Flowers #256D, 253E, 255C, 253F, 261C & 262D

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Lilies, whose scientific name is Lilium, has more than one hundred gorgeous species in its family.  There are many plants that have lily in their common name; however, not all are true Lilies.  Two examples of this misnomer are Day Lilies and Peace Lilies.  True Lilies are mostly native throughout the temperate climate regions of the northern hemisphere of planet Earth, although their range can extend into the northern subtropics as well.  This range extends across much of Europe, Asia, Japan and the Philippines and across southern Canada and throughout most of the United States.

Lilies are very easy to grow.  If I can grow them, anyone can!  They are not especially particular about soil neither type nor pH level.  Their only requirement is well-drained soil.  Lilies grow best in full sun; however, they may thrive in partial sun as well.  An interesting fact about this plant is that most Lily bulbs have very thick roots that have the ability to pull the bulb down into the soil at a depth that is most optimum for their continued survival.

If I am fortunate to have you view my photographs and you find the color saturation too much or the color schemes of the mats do not match either themselves or the photograph, please let me know via a comment.  Being color-blind, what might look great to me might look like sh*t to everyone else!

Steven H. Spring

501(c)(4) Facts And Figures And Lack Thereof

May 17, 2013

As talk of impeachment fills the airwaves by Republican talking heads and tea baggers concerning the perceived abuse of power by the Internal Revenue Service involving conservative non-profit political organizations being unfairly investigated during the 501(c)(4) application process, one very important issue always seems to be missing from the argument; that being facts and figures.

To understand the scope of the alleged abuse by the IRS’ investigation into the application for tax exempt status, let’s see the statistics over the past ten years, five years for both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, regarding the total number of applications, the number of applications applied for by political party and the number of applications that were scrutinized to determine if the organization met the requirements of this code section.  What statistics I would like to see would be, by year are:

1.  The total number of 501(c)(4) applications submitted to the IRS,
2.  The total number of 501(c)(4) applications submitted to the IRS by conservative political  groups,
3.  The total number of 501(c)(4) applications submitted to the IRS by democratic political groups,
4.  The percentage of 501(c)(4) applications submitted to the IRS by conservative political groups to the total submitted to the IRS,
5.  The percentage of 501(c)(4) applications submitted to the IRS by democratic political groups to the total submitted to the IRS,
6.  The total number of 501(c)(4) applications submitted to the IRS by conservative political   groups that were scrutinized by the IRS,
7.  The total number of 501(c)(4) applications submitted to the IRS by democratic political groups that ere scrutinized by the IRS,
8.  The percentage of 501(c)(4) securitized applications to the total number submitted to the IRS by conservative political groups to the total submitted to the IRS,
9.  The percentage of 501(c)(4) securitized applications to the total number submitted to the IRS by democratic political groups to the total submitted to the IRS.

As a former audit supervisor with the Auditor of State of Ohio, I learned the importance of statistics.  When conducting an audit of any political entity, no matter the size, audits were always based on materiality and percentages.  For example, if one particular type of expenditure were material to the total dollar amount spent, we would audit it.  However, we would never look at every expenditure.  If an entity had a thousand different expenditures in the general fund, we would audit somewhere between fifty and a hundred of them, and then base our conclusion on percentages.

As an example of how selected number can be very misleading, let’s assume that 100 total 501(c)(4) applications were submitted to the IRS for approval for tax exempt status.  For this example, I will assume there are many more conservative political organizations applying than democratic ones just based on the sheer numbers you see on television ever since Barack Obama was elected president.  So for this example, let’s assume that 90 applications were by conservative groups versus 10 by democrats.  Let’s also assume that of these applications, 9 by conservative groups were scrutinized by the IRS to determine whether they are eligible for tax-free status and only 1 by democrats.  Tea baggers every where would be in an uproar because many more conservative applications were scrutinized as were democratic applications.  However, studying the statistics, one would find the same percentage number were examined.  Below are the numbers and results I used in this example corresponding to my list above;

1.    100 total applications,
2.    90 conservative applications,
3.    10 democratic applications,
4.    90% of total applications were conservative,
5.    10% of total applications were democratic,
6.    9 conservative applications scrutinized,
7.    1 democratic application scrutinized,
8.    10% of conservative applications were scrutinized,
9.    10% of democratic applications were scrutinized.

