Participate in the “Season of Giving”

When the winter holidays roll around, we are asked to “give” and to celebrate the season of giving. We already know it’s beneficial to be charitable, but for millions of Americans, being a philanthropist is not always possible due to their own financial limitations and hard times. Fortunately, there are ways to give and make a difference without spending money. The season of giving is not about the amount of money you contribute, but rather the efforts you make to show you care, that you think of others, and you are trying to make a difference in a sometimes unjust world.


Feeling Good in a Season of Obligations


Although the “Season of Giving” is meant to be a time of doing good and thinking of others, it has also become another reason to participate in mass consumerism. Unfortunately, a good deed or a  thoughtful gesture has been replaced by a gift card or a material item that may or may not be needed or appreciated. It’s easy to feel pressured and obligated to give during the holidays, even if we can’t afford to or feel like one more material item won’t make a difference in the world.


If your family has a tradition of gift giving, suggest putting a limit on of gifts or request that they give towards a charity of your choosing rather than giving you one more kitchen gadget or household item you appreciate, but don’t need in your life. If your family is against straying from tradition, you can still do your part on your own time. Volunteerism is a great way to feel good year round, but particularly in a season of “obligations”. No one expects you to help and they are often grateful of any time you can dedicate.

Teach Children to About Gratitude


As grown-ups, most of us realize that materialism can be unnecessary and it’s easier for many of us to ask for nothing. However, children are still at the stage in their lives where toys, books, and other “wants” are important to them. As a parent or relative of a child, it may be difficult to meet all of the requests on a child’s wish list. Some good advice is to choose a few items that will foster a child’s interest, creativity, and growth. Encourage your child to choose an item from a store or even from his or her own toy collection to donate to a child in need. Teaching your child about gratitude and not giving into every want will help him or her grow up to be a more compassionate person; teaching your child to be a better person costs nothing.

Start Giving Early

Remember, you don’t need money to make a difference, but if you feel like you can’t make a real difference without donating money to a cause, start planning early so you don’t feel overwhelmed once the holidays roll around.  For instance, start a small jar of spare change. Once it’s full, donate the amount to a charity of your choice. If you plan on helping out at the local food shelf or serving meals at a homeless shelter, sign up as soon as you can as spots may fill, but there’s a good chance that there will be something to do, wherever you decide to participate in the season of giving.



3 Diseases We No Longer Have to Worry About Thanks to Vaccines

The vaccine is a modern miracle. First discovered in 1796 by Edward Jenner, this disease fighting technique is the product of hard science, thorough testing, and a long communications battle. Vaccines work using a counterintuitive trick. Scientists give the human body a weakened or dead version of a specific pathogen, which the body’s immune system uses as both target practice and research; your systems develops resistance techniques and learns from its battles. Then, when the virus attacks for real, your body has the skills and knowledge to fight it off.


Neat, huh? But vaccines aren’t just an interesting science experiment. They are one of public health’s most important weapons. Vaccines have eradicated many once-lethal and near-ubiquitous diseases from the modern world. Think of these diseases the next time you realize that, well, you don’t ever need to think about these diseases.


Between the late 19th century and the mid 50s, roughly 35,000 people developed polio, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Polio was a terrifying childhood disease, causing meningitis, paralysis, and even death. And it hit children. Polio was one of the America’s most serious public health crises until the advent of the vaccine in the 1950s. And this vaccine has been incredibly effective. As of this writing, not a single case of polio has been reported in the United States since 1979.


The smallpox vaccine has been called “one of the greatest achievements in human history” by medical professionals. Prior to vaccine, smallpox killed millions of people. Ancient Rome, ancient China, Africa, and Europe were all hit by the disease. Smallpox killed entire cultures when Europeans introduced it the Americas. Smallpox is a nasty disease. Sufferers develop rashes, lesions, and fevers. 30% of people infected with die, usually within the first few weeks. Or at least they to. Thanks to vaccines, this horrifying disease, which wreaked havoc on our species for nearly two thousand years, is gone. It’s simply gone. The last case of smallpox (not including one from a lab accident the following year) was reported in 1977. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared smallpox dead in 1980. The only remaining  copies exist in a few labs for research purposes, and officials have often discussed killing even those.


Measles still exists in the world, and in 2013 killed about 16 people an hour, according to WHO. And most of its victims were not even five years old. But in most industrialized countries, people do not have to worry about measles. Prior to widespread vaccination programs that began in 1980, 2.6 million people died every year from measles. That simply is not the case any more. The measles vaccine is incredibly effective and saves countless children from a terrible disease every year. The only danger most people in the industrialized world most people face is parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, due to fear-mongering spread by anti-science conspiracy theorists.  


Plastic Microbeads: Scrubbing Your Skin, Polluting Your Planet

The next time you reach for that new skin care product, you should probably think again. That fresh face may come with a big price tag. Microbead awareness is about to have its moment, but at the moment, most people aren’t aware that many popular cleaning and skin care products are extremely hazardous, filled with tiny little plastic pieces which pollute the world’s water and may pose significant problems we’re yet to find. Activists, scientists, environmentalists, and public health experts the world over are currently pushing for bans on these deceptively dangerous little balls of plastic. And, so far, their push appears to be working.

What are Plastic Microbeads?

Plastic microbeads are the tiny little spheres of plastics, such as polyethylene and polypropylene, which are found in lots of cleaning produces. Manufacturers sell them to public based on their exfoliating properties; those teeny dots are intended to reach into your pores, scrub out the gunk, and leave your face looking bright and fresh. And, apparently, it works. But there’s a price to pay.

Microbeads and Water

That price is big one. According to a report recently published in Nature, American water habitats are flooded with eight trillion beads every day. Eight. Trillion. Every day. In Lake Ontario, researchers found 1.1 million beads per square mile.  While many of these beads are supposedly caught by water treatment plants, they still make it into the larger world, being sprayed onto crops and eventually trickling into the water system anyways, according to Nature. Then they get eaten by local wildlife. That’s when things get nasty.

Microbeads and Wildlife

Microbeads look like plankton. Plankton is an important source of nutrition for much of the world’s wildlife population. The world’s wildlife, being unaware of what polypropylene is, gobble this plastic caviar by the mouthful. Shrimp and other little creatures eat a particularly large amount of these beads. These animals are, in turn, eaten by larger animals. Which we eat. If we are what we eat, then we get closer every day to become mannequins, it seems. This is a new enough problem that the research is still out, but it can’t be good more massive portions of the American population to be eating polypropylene regularly.  

What’s Being Done

Luckily, environmentalists around North America have been raising the alarm, and lawmakers have been taking notice. In California, lawmakers recently sent a proposal governor Jerry Brown describing a law that would phase out plastic microbeads of a certain size by 2020. In Illinois, the push to get them banned by 2017. A bipartisan bill by Michigan and New Jersey lawmakers is pushing for a 2018 ban. The same thing is happening in Europe.
These laws appear to be receiving popular support. Activists should appreciate the rare ease they are having getting this issue noticed. While the damage being done is serious, and the lawmakers will take a few years to get these bills through, it seems clear that the government is doing the right thing here.    


Simple Steps to Stop Poaching

Humans have a long history of killing off animal populations. Our current tools (guns, aircraft, traps) make over-hunting easy. Even prior to modernity, people pushed the earth’s creatures into extinction; from–possibly–the mammoth, to the dodo bird, to the passenger pigeon, our species has hunted, trapped, eaten, and simply swept away entire species. Observing humanity’s relationship to animals, you may be tempted to see people as cold killers, and little more.

The recent uproar over Cecil the Lion’s death, though, is a reminder that people–at least some of them–do care. These dedicated stewards of the earth seek a harmonious, respectful relationship between humans and animals. The big question for many of these people, many of whom live far from the hunting grounds, is what can I do? Saving endangered species is a tall order. With dedication, though, you will make a difference. Here are a few options for helping prevent poaching.

Donate to Wildlife Organizations.

When you want the job done right, your best option is often to pay the experts to do it for you. Groups like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the International Rhino Foundation, among countless others, do excellent and important work in wildlife conservation. If you have a specific animal you’re interested in helping protect, find a group dedicated to its preservation and give them some money. They often need it.


If you want a more hands-on experience but don’t have the credentials necessary to work in the field, consider volunteering. Many organizations have volunteer programs and would be thrilled to have another compassionate person lending a hand. Find an organization with a local chapter and email or call them. You might end up phone-banking, providing social media outreach, or even get to interact with one of the animals you’re championing. The International Anti-poaching Foundation’s site has many ideas about how to give some of your time.

Spread the Word

People can’t care about issues they don’t know about. Educate yourself, speak with friends and family, and make resources available to anyone who shows interest. Start a blog, volunteer for social media outreach for a local group, or start a club.

Make sure you get your facts straight. People won’t listen to you if they think you’re not credible. The WWF has lots of educational and easy-to-use fact sheets on their site. Read up, organize your thoughts, and get the message out there!

