This term at college I’m taking a political science class and the topic of the Patriot Act and NSA snooping came up.  I think we all agreed that, yes what the government is doing is unconstitutional.  Read the 4th Amendment.  However, after 9/11 most Americans were willing to give up a portion of their privacy to be protected from overseas terrorist’s plots.  As 9/11 fades further in our memories, and younger generations who don’t even remember 9/11 become adults, will we still tolerate the government snooping into our business?  But it’s not just the government that knows us inside and out: It’s also Google, Facebook, or any other social media service we use.

I think it needs to be clearly stated that the Internet is not a private place.  It’s like being seated in the middle of a crowded restaurant having a loud conversation with a friend. The NSA is writing down your order. Google is storing your every bite. Facebook is showing your friends ads for the restaurant you like. Instagram is uploading photos of your food.  Twitter is posting your random thoughts that probably should never be shared, and hackers are reaching into your wallet stealing your credit card numbers and identity.  Of course none of these services can get this information, unless we share it.

If we want privacy, we’ll have to ditch our phones and computers.  Of course in some locations that may not be good enough if your being videotaped by a surveillance camera or spy satellite.  I don’t even think caves would be enough protection.  The military probably has the capability to listen in on conversations there too.  So what should we do about it?

Well for one, legislation needs to be drafted immediately to protect law-abiding American citizens from malicious attacks, if our data is used in the wrong way.  Think of all the Google searches you’ve done, all the sites you’ve visited, all the ex love interests you’ve looked up on Facebook, all the embarrassing health questions you’ve had, all the political commentary you’ve posted, all the photos, all the Tweets, all the purchases you’ve made online, and on and on and on.

Just imagine what a candidate could do to his or her political opponent with all that information sitting in a computer.

In the short-term, I think we would all do well to remember that there is no privacy online.  None in reality.  If you really don’t want anyone to know something about you, keep it to yourself.  Of course, one day I’m sure there will be the technology to read our minds.  Then I’ll really be in trouble!

Read more

At the last city council meeting the possibility of the city council enacting a gasoline sales tax in Decatur was brought up and will be discussed again in the future.  The tax revenue would be used to repair Decatur’s streets.  Numbers suggested ranged from 1 cent to 4 cents per gallon.  The city currently does not have a fuel tax.

While I’m sure many of Decatur’s roads need repairs, I would not support a fuel tax for the simple reason that we’re already taxed too much.  Add in the fact that our water rates will more than double  in the next three years, and the case could be solidly made that we’re getting very close to being milked dry.

Our sales tax rate is higher than any other Central Illinois community.  Though the city’s portion of our property tax bill isn’t out of line, we’re taxed quite heavily by other local government entities such as the school district (who will likely be raising rates to cover pension costs) and the park district, who I believe has already increased rates or soon will be.

Considering the fact that our unemployment rate is one of the highest in the state and increasing by the minute, many simply cannot afford to pay more for anything.  Our population is also older and on fixed incomes.

There comes a time when everyone has to live within their means and that means the government too.  Instead of continuously raising rates and adding new taxes, maybe they should learn to do what the rest of us do.  We cut back our spending and try to manage what we have better.

Read more

Did something this week that I had never done before and that’s help plan a funeral.  I was there more for moral support but it was quite an experience.  Though death is something none of us will avoid, we generally try not to think about it a whole lot.

Going in a room and looking at caskets is uncomfortable. I hope I never get used to it.  It’s a bit like shopping on a car lot.  There’s the stripped down generic models, the mid-size family sedans, the rugged 4x4s, the green eco-friendly editions, and the Ferraris.  It’s really silly when you think about it because who’s going to see the casket once it’s buried anyway?  Why spend so much?  It’s like buying a Corvette and knowing it will never be taken out of the garage.  W might as well buy the practical, fuel-efficient model that gets the job done.

It reminds me of a letter written to Ann Landers years and years ago about a funeral home that took advantage of a man who had lost his wife.  His wife had always had a bad back so the funeral home convinced him buy box springs for his wife’s casket to provide extra support.

We all want the best for our loved ones.  Nobody wants to pick out the el cheapo casket  in the corner, that’s only there to convince us to buy the sleek shiny looking ones.  There might be some family members we’d be willing to stick in there but…

The lady helping us said that if a person pre-plans their own funeral they’re likely to spend far less than if their family plans it for them.  That’s probably very true. Most of us are willing to be frugal and practical about it when it’s for ourselves but we want the best for those we love, especially at such a heart-wrenching time.