Reportedly, of the 298 total applications flagged for review between the years 2010 and 2012, 72 had “tea party” in their title, 13 had “patriots” and 11 had “9/12.”  This last designation refers to conservative radio and television blowhard Glenn Beck’s organization, 9/12 Project, in which the goal is to, according to Beck “to bring us all back to the place we were in on September 12, 2001,” when we were not Republicans or Democrats, but Americans.  However, as I showed in my example, numbers can be manipulated and appear to reflect a hypothesis that is not consistent to the overall picture.  If many more applications are submitted by conservative groups, it makes sense that many more applications by them would be scrutinized by the IRS.  Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS division whose responsibility it is to review these tax exempt applications, has been quoted as saying there was no political intent involved when evaluating an application and that these code words were only used as a tool when sorting through the massive upsurge in the number of 501(c)(4) applications in recent years.

The real tragedy concerning these 501(c)(4) organizations is that this code that was established nearly one hundred years ago to give charitable groups providing social welfare to the needy tax exempt status.  The IRS determined social welfare to mean “promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community, i.e….bring about civic betterment and social improvements.”  In order to quality, the operations of these organizations were exclusively the promotion of social welfare.  In 1959, the wording on this code was drastically changed so that exclusively was changed to primarily providing social welfare.  Does anyone really believe all these political groups are providing social welfare?

Over the past several elections, spending by these groups have surpassed that of the so-called Super PACs.  Applications for 501(c)(4) status have increased from a mere sprinkle to a monsoon over the past five years, once the Supreme Court, in its ruling “Citizens United,” in which the court ruled that money is free speech, opening the way for citizens and corporations to spend as much money as they wish to influence, or buy an election.  Money is not free speech, money is a very powerful, even overwhelming influence.  This ruling drove the final nail in the coffin of American democracy.  To make matters worse, donors to these organizations remain confidential.

America is now officially a plutocracy, governed by the wealthy elite!

Steven H. Spring

It’s Long Past Time To Close Gitmo

May 15, 2013

It is long past time to close the U.S. naval station located at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Gitmo to the sailors and marines that have been stationed there.  And no, I am not talking about only closing the prison camp located on the base, which currently houses one hundred and sixty-six men who have been designated as enemy combatants, and have been held as long as eleven years without trial.  Only nine of these current detainees have ever been alleged to have committed any sort of terrorist act.  Eighty-six of these men have been absolved of any terrorist activity and deemed eligible for either outright release or transfer back to their home country for at least three years, twenty-eight of which were ruled releasable during the George W. Bush presidency.

To make matters worse, officially, one hundred of these prisoners begun a hunger strike four months ago, although lawyers for the men say the number is closer to one hundred and thirty.  Five of these men have been hospitalized, while twenty-three are being force-fed via a feeding tube running down their nose and throat into their stomach.  To do so, these men have to be restrained in chairs. To ensure that no prisoner starves themselves to death during their strike, the military has sent additional medical staff to the prison camp.  Currently, there is nearly one medical staff member for each prisoner, an astronomical ratio, especially considering many Republican members of Congress see little need for the poorest of Americans to have any medical treatment or coverage at all.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has opined that force feeding these men “violates core ethical values of the medical profession.”  The AMA has further expressed their apprehension regarding this treatment in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in which Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, the AMA president wrote “The AMA has long endorsed the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo, which is unequivocal on the point: ‘Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.’”  The Declaration of Tokyo is a collection of international guidelines for physicians concerning the torture and other sadistic, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners that was adopted during the twenty-ninth General Assembly of the World Medical Association in October of 1975.

In our lust to seek revenge for the horrific attack of September 11, 2001, we have invaded two countries, resulting in the longest wars in our history, conducted torture on prisoners of war in violation of the rules of the Geneva Conventions and have held prisoners/enemy combatants in violation of both civil and human rights.  Is this really what America, a country which professes to be a nation of law, stands for?  In 2010, President Obama proposed closing the prison camp, moving the detainees to an unused super-maximum prison in Illinois.  However, Congress blocked his attempt to do so and is currently considering spending an additional two hundred millions dollars to upgrade the prison camp.  With a cost of one hundred and fifty million dollars a year to maintain the prison, this comes to more than nine hundred thousand dollars per detainee, thirty times what it cost to house a typical prisoner in an American penal institution.

I propose not only closing the Gitmo prison camp but also that of the entire naval station at Guantanamo Bay, the oldest U.S. overseas naval base, which was established by the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903.  With seven Navy and Marine Corps. bases, seven Air Forces bases and fifteen Coast Guard bases located in the state of Florida, is there any reason to have a base in Cuba, located only ninety miles away, other than to aggravate the Castro brothers?