Remember to Go Beyond Charismatic Creatures

This can be a controversial topic among conservationists. Lovable animals like lions, rhinos, etc. get a lot of attention (and donations) from the public, while their less cuddly brethren–such as the Braken Bat Cave Meshweaver spider–are ignored. People who want to help prevent species-loss need to be aware of the varieties of endangered animals out there. (As a counterpoint, research does indicate that focusing on charismatic creatures can help retain populations of non-charismatics as well.)


Empathy for a Troubled and Suffering World

Although the lives of people around the world are constantly being disrupted by countries and communities in turmoil, many people here in the United States seem to be dissociated with what others living in different parts of the world are going through.

In Greece, people have been struggling with their country’s extreme debt crisis for a long period of time. Banks have been closed. Despite nervous citizens wanting desperately to pull their money out, Greece essentially shut down its banking system and restricted access for the general public. Anti-austerity protests turned violent and the country is still in a state of turmoil, until financial resolution is achieved and order can be restored.

CNN reports areas in China and Korea were hit hard with a Category 4 typhoon that pelted the countries’ east coastline last weekend. Millions of residents had to be evacuated from their homes, airports were shut down and ships were called back into port. The full extent of the damage and losses, as well as the cost to the affected communities, has yet to be determined.

Fighting continues around Baghdad and other areas throughout Iraqi, as Iraqi News reports that Federal Police launched rockets in an attack which allegedly killed 20 ISIS militants. Due to its financial resources, seemingly unlimited supply of arms, its recruitment efforts and its aggressive tactics, many believe ISIS to pose more of a threat than al-Qaeda. This is a danger both abroad and close to home, a fact which many Americans may not fully grasp.

Seeing Life Through Other People’s Eyes

The majority of people who live in the U.S. have relatively comfortable lifestyles that can cause them to be disconnected from the plights that other people, thousands of miles away, go through on a daily basis. Even if you listen to the news, and hear about issues faced by people around the world, what is it really going to take to see life through a different lens?

Only once we can see life through other people’s eyes will we truly be able to have empathy for the situations that they may be may struggling with or living with on a daily basis. Millions of people occupy this planet we call home. Unless we can empathize with humanity’s difficulties and struggles, we will be unable to come up with solutions on a broader scale.

How We Can Become More Humble

While you go about with your day-to-day activities, it is important you recognize all you have here in the United States. Even those who may be fighting with monetary problems, physical ailments or other real life-threatening situations must realize how different life would be if they lived in another part of the world. So, how can we humble ourselves a bit?

  • Before you comment, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  • Try not to be quick to judge. Everyone has their own struggles. Find out about someone else’s before rendering judgment.
  • Be willing to admit when you make a mistake and take responsibility for your actions.
  • Be grateful and gracious, for what you have is probably far more than others could ever dream of having.
  • Value other people’s time and worth as much as you do your own.

Important Reasons to Get Out and Vote for Your Candidate

It is often said that voting is a privilege. As citizens, we have the right to vote, but when you consider that millions of people around the world living in countries that do not have our form of democratic system, and thus do not have a right to vote, voting in an election as a United States citizen truly is a privilege. In the past few decades, people have become more and more distrustful of the electoral system, especially the US presidential elections. Many people have opined that the individual’s vote doesn’t count because of the Electoral College system in place which allows the possibility of a candidate garnering the most popular, or individuals’, votes while losing the election based on the Electoral College system. The 2000 presidential election is the most recent case in point, with then Vice President Al Gore collection the most individuals’ votes while losing ultimately to George W. Bush because of the Electoral College votes needed for election.

If you, like millions of other disenfranchised voters, have pondered what the point is in voting, then here are a few good reasons to vote.

Make your voice heard

Voting is the most accessible way to have your voice heard. Whether your vote is cast in confidence of a candidate or party, or in protest, voting in your local state or federal election is the easiest way to be heard by the government.

Special ballot issues

When special referendums are included on the ballot, it is one of the most direct methods of having your opinion be known by your leaders. Special referendums, such as the legalization of marijuana, or a change in the state constitution, are directly decided by popular vote. It’s usually a decision between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ and the votes of individuals decide whether the measure passes and becomes law, or whether it is rejected.


If you complain about the government, a politician, a particular law, or some other issue that is in the news, if you have not voted in an associated election, you really do not have much credibility. Voting is a way to be able to converse on these topics with a sense of credibility because you actually cast your vote when it was time to make an ultimate decision.

Vote for your children

Because those under 18 cannot vote, voting often serves as a dual purpose as some issue or candidate you vote for can eventually impact the lives of your children. Vote for your child’s welfare as well as your own.


Climate Change – What We Can Do

A recent study brought clarity to the issue of climate change, as reported by the Washington Post. Global warming does not necessarily cause any single weather event, such as Hurricane Katrina, heat waves or extreme winter weather as experienced in the eastern region of the country. What changes in climate does do is make the numbers of these events much more frequent. This Swiss study found data that showed that 18% of the earth’s extremes in rainfall, now, and 75% of extreme heat are made much more possible due to global climate change.

A single person can feel helpless and unable to effect a positive change. There are important actions you can take, and urge your family, friends and neighbors to make, that can make a difference. According to the EPA, (Environmental Protection Agency) some of the most important actions individual citizens can take include:

Use lightbulbs that draw less power

The best bulbs now available now are LED. Although more expensive, they last longer, emit less heat, and don’t have the dangers of mercury contamination as are found in compact fluorescent bulbs. These bulbs must be recycled, and are dangerous if broken as they will emit toxic mercury that could endanger you. Not only will your electricity bill be lower, you reduce your home’s power draw, and the emissions created in the electricity production.

Get your home insulated

The cost of heating a poorly insulated home are far higher than a well-insulated home. The EPA advises you get rid of air leaks by adding caulking or weather stripping. Your home will remain much warmer or cooler, and can reduce the costs of heating and cooling by up to 20%.


You may not like the inconvenience of carrying your own bags when shopping, but reducing paper and plastic in the environment can make a big difference. Landfills produce greenhouse gases, and you can make a difference by reducing your own consumption. Be part of the solution rather than collecting and throwing away huge piles of paper and plastic bags.

Restrict water usage

The highest water usage is actually a toilet, not the shower or dishwasher. Replace your home’s toilet with a water-efficient model and save significantly on your water bill and overconsumption. Get leaks repaired immediately. Only water your yard after sunset, rather than during the day.

Kick the bottled water habit

Rather than buying bottled water, get a water bottle that is BPA-free and refill it. Don’t like the taste of tap water? Get a filter system on your faucet, or get a delivery service for your water that provides bottles of water that are used again and again.

The future of the planet is uncertain, but current research clearly indicates that climate change is very real and more extreme weather is on the horizon. Your individual actions make a difference. Share your knowledge. Pass on the positive changes you have made to your friends, family and neighbors.


Community Involvement – It Can Benefit Your Health!

Community service can give you the pride and satisfaction of helping others. It can help strengthen your community and your family. Most people understand the importance of giving back to the community and taking an active role in improving conditions in the world we live in. We know that volunteering is a good thing, but did you also know that it can be good for your health?

The Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) reports that a growing body of research over the past two decades indicates that volunteering produces health benefits as well as social benefits for the individuals involved. According to CNCS, findings presented in its report entitled The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research indicate that volunteers have higher functionality, less depression, and lower mortality rates later in life than those who have not volunteered.

Mental Health Benefits of Community Involvement

As discussed in the CNCS report, the evidence suggests that community service can have a positive effect on social psychological factors. It can provide meaning and purpose in life. Focusing on something other than oneself can alleviate stress. Volunteer work strengthens social ties and protects people from isolation. Helping others also produces a greater sense of self-worth and trust, according to the report. As stated in a Harvard Medical School publication, volunteering helps people feel more socially connected and wards off loneliness and depression.

Physical Health Benefits of Volunteering

The Harvard Medical School article also states that growing evidence indicates a correlation between volunteering and better physical health. According to the article, a recently published Carnegie Mellon University study found that adults over 50 who regularly volunteer their time to help others are less likely to develop high blood pressure, a major contributing factor to stroke, heart disease, and premature death.

CNCS researchers found that people who engage in volunteer activities are less likely to have health problems later in life. Even after factoring in age, gender, and health, the CNCS study determined that individuals who volunteer have a greater chance of living longer.

Rush University Medical Center reports that, according to recent research, people who had chronic pain experienced less pain and disability after beginning volunteer work with others suffering chronic pain. Researchers also found that people who volunteered after suffering heart attacks experienced less depression and despair, factors that increase the likelihood of death in heart attack patients.

However, as reported by Rush, there are limits to how much health benefit is available to an individual through volunteering. Researchers have identified a threshold of one or two hours a week, beyond which no health benefits have been established.


What Are the Most Popular Federal Government Websites?

Many federal employees visit the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) website to learn about salaries and wages, career development opportunities, retirement benefits, disability compensation and other information.

However, according to a new site, Analytics USA, the OPM website is far from the most popular government-run website.

