to their mats and lay down.

The guard at the front began to do a roll call. The first few names sounded French, and three of the black men responded. The guard continued;

“Fritz” the red haired man looked up and nodded.

“Junior” the tall black man with the corn rows nodded.

“Revich” I put up my hand.

“Rosetti” the Italian nodded.

There were two names of latino decent, the responders being a young and stylishly dressed man in his late 20s, and a plump man in his late thirties, with bald hair and a thin moustache.

After roll call, the guards left. Another group of inmates could be heard going for their breakfast from a different cell. Some of the other inmates in my cell stayed up, but I was still exhausted from the whole experience. I put my blanket on and went back to sleep.

The Italian

“FRITZ” the guard yelled, waking me up. Apparently he had walked into our cell while I was sleeping.

The young man with the long red hair stood up and walked out of the room. That would be the last time I would ever see him. I don’t know if he made it in to America, or was deported to his home country.

I slowly got my bearings, again realizing that this wasn’t a dream. I took off my blanket and sat up, finally waking from my slumber. The room was still fairly silent, although by now the four black men with French names were all on a bench talking to each other in some unknown language.

I sat there silently for a long time, biding my time, glad that another inmate had been released.

About half an hour later, the guard came back in the room holding a sheet of paper. He looked me in the eye.

“Are you Italian?” he asked.

“No, Canadian” I replied.

“I’m Italian” Rosetti replied.

“Come this way, sir. You can leave your blankets”. The guard directed him out the door.

Rosetti left the cell for about twenty minutes. He returned with an annoyed look on his face.

“What happened?” I asked him when he walked back in.

“I talked to the Italian Embassy”. He replied. “My friend in Los Angeles called them when I didn’t arrive on the train. They said I won’t be leaving until after midnight. This is Bullshit. They said I have to have interview, but I can’t have interview until midnight.”

“Midnight?!” I replied. It was probably about 10 in the morning. Since he was there before me, I knew that my interview would come after his.
The elusive interview became the focal point of everyone in the cell. It was the chance to explain oneself, get some closure, and get the hell out of that horrible cell.

“It’s stupid, I don’t know why they put me here”. Rosetti continued. “I’m on vacation from Italy. I was visiting my aunt in Mexico City and was going to L.A. for 5 days to visit a friend. I filled out my visitor’s visa at the border and got put in here, I don’t know why. I have a girlfriend and a job in Italy, I was just trying to go on vacation. I was in New York 5 years ago with no problems. I just wanted to visit my friend in L.A. and go back to Mexico”

He was still wearing his big puffy jacket. His vacation was just ruined by some overzealous border guard.

“I don’t even care about going to L.A. Send me back to Mexico, send me to Italy, is ok. I just want to get out of here. I didn’t think America would be like this.”

“That sucks, man”. I replied, looking away, not sure what to say.

His story made me realize that everyone in this cell thought that they didn’t belong there. Like me, he was angry, frustrated and afraid. These weren’t criminals, just unfortunate souls like me, caught up in the mess that is the United States immigration system. I looked over at him and continued,

“I’ve been to Italy before, it’s beautiful. Where are you from?” Some small talk seemed like a good idea. By now extreme boredom had set in.

“I am from Napoli. Why were you in Italy?”

“I went traveling through Europe. I stopped in Naples when I went to see Pompei”. There was a little apprehension in my voice about sharing too much of my background.

“Where are you from?” He asked.

“I’m from Toronto originally, but I’ve lived in California for five years. Now I live in Los Angeles.”

“Toronto is a very nice city. Why are you here?” He looked at me.

“I was just trying to renew my work visa, and got thrown in here for some reason. I really shouldn’t be here.” I didn’t feel a need to divulge all the details of my issue.

“At least you live in America. I don’t even care if I go in. Send me back to Italy, is ok.”

“Ya, that really sucks, I hope you get out soon.”

Our little conversation ended. One of the other detainees started talking to him in Spanish. I sat up on my mat, deep in thought, a little more comfortable now that I had a little bit more of an idea about who I was in there with and how long it would be before I would get out.

The Haitians

A couple hours passed after the Italian had come back from his phone call. At this point the Italian and I were conversing in brief spurts, usually complaining about our situation or talking about our home countries. Otherwise my time was spent resting, drinking water, or just staring off into space, thinking about my life and my future.

The guards came in and called us out for lunch. The same breakfast burritos and ham sandwiches were available to eat. This time I chose the sandwich. They also had a side of macaroni salad, which I ate with the straw from my Capri Sun juice box. By now I was starving and feeling more comfortable than at my previous meal. I ate my meal extremely quickly, and felt satisfied. It also felt great to get some fresh air, and it had warmed up, so I wasn’t freezing like I was at breakfast. A headache was setting on from not having my morning coffee.

We were again marched back into our cell, although this time there was no toothbrush. About a half an hour later, the guards came back and knocked on the door. They called out three French sounding names, and three of the trendily dressed young black men got up and started walking out of the room. One was much skinnier than the other two, with short hair, wearing a new plaid shirt, blue jeans and new Nike running shoes.

“It’s time to go gentlemen, bring your mats and blankets”. The guard said.
The men grabbed their mats and blankets and walked out. They handed their blankets to the guards and the doors were shut.

All of the sudden I heard one of the guards shouting from the hallway:

“Hey, get up!”

“I think he passed out” one of the other guards shouted back to his colleague.

“He’s not getting up”. The first guard could be heard saying.

“You take those two and get a paramedic, I’ll wait here with him.” The second guard replied.

It got pretty quiet for a few minutes. I could hear a couple other guards coming to check out the situation and asking about what happened. Ten minutes later, two new voices were heard outside as the paramedics had arrived.

“Has he had anything to drink?” The first paramedic asked.

“Yes, they have water and food”, replied the guard.

“OK, we’re going to take him to the hospital, get him on some fluids. How long has he been in here?”.

“About two days” replied the guard.

The paramedics carted away the young man.

The other inmates didn’t seem to be paying too much attention. They were all too concerned about their own situations to care about what was going on outside.

Not too long after the Haitians had left, some loud voices could be heard chatting outside the cell. I looked out through the little window in the door to the cell, and saw a group of children in their early teens going in to another cell.

Junior

Things began to stagnate in the cell. No one seemed to be coming or going anywhere. The Italian man started to get antsy, swearing and shouting about his situation every time the guards would come by.

“When will I get my interview!” He kept asking.

The guards would just politely reply “When it’s your turn”.
The fourth Haitian man, now the only Haitian in the cell, was sitting on his mat over by my corner of the cell. He was tall, black, and thin, but healthy looking, with braided hair. We briefly made eye contact.

“Were those your friends?” I asked him.

“No, we just met in here. They are from Haiti like me.” He responded, with a thick, but understandable French sounding accent.

“How did you get here?” I asked.

“I took a flight to Panama, then made my way to Mexico City on a bus. I have an auntie in Boston, I really hope to go live with her. I got to the border and they put me in here. Are you from Canada?” he asked.

He must have been paying attention when I had talked to the guards in the morning.

“Yes, from Toronto” I replied.

“Canada is a beautiful country. Beautiful country. Safe and free. Why are you here? I thought Canada and America are the same thing?”

“No, they are different countries. I’ve been living in California for five years now”

“Why did you leave Canada? It’s such a beautiful country”

“It’s very cold there. I wanted to live somewhere with warmer weather” I replied, feeling somewhat selfish about my first world problems.

“I would love to live in Canada. If I could live there, I would never leave. Maybe God will give me the chance. I’m in God’s hands now. He got me here. Do you go to church?”

“No, I don’t”. I replied, not feeling the need to let him know that I was Jewish and non-religious.

“I don’t either, but I know there is a god.” He replied. “I know it, I’ve seen a spirit before”.

“Hmmm” I replied, not wanting to show my skepticism. “So were you in Haiti for the Earthquake?” I decided to change the subject.

“Oh yes, it was sooo scary. Everything was shakin’ so hard. I was terrified. Thankfully, God was there for me. Now everything is bad, I had to leave”.

“Wow, that must have been scary, thankfully you survived. Your English is very good, how do you speak so well?”

“I taught myself. I speak Creole, French, English and Spanish. I learned from the tourists. I love the foreign girls”

“So you learned English to talk to American girls?”

“Haha, ya, so many beautiful women come to my country. I love the women. My auntie could not believe that I learned English. She was so proud of me. I hope I can live with her in Boston.”

“I hope so too” I replied.

My conversations with Junior and the other cellmates continued for a few more hours. Now that the cell was emptier, there was a more relaxed feeling in the air. Everyone had come to grips with the fact that they would be in here for a while.

Now in the cell it was just me, the Italian, Junior, a young Cuban man who only spoke Spanish, and the bald Mexican man in his late 30s with a moustache, who kept being taken out and brought back in to the cell. He said that he had a blood pressure problem (which is why they put him in the cell with the international inmates rather than one of the cells with the other Mexican nationals).

Dinner time came. The same food was served. Another sandwich and some macaroni salad. My caffeine withdrawal was terrible, and by now I was craving a cold beer too. The discomfort began to feel like the new normal.

Shortly after dinner, Junior was called for his interview, never to be seen again. Whether he ever got to see his auntie in Boston, I would never know.

To pass the time, I walked over to the door and hung out by the window looking out in to the hallway. A couple of guards walked by now dressed in street clothes, finishing their shift. They looked like people I would see in San Diego and not think twice. One of them caught my eye and turned to his friends.

“Whoa, it always weirds me out when I see a white guy in there. It just doesn’t look right” the shorter, bulky brown haired one said to his buddy.

“He’s probably got a warrant out for his arrest or something”. A taller, white man said.

They all looked at the window to sneak a peek. I nodded my head at them like a friendly neighbor saying hello. They quickly looked away, then walked down the hall towards the exit.

Later in the evening, the young Haitian man who had passed out was brought back in to the cell. He had a look of bewilderment on his face, like he couldn’t believe that he was back. He sat on a bench, staring forward.

As it got later we all began to doze off, returning to the comfort of our mats and blankets. It was now Monday night, a full day after I had arrived. Now there was more room, and we all spread out, no longer packed in the room like sardines.

No one had left or entered the cell for a while, and there was just an aura of calm now. We had realized that our 12:00 deadline would not be met, and that we would be in this cell for at least another night.

Seau

At about 2 in the morning I heard another inmate come in to the cell quietly. He was a white, European looking man in his early thirties with long brown hair and a moustache. He wore army surplus clothing, with large Doc Martin boots. He smelled like an army surplus store; a mixture of of shoe polish, leather and dirt. . He quickly saw everyone sleeping, laid down his mat on the floor, and passed out.

It seemed like I had just fallen asleep when my slumber was interrupted by some loud shouts in the hallway.