The United States has nearly seven hundred and fifty official military bases located in other countries throughout the world.  President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has recently said the United States has told him that we are planning on maintaining nine military bases in his country after our war is to conclude at the end of 2014.  We still have thirty thousand troops stationed along the 38th parallel in Korea sixty years after that war ended.  We have an untold number of military bases located throughout Europe nearly seventy years after World War II ended.  This nation is falling apart at the seams.  Our infrastructure is aging and rapidly deteriorating, our kindergarten through high school educational system ranks near the bottom of all industrialize countries, we are heavily in debt all the while Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are facing drastic reductions in services due to budget shortfalls as we are bankrupting ourselves with our numerous military and imperialist crusades.  You need a scorecard to keep track of all our current ongoing military endeavors.

We spend one and a half trillion dollars annually on defense and intelligence, yet we are more despised and hated and more attacked than ever before in our relatively short history.  We must stop this madness!

Steven H. Spring

Flowers #151F, 151I, 154E & 154G

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Columbines, whose scientific name is Aquilegia, which is derived from the Latin word Aquila which translates as eagle, is so named because the spurred shape of the plant’s sepals on many of the sixty to seventy species of the flower resemble an eagle’s talons.  This easy to grow, hardy perennial blooms from late spring through early summer.  Though not particularly a long-lived plant, most die off after only two or three years.  However, the plant does grow easily from seed, and if seed pods are allowed to develop annually will reseed themselves.  The long spurs of the flower produces a nectar that is a favored by hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.

Native to Asia, the plant is now found growing in the wild in meadows, woodlands and at higher altitudes throughout North America and Europe.  Columbines, which come in many colors ranging from red, pink and white to purple and blue, are propagated by seed, growing to a height of fifteen to twenty inches.  The plant will grow in full sun, however it prefers partial shade and a moist, rich, well-drained soil.  Having a long taproot, which allows it to survive periods of drought, this same taproot does make transplanting the plant somewhat difficult.

The two flowers pictured here, look somewhat to me like a typical flower, although many of the species are very exotic in appearance.  Columbines, the state flower of Colorado (Rocky Mountain Columbine), were consumed in moderation by Native Americans as a condiment and are said to be very sweet.  However, the seeds and root of the plant are very poisonous and if consumed can be fatal.

If I am fortunate to have you view my photographs and you find the color saturation too much or the color schemes of the mats do not match either themselves or the photograph, please let me know via a comment.  Being color-blind, what might look great to me might look like sh*t to everyone else!

Steven H. Spring

Stupid Commercials – Ally Bank

May 8, 2013

As commercials overwhelm seemingly nearly every living second of our well-being, you would think that the advertising men who create them and the corporations that finance them would be more astute in actually producing them.  Watching old television shows on DVD, I am amazed that hour-long shows from the 1950s and ‘60s were actually fifty-two minutes long, leaving only eight minutes for advertisements.  Now days, a show of this length is lucky to be forty-four minutes long.  This represents at least a one hundred percent increase in the number of minutes that commercials are aired each hour since the days of my youth.

When you consider that networks now routinely show pop-up ads and product placements during a show, viewers probably watch twenty minutes worth of commercials for every forty minutes of actual programming.  When watching reruns of old shows on television, the networks frequently chop off four or five minutes from the original half-hour show, replacing these lost minutes with, you guessed it, more commercials.  Though it most likely isn’t the only network to do so, but I have noticed that during their late evening programming, TV Land bumps up their air time for a half-hour show to thirty-six minutes, something local news did many years ago with their 11:00 p.m. newscast.  Are these local news broadcasts reporting any more news in the extra five minutes they now air?  Of course not.  I am a news junkie, however, I gave up watching locals news many years ago, because of its “if it bleeds it leads” mentality.  When I do watch local news to catch the weather report or sports, it seems that the last twenty minutes of the broadcast consists of three minutes of weather and another three minutes for sports.  Six minutes of news out of twenty minutes of airtime.  Not for me!

I can somewhat tolerate smart or funny commercials, however I find stupid commercials very irritating.  Especially when they are repeated over and over and over again, all day long.  The latest example of a very dim-witted advertisement is the Ally Bank commercial that has been airing for several years.  In the commercial, a man with a briefcase containing supposedly $100,000.00 in cash, asks complete strangers to watch it for him.  The premise of the commercial is that you wouldn’t trust a stranger to watch your money and not take any “fees,” why would you trust your bank to do the same?  This scenario begs for explanations to several questions such as where is the man going in such a hurry that he cannot take his very small briefcase with him?  Why does he show each person he asks to watch his money what is in the briefcase?  Also, why is he walking around with $100,000.00 in cash?  Is he a drug dealer or what?