The site’s data comes from a unified Google Analytics account for U.S. federal government agencies known as the Digital Analytics Program. It shows how people find, access, and use government services through websites.

Analytics USA does not cover everything the federal government does online, but the Digital Analytics Program does collect Web traffic from almost 300 executive branch government domains across more than 3,800 total websites, including every cabinet department.

For those who are interested in this data, the site clearly states that it is an open source project in the public domain. The website, its data and code are free for anyone to use without restriction. Additionally, the site provides various snapshots of its data already set up to be downloaded in JSON format.

On a recent morning, the Top 10 federal websites based on the number of visits in the previous 30 days were:

1. Internal Revenue Service (

It should be little surprise that in the months of March and April, as the tax filing deadline approached, this site received the most visits of any government site.

Under Analytics USA’s “Now” search for “people on a single, specific government page now,” this site’s “Where’s My Refund? ” page occupied the top spot.

2-3. National Weather Service ( and

Both URLs go to the same National Weather Service home page. This may indicate how people tend to find websites by using search engines rather than a site’s domain name. For instance, in Google, these sites sit atop the results that are returned when a user types in the query, “forecast weather.” Of course, this site’s popularity may also be attributed to the fact that the National Weather Service provides the data that virtually every media outlet bases its weather report on.

4. USA Jobs (

The federal government’s job board provides access to thousands of job opportunities across hundreds of federal agencies and organizations. In light of the government’s plans for increased federal hiring in 2015, USA Jobs is likely to remain a leading web destination for months to come.

5. National Park Service (

As spring begins, it’s no wonder that a large number of people are looking at tourism destinations through the National Park Service site. This site provides access to detailed information about 407 parks, monuments, preserves, historic battlefields and more across the country.

National Parks properties such as Death Valley National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the National Mall in Washington, D.C., welcomed 292.8 million recreational visitors in 2014, the site states.

6. U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service (

The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service has a broad mandate to administer and ensure the integrity of the country’s immigration system, grant immigration and citizenship benefits, grant authorization to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis and promote an awareness and understanding of citizenship. Each year, about 680,000 immigrants become naturalized citizens of the U.S. through the USCIS, which likely accounts for this site’s high number of visits.

7-8. Social Security Administration ( and

Everyone in the country at some point of time conducts business with the Social Security Administration (SSA) or one of its 1,400 regional offices, field offices, card centers, processing centers and hearing offices.

The SSA is best known for its retirement benefits and Medicare program. But it also has large programs providing benefits to the disabled, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for workers and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for those whose disability has prevented them from ever working.

9. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (

Interest remains high in NASA and space exploration as the organization takes its first steps toward a planned manned mission to Mars. The NASA site is also popular for its deep archives of images of deep space and past space missions as well as live video from the International Space Station and coverage of all launches via NASA TV.

10. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the federal agency that includes the National Weather Service as well as:

The NOAA’s reach, which the agency describes as “from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor,” is certainly broad and accounts for its high ranking.


Important Life Skills to Teach Your Children

Loving and helping your children is a source of happiness for them, and for you as a parent. Life skills are desirable or necessary skills that are needed to participate in everyday life. Teaching your child important and useful skills that he or she can use now and into the future is a valuable parental gift of help, and love.

Basic Life Skills for Young Children

Life skills taught should be age-appropriate for your child. Young children are learning about the world in which they live, and need life skills tools which help them interact safely in their environment.

Learning to get along with others begins when very young, and continues throughout a lifetime. Even the youngest child is presented with life situations that require decision-making, and a wise parent teaches basic age-appropriate life skills to foster good judgment.

Basic life skills learned early serve as a strong foundation and building block for the many life skills a child continues to learn as he or she grows to young adulthood, and beyond.

Some simple but powerful life skills tools for the very young include:

  • Set a good example for your child. He or she will learn from you how to treat others by the way treat him or her.
  • Teach your child good manners. Saying “please” and “thank you” lasts a lifetime.
  • Teach your child kindness; to siblings, other children, and to other living things.
  • Teach your child honesty. Do not punish a child for telling the truth, but help them to understand why it is important to be truthful with self and others.
  • Teach your child respect for self, for others, for living things, and for the environment.
  • Teach your child when to use caution, but do not teach your child to be afraid. Caution should be used around people they do not know. Teach them never to go with a stranger, and to go to Mom or Dad about it first.
  • Teach your child basic safety:
    • Drivers often do not see small children, so cars are dangerous. Never run in front of a car. Look both ways before you cross the street. Never ride your tricycle or bicycle into the street.
  • Teach your child to use caution with an animal they do not know, and that does not know them. The natural curiosity and love of a child draws them to animals. Teach them to go to Mom or Dad about it first.
  • The small size and lack of life experience of a child makes them especially prone to dog bites.

Teach your child that a strange dog might not be friendly to everyone, and not to pet or hug it. It is best to leave it alone, and just walk calmly and quietly away.

Basic Life Skills for Older Children and Pre-Teens

  • Teach your children the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, beginning when they are very young. Continue to teach it as they grow-up, encouraging them to try and treat others as they would want to be treated.
  • Teach growing children the lifelong value of competency and excellence in their chosen fields of interest.
  • Teach your children the facts about drugs and drug use, and what to do when they are faced with the opportunity or invitation to use.
  • Teach your soon-to-be adult child how to manage a bank account, establish and follow a budget, establish and manage credit, apply for a job, do a job interview, and how to purchase his or her first car.

Most importantly, encourage your children to follow their dreams in pursuit of a happy and worthwhile life.


The Troublesome Nature of Instant Gratification

The Risks of Giving In

Today more than ever, the world is at our fingertips. A quick search on our smart phone, a quick entry of our credit card number, a drive-thru window—we can have, it seems, anything we want, and quickly. But if we considered the long-term effects of those decisions, perhaps we wouldn’t make them so haphazardly. Rarely is the deal as good as it sounds; something that gratifies us right now may have costs later on. Often, in chasing the thrill of instant gratification, we’re compelled to take a risk. When those risks don’t pay off, they can have serious consequences.

For example, imagine that after a long night at a party, a drunk guest and his friends are craving fast food, right that second. It can’t wait! They hop in the car, but on the way to the drive-thru, the driver loses control of the vehicle and kills a pedestrian. It was, of course, an accident, but that sort of accident is entirely preventable, note personal injury lawyers Mushkatel, Robbins & Becker, PLLC. If the driver had weighed the lifetime effects on the victim’s family against his instant need for a hamburger, he would never have gotten in the car. The truth is, it’s usually pretty hard to suppress our immediate desires, but learning to do so may not be such a bad idea.

The Benefits of Delayed Gratification

Giving into our desire for instant gratification can have long-reaching negative implications. In a famous 1970 psychology experiment, Stanford researcher Walter Mischel offered young children a single marshmallow, with the promise that if they waited a few minutes, they could have two. Most children did not hold out for the second goodie, but the ones who did were found to enjoy greater success later in life (as measured by higher SAT scores, higher college completion rates, and higher incomes). On the flip side, more recent research suggests that adults who can’t delay their gratification are more likely to have higher BMI’s and drug-addiction problems.

Luckily, the research also suggests that we can outsmart our immediate desires. A key player is attention—the less we think about the desire, the less likely we are to satisfy it immediately. So, distracting ourselves for even a few minutes (from, say, the idea of a fast-food run after a party) may help us resist. Another factor is our ability to imagine the appeal of the delayed rewards. Typically, it’s hard to wait for something that by virtue of being in the future is rather abstract, especially if the immediate reward is right within our grasp. One way to get around this tendency is to try to flip that situation: hide the immediate temptation, or pretend it’s something else, while visualizing specific details of the future reward. No one is perfect, and we are bound to give in to our desire for instant gratification once in a while. Considering the negative effects of doing so, however, we would do well to try to overcome that instinct.



The Positive Effects of Charity

Charity has many positive effects, and not just on the charity. Whether you are able to donate goods, materials and money or by volunteering your time, giving can be as beneficial for you as for the recipient of your time and charitable donations. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Reduces Stress

Being stressed out or anxious can put a lot of physical and emotional strain on a person’s body. Stress has been known to lead to serious health problems as well. When a person focuses his or her attention outward and onto someone else, it can help alleviate the personal stress or anxiety that person may be feeling. Lowered stress levels can then lead to improved health. Charity can create a little good karma that can go a very long way.

Improve Health and Increases Longevity

When an individual does not take the time to do charitable actions for others, he or she faces a 30 percent greater risk of death following a stressful life event than someone who helps others, according to a study featured in Prevention. Putting another person’s needs ahead of your own can eliminate stressors which will often lead to decreased health and shortened life span. Being charitable can help improve your mood, make you feel more optimistic and bring you joy. When your emotional state improves, it can help strengthen your immune systems and improve your physical state too.

It doesn’t have to be a lot. Sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference, like offering to be a designated driver, making dinner for a sick friend, reading to someone at a senior center, donating to a local shelter, volunteering to take someone to the doctor, or picking up a friend’s kids from school when he or she can’t make it.