“Where are you fucking taking me! I didn’t do nothin’ wrong” the voice of an African American man could clearly be heard.

All of the sudden we could hear our cell door opening.

“I ain’t fuckin’ going in there. I’m gonna die in there. Let me the fuck out of here.” The screams continued.

“We’ll be back for you in a second. We’re putting you in the safest room here, you should consider yourself lucky.” The guards said to the man.

“I gotta get back to my kids. You can’t leave me in here.” He was brought in to our cell, but was looking out at the guards.

The man was short, about 5 foot 5, in his late twenties, with thin, stylish glasses and short black hair. He wore blue khaki shorts and a San Diego Chargers football jersey. The back of the Jersey read Seau. I knew the player, Junior Seau, one of the great Chargers defensive lineman, who coincidentally had just committed suicide a year earlier.

As the guards walked away, Seau began to run up and down our cell shouting and banging on the doors and walls.

“Let me the fuck out of here. I can’t be in here. I didn’t do nothing wrong” he shouted.

This was the first time in the cell that I felt somewhat in fear of my personal safety. This seemed like an erratic individual, and I didn’t know how he would react to being stuck in the cell for a prolonged period.

All of the sudden Art popped up “Excuse me sir, can you please keep it down, some of us are trying to sleep” he said, with a European accent, probably Dutch or German.

Seau realized that there were other people in the cell, and began to calm down a bit.

“I ain’t do no sleeping. No way. I’m claustrophobic, I can’t deal with this place. I gotta get out of here”.

He ran back to the door and started shouting at a passing guard.

“Why I am in here. I didn’t do nothing wrong”.

The guard walked up to the door.

“You could be charged with felony human trafficking. You don’t want a felony do you.” The guard then began walking away.

“Where’s your manager. I need to see the manager”. Seau yelled.

The guard walked away, and I assumed that we wouldn’t see anyone again. It had never occurred to me to ask for a manager or a supervisor. I had just accepted my fate.

I was now pretty much awake, and sat up on the stainless steel bench. Seau looked over at me.

“Awww, look at you dressed like a man.” He looked over at me, still dressed in my dress clothes. I had forgotten how I looked. In my mind I was now just an inmate.

“I can’t get a felony man, I’ve been good my whole life. I got four kids, man. I gotta go take them to school. I’m from the ghetto, and all my homies kept me out of trouble. I gotta get out of here.”

“What happened to you? I asked.

“Yo, real talk. My homie called me up and said let’s go to TJ” Referring to the slang name for Tijuana.

“I ain’t never been before. We walked over and went to get drunk and watch some strippers. One of the strippers tried to make me do some nasty stuff, I didn’t want none of that. Shit was whack. Real talk. We came back across the border and a friend of my homie’s from lockup came up to us and walked across the border with my homie and me. Next thing I know, they’re arresting me. The guy was an illegal or some shit. That fucker’s gonna get me a felony.”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’re not going to get a felony. It sounds like you didn’t do anything wrong.” I said to him, trying to calm him down.

“I better fucking not. I gotta get outta here man, I’m gonna die in here.”

He began pacing across the room, no longer shouting and screaming fortunately.
All of the sudden, our door opened. A white male guard, about five foot ten in his late 40s came to the door. He was slightly bald, with short brown hair.

“You asked to see the supervisor.” He said.

Everyone perked up and began to walk up to the door, other than Art, who remained trying to sleep in the corner of the room.

Seau walked up to him. “When am I getting outta here. I didn’t do nothing wrong”.

“Talk to him, he’s a lawyer.” He pointed at me. I hadn’t told anyone that I was a lawyer, it was somewhat embarrassing.

“You’ could be charged with felony human trafficking. You tried to bring an illegal across the border.” The guard said to Seau.

“I didn’t know none of that. I got 4 kids man, I got to get to my family.”

“Well, you should have thought of that before you trafficked someone across the border.

All of the sudden the young Hatian who had returned from the hospital popped up. “Speak Creole?”. He looked at the guard.

“Are you kidding me. Of course I don’t speak Creole.” The guard replied smugly.

Next the Italian took his turn. “I’ve been here for 30 hours. When am I getting my interview. Consulate said I would get interview before 12:00”

“Well, you guys are just unlucky. A large group of minors were brought in here yesterday morning. The law says that we have to process the minors first, so you guys take last priority. We would have gotten to you guys yesterday, but those kids had to go first. You should have your interview later this morning.”

It was now my turn. “Do you have any information on my case?” I asked. He seemed to know that I was the Canadian inmate.

“Yours is a real interesting one. I actually went to your law school, California Western. I think what they’ll probably do is give you a visa for 30 days to go back to L.A. and collect your things. If you overstay that, you’ll be in real trouble though.”

“Thanks”. I replied.

The supervisor shut the door and walked away. It gave me some comfort to know that I would be able to go back to L.A. to get my affairs in order. From what I had studied in immigration law, usually someone who was denied entry in to America was not allowed back in to the country for a 10 year period. My original thought was that if my visa was denied, I would never be able to see my apartment again. My roommate would have to clear away and sell my things and send them back to Canada.

It also struck me that the night supervisor at a border station went to law school; although he never said that he graduated.

Seau sat down and put his head in his hands.

“Man, I was always the good one. I ain’t never done anything bad in my life.”
He looked out the window, and the guards were walking a Mexican man with tattoos down the hall.

“That’s the mother fucker who got me in here.” He pointed out the window.

“Hey man, at least you’re not going to be here as long as we are, you’re an American, they can’t keep you in here. We’ve been here for 30 hours.”

“No way. I ain’t staying here for 30 hours.”

A few minutes later, we heard a knock on the door. The guards called Seau’s name and escorted him from the cell. His stay would only be about a half hour.

As he walked out of the cell, in walked a tall, thick man with olive skin and short brown hair in his early 50s, wearing a long sleeved t-shirt and baggy blue jeans. Shortly afterwards, a second middle aged man, tall and pudgy with lighter olive skin and a bald head also walked in to the cell. They walked over to one of the steel benches and sat down next to each other.

The Argentine

At first the two new middle aged inmates kept to themselves. My conversations with the Italian continued about how upset we were at the situation.

“This is fucking crazy”. The Italian said. “We’ve been here for 30 hours. I just want to go home.”

The first of the older men with the brown hair piped up and asked me a question. He had a very light Spanish accent, almost sounding American.

“How long have you been in here?” He asked.

“We’ve been here for over 30 hours”, I replied. “But a bunch of children came through while we were here, and they had to go first, so hopefully it won’t be as long for you guys” I said, referring to the two men. “Where are you guys from?” I asked.

“I’ve lived in Los Angeles, in the valley, for ten years” he replied, referring to the San Fernando valley, a suburban area of the city.

“I came from Argentina with my wife and started working as an auto mechanic” He said.

“My tourist visa ran out, and I stayed for ten years. My mother in Argentina is dying, so I went home to see her.” He continued.

“How did you end up at this border crossing?” I asked.

“On my way back from Argentina, I flew in to Mexico City, then took a bus to the border. That’s where I met this man. He’s from Chile.” He pointed to the guy next to him, who sat silently. “We tried to walk across the border this morning, but they stopped us and brought us in here. My wife must be so worried. She’s waiting for me to come home”

“I’m really sorry to hear that”, I replied. “I live in Los Angeles too” I proceeded to tell him my story, letting him know that I was going to be going back to Los Angeles to get my things.

“Well, I don’t think things will be good for me. I don’t have any papers.” He replied. “Ten years I’ve lived there. That’s my life. And now I’m going to have to start again. My wife is going to be so upset.” He looked down and began to gather his thoughts.

“If you do get in to California, please do me a favor.” He looked me in the eye. “I work for an auto shop in Van Nuys, it’s called California Auto Body. Please, I need you to find them when you get out and call my boss. Let him know that I am in here so he can tell my wife. This is very important to me.”

“I will try my best, but I can’t make any promises. I hope I can get out of here myself.”

Shortly after our conversation, we were ushered out of the cell for breakfast.
It was freezing cold again. I paced around the eating area to keep warm, shifting back and forth while I ate my burrito. By now the meal breaks were routine. I had gotten used to my predicament and my surroundings. The thought of getting out and being in the real world already seemed like a distant memory.

The terrible food was starting to taste delicious. I was starving, and quickly munched down my entire burrito.

We were again ushered back in to our cell, and brushed our teeth one more time, with the Styrofoam toothbrushes.

When the guards came to pick up our brushes, the Italian complained one more time.

“I have been in here for 30 hours. What is going on? When am I getting interview?”

The guard was a taller African American, probably in his early 30s.

“You’ll get your interview when you get your interview.” He responded, clearly perturbed, starting to raise his voice. “I don’t care how long you been in here. 30 hours? Try 2 weeks.” He started shouting. “There’s no time limit, we can keep you here as much as we want. So just relax and wait your turn and stop bugging me.”

He slammed the door shut and locked it.

It was at this point that the injustice of the entire situation really set in. There was no due process in this holding cell. There were no rights to a fair trial or bail. No right to be informed of your charges while being held. We were in there indefinitely, until the bureaucracy would pass us through, or send us to our country of citizenship. Our only crime was wanting to get in to America.

I vowed that I would do more in my life to fight against injustice. I wanted to to make sure that what happened to me didn’t happen to anyone else. How could I go from being an entertainment lawyer one day to an inmate the next? How could my Italian friend go from being a tourist on vacation to an inmate in a holding cell? This was not the America that I thought I knew.

My body began to feel bloated from the lack of exercise. I got up from my blanket and started pacing back and forth in the cell to get some exercise, walking from one end to the other for about 20 minutes. It felt good letting off some steam.

The two South American men and the bald Mexican man who had been in the cell for 3 days chatted to each other in Spanish, with the Italian listening on. The last remaining Haitian sat alone, silently, unable to communicate. Art had gone back to sleep.

After my workout, I laid down to rest, putting my blanket over my head. The Argentinean man followed my example and started doing some laps around the cell to get exercise. His footsteps echoed in my ear as he walked by.

The Exodus

It was about eight or nine o’clock on Tuesday morning when a guard came in and took out the last Haitian man away, never to be seen again. About a half an hour later, The Cuban was also given his opportunity.

It seemed logical the Italian would be called next, as he had arrived before me. All of the sudden, a woman guard came to the door.

“Revich, Dan” she shouted.

I almost broke down when I heard my name. This moment seemed like it was imminent for the previous 35 hours. By now it seemed like it was never going to come. I tucked in my shirt and tried to clean up my now disheveled hair to look respectable.

Outside the cell stood a short, Latina woman in her early 30’s. She had long brown hair in a pony tail, and a warm face. She wore a guard uniform, with a large badge, and carried a clipboard that she was looking down at. She closed the door behind me and we talked in the hallway.