So if there’s any lesson to learn, it’s to pre-plan our funerals or at least write out our wishes before we’re sick or gone.  A lot of money would be saved and our family members would be spared a lot of pain and uncertainty.


Read more

The city council has already approved a new TIF district for the construction of a new County Market grocery store to be located on Grand Avenue between Oakland Avenue and Route 48.  Several homes will be torn down to make way for the store.

I’m glad that this area is being revitalized and I’m glad there’s interest in it.  I was thrilled when the former buildings, which had become eyesores were torn down.  In fact I remember filling out a community survey 3 or 4 years ago suggesting the city look at this intersection and clear it out for new development.  I’m sure that’s why this is happening now. Ha! I wish I had that much influence.  Seriously, I am glad that jobs and new development are coming.

However, as much as I want to see new development in that area, I have concerns about the traffic and I’m not sold on a TIF district for a grocery store.  Personally, I think the area is more suited for smaller retail and/or office space. That intersection is heck to navigate on a good day.  Every weekday I hold my breath when  turning north onto Oakland off of Grand Avenue, after dropping my daughter off at MacArthur High School.  It is not designed well at all for pedestrians – or cars for that matter.

Grand Avenue, where MacArthur is located, is dangerous too.  There are no crosswalk lines painted on the road, no caution lights and I watch near misses nearly every day as kids cross 4 lanes of traffic.  That’s another topic though.

Besides the safety hazard for pedestrians, I don’t think a grocery store needs a TIF district.  This isn’t a mom and pop shop making it on a shoestring budget.  It reminds me of the ridiculous deal that Slumberland got for coming to Decatur.  Well, it was a great deal for Slumberland but not so much for taxpayers.  I like the store and have bought furniture there but I think the deal they got was too generous.  The city won’t be seeing much sales tax revenue from Slumberland for years and years to come.

It is maddening how much we have to give in order to get any corporation or franchise restaurant interested in Decatur.  We still haven’t attracted a restaurant in the available space next to the Olive Garden by Target.  For goodness sakes, that’s as a prime a location as any restaurant is going to get.  If they have good food, they’re going to rake in the dough.  Why hasn’t anything located there yet?  We can’t blame the economy.  Nearby cities have still attracted new restaurants in past couple years.  Does Springfield have to give half their sales tax back to get them to locate there?  Does Champaign have to bend over backwards like Decatur does?  I don’t know.  I’ll have to do the research.

I think I got off subject a little bit but not by much.

I am for TIF districts in truly blighted areas where local people are trying to improve an area with local stores and renovations.  I’m absolutely for that. It makes sense.  The downtown improvements wouldn’t be happening without the TIF district that has funded it.  Giving away our badly needed tax revenue to large businesses and corporations however just seems wrong and unneeded. I know that’s the game they play and force upon cities but it’s still wrong.

I hope there are plans to reconfigure the Grand Avenue/Route 48/Oakland intersections.

Also, I think there were better, or more blighted areas in town, that this development could have helped improve.

Well, it’s done now so there you go.  I hope that the new County Market is successful and I hope other new development is spurred because of it.

Read more

Ah! A little break from writing papers, studying for tests and all that other college stuff.  I can’t believe next week is midterms!  8-week classes fly by.  So far I’m doing good but it’s been a little rough the last week or so with a family member seriously ill in the hospital.  At least with online classes, I have a lot more flexibility to deal with those unforeseen events.

Online classes sure aren’t easier than on-campus.  If my schedule wasn’t so crazy, I’d prefer to be in a classroom.  I miss the discussions.  There are required weekly discussions with my fellow classmates but we’re all graded on what we say.  We can’t just discuss the weather and get an A.

This is probably the only college class that I have taken where I will have read the entire textbook from cover to cover and be required to know pretty much everything in it.  Believe me, on-campus classes are MUCH easier.  Most professors don’t even use textbooks or they barely refer to them.  They have their own notes.  You can get a feel for what they want you to know and will probably test you on.  I have to study and prepare for everything. I don’t know what’s going to be on the tests. So if you think online classes are for lazy students, you’re wrong.

One good thing about having had this blog for so long, it’s easy for me to write papers and essay questions – as long as I sort of know what I’m writing about.  If I hadn’t been writing so much the past few years, it would probably be much harder to jump back in and write a long-winded paper.

Read more