Volunteering Can Improve the Balance Between Work and Life

Although you probably won’t consider giving up some of your valuable time to volunteer as a way to get more free time, a study referenced in the Huffington Post says volunteering can do just that. According to this University of Zurich study, workers who also volunteer their time feel as if their lives have more of a balance. When you volunteer, you feel productive and you get a sense of accomplishment. Volunteering can also lead to other activities not associated with work, which in turn can help balance the time and attention spend on work.

Brings People With Common Goals Together

Another positive effect of charity is it brings people with common goals together. People from all different backgrounds can volunteer. Many volunteers opt to join up with an already established organizations, groups or team, where they can build camaraderie and get much more accomplished. These groups can do so much when pooling their resources.

Aids Personal Growth

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, that’s the “Golden Rule.” When you volunteer to help others and give the best of yourself, it can aid in your own personal growth as well. When a person understands someone else’s needs and the importance of community and giving, it helps to build empathy and improve self-esteem. Being able to give back or pay it forward can provide a sense of self-worth and happiness otherwise unattainable.


The Realities of Sticking With One Profession Your Whole Life

The Positives of Gaining Valuable Experience

Sticking with a single profession for one’s whole working life is in some sense the “traditional,” tried-and-true model. It’s what many of our parents did, and did successfully—and it’s worth remembering that there are good reasons for that. In fact, for many workers today, it is still the most attractive lifestyle choice. For one thing, it can make you more employable. Should you ever want to change companies, even within the same profession, potential employers often value the fact that you’ve put in the time learning a specific business. It demonstrates persistence and means you probably have considerable expertise in your field.

In addition, if you stick to one area, you will be able to gain seniority and leadership roles in that area, instead of having to prove yourself anew in every job you take on. Some people complain that sticking with one profession is boring, but if it’s a good fit, the routine will be better described as stable. If your work life is relatively predictable, it will leave more time for you to explore and experiment with other parts of your life. Instead of switching careers to pursue your changing interests, you can instead develop your new interests as hobbies.

The Limitations of a Lifetime Career

Of course, sticking with a single profession does not work for everyone. Changing professions is increasingly common as workers begin to recognize the potential pitfalls of sticking to just one. Though a single career could mean stability, it could also translate to “putting your eggs in one basket.” The job market is uncertain, and if your skills are not transferable, you may find yourself in a lurch if you do lose your job mid-career. In this day and age, having a guaranteed lifetime career isn’t always realistic, so it’s important to have at least another option on the backburner. You could also become disabled, and lose the capacity to do the single specific job you’re trained to do—though in this case, say J.B. Bieske and Jennifer Alfonsi, Attorneys at Law, you may be entitled to Social Security benefits.

In the personal realm, you simply may not find it rewarding to stay with a single career forever. When you consider your career holistically, as just one part of your whole life, you may find that changing careers is motivating and energizing. We all change as we get older, and there’s nothing wrong with that; what worked for us at age 25 may not work for us at age 35, and our priorities might be different again at 45.

Giving yourself the chance to try different things may lead to real personal growth and development. Each new opportunity will teach you new skills, connect you to more people, and make you more flexible. As employers also begin to appreciate this, they are more and more accepting of career changes on a résumé. Doggedly sticking to one profession may even prevent you from taking advantage of a great opportunity that comes your way.



What Rights Do You Have as a United States Immigrant?

Immigration law in the United States is complex and multi-tiered. It covers areas of law ranging from families to employment, and asylum requests to citizenship. In fact, the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which has served as the foundation of immigration law since its creation in 1952, is broken down into a full fifty separate subjects. As such, immigration law can be an overwhelming subject for anyone to tackle. Here, we’ll look at two common areas of concern in immigration law, asylum and deportation, and discuss how they impact your rights as a United States immigrant.

Asylum and Refugee Seekers

It is the right of immigrants to request asylum based on fear of persecution in their home country. If you are a victim of persecution, or there is a legitimate belief that you would be in danger if you were to return to your home country, you may qualify for temporary or permanent refugee status in the United States. Types of persecution that are considered valid include religious, political, racial, and ethnic, among others. In 1980, the U.S. Refugee Act was passed, and it serves as the framework for refugee law in the United States. The Act covers subjects including qualifications to seeking asylum, the application process, and resettlement of approved refugees.

It’s important to note that the burden of proof is on the applicant. The federal government requires that the person seeking asylum show there is a true threat of danger, and that is done via both a subjective and an objective test. The subjective test requires the applicant to show he has a legitimate fear based on any of the protected classes (religion, race, etc), and the objective test requires the applicant provide proof that there is a reasonable possibility that he will be persecuted if he returns to his home country. If an applicant can pass both tests, he may be granted asylum, which can then lead to citizenship.


Many immigrants in the United States fear the threat of deportation, regardless of their legal status. Why? There are myriad reasons for which a person can be deported, with two of the most common being a conviction for certain crimes and the inability to prove through documentation that he is here legally. Relative to documentation, if the federal government believes that someone has gained entry into the U.S. using falsified documents, the immigrant may face the prospect of being deported back to his home country. When that happens, parents are separated from their young children, people lose their jobs, and they are forced to return a country they left in order to pursue a better life.

Fortunately, though the process can be a bureaucratic nightmare, those facing deportation are not without rights. In fact, the initial burden of proof is on the federal government to show clear and convincing evidence that the person being charged has committed fraud or falsified records and documents. If the government does provide convincing evidence of fraud, the defendant has a legal right to rebut the accusation by showing that admission into the United States would have been granted admission even without the fraudulent documents. Even though you are not a United States citizen, you are still protected by due process, and even if there is a legitimate reason to deport you, there may still be alternatives available that allow you to remain in the United States.


The United States has a long, rich history of welcoming immigrants from all corners of the globe. Rights are afforded to people wishing to remain in the country because of fears of persecution back home, or because they have established roots here. Understanding those rights, and how they impact you, is the first step to securing permanent residency in the United States.


The Inequality of Safety Factors in the Workplace

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that more than 3 million people were injured and 4,405 were killed on the job in 2013. While the numbers are high, they don’t tell the whole story, because there are some industries that have a significantly higher ratio of injuries and deaths than others. For example, almost 2.1 million of the on-the-job injuries occurred in service industries, which employ more than 82 percent of the United States workforce. The term ‘service industry’ is fairly broad, so here are two specific industries that have the highest number of reported injuries and fatalities, and two that have some of the lowest.

Trade, Transportation and Utilities

A natural inclination for many is to believe that police officers and firefighters must suffer the most injuries and fatalities. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 1,153 deaths reported in the trade, transportation and utilities sectors in 2013. That figure represents more than one quarter of all fatalities. Transportation incidents accounted for 665 of those deaths. There were also 3.8 injuries reported for every 100 full-time employees.


Just as with the trade, transportation and utilities industries, there were 3.8 injuries reported for every 100 full-time employees in the construction sector. Also, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 20.3%, or 1 in 5, of all work-related fatalities happened on construction sites in 2013. Falls, electrocution, becoming caught in or between objects, and blunt force trauma from object impact were the leading causes of those deaths. Of those reasons, falls were responsible for 294 of the 796 construction deaths. It is estimated that, if those “Fatal Four” factors were eliminated, an average of 468 lives would be saved every year.


Careers in publishing, broadcasting and motion pictures proved to be among the safest in 2013. The BLS recorded 39 fatalities in all, with 17 of them being transportation related and 10 being attributed to falls. Injuries were reported at a rate of 1.5 for every 100 full-time employees in the information industry.


The finance insurance industry, which includes banking, insurance and real estate, accounted for 84 on-the-job fatalities in 2013, making it one of the safest areas of employment in the country. A total of 36 people were killed as a result of injuries sustained by an animal or person, and there were 23 transportation related fatalities. The number of injuries reported totaled 1.3 out of every 100 full-time employees.

Comparing the Numbers

When comparing injuries and fatalities between industries, it is clear that the nature of some work makes it more hazardous than others. For example, the environment in which construction and warehouse workers must navigate is infinitely more dangerous than that of those who work in an office building. They must contend with heights, heavy and dangerous equipment, and the inherent danger of road travel. In contrast, those who work in office environments generally do not have to worry about any of those hazards, with the exception of traveling between locations. In fact, 1,740 people died as a result of a work-related transportation accident in 2013, making it the number one cause of on-the-job deaths.

Regardless of the industry, for the millions of people who are injured on the job every year, there is a fear that they will no longer be able to support themselves and their families. That is especially true if the employee suffers an injury or illness that prevents him from returning to work. Fortunately, Social Security Disability (SSD) is available for those who qualify. Most people would prefer to continue working, but whether it’s a low risk or a high risk job, it is comforting to know there is relief available when a debilitating injury prevents you from continuing in your profession.