“So, what are you doing in here?” She asked, with a somewhat puzzled look on her face.

I was nervous and shaking, but happy that I was finally getting some sort of resolution to my nightmare.

“She said that I was violating my visa, that I couldn’t have my real estate license.” I exclaimed, sounding rather ineloquent.

“She, being the border office?” The woman replied.

“Yes, the one who was interviewing me when I tried to renew my visa.” I said, trying to keep calm.

“Hmm.” She looked down at her paperwork. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with you getting a real estate license.” She kept looking through the profile.

“Well, she said I was trying to start my own business. I told her that I accepted checks from clients.” I said, not wanting the agent to find this out by her own means and get angry at me.

“Well you can’t do that. How many checks did you accept?” She looked at me, somewhat more inquisitively.

“I don’t know, about 6 or 7?” I replied. There were probably a few more, but I hadn’t really been counting. It never occurred to me that this was a visa violation.

“OK, well you can’t do that”. She said.

“I promise you, I’ll never do it again. Every check will go through the firm. I’ll never take a personal check again. It was a stupid mistake. I promise you, I’ll never do it again.” I begged.

“OK, well I’ll see what I can do.” She replied. She opened the door back to the cell and let me back in.

I sat down on one of the stainless steel benches. The Italian came over and asked me what happened.

“I just talked to a lady in the hallway. She said she’s going to try and do something.”

He nodded with approval.

About 10 minutes later, the door opened again.

“Rosetti.”

The Italian, still wearing his puffy jacket, grabbed his shoes and walked out. He finally got his interview and didn’t return.

The Argentinian man came up to me one more time.

“Please, if you leave, I need you to call California Auto Body in Van Nuys. It’s on Google.”

“OK, I will.”

“Please, my wife needs to know. She must be so worried.”

Another forty five minutes passed in the cell. It wouldn’t be much longer. I just kept thinking about what I would do if I got out and how I would change my life for the better.

All of the sudden, the door opened again. It was the officer again.

“Alright Mr. Revich, you’re ready to go, please gather your things.”
I put on my shoes and walked out the door, grabbing my blanket and mat. Outside of the cell, I dropped them off on the counter. The guard locked the door behind me.

My heart was beating sensationally. I couldn’t believe that it was finally over. I took one last look back at the cell behind me; my home for the last two days.

“Alright, do you have your belongings tag?” The guard asked.

I pulled the tag out of my pocket and gave it to her.

“So… what’s going to happen?” I asked.

“Oh. You’re getting your visa.” She replied.

All of the sudden, she went from being another border guard to being my angel.

A giant halo appeared around her in my mind. By this point, I had already resigned myself to the fact that I would be moving back to Canada. I would have to start a new life. I would return to my parents’ basement, a total failure, deported from America and unable to return.

Now, it became clear that my life wasn’t over. There would be a second chance to do everything the right way.

The emotion didn’t quite hit me immediately. There was still a thought in my head that something would go wrong.

Purgatory

My “Angel” took me back into the room in which my belongings had been taken from me. She took my tag and walked into a hidden area to retrieve my things.
She returned a couple minutes later and handed me my bag full of my belongings. It felt relieving to have my cell phone, keys, and wallet back. I strung my shoelaces in to my shoes, and strapped on my belt and watch. The Canadian prisoner was now Dan Revich again.

“Alright, come this way”. The officer said, walking me back down the hallway full of jail cells. At the end of the hallway, she opened up a door that I hadn’t noticed when walking to the eating area. The door led outside, to an outdoor corridor and a building that I had not been in yet.

The five second walk to the next building felt great. The sun’s rays had never felt as beautiful as they shone across my face. The smell of fresh air and the feel of the wind on my skin was the most refreshing thing I had ever felt. The 36 hours in the holding cell had felt like an eternity.

She opened up the door in to the the next building. It was the border crossing station for pedestrians. There was a cheery, relaxed atmosphere, mostly with cross-border commuters going about their day on a Tuesday afternoon. There was a large, wide open room, with a series of counters in the center like a DMV.

The sunshine shone into the room through bright open windows. There was a seating area in one corner with a few individuals waiting for their turn to talk to a border agent.

My angel walked me to a counter which was shielded by a window, where I checked in. She then walked me over to one of the seats and told me to sit while she expedited my paperwork processing. She grabbed my passport and paperwork and walked over to one of the counters in the center of the room.

I was seated next to a middle aged Mexican businessman, going about his day.

He didn’t look at all nervous, likely just doing a routine border crossing.

As the officer walked away, numerous emotions began to flow through my body. It now started to feel like my nightmare was finally over. The entire time I was in the cell, I had kept my cool, simply thinking about getting out and trying to pass the time. I didn’t want the other people in the cell to think I was weak.

Now, I began to let it all out. I began to cry quietly, the tears running down my cheeks. It felt good. I cried out of happiness that it was all over and that I would have my life back, but also out of sadness, and the feeling that I had just been violated.

After a few minutes of crying, I gathered myself together and began to think about my life again. I hadn’t been able to make a phone call while I was locked up, and was worried about my friends and family members. I looked at my phone to see if it was still working. The batteries were still intact, and I was able to view my text messages.

Surprisingly, none of my family members had called. My roommate, who was also my cousin, had only realized that I hadn’t been home on Tuesday morning, and just assumed that I was staying at a friend’s apartment.

A few text messages came in that morning from a couple friends and the employees at the music company. I had told Craig, the Vice President of the music company, that I would be renewing my visa in Mexico that weekend. Jokingly, I told him to start worrying if I didn’t show up on Monday. When I didn’t show up on Tuesday, he started contacting my friends to see if they had heard from me.

I sent a text to Craig, letting him know that I was released, and that I would be heading back that day. I sent a message to my father as well:

“Just spent 36 hours in a holding cell. Getting my visa now!”

I put the phone away, as the emotions began to catch up with me again. After quietly waiting in my seat for another fifteen minutes, my “angel” border officer came back to me and walked me over to the counter to finish processing my paperwork.

The officer at the counter printed out my work visa and stapled it to my passport. He handed the passport back to me. My visa was stamped February 1, 2015, two years away. That meant two more years of living and working in California. My angel then walked me back the counter surrounded by glass, where I paid the cashier $58 for my visa.

She walked me outside, back through the corridor and towards my freedom. A thin African American gentleman in his late 50s with glasses was waiting for us in the corridor.

“I’ll get your car for you. Which one is it?” he asked.

“It’s a silver Ford Focus”. I replied.

“OK, why don’t you meet me in the lot that you came in on, I have to go get it from another lot.”

He started walking away quickly to get my car. I was alone with my angel for a moment.

“Thank you so much for your help”. I said to her.

“You’re welcome. Just make sure you follow all the rules.” She replied.

“I will, I promise. It was really horrible in there, I’m just so happy to be out.”

“Yeah, I understand.” She replied.

We stood in silence for a couple minutes. All of the sudden her Walkie Talkie went off with word that the car was ready. We walked around the building with the holding cells, and then by the first building I had been in for my interview. As we walked by the two buildings, chills went through my spine. I took one last look back at my hell for the past two days, never to look back again.

We walked to the parking lot where I had originally dropped off my car. My car pulled up, driven by the man who we had talked to earlier. He walked out of the car and handed me my keys

“Thank you” I said.

“You’re welcome, have a good day sir.”

He started walking away.

I looked over at my angel.

“Thank you so much for your help” I said to my angel. “What’s your name?”

“Officer Gomez”. She replied.

“Thank you Officer Gomez, you’ve really been amazing.”

“You’re welcome”. She replied.

I walked in to my car and turned on the ignition. I backed out of the spot, then put the car and drive and started driving out. Officer Gomez led me to a station down the road, where she talked to an attendant and swiped a card that opened a gate. As the gate opened, I finally started to feel my freedom.

Rolling down my window, I thanked the officer again, and then drove off. As I drove North on the 5 freeway, I felt like a police car was going to appear in my rearview to take me back to the cell. I drove past the tall, chain link fences on the way to San Diego.

I looked in my rear view one last time. No one was following me. It was finally over. I was free.

Home

As I drove back towards L.A., all I could think about was getting a coffee. At the same time, I wanted to be as far away from the Mexican border as I could be. I continued along the 5 freeway, passing downtown San Diego.

While driving, I made calls on my speakerphone to the people important to me. Repeating the same story several times was exhausting while still in a state of shock. I called my roommate, my co-workers, my parents, my aunt in San Diego and my two friends who had called to make sure that I was ok. As upset as I was, I tried to look positively at the situation. At least I was out of the cell and had my second chance.

I pulled in to a Starbucks in University Town Center, an area of San Diego twenty minutes north of downtown, still wearing the dress clothes that had kept me warm for the previous two days. The taste of coffee had never been so delicious.

My nerves began to calm as the black goodness flowed through my veins.
Seeing the real world again felt strange. Happy, smiling people sat at the Starbucks, having no idea that I had just been through two days of hell.

I thought about the people I had just been with, and remembered the request of the Argentinean man, who wanted me to get in touch with the body shop that he worked at. I looked up the shop on my phone, and sure enough it was easy to find. I called the shop, and an American man with no accent answered:

“California Auto Body” he stated.

“Hello, this is kind of a strange call, but does someone named Juan work there?” I asked, wanting to make sure that I had the right place.

“Yes he does. Well, he usually does. May I ask who’s calling?” He sounded somewhat suspicious.

“I’m just leaving the Mexican border. I actually spent the last two days stuck in a holding cell at the border, and Juan was in there with me. He got in early this morning. He told me to call you when I got out, and gave me the name of your shop.”

“Oh man, that’s not good news at all. Someone was saying that they heard that he made it through. Are you sure it was him?” The shop owner sounded concerned.

“Yeah, I’m sure. He was in Argentina visiting his mom, and got held up at the border. I was granted my visa in the end; I’m not sure what will happen to him, I was just released.”

“Well, I don’t think he’ll be so lucky. He didn’t exactly have his papers. I’ll tell his wife. What was your name again?”

He took my name, said goodbye, and didn’t contact me again. His conversation with Juan’s wife was probably the hardest of his life.

I grabbed my coffee and got back in to my car, ready to make the two hour drive back to my apartment in L.A.

Along the way I stopped for some fast food. It was delicious. At about 2:00 in the afternoon I arrived at my apartment, choosing not go in to the office. I took my dog for a walk, and lay in bed for the rest of the day, gathering my thoughts.

The next day, I returned to work, and continued on with my life.

The Rule of Collision

The Rule of Collision is a philosophy based on the idea that the world is full of individuals and forces (natural and manmade) travelling on their own paths and colliding with each other at various intervals. It is a realist philosophy that refutes the Law of Attraction, a popular philosophical concept which posits supernatural forces connecting human thoughts with the external world.