Is there any one, except for the very young, who actually believe these people chosen to watch a great deal of cash are real life citizens and not a paid actor?  The television networks, radio and now the internet engulf our viewing and listening pleasures with nearly continuous commercials, please don’t insult our intelligence as well.

Steven H. Spring

Flowers #88B, 88C, 86B, 87C & 89B

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Snapdragons, members of the Antirrhinum genus of flowers are so named because if you gently squeeze the sides of the flower it appears that the jaws of the dragon head snaps closed.  Considered a cold-season annual plant, Snapdragons are actually a tender perennial that do best in full or partial sun and a well-drained soil with neutral pH levels.  Native to North Africa, Spain and along the Mediterranean coastline to Italy, these plants need full sun but will stop blooming if it gets too hot, thus requiring partial shade when grown in hot, sunny climates.

Most Snapdragons are a bushy plant with tall spikes of flower buds, growing up to a height of four feet, although some varieties only grow to six inches.  Cultivated since the 1700s, these plants flower from spring until fall, blooming in all colors except true blue.  One drawback to these exotic looking, easy to grow flowers is the fact that all parts of the plant are poisonous.

If I am fortunate to have you view my photographs and you find the color saturation too much or the color schemes of the mats do not match either themselves or the photograph, please let me know via a comment.  Being color-blind, what might look great to me might look like sh*t to everyone else!

Steven H. Spring

The Afghanistan War Fiasco

May 1, 2013

How is it that the only thing America does best anymore is starting wars?  Ever since the first Gulf War, which started on January 16, 1991, the United States seems to be perpetually at war.  During the decade of the 1990s, some sort of military action, either troops were sent in, no fly zones were enforced or air strikes were carried out in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq, Macedonia, Somalia and Sudan by U.S. troops either own our own or as part of a United Nations coalition.  When Osama bin Laden pulled off his horrific attack against this nation on September 11, 2001, we first invaded Afghanistan, then Iraq.  After a decade of fighting in Iraq, we finally declared victory and supposedly withdrew our fighting troops from the war ravaged country, although we still have as many as thirty thousand troops stationed there as military advisers.  With no clear-cut exit strategy nor definition of victory in either country, what exactly are our soldiers fighting for?

Theoretically, our war with Afghanistan is to end at the end of next year, however America has a long history of never really pulling out all its troops after a conflict had ended.  The United States has nearly seven hundred and fifty official military bases located in other countries.  We still have thirty thousand troops stationed along the 38th parallel in Korea sixty years after that war ended.  We have numerous military bases located throughout Europe nearly seventy years after World War II ended.  In addition to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, during the past few years the U.S. has invaded or are conducting drone missile attacks in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Uganda.  Just a few weeks ago, before the Boston marathon bombing knocked Kim Jong-un from the news, talk of nuclear war with North Korea filed our airwaves, as the North Korean dictator was threatening to attack American military bases in South Korea, Japan, Guam and Hawaii in a show of force against U.S. imperialism.

With an estimated one million deaths and more than two million refugees having fled the country during our unfunded and unnecessary war with Iraq, we have left the Iraqi people in such a mess that many believe civil war in that nation is now imminent.  When you consider that our government is seriously talking about taking aggressive action against both Iran and Syria, one cannot help but wonder how we are paying for all these missions, in terms not only of dollars and cents but also that of human life.  Our government has begun cutting much needed aid to its senior citizens, the poor and its children and Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are nearing bankruptcy, however Congress always finds the needed funds to go to war.

On Monday, it was reported that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan boasted of receiving tens of millions of dollars in cash during the past decade, delivered by the CIA every month in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags to be used for various purposes.  One U.S. official was quoted as saying “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States,” as this “ghost money” has been used not only to promote corruption but to empower Afghan warlords, many who have ties to the Taliban, the very people U.S. troops are fighting.  Several years ago, it was reported that plane loads of cash were being flown into the country.

When the first U.S. drone attacks began raids into Pakistan, President Karzai declared that if war broke out between the United States and Pakistan, Afghanistan would side with their neighbors.  It is asinine for this nation to be fighting its longest war in our history all the while we our bankrupting ourselves waging warfare in a nation that does not want us to be there and its president declaring his nation would side with its neighbor if war broke out there as well.  America does not want to admit it, however, during the past twenty-five years, this nation has become the world’s most warmongering country, quite possibly in history.  War is big business, and the almighty dollar always wins out, but this violence and madness must end!

Steven H. Spring