Education For Children: The Future Of The World

Apathy. We can all fall into a negative attitude in which we feel we are incapable of making changes in our society. We may not like how much we pay in taxes, or the condition of our local or state roads and highways, but what are we doing about it? Many people don’t even bother to vote, even though the lawmakers who are elected will make decisions that will affect us directly. Voter turnout continues to be shockingly low, at about 20% of the population voting in municipal elections, and 59% in federal elections. Where did our community spirit go? A change begins with the education of our children – they will be grabbing the reins and determining all the important issues in the future, including for us during our waning years.

Education is a critical aspect of whether the American spirit of community service and engagement is restored. Schools that focus on volunteerism, teamwork and social action could be an important influencing factor in the future of our country, and our planet.

At one time, civics was taught in every school. Young people learned about their responsibilities and how governments work, and their part in the process as a citizen. Students that are exposed to important issues with hands-on activities often have a life-changing experience, which impacts their inclination to serve as a community leader or active participant in their future lives. The types of activities can include litter clean-ups, fundraising for good causes, classes on lifesaving and other types of activities that have been proven to bring more awareness of our community at large, and a greater sense of responsibility.

One of the ways that makes community service more inviting is to create programs for which the student can gain certification or acknowledgements. Working on these activities teaches teamwork, and the ability to work with a range of personalities. Teenagers can be exceptionally insular, and this offers an opportunity to break out of a certain group of friends and interact with other parts of our society, and to understand other cultures, age groups and types of people – a powerful skill to carry into working life.

Encourage your local schools to add volunteer programs, and urge your child to participate in these programs. There has been an increase in volunteerism in recent years, and this bodes well for the future of our entire country. Maybe we haven’t done as much as we could – but let’s hope our children will.

One year after Newtown

One Year After Newtown: Guns & Children

One year after Newtown

Letting Go

In the days and weeks immediately after the December 14, 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook  Elementary School when 20 elementary school children and 6 adults were killed by a gunman, cries for stiffer gun control laws reached a fever pitch.  The screams to leave gun laws alone or even to relax them were just as loud.  Seemingly everyone had an opinion from the President, to politicians on both sides of the aisle, to gun lobby groups, to gun control advocacy groups, to parents of Sandy Hook victims, to other moms and dads.  Even children weighed in on the issue.  It is now a little over a year since the shooting.  Sandy Hook is no longer regularly making national headlines.  Sound bites from the National Rifle Association no longer top the evening news.  It seems as if little has changed in the last 12 months.  Or has it?

Changes in State Law

While Congress did not make any changes to gun control laws, state legislatures did.  In the year since Sandy Hook, over 114 measures were passed that affected state gun laws.

Strengthening Gun Control

Eleven states, plus the District of Columbia passed laws that strengthened gun control.  Two states made it harder to carry guns in public.  Eighteen states and the District of Columbia passed laws that made it easier for the government to track guns.  For example, Maryland and New York now require that lost or stolen firearms be reported, and Rhode Island makes it illegal to tamper with identification marks on firearms.  Fifteen states strengthened mental health restrictions related to gun ownership.   California, for example, now requires psychotherapists whose patients threaten violence to report the threats, and Colorado requires that mental health records be reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Weakening Gun Control

Twenty-nine states passed laws that made it easier for people to own guns and carry them in public places such as schools, bars, and casinos.  Twenty-six states added laws that strengthened the ability to carry concealed firearms in public.   Seven states now allow guns to be carried in schools.  For example, Alabama now allows school security personnel and resource officers to carry firearms, and Oklahoma allows handguns in private schools and on private school buses.  Alabama, Alaska, Kansas and Missouri all passed laws that prohibited state officials from enforcing certain aspects of federal gun control laws or nullified federal gun control laws.

A Kansas city personal injury attorney remarks that clearly most people believe that the gun violence in the United States needs to stop.  No one wants even one more child injury from gun violence.  No one wants a repeat of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Columbine High School, the Aurora, Colorado movie theater, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, or the Tucson, Arizona Safeway.  However, people disagree on the most effective way to stop the gun violence.  Some believe that fewer guns in society will result in fewer shootings.  Others believe that more guns in the hands of lawful citizens will result in fewer gun deaths by criminals.  What types of policies do you believe will have a meaningful affect on gun violence in the United States?

Military Women Objectified

The Military’s Sexual-Assault Laws: Friendly Fire

Military Women ObjectifiedIn recent years several high-profile military sexual assault cases have left the military open to criticism.  Furthermore, the government has released troubling data on the frequency of military sexual assaults.  According to the Department of Labor 20-48% of female veterans have been sexually assaulted and 80% have been sexually harassed.  Critics are not just disappointed that the assaults occurred.  Critics are disappointed, surprised and angered as to how such cases have been handled by the military justice system.  As a result, several members of Congress have proposed changes in the way the military handles accusations of sexual assault.  The goal is to both reduce the number of sexual assaults and to ensure that both the accuser and accused are treated fairly when there is an accusation of sexual assault.

Current Law

Currently, military law gives a commander a tremendous amount of authority over the course of action when there is an accusation of sexual assault.  Indeed, the commander decides whether or not to refer the case to the military prosecutor or not.  The commander can even have convictions dismissed.  For example, earlier this year Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned the sexual-assault conviction of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who like Franklin is a fighter pilot. In the relatively small military world it is not uncommon for the commander to know and even be friends with the accused.  Sadly, the commander is sometimes the accused rapist.  As a consequence victims are often reluctant to report assaults  and reported assaults are sometimes not fully investigated.   Accusers have been the subject of harassment and retaliation.

A Macon personal injury lawyer notes that the way the military handles sexual assault cases and other crimes is very different from how such cases are handled in the civilian world.  In a civilian case, typically the accuser informs either the police or a prosecutor of the attack.  If an investigation uncovers sufficient evidence of an assault the accused is arrested and criminally charged.  A criminal trial is held and a jury determines the fate of the defendant based on evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense.  During this process steps are taken to shield the identity of the accuser from the public and to ensure that the accuser is not victimized or demonized.  In cases where there is not sufficient evidence to prosecute (or even where there is a prosecution), the victim has the option of pursuing a personal injury case against the perpetrator.

Proposed Changes

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., proposes an amendment that would remove sexual-assault cases from the usual military chain of command.  Thus, only military prosecutors would have the authority to investigate and prosecute military sexual assault cases.  Military commanders would also be stripped of their authority to dismiss court-martial convictions in cases of rape, sexual assault and other crimes.  Furthermore, Gillibrand’s proposal would make it a crime to retaliate against a victim for reporting being attacked. This proposal is sharply opposed by the Pentagon and does not generally have strong support in Congress.

Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) offers a competing proposal on the issue of military sexual assault cases that appears to be more palatable to both the Pentagon and members of Congress. McCaskill’s proposal would also strip commanders of their authority to dismiss court-martial rape and sexual assault convictions. It too would  make it a crime to retaliate against a victim for reporting an attack. The significant difference between McCaskill’s proposal and Gillibrand’s proposal is that McCaskill’s proposal leaves authority and accountability within the current military chain of command.  Both proposals, however, recognize that a change is necessary to protect victims.

In addition to the legal aspects related to investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cases, there are psychological nuances that make such cases best handled by those with specialized training and experience.  In what way if any should a “specialist” be involved in the investigation or prosecution of military sexual assault cases?

modern day slavery

Modern Slavery in Quatar: Wrongful Death

When it was announced that Qatar would be hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it seemed like a great victory for the Middle East. Qatar would be the first Arab State to run a World Cup. However, shortly after Qatar won their bid, controversy surrounding the country’s extremely high temperature climate during the summer and their laws banning alcohol and homosexuality began to arise in the media. While efforts are being made to make sure all the players feel welcome and accommodated in the country, Qatar’s also coming under fire for their unethical use of migrant workers for the construction of stadiums, roads, hotels, and other buildings relating to the World Cup infrastructure. The conditions for these workers are so harsh, Qatari Government has been accused of engaging in “Modern slavery.”

Modern Day Slavery

Under the frequently criticized Kafala system, migrant workers from mostly Nepal (but also other countries in the Middle East) are legally at the mercy of their employers. This means that, in Qatar, it is very easy for an employer to mistreat its migrant worker without any legal repercussions. According to the Guardian, these various mistreatments have led to, on average, one wrongful death a day over the last summer, mostly due to heart attacks, heart failure and on-site “accidents.” These deaths are caused by poor and cramped living conditions, little to no food or even water, working on an empty stomach, and dangerous work environments. Many of these Nepalese workers relocated to Qatar for work and a better life…unfortunately the promise was not the reality. Even if they wanted to, many of these migrant workers cannot leave because many employers (their “in-country sponsors” under Kafala) are either withholding their pay to discourage them from running away or refusing them the visas that would allow them to leave the country.

In America, if a worker is personally injured on site, they are legally guaranteed some form of compensation. Unfortunately for these Nepalese migrant workers in Qatar, they are not granted that right. In fact, many of these migrant workers’ identifications and passports are confiscated, essentially turning them into illegal aliens.