The Law of Attraction
Many self-help gurus have made an excellent living touting the so-called law of attraction. This “law” stipulates that by focusing thoughts towards certain goals or objects, the individual will attract those goals or objects towards him or herself via supernatural forces that connect thoughts with the external world. For example, under the law, by thinking about success, and fixating on thoughts that will lead towards success, the individual will actually attract success towards him or herself. By thinking about bad thoughts and fixating on failure, the individual will inevitably fail.

Any realist is aware that such a law does not exist. There are plenty of people who may focus on success, make a plan, stick to it, and still fail in life. There are also people who seemingly just come in to luck, despite the fact that he or she may be preoccupied with negative thoughts. Some are just born in the wrong place at the wrong time, and really have no ability to alter their living situation, despite their best efforts. And, some have their plans cut short by unexpected bad luck, like getting a disease or in to a bad accident.

There is no immutable law that connects thoughts with reality. Simply thinking of something cannot bring it towards someone. However, that does not mean that people are not capable of guiding their lives in the direction that they choose.

The Rule of Collisions
All people are individual actors, navigating their way through their lives like cars through streets. A driver must navigate his or her car around other cars, random objects, and various things that may come in to his or her path. Throw in enough traffic (and some wild driving), and the driver will inevitably collide with other objects. These collisions will alter the car’s course, and force the driver to re-chart his or her path. The driver may have a destination in mind, but that destination will change as the collisions continue to occur. Some of these intervening objects may slow the car’s course, but some will speed things up, getting the driver ever closer to his or her destination.

The roadways of life are full of other people who are navigating along the same pathways. There are also non-human actors, or forces, that will affect one’s journey. Each person or force represents another potential collision that will alter one’s path. These forces are beyond the individual’s control, but every individual will inevitably collide with them as he or she goes through life. The Rule of Collisions is that the individual can only steer him or herself in the direction of positive forces, and away from negative ones, but that one’s destiny is shaped by the paths of the forces that he or she collides with as much as it is shaped by the paths that he or she chooses. One can only hope that his or her collisions will be beneficial, and that he or she will continue to get to desired destinations.

Someone who gets a cold only gets sick because the path of the virus collided with that individual. The path of the virus collided with the individual because the path of someone already infected with the virus collided with that individual. The person already infected with the virus got sick because he had his own collision with another sick person. If it were not for this preceding series of collisions, the person with the cold would not have gotten sick. The only collision that he or she was in control of was his or her collision with the last sick person, but he or she still got sick because of all of the preceding collisions.

One can do all that he or she can to avoid colliding with sick people, but in the end, every person must come to grips with the fact that in the ordinary course of life, there will inevitably be collisions that change our lives for better or worse. An entrepreneur who creates a new product can only succeed because another individual collides with the product and decides to purchase it. A runner who wins a race will only win because his abilities were greater than those of the athletes that he raced against. No matter what happens in life, we are affected by people and forces around us as much as we are by our own thoughts, decisions and actions.

Karma
Karma is the concept that doing kind acts and treating others well will inevitably lead to kindness and good luck in return (and that doing bad acts will lead to bad luck). Of course, there is no magical balance sheet that exists which will ensure good luck to those who do well to others. In fact, there is no guaranty that someone who performs acts that are altruistic will have good luck at all. But, doing good acts will at least make more positive collisions possible than there would be if no good acts were done at all.

Someone who has received a favor will likely remember that favor for a long time. To a person who is raising money for a cause, a simple donation of $10 or $20 will make a serious impact, especially if only a few have donated. An act like this should not be done with an expectation of the good act that will be returned. But, enough good acts in the aggregate will inevitably lead to return favors for the altruist.

A good act will represent a positive collision on the path for the person that has been helped, which will send him or her in a more positive direction in life. This collision will lead to further collisions that may never have been possible without the good act that had originally been done. Once on a positive path, this person will likely have more positive collisions, and eventually, he or she may collide with the person that helped him or her in the past, and be able to return the favor.

The Rule and life decisions
Many self-help books instruct individuals to write down their goals, starting with a vision of where they would like to be in 10 years, and then constructing the steps that will get them there. As things change in the individual’s life, he or she can reassess his or her goals, and write down new action plans. Techniques like this will likely be beneficial to many, as focusing on the direction of a positive life path will often lead towards desired destinations.

However, there is nothing necessarily wrong with a “go with the flow” attitude in life. Every person is able to define his or her own path, and for many, a traditional definition of success may not be what he or she desires. For some, the journey is more important than the destination, and it is the uncertainty over what collisions may occur next that will lead to joy in life. Sometimes, individuals may achieve greater success by taking paths that would not involve traditional routes towards societal definitions of success.

Many business people find success in non-traditional paths. Take the example of J, a person who has achieved great financial success. J had a rough childhood and very little formal education. He was only able to get a job unlocking doors for a living (for people who had locked themselves out of their homes and cars). After a couple years of working for someone else, he bought his own tool kit and put ads in the Yellow Pages. He got responses to his ads, built a steady business, and was able to support himself from door unlocking. He then trained a friend to unlock doors, and hired him to do the work that he once did. He replicated the process in another city, and began managing several locksmiths in multiple cities. He now makes an excellent living from his business. He didn’t start out thinking that he would have a successful business in 15 cities. He simply followed the path that he was on and made decisions that would lead to greater success.

The Rule and the job market
Spending too much time self-analyzing and trying to discover goals can in fact impede an individual’s progress in life. A lot of people may have a dream job or school in mind, and will continually keep working towards that goal, despite the fact that there is no reality of that goal being achieved along their current path.
The job application process is an interesting example of the Rule of Collision in motion. For every job listing, there are the people doing the hiring, the person who gets hired, and several candidates who will not get hired. In today’s job market, a hundred applicants may apply for a position, but only one’s path will collide with the path of the hirer. The winning applicant will likely have a stellar educational background, lots of relevant experience, and a winning personality. All of the other applicants, through no fault of their own, will likely have a deficiency in one of these aspects that the winning candidate does not. The winning candidate chose the path and experienced the collisions that made him or her right for the job.

Sometimes, an alternate path may be required to get an individual to the goals which he or she desires. In a job market with more employers than applicants, any individual will eventually find a job if enough applications are sent out. But, if there is a dearth of employers and an abundance of applicants, many applicants will never achieve their desired positions.

In this sort of environment, many will find success by forcing the collisions that would otherwise not be likely to occur. Rather than sitting at home and applying for jobs that will likely have more qualified applicants applying as well, many will find success by seeking out the person that he or she wants to be in 10 or 20 years directly, and arranging a meeting with that person. Most successful individuals love to talk about how they became successful. Rather than asking for a job upfront, asking for advice on getting a job may be a better strategy. After the meeting, the prospect should stay in touch with the mentor, and volunteer his or her services to assist that person while he or she is looking for a job. The mentor may not immediately have something for the prospect to do, but at some point down the road, if work needs to be done, the mentor will remember the offer. If a prospect forces enough collisions with enough successful people, he or she will eventually find employment.

The Rule and failure
Every individual will inevitably fail at something in his or her life. There is no way to avoid all of the negative forces in the world. There will be people who seek to hurt others for their own personal gain. There will be times when there are no possible positive collisions. And, there will be times when a negative collision occurs which ruins an opportunity. In these situations, the only option is to remain optimistic and to keep trying.

As hard as it is to stay optimistic in these situations, people must always realize that life could be worse. When out of a job and low on cash, there will likely be a family member or friend who can provide a place to stay and some food or cash. For those who have no family or friends to help, there will likely be a government entity or charity that will help. And, even in the worst possible scenario, there is always the option to beg on the street and live off of the kindness of others. Obviously no one wants to be in this situation, but, it is a real situation that many are faced with in their lives.

Whenever things are bad, there is always the possibility that life could be worse. And even if they were worse, there is always a path to success. The person living on the street had a series of collisions in his or her life that led him or her to this unfortunate place. It is important to give to the homeless, even on rare occasions, as anyone could end up in such a situation. Without the charity of others, there would be no hope for the least lucky people in life.

Those who are fortunate enough to have a job or a successful company must always be prepared for the fact that it could all disappear one day.  It is important to be thankful for the good things and life, and to continue to try to progress in life, as there is no telling what collision is around the corner. At the same time, there is no need to settle in life. Everyone lives only one life, and for those who are not happy with their situation, there are always more options out there. Sometimes, the next collision around the corner will be the one that leads to a better path.

The Rule and fate
For many, the thought of a life with random collisions is scary. It would be nice to have predictability in life, to know that just by focusing on something; fate will attract it. However, the reality is that there is no way to predict the future, and life will bring whatever it does.

That being said, when looking back at the past, there is one series of interconnected collisions that make up the lives of all individuals. This interconnectivity is set in stone, and cannot be undone once time has passed. Looking forward; there will also be one interconnected infrastructure that is formed based on the collisions that people will encounter in the future. The collision of paths in the future will be guided by the collisions that have already occurred, together with new collisions that will arise.

To a certain extent, the future is already set in stone; it is just unclear how the pathways will connect. All that is known are the connections that have already been formed via prior collisions. These connections can be used to guide the direction that the individual will head in.

Conclusion
The future may be a scary thing, and there may be good or bad luck in store for each individual. One can only take control over that which he or she has power, which is the direction that he or she is heading. One can focus his or her thoughts and decisions on a certain goal, but it will inevitably be other individuals and other forces that one cannot control that will affect the actual destination. All one can do is remain optimistic, keep moving forward and keep focusing on that which he or she desires. This will not guaranty that one will reach his or her destination, but it will guaranty that he or she enjoys the ride.

On Money, Wealth and Taxes

At the time of the writing of this article, there are several major protests being held in cities throughout the world under the “Occupy Wall Street” banner. In the midst of one of the greatest economic downturns in the past hundred years, citizens are taking to the streets to protest the gross disparity in wealth between the wealthiest Americans and the large majority who are struggling to get by. This movement has brought the issue of economic disparity to the  forefront of the mainstream media. As the Obama administration proposes a special tax on annual income over a million dollars, it is pertinent to discuss what money really is, how it is accumulated, and the effects of taxation on individuals, corporations, and the economy as a whole.

Money
I remember first gaining an understanding of the existence of money as a child while shopping at a toy store. Learning that I could not have a toy that I wanted because it was too expensive was a harsh reality to take in. This was clearly a problem. There are all these amazing toys out there, but for some reason I can only have the cheap ones? Something was clearly wrong.

I thought that I had solved the problem of money not too long after my discovery of its existence. “Why doesn’t the country just give everyone a million dollars so that we can all be rich and have all the toys we want?” It seemed like a great idea.

Of course, we all know why this doesn’t work. If the country gives me a million dollars, then it must give the guy who works at the store a million dollars and the guy who makes the toy a million dollars. The worker will quit his job, and the toy maker will stop making toys. The price of the toy will have to go way up to make it worth it for the toymaker to produce the toy and the worker will demand more money to sell the toy. All of the sudden I’m paying 100,000 dollars for the toy that once cost 100 dollars, and before you know it, my million will be gone.

The principle that I learned is that the value of money is only related to the fact that there is a disparity in how it is distributed. The fact that only a select few have a lot of money gives money its value. This principle goes back to the first monetary economies.

Before money, economies were based on a system of barter. The hunter would give meat to the berry gatherer, who would provide the hunter with berries in return. Once additional products were demanded, the barter system broke down. If the hunter needs shoes, the clothier needs meat and the shoemaker needs clothes, the hunter will have to trade his meat for clothes from the clothier, then trade the clothes to the shoemaker for shoes. Every individual would have to carry a variety of goods to trade, depending on what was to be demanded by a trading partner. With the introduction of money, the hunter can sell his meat for money, and then purchase what he wants with that money.

The money that the hunter receives in exchange for his meat is the value of the hunter’s contribution to the economy. If one chicken’s worth of meat is worth one pair of shoes, then both will be worth the same amount of money. When the hunter makes a purchase with money, it is as if he is using a chicken, or a pair of shoes to make the purchase.

Even in a modern economy, this truth still holds. The value of all money is still based on the product of the individual producer at the bottom of the chain. The worker in a factory in China, the farmer on a mega farm in Nebraska, and the homebuilder in Orange County create the wealth that gets distributed up the economic chain. When I make a purchase at 7/11, it is as if I am exchanging the work that produced that money for what I am purchasing.

With modern technology, of course, it takes fewer and fewer workers to produce base goods. The worker at the bottom of the chain actually contributes a huge amount of wealth to the economy. In America, only 2% of individuals work on farms, but those individuals provide enough food for more than the entire population of the country. Fortunately, a new level of the economy arises once our basic needs are accounted for; the service economy. New products and services are demanded which go beyond the basic needs of the individual. Attorneys are required to settle disputes, doctors fix the sick and graphic designers create images. This new level of service providers takes the wealth that has been created at the bottom and redistributes it again at the next level of the economy. Individuals in the service economy only have this luxury, however, because of the money creators at the bottom of the chain.

Wealth
Going back to our primitive economy, another phenomenon exists which affects the distribution of money. With the introduction of money, the rise of a middle man will likely occur. The shopkeeper collects goods from those who produce them, and provides the producers with money that they can then exchange for other goods. The  shopkeeper will sell goods for more money than he pays for them, thus making a profit. Once the shopkeeper has paid for all of his needs, he will likely still have money, which leads to savings, and the accumulation of wealth.

On his own, the hunter is limited in the amount of wealth that he can accumulate. He is limited by the amount of food that he can produce in a given day minus his expenses for himself and his family. The hunter can only increase his wealth by becoming a middleman. He can train several other hunters to hunt, then collect their spoils, give them money, and sell their meat to the shopkeeper at a profit. The hunter now has a hunting business, and is essentially operating like the shopkeeper.

The shopkeeper’s accumulation of wealth is only limited by the number of customers purchasing goods and suppliers providing him with goods. In the modern economy, the shopkeeper’s limitation has grown to an enormous extent. The shopkeeper can sell goods to billions of customers. Bill Gates became the richest man in the world by selling billions of copies of Windows at $100 a copy. Gates produced a product that was useful. Individuals purchasing a computer with Windows purchase that product with money that they have earned. The money they have earned has a value based on the initial creation of wealth by the producers in the economy. Bill Gates was able to accumulate his billions in profits because the producers at the base of the economy pushed their wealth up the chain, with billions eventually landing in his pocket.

Wealth is created based on a pyramid. The producers at the bottom of the pyramid push wealth up the chain, and the business owners at the top are the eventual benefactors. In essence, the rich can only become rich because of the contributions of the poor. In an economy with 10 individuals, the wealthiest individual can only accumulate a fraction of the money that can be produced by the other nine individuals. In an economy of 7 billion individuals, the wealthiest individual can accumulate a fraction of the wealth that can be produced by the other 6,999,999,999 individuals. The wealthiest 1% in America could only become wealthy because of the other 99%. Anyone who is wealthy got that way because other individuals gave them money in some way shape or form.

Many wealthy individuals would say that they became wealthy because of their own hard work, ingenuity, and perseverance. This is true, and the wealthy need to be commended for what they have done. Becoming wealthy is not easy, especially in a world with so many people who want to be wealthy, and so few who actually are. Even those who have inherited their wealth only did so because someone in their family line figured out how to accumulate wealth so that his or her heirs would not have to worry about doing so. This point, however, does not detract from the fact that the wealth was created because of the contributions of the poor and middle class, and this principle must be remembered when determining how wealth should be redistributed.

Taxes
Going back to our primitive economy, there is another factor which arises that affects how money is distributed. The early shopkeeper accumulates his wealth, and stores it in his home. The jealous hunter breaks into the shopkeeper’s home, kills the shopkeeper and takes his wealth. The hard work of the shopkeeper has now been destroyed by one criminal act. Enter the King.

The King, or the Government in modern times, organizes society so as to allow individuals to keep their wealth. For the early shopkeeper, it is worth it to dedicate a portion of his wealth to the king, who will maintain order. If the hunter kills the shopkeeper, the king will punish the hunter with death. The hunter is thus detracted from committing a crime. If a neighboring village invades, the king assembles an army to fight them off. The king is the absolute protector, and is in charge of the general welfare of all in the kingdom.

Of course, the king is also responsible for wealth redistribution. If the shopkeeper loses his wealth, the king will provide him with food, so that he has the opportunity to rebuild his shop, and accumulate wealth once again. By providing for the poor, the king redistributes wealth from those who have accumulated it back to those who produced it, or will produce it in the future.

The issue then arises over how much in taxation can be appropriated by the king. If the king takes too much, the shopkeeper will lose his incentive to maintain the shop. If he can no longer accumulate wealth, then there is no purpose in continuing the process of shop keeping. He will simply resort to working. However, if the king takes too little, the shopkeeper won’t receive adequate protection, and the society will fall apart.

In modern society, the role of the government has expanded greatly. With more and more money being created by producers, citizens come to expect that more and more money will be spent by their governments on maintaining a good society. Economic downturns lead to situations in which society demands high sums from its government to maintain a decent existence. Government expenditures are needed to put money into the pockets of the producers, who will make purchases that allow the shopkeepers to accumulate more wealth. All of the workers who produced the wealth when times were good now require that the wealth be redistributed to them when times are bad.

There is no ideal rate of taxation. The rate should be high enough for the state to acquire the revenues required to provide the services that its citizens demand. Of course, there is also no ideal level of services that the state must offer to its citizens. The role of the government is to find this equilibrium. The state must redistribute money from those who have accumulated it to those who produced it in order to create more spending and producing. The government should not be afraid to raise taxes to meet the tax revenue equilibrium.

United States Taxation
A country that taxes 90% of the income of its wealthiest citizens would likely not experience a great increase in revenues by taxing 95%. At a certain point, incentives are lost, and the producers can no longer accumulate wealth because of the unnecessarily high tax burden. However, the tax burden in the United States is quite low for the extremely wealthy.

An individual earning over a million dollars a year should pay an additional tax on his or her income in order to pay for programs that will boost the economy and bring back jobs to the wealth producers. Of course no one wants to pay more taxes than they already do. The wealthiest currently pay 35% in Federal Government taxes on income above $357,701. On capital gains income, the wealthiest only pay 15%, no matter how much they make. Of course, there are also state taxes and payroll taxes that the wealthiest pay, but in the end those with high incomes take home a lot of what they make after taxes.

Total government revenues actually went up when the Bush administration lowered the tax rates that Americans pay. This phenomenon, however, coincided with a massive asset bubble in the real estate industry. Tax revenues increased because wealth was being created artificially. Rather than wealth being created based on production, it was being created based on an artificial increase in the value of real estate. Banks essentially used an increase in property values as an excuse to print money, which was then redistributed through the economy. As soon as the real estate bubble crashed, tax revenues began to fall again.

Increasing tax rates on the extremely wealthy would only lead to a decrease in tax revenues if it caused a significant slowdown in an economy. The argument goes that small business owners won’t make investments if their tax burden is too high, since they will have less disposable income to reinvest in their companies. I find this logic to be unsound.

Take an individual with a successful small business that gets $5 million in annual revenues. After expenses, the company makes a profit of $1 million. If the business owner takes out all $1 million as personal income, he or she will pay about $300,000 to the IRS and another $100,000 in state taxes. This individual now has $600,000 in disposable income. If the Federal tax rate was higher and the individual had to contribute another $50,000 to the IRS, he would now have $550,000 in disposable income.Will this 8% decrease in spending money really make any difference in whether the business owner decides to hire more workers for his company?

Now assume that the owner reinvests $500,000 in to the company to open another office and hire more workers. The owner now earns only $500,000 in pre-tax income. He takes home $300,000 at a lower tax rate or $275,000 at a higher tax rate. The 8% difference is not the factor that will guide the owner’s investment decision. Regardless of the tax rate, the investment decision is going to significantly lower his after tax income in the short run.

The owner is only going to make the investment decision if he thinks that it will lead to more revenues for his company in the future, which will give him more profits before taxes. If he anticipates $6 million in revenues in the following year due to his $500,000 investment, then he will make the investment. His after tax income will only affect the spending

decisions he makes with his personal money, not the spending decisions he makes for his company. If anything, a higher tax rate will encourage the owner to spend more on the company so that he makes more profits in future years and takes home more money after taxes.

The thing that is going to determine the business person’s investment is anticipated revenue. This revenue will be determined by the amount of customers that demand her product. The amount of customers who will demand her product will depend on the amount of people who have disposable income, and the amount of disposable income that they have. If the economy is bad and people do not have disposable income, then there will not be anyone to purchase the business owner’s products.

The government’s role in a recession is to create more purchasers of products so that businesses can expand. The government cannot create more purchasers without additional money to invest in creating those purchasers. The government cannot raise more money without taking more money in the form of taxes.

Conclusion
A minor increase on taxes for the wealthy should not be looked at as the government punishing the wealthy for accumulating wealth. Rather, it should be looked at as the government returning to the masses a small portion of the wealth that the wealthy have accumulated so that the wealthy can have more opportunities to sell their products and services to the masses and accumulate more wealth in the future. The wealthy can only become wealthy if the masses are producing money. The masses can only produce money if they have jobs and security. The masses can only have more jobs and security if the Government makes investments that give them more opportunities and gives businesses incentives to expand. The Government needs money to make these investments, and the wealthy have the money available. Increasing taxes is the right thing to do, and the government should not be afraid to do it.