Bringing the Issue to Light

The British newspaper The Guardian was one of the first presses to really bring this unethical practice to light, writing, “The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world’s most popular sporting tournament.” The Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organization, has similarly referred the Qatar Kafala as being exploitative in a 146 page report released back in June 2012. Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA who in the past championed hard for Qatar, admitted that choosing the country was probably a “mistake.” Even the Nepalese Ambassador to Qatar Maya Kumari Sharma has referred to the situation as an “open jail for migrant workers.” Although the shady recruitment brokers that allow these men to work in Qatar without any regard for their safety should also take some of the blame.

Although the World Cup is still nine years away, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee still doesn’t seem very proactive in solving the problem; and hard labor still seems to be the norm in Qatar. However, with international pressure increasing, the Qatari government may have no choice but to look into this matter deeply. What do you think should be done? Should the World Cup venue be changed?

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street Meets Kol Nidre

Last Friday the Pursue office was rather quiet. Several staffers worked from home or were out traveling to spend Yom Kippur with family. We didn’t turn on the overhead lights while we worked, and instead worked by natural light coming through the windows of our office. As the time drew near the end of our short work day, updates and posts continued to pop up over Facebook about Kol Nidre Service at Occupy Wall Street. As the sun descended, a reported 500-700 Jews gathered in front of the Brown Brothers Harriman building for a candlelit, social justice focused Kol Nidre services in New York City. Since Friday evening articles, posts, and videos have been published.

Boston, one of the cities that have joined the Occupy Movement, also held Kol Nidre service on Friday evening. Jocelyn Berger, former Bay Area Program Officer for Pursue, wrote her reflections on Yom Kippur, social justice, and Occupy Boston:

“What do Yom Kippur and the Occupy Wall Street movement have in common? Both are about imagination. On Yom Kippur we imagine that a better self is possible. At Occupy Boston, we imagine that a better country, a better world, is possible. And although these are individual imaginings, we come together in community to make them collectively realized. By moving Yom Kippur from a sequestered, individualized experience in a synagogue out into the public square (literally!), we transform the purpose of the holiday from simply imagining a better self to imagining an whole better world.

Undeniably, one of the most exciting things about this movement is how democratic and collective it is. This rang especially true as we recited the Sh’ma together at our Kol Nidre service, proclaiming oneness – of our voices, of our values, of our aspirations, of Hashem, all one and the same, unified. My emotional climax occurred during the Al Chet – we invited folks to call out sins, personal, political, economic, social, all repeated through “the people’s mic,” adding even greater resonance: “Racism. Turning our backs on the old. Turning our backs on the young. Climate change. Defunding women’s health programs. Putting profits before people (aka capitalism). Citizen’s United. Private health care. Eroding the social safety net. Blaming victims. Katrina. Sexism. Homophobia. Anti-Semitism. Islamophobia. High interest rates. Student loans. Unemployment. Not taking responsibility sooner. Not speaking out sooner. Not showing up sooner.”

Let’s Have a Jubilee: the Torah’s Fix for Modern-Day Slavery

On a hot and sticky New York afternoon, an East Village parking space was home to a traveling museum–located inside a 20-foot truck. Even with fans running, it was uncomfortably hot in the truck yesterday, which only helped the exhibit to make its point. The truck is a model of the vehicle that was used to hold Florida tomato harvesters at night in a case of modern-day slavery. Photographs of wrists bruised by shackles are among the sparse display of hard-hitting images and text. The few artifacts include a bloody shirt retrieved from a worker who fled the fields after being violently beaten.

The successful prosecution of two brothers–labor contractors–who held workers in the truck nightly against their will is just one of five recent cases highlighted in the Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum, a project developed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) that is currently touring the Northeastern United States. Based in Florida’s rural tomato and citrus growing area with headquarters in the sleep town of Immokalee, the CIW and partners including Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida and Student Farmworker Alliance advocate for improvements in farmworker conditions, and developed the museum in a truck as a tool “to raise awareness and bring attention to the solution,” according to exhibit guide Brigitte Gynther of Immokalee’s Interfaith Action.

Through its Campaign for Fair Food, the CIW has gained recognition for its penny-per-pound campaigns to encourage major retailers, including Burger King and McDonald’s, to pay additional wages directly to piece-rate earning harvesters. The solution to modern-day slavery cases in farming, and to ending “the abuse and poverty in general” that allows such conditions, is to demand improved wages, and a zero-tolerance policy for forced labor through well-monitored codes of conduct, says Gynther. “Poverty and powerlessness are really at the roots of the slavery cases.” The instances of slavery highlighted at the museum were all perpetrated by labor contractors: debt bondage, violence toward workers, theft of legally obtained visas from migrant crew members, and the luring of prospective workers from homeless shelters. The common trope is one of worker intimidation. And as CIW tour guide Romeo Ramirez, a 29-year-old Guatemalan immigrant who has worked in farming all his life, explained, it is difficult to know when and where to seek assistance. He found his way to the CIW in 1998 after unexplained pay docks for his harvest work.

The treatment of farmworkers did not escape the Torah’s many dicta on agriculture, a series of laws and observations that are becoming an increasingly significant part of the intellectual discourse on sustainable, fair food. In a 2006 American Jewish World Service Torah commentary on a parshat that examines agricultural workers, Rabbi David Rosenn, the founder of AVODAH and the current COO of the New Israel Fund, looked at the significance of the Jubilee year, “one of the Torah’s most revolutionary ideas.” Every 50th year, debts are forgiven and land is redistributed to original owners, ensuring that even the unfortunate individuals whose unproductive farms forced them away from their own property into a migrant pattern of working on other farms–leaving them without reliable work, income, or property assets–would not permanently become a class in servitude.

Interfaith Action’s Gynther says that the problems agricultural workers face are about more than wages, immigration, or piece-rate pay mechanisms. It’s about “the real power in the agriculture industry,” and consolidation among major growers and retailers whose “demand for artificially cheap tomatoes” has a direct impact on labor costs. The power imbalance between the poorest migrant harvesters and the fast food executives is precisely the type of inequality that the Jubilee year is designed to correct. As Steven Stoll mused in Harper’s Magazine recently, the Jubilee year “constitutes nothing less than the first land-reform measure. The upshot was a legal mechanism for preventing class differences.”

One visitor to the Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum, Orlanda Brugnola, an adjunct assistant professor of philosophy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a Unitarian Universalist minister, was offering extra credit to students who took part in fair food efforts. She found the museum to be a provocative, though unsurprising, portrayal of greed and the corresponding systematic devaluation of labor. “If you look at the workplace and the world, whether farms or other businesses, workers are usually treated as objects of use. To me, that’s not an acceptable way of treating any human being.” Having just returned from protests in Arizona against the state’s new immigration law, Brugnola expounded to say that “the greatness of the nation can be judged by how it treats all the people within its borders.”

The museum’s mission is to serve as an educational tool and call to action for participation in its campaign to restructure the power imbalance–a campaign that seeks, in many ways, to function as the “modern-day equivalent of the Jubilee year: a way to prevent dispossession and destitution from becoming the inheritance of families and countries over generations,” as Rabbi Rosenn writes. For Ramirez, who was visiting New York for the third time, the museum was helping to make progress. Visitors, including two couples from South Florida, were positive and hopeful, he said. Modern-day slavery exists, but with a modern-day adaptation of the Jubilee year, perhaps the structural obstacles toward eliminating inequity can be eliminated.

What on Earth is Food Justice? Chew on This!

As we walked into The Commons in Brooklyn on Monday, June 20th, we passed by walls of foodie goodies: delicate jars of golden honey, colorful packages of fresh herbs, and a bunch of arugula labeled, “This was grown on the roof of this building. That’s as local as you can get.” This spunky display of food, set out in old, beautifully worn boxes was–to put it lightly–attractive. But one of the questions of the night was present even as we set foot into the building: what is the connection between these foodie gems and food justice?

Professor Louie, a veteran spoken word poet, did more than connect the dots for us. His poem (check it out below!), a 10-minute overview of our broken down food system, was a comprehensive and compelling take on the complexities of the global food industry. Shifting his weight and clapping his hands between lines, he took us all the way from rural El Salvador to Detroit, from hunger to worker’s rights, from access to sovereignty, from corporate control to democracy. And it was all woven together with a refrain that kept bringing us back: “You are what you eat. You know that’s true. So what else is new? You are what you do.” It wasn’t a lecture; it was a challenge.

After listening to Louie’s words, we turned to a text study to explore what exactly is Jewish about food justice. We looked to Shavuot, wrestling with traditional Jewish agricultural practices, and commenting on the laws that command us to allocate some of our harvest for the poor. The Book of Ruth delves into the power dynamics that these practices create and perpetuate; the charity model renders Ruth a helpless dependent, a position influenced by both her class and gender. We broke into small groups to have discussions on the potential and limitations of this model, and examined the words of Paulo Friere in order to investigate the difference between false charity and models of solidarity and empowerment. Then Nancy Romer, the General Coordinator of the Brooklyn Food Coalition, clarified even more for us what it means to be a food democracy organizer.