Generation Connect

The story that the media has not been telling about the great recession is the effect of massive population shifts on the economy. A large reason that the unemployment rate has been increasing is that the number of people seeking employment is increasing without more jobs being created to accommodate all the new workers. The generation born in the 1980s has been steadily entering the workforce, only to find a barren landscape. Who is this generation, and what lies in their future?

The Generations
The Traditionalist generation (also called the Greatest Generation) was made up of those who were alive and fought in World War II. This generation was characterized by the nuclear family living a wholesome life in the suburbs. Traditionalists worked one job for their entire careers, lived frugally, and saved wisely. They received pensions and social security, and paid off their mortgages. They retired nicely and lived long lives, many surviving into their 80s and 90s to this day.

When World War II ended, the Traditionalists had babies en masse, producing what would be called the Baby Boom generation. The Baby Boom generation was defined by the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, and the boom periods of the 80s, 90s and 2000s. The “Baby Boomers” created much of the new technologies in the world today, including the personal computer.

The Baby Boomers were also defined by a shift in attitudes towards work and jobs, with the average worker working 8 different jobs during his or her career. The Baby Boomers lived day to day, spending when times were good and going broke when times were bad. Many won’t receive pensions because they didn’t work for one company for long enough. Baby Boomers didn’t pay down their Mortgages, and used their home equity to finance their lives and their children’s lives. The Great Recession has wiped out much of the retirement savings of the Baby Boomers.  Many aren’t able to retire, and won’t be able to in the foreseeable future. It is likely that many baby boomers will work well into their 60s and 70s.

Generation X is the term used to describe the generation born after the Baby Boom, in the late 60s and 70s. This middle generation faced difficulty entering a workforce already saturated with baby boomers. Generation X was defined by Cassette Tapes, VCRs, and the Internet boom of the late 90s. Generation X had trouble entering the workforce in the 80s and early 90s, but eventually settled in.

The Helicopter Generation?
The next major generation consisted of the children of the baby boomers, born in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s. This massive generation grew up with video games, the Internet, and a globalized world.

The children of the Baby Boomers have gone by many names. My least favorite are “The Echo Boom”, “The Helicopter Generation”, and “Generation Y”. The term echo boom was the term given to this generation by David K. Foot, a Baby Boomer, in Boom, Bust and Echo, which was a bestseller in 1997. The book discusses the major generations in recent history.  Echo Boom defines the generation by the generation of its parents, seeing the ripple created by baby boomers as the defining element of this generation. The term Helicopter Generation comes from the fact that many baby boomers had only one or two children, which led them to be much more involved in the lives of their children, hovering over them like helicopters. The term Generation Y derives from the fact that this is the generation after Generation X (how creative). All of these names define this generation by previous generations, and not by the characteristics of the generation itself.

The names “Millennial Generation” and “9/11 Generation” are slightly better, defining the generation by watershed events that occurred in the lives of individuals in the generation. I don’t think that either of these events truly define or explain the generation though. They are just events that happened to occur during the maturation of people in the generation.

My favorite names currently used are the “Internet Generation”, the “Dot Com Generation” or the “Net Generation”. These terms define the generation by the internet, the major technological advancement that has affected how this generation lives, works and connects. My only qualm with these terms is that it is not just the Internet itself that has affected how this generation lives. Other technologies that are ancillary to the Internet have also had a great impact. The internet may have made Facebook, instant messaging and texting possible, but these items transcend the internet to create a new way of life that defines the generation.

Generation Connect
An alternative that I like is “Generation Connect” or “Gen Con” for short (I know it sounds like some evil corporation out of a Terminator movie). This term encompasses what gives this generation its identity; the interconnectivity of the individuals who make up the generation. Whether connecting through the Internet, Facebook or text messaging, or connecting at bars or social gatherings in the real world, this generation is more interconnected than any previous generation.

Technologies have allowed this generation to maintain contacts for longer periods of time and create more connections. In previous generations, someone with a Rolodex filled with a hundred contacts would be considered a very well connected person. Today, the most connected people have several thousand friends on Facebook that they can connect with instantaneously.

This generation is also connected on a global scale, with borders and nationalities being replaced by a single world culture. It is not uncommon for individuals in this generation to have connections in several countries and cities throughout the world. People move and travel, but maintain connections over long distances.

The Plight of Gen Con
Generation Connect is currently facing a very difficult transition into the global economy. The Baby Boom generation is leaving the workforce at a much slower rate than they should, which means that existing jobs are not becoming available. The Great Recession has meant that no new jobs are being created, since companies are not expanding. Global competition has meant that certain jobs are unavailable in first world countries, such as work in manufacturing or telephone support.

Another major factor is that the productivity of workers has greatly increased due to new technology. In the past, an experienced attorney with a good book of business would require an associate to do his or her research, a secretary to type out briefs, and a runner to submit documents. Today, that same attorney will do his or her own research on-line, type briefs on his or her computer, and submit documents on-line in half the time. Modern technology has created a breed of superhuman workers who can do the work of several individuals.

Back to Basics
In order to survive, many members of Generation Connect are having to revert back to the basics of a primitive economy. Even with all of the new technologies of the 21st century, the economy still consists of buyers and sellers transferring money in exchange for goods and services. Those who are succeeding despite the state of the economy are those who can sell, effectively market, or create things for others to sell. Even those with intellectual jobs are increasingly being asked to bring in business for their companies.

The baby boomers will eventually retire, and jobs will start to open up. However, the transition will likely take several years, and every year new workers are entering the workforce. This generation will adapt like previous generations did. The Baby Boomers faced a similar crisis when they entered the workforce in the 70s, as did Gen X in the 80s.

Like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs proved themselves in the Baby Boom generation, Generation Connect will also have its individuals who achieve great success and change the generation. So far, Mark Zuckerberg has been the first to truly change the world, but more will follow.

Generation Connect is more educated, knowledgeable and connected than any previous generation. This generation will do great things as it takes the reins from the Baby Boom. New technologies will better our way of life and create new industries and opportunities. Only time will tell what lengths will be achieved, but the sky is the limit.

Understanding the Debt Ceiling Debate

Anyone who has watched cable TV in America over the last few weeks has probably seen ads attacking the Obama administration and calling for an end to an increase in the debt ceiling. The ads point out several truths about the economy since Obama took over in 2009. The unemployment level has gone up and the federal debt level has increased by a large margin. The problem with these ads is they use true facts to lead to a false conclusion and an even worse policy prescription for America.

 

The Debt Ceiling

Regardless of who should be blamed for America’s economic woes, not raising the debt ceiling would probably be the stupidest thing that the government could do. The fact is that the United States government has not had a balanced budget since 2001. It has been running a deficit for the last decade, and with a deficit, the total amount of debt will inevitably increase.

The United States Congress has to approve of any increase in the total amount of debt that the American government takes on. This is the debt ceiling, which must be adjusted to reflect deficits. The ceiling currently sits at $14.3 trillion, but must be increased to reflect new deficits that the government needs to take on to function.

Obviously the size of America’s deficits is a problem that needs to be addressed. However, the fact is that there is currently a deficit and the debt ceiling needs to be increased to pay for the American government to run. If the debt ceiling is not increased, the government will not have the money to pay its obligations to employees, debtors and federal programs.

Imagine a guy who owns a house worth $500,000.00 and a home business. He has borrowed $200,000.00 and is making payments on the $200,000.00 debt. The bank is offering to give him another $50,000.00 in debt to finance his home business and make the payments on the debt. He refuses and decides that $200,000.00 in debt is too high, and that rather than taking the loan, he will leave the debt as is. However, his income is not enough to make the monthly payments on the loan and pay his business’s employees. So, he doesn’t make his interest payments or pay his employees. What will happen? The bank will foreclose and the employees will be out of work. The person will lose his home and business. Game over.

Rather than a home, the American Government has its economy as collateral for its debts. Investors have lots of confidence in the strength of the economy, and are therefore willing to lend money to the government. By not increasing the debt ceiling, the government is refusing to take on the debt that it needs to survive.

If the American government doesn’t increase the debt ceiling, we will see a financial crisis like the world has never seen. It will be even worse than the one that happened in 2008.  Investors and foreign countries will lose confidence in the US government. There will be a massive sell off of government bonds and treasury bills, which are normally considered the most secure instruments. Total Armageddon could ensue, especially with the world economy already in a fragile state. The Federal Reserve would likely use its reserves to delay the problem a little longer, but eventually the ceiling will have to budge for the economy to survive.

 

The Republican Strategy

Fortunately, the Republican Party is mostly filled with rational actors who are aware of the necessity of raising the debt ceiling. The Republicans, however, have used this opportunity for their own political purposes. They realize the power that they hold with respect to approving of the increase in the debt ceiling through their control the House of Representatives.

The Republicans are using the opportunity to starve the government, fire government workers, take health care away from senior citizens, and take away regulatory agencies that protect the environment and the general public. Federal government programs that help the poor and underprivileged are being cut.

The Paul Ryan plan for Medicare reform will certainly be a step in the wrong direction. This plan intends to pass off the costs of the deficit to the senior citizens of the future (i.e. people currently under 55). The Plan will take away insurance coverage for seniors and instead provide seniors with a voucher to purchase insurance from private companies. Of course, eventually the laws of economics will send prices for health coverage higher than the vouchers, and seniors will have to dig into their savings to purchase health insurance. Seniors without savings will end up with inferior healthcare plans, which will lead to deaths from treatable illnesses.

Of course, the Republicans would say that this is an opportunity to get deficits under control for the long term future of America. This comes after several studies have shown that at its current rate, the government’s deficits will keep on expanding, and eventually the country will no longer be able to afford to pay for government programs or make interest payments on government debt. This is scheduled to occur in the 2020s without any changes under the status quo. This obviously is a serious concern, which can’t be passed off to future generations.

The problem with the Republican solution to this issue is that they refuse to budge on the revenue side of the equation. With an increase in revenues, the government could afford to pay for its obligations like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, although these programs do need some minor reforms to save on costs.

Think about the U.S. government as a company. The company is operating at a loss. Revenues coming in are less than expenses. The company has to take on debt to pay its expenses. To balance its budget, there are two options: cut expenses or increase revenues. Of course, the company could do both and return to profitability.

 

Taxes

So, how does the U.S. Government increase its revenue? Taxes! The government should be paying its expenses with tax dollars from its Citizens, not from money that is borrowed, right? Not necessarily. Debts can be good for governments, allowing them to expand at a quicker rate and increase ownership of the country by its citizens, who buy government debt. It can help relationships with other countries, allowing countries to invest in each other and become interconnected. Of course, debts do need to be manageable to prevent a default on interest payments.

So if the Republicans are really so concerned about the deficit, why don’t they just increase taxes? The answer is that there is a pervasive dogma that has infiltrated the Republican Party. This dogma states that any increase in taxes will actually lead to a decrease in total revenue. The logic goes that lower taxes allow the economy to expand, which will actually increase total government revenues.

A company or person that pays 40% in taxes with profits or income of $100,000.00 will pay $40,000 to the federal government. A company or person that pays 25% in taxes with profits or income of $200,000.00 will pay $50,000 to the federal government. Therefore, if cutting the tax rate from 40% to 25% will allow the company to double its total profits, then the tax cut will actually lead to more government revenue!

Of course, the major caveat with this theory is that lower taxes must lead to increased profits or income to compensate for the decrease in government revenue per dollar earned. The Republican theory has basically become that any decrease in taxes will lead to an increase in total profitability that will more than compensate for the decrease.  If the theory were really valid, then taxes should just be decreased to 1%, because with taxes this low, the economy would expand exponentially.

What is to say that the company’s profits will double if its taxes are cut in half? The truth is that with any economic principle, the results are inevitably parabolic. At a certain rate, you can cut taxes, but the effect will not increase the company’s profit to account for the decrease in revenue. There is going to be a tax rate at which total revenues are maximized.

The Republicans would make the argument that this rate is lower than the current rate, and that taxes must continually be slashed until the perfect rate is found. However, this would assume that the “incredibly high” taxes that companies and individuals are currently paying are keeping them from making money. The thing is, companies are making tons of money, even after taxes. Many individuals are also making lots of money, and even after taxes, are still walking home with a lot. Yet, the economy is still stagnant.

The federal government does need to make spending cuts as part of its deficit reduction plans, but the Republicans want to turn America in to a third world country to do this. Any nation that punishes its poor, elderly and unfortunate is not going to be successful in the long run. These are long term problems, and the government needs to come up with long term solutions, which must include increasing revenue by raising taxes.

 

The U.S. Economy

The U.S. economy is not stagnating because taxes are too high. Companies are making huge after tax profits, and individuals who do have jobs have lots of disposable income after taxes. The problem is that after a decade of insane consumption and borrowing, followed by an economic meltdown, businesses and individuals are still in a state of shock. Companies are reluctant to hire new employees, and people are more likely to save than to spend. Companies have become more efficient, and can make the same revenue with fewer employees. This problem will only be solved by an increase in confidence, technological innovation, and government investment.

The compromise made at the end of 2010 shows that keeping taxes low did not have a serious stimulating effect on the economy, at least not enough to compensate for the loss in revenue associated with the cuts. The compromise prevented taxes on the rich from going up to pre-Bush levels of 39.6% (from 35%). It also changed the estate tax so that heirs to multi-million dollar fortunes would no longer have to pay taxes on the first $5,000,000 of their inheritance (or $10,000,000 for estates of couples), and would pay a tax rate of 35% on any inheritance above that amount. There may have been a small effect from this cut, but it has not had the stimulating powers that the Republicans promised.

The US economy is getting better, but it is happening very slowly. The biggest lie being spread by Republicans is that the stimulus package failed. The U.S. has had 7 consecutive quarters of positive GDP growth. Employment has been trending upwards since March, 2010, and there hasn’t been a month with net job losses since September, 2010.

The Republican Party is trying to take advantage of the short term memory that people have and blame the US economic problems on the person who has been fixing them, not on the people who caused them. The bad economy that we are experiencing is still the result of the horrible catastrophe that was caused by the Republican Party’s deregulation of the financial sector. This is still Bush’s recession, even though Obama has been trying to make it better.

Many parts of the stimulus package kept the economy from getting worse than it did. For example, the extension of unemployment benefits in the package kept money in the pockets of the millions of unemployed. They were able to use that money to buy food, rent apartments, and generally remain consumers in the economy. Each expenditure within the stimulus package can be directly related to an infiltration of dollars into the U.S. economy.

When Obama took over, the economy was in a horrible downward spiral. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were being lost every week. After the bailouts and the stimulus package, the economy stabilized and things began going in the right direction. The stimulus worked. It will take a long time to dig out of this whole, but at least we are no longer in the bottom and are on our way out. Obama did all that could possibly be done. He’s a politician, not a God.

Of course, if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, we could go right back in to the hole. Hopefully an agreement will be reached that solves some long-term problems, doesn’t punish the poor too much, and increases revenues. Until then, we can only watch the farce go on and hope for the best.

Finding Meaning, Purpose and Morality in a Godless World

In this latest instalment of my series of articles on fundamental philosophical issues, I go beyond discussing the issue of whether there is a supernatural being, and move on to the next logical step, formulating a paradigm for how we can find meaning, purpose, and morality in a world without such a being.

What is the Meaning of Life?
The meaning of life is simply life itself. There is no meaning beyond our existence and our life experience. There is no greater meaning to it all that can somehow transcend our world. This is it.

So now what?
The all too unfortunate side of this realization is the potential for nihilism or hedonism. Nihilism is the idea that because there is no greater meaning to it all, we should live with the attitude that life is hopeless and pointless. The nihilist would spend life sitting around, moping, and waiting for the inevitable end.

The opposite of the nihilist is the hedonist. The hedonist believes that since there is no greater meaning to it all, he is free to do as he pleases, when he pleases, without any regard for others, and with the only goal of seeking maximum personal pleasure. The hedonist would spend life committing crimes, doing drugs to excess, and walking over others for his or her own benefit.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with either of these attitudes. There is nothing universal that would preclude someone from living a life as such and feeling perfectly content. However, most people would probably be more content not living with either of these attitudes. We do live in a real world with real consequences, and living without regards to others will subject a person to the consequences that individuals in our society have created to deter such attitudes (i.e. laws, social isolation, etc.).
These are not the only options available for living a life in a godless world. There is a “light at the end of the tunnel” for the rational person, and it’s not in the form of a supernatural being.

Purpose
The amazing thing about there being no greater meaning to life beyond life itself is that we have the power to create meaning. Everyone has a blank slate to work with to craft a story that will please himself or herself. We craft a meaning by choosing a purpose. We have the power to decide our purpose, or even several purposes that we will work to fulfill. By fulfilling a purpose, and working to do so, we can live our lives in such a way as to become content with our own existence and the world around us. After one purpose has been fulfilled, we can choose a new one. The meaning of life can be to find and fulfill life purposes.

A purpose can really be anything. It can be to do works of art, start a business, help the poor, enforce the law, help the sick, or create scientific developments. It can even be to start a family, travel, or to spend time with friends or a significant other. Whatever makes us content with our lives. Although this paradigm is very simple, it is also very empowering. Life is ours for the taking. We are in control of our own destiny.

One of my purposes is to create a legacy that will live on after my death. Why would this matter if I don’t believe that I will have the ability to experience that legacy? It is for the same reason that someone would send a check to a charity to help a group of people that he will never see or never meet. Or, from a more selfish perspective, why a celebrity would want to be considered famous to a person that he will never encounter. We as humans share the common experience of life, regardless of the time or place we live in. If there is one way we can transcend our own existence, it is through the life of another. Although their life experiences may have ended long ago, historical figures constantly remind future generations of the experience they had by cementing their names in the history books.

The hedonist or the nihilist lives a life without purpose, and will likely never find spiritual fulfillment. The hedonist could say that his purpose is to do whatever he feels like. If he can truly find meaning in fulfilling that purpose, then perhaps that will create content. But there are very few people who would find such a meaning.

The Religious Paradigm
Under most religions, the meaning of life is simply that each individual life amounts to some minor part of a greater plan by some invisible being or beings. Many questions remain unanswered. What is the meaning of the greater plan? What is my meaning within the greater plan? Why would such a greater plan include suffering? What is the meaning of the creator, and where did he come form? These questions create more confusion and despair than the theories pacify.

The purpose of life in most religions is to follow a list of rules (many of which are ridiculous and inconsistent with contemporary life) that an invisible being wants us to follow in order to gain access to a better afterlife. What is the purpose of the afterlife? What is the purpose of each particular rule? What if the purpose I would like to fulfill conflicts with one of the rules?
The religious paradigm is incomplete. It simply makes up a story and calls it a meaning. An existentialist paradigm may not be as fantastic or magical, but it is rational and complete. The meaning of your life is whatever you want it to be.

Morality
An obvious argument against the concept of choosing your own purpose in life is that someone could choose the purpose of hurting or killing other people. What would make this purpose wrong if it made that person content? Would there not be something universally wrong with hurting others?
There is nothing universally wrong with hurting others. But, a world in which people hurt others would be worse than a world in which people did not. Although there is no ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, or universal moral code that we should adhere to, the fact remains that there are several independent beings in the world whose interests will inevitably collide. Morality is simply a set of rules that we create to organize human interactions. There is no hard and fast set of rules, but we as a species have been very successful at crafting rules that provide all individuals with the opportunity to fulfill their purposes.

If there is one thing I learned in law school, it’s that there is a solution in law to almost any possible problem resulting from human interaction. The law is constantly evolving as new problems are solved, and old solutions are replaced with better ones. Of course, laws can be bad. For example, a law permitting the killing of someone for having the wrong religious belief. Why would we say that such a law is immoral? It is because such a law is a bad solution to a problem, and there are better solutions that will create more opportunity for happiness.

Many philosophers have searched for a unifying theory of morality. For example, the utilitarian theory states that morality is simply the solution that provides the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The theory attempts to measure levels of good and compare them. This theory fails when you start trying to measure levels of good. Is the value of a great scientist’s life more important than a bum’s? How about two bums? What of a law that provides a huge benefit to a large group, but a serious detriment to one or two people? The world is simply too complex to determine values for every possible interest and measure those values against the values of others.

Another theory is Kant’s categorical imperative, which basically states that an action taken by an individual in any situation should be such an action that should be Universally taken by any person in such a situation. If I see another person’s house, it should be a Universal maxim that I should not break in and steal that person’s TV. The problem with this theory is that it only works for simple human problems. What if there are several competing good things to do. Should I take a good job in a far away city, or stay home to help my ailing mother? There is no universal maxim to solve this problem. A similar situation arises if there are two bad choices.

We as a society have made rules to guide people to make better choices, and to punish choices that we think are bad. We create morality to try and shape the best possible world, but there is no perfect world.