Her presentation was marked by her passion and engaging personality, spanning the spectrum of issues all the way from obesity and starvation to the 2012 Farm Bill. Our food system, she argued, is so out of whack that it creates a “war on our people.” Gesticulating passionately, she led us through an astonishing graphic of the progression of obesity over the past decades, shared heart-wrenching details of the abuse of animals, and drove home the importance of incorporating workers’ rights into our analysis of the food system. But she didn’t forget to offer opportunities for change. Her talk ended on a hopeful note, suggesting small and large ways that each of us can get involved in the struggle for food justice: join a CSA, volunteer to “crop mob” at an urban farm, organize efforts for advocacy, work for labor rights in the food system. The event as a whole was certainly an engaging first look into the food justice world, and there was a lot to chew on.

Breath and Pursue How Jewish Meditation Supports Social Action

On Monday, July 25th, Pursuers gathered at the Sixth Street Community Center in Manhattan for Chewing on Food Justice: Got Access, the second installment of the New York series on food justice. The space was a synagogue turned hip community center, a creaky, colorful old building whose walls were equally marked by old Hebrew and Aramaic letters and vibrant murals of figures like Emma Goldman and Zora Neale Hurston. It was a fitting context in which to wrestle with the intersection of Judaism and justice and to awaken our inner rabble-rousers.

The evening featured four change-makers doing wildly different work on food justice issues both locally and globally. Melissa Extein, the Associate Director of Grants at American Jewish World Service, began the night by getting us on our feet with an exercise on power. She symbolized power and stood in the middle of the room, challenging us to choose a spot that signified our relationships to her. The reflections that followed were insightful; we collectively explored our feelings about power, influence, and control. Does power mean dominance and coercion? Are we skeptical of power or drawn to it? How much power does each of us, with our unique positionalities, actually have?

Melissa brought an international lens to food justice, discussing the blunders of Food Aid, and how what looks like a basic charity program actually seriously undermines the livelihoods of local farmers in the Global South. Using Haiti as an example, she complicated the simple idea of dumping loads of free rice, and shared what Haitian farmers are saying about their inability to compete with free foreign produce. In exploring food sovereignty and discussing what gets in the way, we got inspired to advocate for concrete changes in the Food Aid program in the Farm Bill of 2012.

Up next was Mara Gittleman, the director of Farming Concrete, a research project that aims to measure how much food is grown in New York City’s community gardens. She certainly brought it close to home, taking us on a tour through New York City’s history with community-based agriculture, the mass abandonment that came with the fires of the 1970’s, and how finally, these no-man’s lands naturally morphed into a sort of “communal backyard,” areas for voter registration, community gatherings, and of course, gardening. Her presentation shed light on how data can be leveraged as an advocacy tool, and illuminated just how gigantic the yields of the humble raised beds scattered all around the city are all put together. She told us of Puerto Ricans in the Bronx growing sugar cane and Brooklyn gardens sprouting callaloo, fearless planters producing kiwi, gooseberries, and pigeon peas, and the hefty bounty that results from all this hard work (I’m still trying to get my head around the 29,628 lbs of tomatoes produced in 2010!).

Next, Steven Deheeger of the South Bronx CSA connected the dots between all of this community-based food production and issues of access. Calling 10 volunteers up to the front, he illustrated how, despite having some of the highest rates of diabetes, childhood obesity, and other serious health conditions related to malnutrition, the South Bronx continues to lack the healthy food options found in other parts of New York City, rendering it a “food desert.” There are 12 (low-quality) grocery stores in the South Bronx for 88,000 people, compared to 35 on the Upper West Side for just 60,000. So what would food sovereignty mean for the South Bronx, Steven asked? Not being forced to use assistance income on junk food at bodegas. Not needing to rely on private, for-profit supermarkets to fill the gap. More fundamentally, food sovereignty means that healthy food should be a right instead of a privilege for a few wealthy citizens of New York.

Reverend Robert Jackson, the director of Brooklyn Rescue Mission, stepped in to add a race and class analysis to the concept of food sovereignty, to combine what he called a “foodie movement” with the civil rights movement.  “The reality of poverty is not a theory; it’s not in a book. Food is access. You have to connect the dots between food, equality, and access,” he said. As a farmer, reverend, and community leader, he seeks to bring fresh food to low-income areas of Brooklyn, and supplies the food pantry program with produce straight from his Bed-Stuy farm. He spun the story of Joseph that we had looked at in our text study, advocating for all people to have the power to make decisions about their food, regardless of their income level. The late civil rights leader Bayard Rustin famously said, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” Perhaps that was Reverend Jackson’s point when he urged Pursuers to wrestle with food justice, confront their privilege and choices, and gather up some chutzpah. “I want you guys to leave here bigger troublemakers than you came,” he said, smiling mischievously.  And judging from the spirit in the room, I think everyone did.

Understanding Cholesterol Levels

While most people tend to think of cholesterol as a bad thing, it actually serves a useful purpose. According to Harvard Health Publications, cholesterol has three main functions: it makes hormones for the body, it helps produce bile acid that digests food, and it helps to make the outer membranes of cells.

There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Triglycerides, a type of fat, also contribute to your cholesterol level. LDL is considered the bad cholesterol because it contributes to plaque build-up in the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. HDL is beneficial because it moves cholesterol out of the arteries and into the liver. According to the American Heart Association, your total cholesterol level is calculated by adding your HDL level, your LDL level, and 20% of your triglyceride level.

What Is An Ideal Cholesterol Level?

The American Heart Association says that a healthy total cholesterol level should be below 200. An optimal HDL level is 60 or more, and an optimal LDL level is below 100. The key is to keep your cholesterol at a manageable level. This and can be achieved through physical activity and a change in diet.

How Do I Know What My Cholesterol Level Is?

Schedule an appointment with your doctor to get your lipid panels reviewed. This usually involves a fasting blood test.

What Foods Should I Eat To Lower LDL Cholesterol?

If your level is high, make an effort to cut out the sweets and red meats. Foods high in fiber and foods with omega-3 fatty acids can help bring your bad levels down and your good levels up. Here are several foods you should incorporate into your diet, according to Harvard Health Publications. As always, talk to your doctor first for advice on how to best lower your cholesterol level.

  • Fatty Fish Like Salmon
  • Walnuts, Peanuts, and Almonds
  • Green Tea or Black Tea
  • Olive Oil or Vegetable Oil
  • Beans

This Year’s Flu Season

Now that fall is upon us, it’s a great time to take advantage of the cooler weather. Your community probably has several festivals, fairs and outdoor events lined up in the coming weeks before winter sets in. Though it may seem early, right now is a good time to consider getting a flu shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu season usually peaks in the winter months. However, some years have seen cases of the flu start as early as October. According to NBC Los Angeles, there have been “earlier-than-usual reports of the flu” reported in September.

What Are Symptoms of The Flu?

Although many people find it difficult to differentiate between the flu and a common cold, the flu is much more severe. Common symptoms include: coughing, sore throat, body ache, tiredness, chills, fever, stuffy nose, and even vomiting. Serious symptoms that require medical attention include: seizures, chest pain, blue lips, or difficulty breathing.

What Types of Vaccines Are Available?

According to, you can receive the flu vaccine through shot or nasal spray. The CDC says that this year’s vaccine protects against the influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza B virus, and influenza A (H3N2).

How Long Does It Take The Flu Vaccine To Work?

You will be protected from strains of the flu mentioned above about two weeks after receiving the vaccine. The vaccine will keep you protected for one flu season, which is why it’s a good idea to always get an annual flu shot or spray.

Who Should NOT Get The Flu Vaccine?,

Although it is recommended that everyone six months or older should get the vaccine, it is not a good idea if you: are allergic to chicken eggs, have had a severe reaction to the vaccine in the past, are currently ill with fever, or have Guillan Barre Syndrome.

Bacteria Found in Recreational Water

With high temperatures on the horizon, it’s tempting to want to go for a swim in order to beat the heat. It’s a great way to get exercise and keep the kids entertained. But if you enjoy making trips to the beach or nearby lakes and rivers, there is a possibility of facing potential health risks. Recently, 90 people became ill after swimming in a Rhode Island lake, which tested positive for shigella.

Dangerous Bacteria Found in Recreational Water

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) names the following bacteria as some of the top causes for recreational water outbreaks.

  • Shigella – This type of bacteria is typically passed from person to person and originates from infected stool. Shigella can cause the shigellosis disease, which causes stomach cramps, fever and diarrhea. People sickened by shigellosis usually recover on their own, although antibiotics may be used for severe cases.
  • Leptospira – This bacteria can be transmitted to people through contact with the urine of infected animals. Leptospirosis can live in the soil or water for several months. Signs of the bacterial disease include: diarrhea, muscle aches, chills, red eyes, jaundice, fever, rash and vomiting. Treatment typically involves antibiotics.
  • Escherichia Coli – Often known by E. coli, this bacteria has several strains that can be harmful to humans. E. coli that cause disease are often known as ETEC. This is usually found in water infected with stool. Symptoms of e. coli can include diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, nausea, aches and chills. Antibiotics are usually not necessary, unless it is a very severe case. It is recommended that infected individuals get a lot of rest and drink plenty of fluids to keep from becoming dehydrated.

Steps To Avoid These Water-Borne Illnesses

The CDC recommends that you check out local beach information provided by the EPA. You can find out about bacteria levels and learn if the water is safe for swimming. If you do become sick shortly after swimming in a lake, ocean or river, be sure to contact your doctor as soon as possible.

The Effects of Mold Exposure

If you happen to live in an area that gets a lot of rain, it’s important to keep an eye out for leaks and standing water. Mold spores typically thrive in moist, dark areas, which can have an adverse effect on your health. Spending time in humid places with poor ventilation can increase your chances of developing mold-related illnesses, which include allergy-like symptoms such as skin rashes and respiratory problems.

What Health Problems Are Caused By Mold Inhalation?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the symptoms associated with mold exposure can vary significantly. Individuals who are sensitive to molds may develop more severe reactions, some of which are found at the bottom of the list below.

  • Upper Respiratory Infections
  • Skin Irritation
  • Wheezing or Congestion
  • Asthmatic Symptoms in Children or Individuals with Asthma
  • Fever
  • Pneumonitis

What Places Often Have A High Rate of Mold Exposure?

The CDC lists several places that can be potential breeding grounds for mold spores. Saunas, farms, mills and construction sites are just a few such areas. Interestingly enough, summer cottages are another place that can have high levels of mold. If you have a place you visit in the summer, be sure to check thoroughly for signs of mold growth. The CDC recommends that you turn on your air conditioner during summer months or open windows to rooms that don’t get a lot of ventilation.

What Type of Treatment Is Involved?

If you have developed the symptoms above, tell your doctor when you developed symptoms, where you were when they occurred and when the symptoms were at their worst. According to the Mayo Clinic, if the doctor suspects a mold allergy he or she may offer you a skin prick test or a blood test. When your doctor has confirmed a mold allergy, he or she may prescribe one of the following treatments:

  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal corticosteroids
  • Oral Decongestants
  • Nasal Decongestant Sprays
  • Immunotherapy

Warmer Weather Brings Out Ticks

If you enjoy hiking and spending time doing outdoor activities, you’ve probably experienced a tick bite at some point in time. Ticks are commonly found throughout the United States and have been known to carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors this summer, know the symptoms of tick-related illnesses.

Tick Borne Diseases

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are several species of ticks found within the United States that can transmit the following diseases. Though many of the symptoms are similar across illnesses, it is important to contact a doctor immediately if you recognize these signs.

  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: Spotty skin rash, muscle aches, headaches, fever, nausea and vomiting are commonly associated with RMSF. This illness can be very serious and even result in fatality.
  • Tularemia: According to the Mayo Clinic, tularemia is indicated by a skin ulcer at the site of the tick bite. Lethargy and weakness, aches, fever and swollen lymph glands are other signs of the disease.
  • Lyme Disease: A circular red rash surrounded by a red ring that can spread several inches in diameter is often found at the site of the tick bite. Joint and muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, fever and exhaustion are other signs of the disease. If untreated, more severe problems can develop that include: facial droop, shooting pain, heart racing, meningitis, severe joint swelling.
  • Anaplasmosis: Symptoms include: headache, muscle aches, chills and fever, nausea, lethargy and confusion.
  • Babesiosis: People often do not develop symptoms of this disease, which attacks the body’s red blood cells. Symptoms do vary in severity and include: fever, aches, loss of appetite, tiredness, nausea, jaundice, dark urine. It can be fatal in people with weak immune systems.
  • STARI: Also known as southern tick associated rash illness can cause a large red rash surrounded by a red ring, tiredness, aches and fever.
  • Ehrlichiosis tularemia: Aches, fever and tiredness.

It is common for these diseases to develop several days or even weeks after the initial bite.

Reduce Your Likelihood of Getting Bitten by Ticks

Here are a few easy reminders that can help keep ticks away.

  • Keep the grass in your front lawn and backyard cut short.
  • Check yourself thoroughly after doing outdoor activities, including scalp.
  • Check clothing and shoes for ticks before going in your house.
  • Cut back overhanging branches or bushes that are close to your home or patio.
  • Wear light-colored clothing if you’re going through heavily-wooded areas.
  • If you have outdoor pets, treat them with anti-tick medication.
  • Check your pets for ticks after going to the park.

Healthy Foods with Real Health Benefits

Now that summer’s here, there’s certainly more variety when it comes to fresh produce. Whether you’ve decided to start your own garden or you’re a fan of farmer’s markets, you can come across some truly healthy foods. The fruits listed below have some pretty amazing health benefits.

Fruits With Health Benefits

While you might not think tomatoes are peppers should fit into this category, they are actually classified as part of the fruit family. Everything below contains antioxidants, which can prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune system diseases and decline in brain function.

  • Tomatoes: Probably one of the easier plants to grow on this list, tomatoes contain potassium and carotenoids, including lycopene. Carotenoids, a type of antioxidant, contain Vitamin A and can help prevent progressive neurological diseases like ALS and cancer.
  • Blueberries: Known for having an incredibly rich amount of antioxidants, studies on blueberries have indicated they can prevent heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol. They are also high in Vitamin C and low in calories.
  • Strawberries: It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy fresh strawberries. They’re high in Vitamin C and fiber, and can increase you HDL cholesterol (which is good for cardiovascular health!)
  • Bell Peppers: Whether eaten raw, grilled or roasted, bell peppers are tasty in a variety of different entrees. They also contain Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and the carotenoids lycopene and beta-carotene.
  • Plums: With their deep, rich color, plums are full of antioxidants and Vitamin C.
  • Peaches: A perfect summertime snack, peaches are filled with potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and cancer-fighting agents.

Eating Healthier Has Its Rewards

Adding fresh fruit to your diet can work as a proactive measure that can prevent potential health problems. Incorporating these foods into your daily routine can increase your chances of leading a long, healthy life, while decreasing the likelihood of age-related illnesses.

Common Summer Time Injuries

summer injuriesThe summer is often full of relaxation for many people, but it’s also a time when the majority of injuries and accidents occur. To stay protected, educate yourself about the common summer injuries and how you can play a role in preventing them. Before losing all your worries in summer bliss, take a few precautions to ensure that the good times will keep on rolling without any major incidents spoiling your fun.

 Slip and Falls

Slip and falls are some of the leading reasons for emergency room visits every single year. They are a major cause of accidental injuries and death for both the home and the work environment. Slip and falls can happen on any surface or at any time of year, so it’s important to always be aware of the risk these injuries represent. Summertime is a time for fun in the sun, as well as for cooling off by the pool. Spills and wet surfaces, such as the deck of a pool, can be extremely dangerous for both children and adults during the summer. Those enjoying the summer on a boat or yacht should also inform all passengers about safety procedures and how to reduce accidents while on the watercraft. Particularly when summer thunderclouds bring torrential rain, accident and personal injury can be imminent disasters. Awareness and precaution can go a long way in reducing these accidents.

 Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Especially if you are working in an outdoor environment, heat stroke is much more common than you think. It’s very important to stay hydrated during the hot summer months in order to reduce the likelihood of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Try to limit physical activities to early mornings or late evenings when the temperatures are cooler, always drink plenty of water to stay fully hydrated, and wear loose fitting clothing to reduce the impacts of heat exhaustion. Keep an eye on children to see if they are showing signs of dehydration or heat exhaustion, and make sure that all parties are properly protected with sunblock throughout the course of a hot day.

 Bites From Insects

Since many people tend to spend the majority of their summertime outdoors, there’s an increased exposure to all outside elements, including bugs. Insect bites are some of the most common injuries associated with summer for both children and adults. Besides using insect repellent, it can help to wear long sleeved clothing if you know you’ll be in an area where insects run rampant. Be aware of poisonous insects that are prevalent in your area, and always keep a watchful eye. If you are bitten, seek medical attention immediately, even if the bite seems minor at first glance. Insect bites can be deadly if left untreated.

 Auto Accidents

Summer is the ideal season for everyone who owns a motorcycle. Motorcycles are always associated with an increased risk for accidents; this danger is especially enhanced by increase traffic during holidays such as Memorial Day through Labor Day. More pedestrians and bicyclists are also enjoying the summer weather, so drivers should be aware of these additional modes of transportation. Make sure to keep a watchful eye for pedestrians and cyclists, and remember it is a social responsibility to share the road. Drivers should always remain aware of their own surroundings and proceed at a safe speed. It also helps to be able to identify reckless driving behavior in others, and report it to the authorities to get these drivers off the road. It is easy to get carried away in the summer fun and have one too many cocktails. This can endanger your life and the lives of others around you. Always make responsible decisions in regards to drinking and driving. Automobile accidents can lead to serious injuries and even death.

Make the most of your summer by staying safe.As the cliche saying goes: “Hair gets lighter, Skin gets darker, Water gets warmer, Drinks get colder, Music gets louder, Nights get longer, Life gets better-IT’S SUMMER!”