Of course politics is an inevitable factor in discussing morality. Is the United States moral code the best for regulating human interactions? Or is a more socialist European nation like Sweden’s better? Who should determine what is the best moral code for the people of all nations? There is no easy way to make such determinations. Settling who has the best moral code and what it should be is a great goal of humanity that will involve inevitable conflicts in opinion. However, there is no room for moral relativism in this theory. That is to say, there are certain moral codes that are vastly inferior and should not be considered acceptable forms of organizing a society simply because they are accepted by the individuals in that society. For example a society that permits ritual human sacrifice would be vastly inferior to one that did not. It may be for the good of humanity for a more powerful society to enforce its superior moral code on the society committing ritual sacrifice in order to provide a better life for the individuals in that society.

In any discussion of morality and atheism, Hitler and Stalin will inevitably be discussed as examples of what happens when atheists are given the power to enforce their moral views. These individuals led their nations based on what they believed were moral principles. Under skewed forms of utilitarianism, both believed that they were acting for the greater good by killing political dissidents, the mentally ill, Jews and other ethnic minorities. These dictators had inferior moral codes by which they organized their societies. It was not their atheism that led to their horrible deeds, but rather their skewed versions of morality. We have realized that these moral codes were absolutely abhorrent, and should never be allowed to exist again.

These examples of immoral atheists should also be compared with the hundreds of immoral actions by dictators and societies acting around religious foundations of morality. The problem with religious morality is that religions set a moral code based on the prevailing views of morality at the time and in the society that the writers of the religion were living. The Jewish moral code is based on the sections of law in the of the old testament, which were written approximately 2600 years ago (read up on the documentary hypothesis for more information on the origins of the old testament). The Christian moral code is based around morality from 2000 years ago. Islam 1500 years ago. Of course religions generally have their own case law, or religious scholarly writings, interpreting the primary sources and allowing some change. However, these writings are bound by rigid books written by ancient people. The books cannot be amended or changed to reflect changes in prevailing views of what is right or wrong.

Contrast with the US constitution. The US constitution provides a moral code from approximately 250 years ago. However, the constitution permits amendments, meaning that the primary source of law can change as morals change. This flexibility permits change and evolution.

Conclusion
Realizing that there is no god and that our existence is simply a great fluke may be a scary experience, but it does not mean that life cannot persist without spiritual enlightenment. There is opportunity to find meaning in life, fulfill a purpose, and act in a moral way. We have the power to shape our world and our own destiny. We must take control of the power while we are here, for it will not last forever.

The Post-Recession World

The world has changed. Many ideologies that were previously thought to be correct by many have now been debunked. We are attaining a new level of understanding of how our society should work, and when governments should intervene in private actions. However, the greatest change is yet to come.

The Profit Incentive
Many conservatives thought that corporations should be in charge of everything, and that the private sector will always operate more efficiently than the public one. They really felt that taking away the autonomy of the health insurance companies was akin to crushing the free market and leading America down a slippery slope to socialism. After all, if the government is controlling your health insurance, what says that they can’t tell you what work you can do or what business you can operate.

The reality is that there has to be a balance in society between private enterprise and public organizations. Our society has decided that fire protection, crime prevention, justice, delivery of mail, national defense, record keeping, education of our children, and several other services are best placed in the hands of the government. Meanwhile, the private sector is in charge of distributing consumer goods, food, professional services and real property, among others. Why is this?

There are certain services for which the profit incentive is fundamentally misaligned with the good of society, whereas there are other services for which that incentive allows more goods and services to be produced, allows society to progress, and gives us the sense of freedom that drives the democratic system.

Policing is a perfect example of this misalignment. Imagine if police would only protect you if you purchased crime insurance. The poor would be subject to murder and violence without any repercussion. Vigilante justice would prevail, and total anarchy would result.

Computers, on the other hand, are best controlled by the profit incentive. Computer companies are incentivised by profits to make newer and greater computers so consumers will buy them. Some individuals may be priced out of the computer market, but that can be considered acceptable by society. Not having a computer may be a disadvantage, but it would not cause pain and suffering like not having healthcare does.

The fundamental difference is whether society decides that something should be a right or a privilege. The privilege of owning a house, getting a computer or hiring an attorney puts those items in the private category. But the right of being protected from fire or crime, or of getting decent medical treatment if sick necessitates government intervention.

The Exchange System
Although I did not get my public option, the Obama health care exchange system will serve to realign the health care system in a positive way. With the public option, the government insurer would be able to bargain with health providers to lower expenses.

The exchange system simply keeps the insurer as a middle man. However, customers are able to collectively bargain with the insurance companies by making individual choices on a grand scale (by simply purchasing the cheapest and best health insurance). The insurance companies will be forced to bargain with the healthcare providers to maintain lower costs. If an insurer does not bargain, a different insurer who does bargain will get their customers. The government will subsidize insurance costs for the middle class, and therefore will be able to dictate which plans get subsidies.

The inevitable result of this exchange will be the emergence of a select group of extremely large insurance providers, possibly just one. The government will either control this one insurer, or break it up into two that would compete. Health care costs will be lower, and insurance will be available to more individuals.

The Regulated Private Sector
There are some categories in society that do not neatly fit into the public or private sectors. Hence, the regulated private sector becomes necessary.

The illicit drug market is a great example of the consequences of a completely unregulated, lawless market. When I say lawless, I realize that there are laws banning drugs. But there are no laws governing the sale, transportation, cultivation, or delivery of drugs, which means that any disputes in the industry must be settled through vigilante justice. Hence the large crime wave that emerged along with the drug wars of the eighties and early nineties. Gangs were fighting for drug selling territory, and since there was no legitimate mechanism for settling disputes, they resorted to violence and murder to do so.

The war on drugs demonstrates that even though society may have an extreme animosity towards certain goods or services, the fact that there is a demand for those goods will inevitably create a market. It is therefore the prerogative of government to provide a mechanism by which that demand can be satisfied through legal means. Otherwise, anarchy results. The government needs to legalize, regulate, and create disincentives for the use of drugs, not simply throw every drug user or dealer into jail or prison.

The Financial Sector
The financial sector is another example of a market that needs government regulation to succeed. The recent crisis has shown us that if left to their own devises, really smart individuals will make poor decisions if their incentives are misaligned. Why would banks take such risky bets on mortgage backed securities when it should have been obvious that the system would be crushed if housing prices fell. The answer is that banks, as public corporations, are incentivised by short term profits, not long term sustainability. Mortgage backed securities provided such great returns that bankers did not think about the risks that they were taking. It is for this same reason that Enron continued its fraudulent accounting practices until it became insolvent, or that Madoff kept taking new money into his Ponzi scheme even though he knew that it would collapse if new money stopped coming in.

The government has to step in to protect investors’ money from people who are investing it unwisely for current gains. The libertarian mantra of less government is always better is now a fallacy. Sometimes, government intervention is necessary. Monopoly busting was an early form of positive government intervention. Post-depression financial reforms kept the financial system relatively stable. It was when those reforms were reversed that this crisis occurred.

The Fed
I recently had a conversation with an individual who claimed to be part of the end the fed movement. He concluded that the Federal Reserve caused the great recession by keeping interest rates too low for too long, thereby encouraging too much borrowing, which led to the mortgage meltdown.

Although keeping rates low may have been a small factor in causing certain individuals to get mortgages who should not have, low rates did really not matter that much. Many sub-prime borrowers were given mortgages regardless of whether they could afford the interest payments. Banks gave out variable rate mortgages knowing that rates would eventually go up and that the borrower would not be able to afford his or her house. It was the banks, who were not properly regulated by the federal government, that caused the recession; not the Fed.

The Federal Reserve, led by Bernanke, has had just as much of an impact, if not more, than the federal government, led by Paulson, Geithner and Obama, in ending the recession and leading to the current turnaround. While the government was managing $350 billion in bailouts to artificially prop up the economy, the Fed was managing trillions. The Fed is like the great counterbalance in our society. It is independent from the government, so as to ensure that economically sound decisions are not affected by politicians judgment. It has to be, and needs to remain independent.

Evolution
I have been thinking a lot about what this all means in the grand scheme of things. The truth is, the economy, law and politics are all insignificant when compared to the revolution that we are currently experiencing. Humanity is at the end of its 60,000 year reign as the most advanced species on earth, and is about to be the first species to be replaced by its own creation.

Humanity
Recently, a 2,000,000 year old fossil was discovered showing an intermediary species between humans and apes. Although this species may not necessarily be a direct ancestor of modern humans, it provides even greater proof of our natural origins, providing evidence of an intermediary species between early hominids and Homo Erectus, the most successful hominid in the history of the world. Homo Erectus roamed the earth from over a million years ago to the time of early humans . The new species is just one species discovered among many that have already been unearthed. We lived alongside one of our inferior relatives, the Neanderthal, for almost 10,000 years in Europe, a period ending approximately 20,000 years ago. That is a period of time longer than human civilization has existed as we know it.

Humans have been continually evolving, even though from a physiological standpoint, we are probably not very different from our ancestors who lived alongside those Neanderthals. Through civilization and technology, we have been able to maximize the productivity of our earthly forms, providing ourselves with extreme amounts of knowledge and using technology to allow us to interact with the world in a more efficient way. We have created numerous ways to express ourselves, and have made the world smaller by creating efficient methods of transportation.

The Singularity
Unfortunately, we have reached the limits of our earthly forms. Futurists predict that within the next 50 years, computers will have matched and surpassed our level of intelligence. They call this the singularity principle, as the distinction between humans and computers will no longer exist, making us one singular being.

The logical conclusion is that humans will have to become one with computers in order to compete. Those of us that survive to that period of time will have to augment ourselves, becoming cyborgs. Those who cannot afford this augmentation will become an inferior species that will likely eventually die out, as the Neanderthals and dinosaurs did.

The only thing that will prevent this from happening is literally a global catastrophe like one never seen by humanity. Technology as we know it would have to be destroyed. Even the greatest catastrophes, the great world wars or global epidemics, could only delay the progress of technology, not halt it. In many cases, those catastrophes actually increased progress. Although an earth shattering event could happen, I would give it an extremely low likelihood, since economics, technology, diplomacy and science have allowed us to progress to a point where such threats are diminished. A great technological roadblock (such as the end of Moores law, which will happen within the next 20 years) may present itself, but it will be overcome eventually, as all technological roadblocks are.

We Become God

After thousands of years of looking to the skies thinking that there were invisible creatures out there more advanced than ourselves that crafted us into being, it is time to realize that we are in fact the creator creature. We will create life forms much more advanced and complex than our naturally occurring selves, and those life forms will create even more advanced life forms. The only thing we can be certain of is that we do not travel to the past to visit our ancestors, at least not in such a way as to make our presences known.

And So It Goes
We stand at the foot of the great turning point in humanity. We are about to experience the greatest global economic and technological boom that the world has ever seen. We have braved the storm of the great recession, and now will be passengers on this great ride to the end of humanity as we know it. Hopefully, we will maintain our health and life so that we can be a part of it. Otherwise, c’est la vie.