4 Benefits of Joining the Military

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Military Men

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Some people join the military to serve their country, while others do so to travel the world.  But a 2014 RAND Corporation study revealed that most enlistees today do so for economic reasons.  Older recruits (those who enlist well after high school graduation and into their mid-20s) comprised 56% of cadets in 2009, the latest data available.  That number is well above the 1992 level, when only 35% of cadets enlisted in their mid to late 20s.  One-third of those who joined in 2009 said they did so because there were no other jobs they could find at home.

Regardless of the reason you join, there are many benefits available to veterans when they return home from their deployment.

Here are four of the most useful benefits:

Educational Benefits

No matter what branch you join, veterans will have a plethora of options to help finance their college education.  Most service members can take advantage of the Military Tuition Assistance Program.  Each branch has it own eligibility requirements.  For instance, the Air Force covers all active duty and reserve personnel up to $250 per semester hour, or $166 per quarter hour.  The Army makes the benefit available to reservists as well.

The Montgomery GI Bill is available for up to 10 years after discharge.  Most veterans today must reduce their military pay by $100 per month for the first year of service, which is their contribution to the fund.  Veterans are then eligible for up to $1,368 per month in benefits for four school years.  The Post 9/11 GI Bill is another option for all veterans who have served at least 90 days since September 10, 2001.  The best part about the latter is that the benefit can be transferred to a spouse or child if you do not use it yourself.

Retirement Savings

All active duty personnel and reservists are eligible for the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).  It’s one of the most economical savings plans available.  The typical 401(k) charges annual fees totaling up to 0.63% of assets, according to the Investment Company Institute.  The average net expense ratio for the TSP program was 0.029% in 2013.

Veterans have a choice of five different mutual or target-date funds, with a maximum annual investment of $17,500 in 2014.  A ROTH TSP is also available.

Discounts

Your peers will hold you in high regard when you return from deployment.  A 2013 Pew Research survey found that 78% of Americans believe members of the military make a significant contribution to society. Businesses also respect veterans and show their respect by offering discounts on their products and services to them.

Harley-Davidson offers a 5% discount on merchandise purchased through its military exchange. Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) members get a 10% discount on Lifelock Identity Theft Protection. Motel 6, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Disney World, Avis, and thousands of other businesses offer discounts as well.  Though most companies make their discounts known, you may have to ask a representative about military discounts in some cases.

Tax Breaks

Federal law allows military personnel to maintain residence in one state even if orders move them somewhere else.  This means you can be shielded from state taxes even if you are deployed to a high-tax state.

For instance, if your permanent residence (domicile) is in Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, or another state with no state income tax, you are obligated only to that state’s tax laws and not the state’s laws where you are deployed.  Your spouse is also covered by this statute.  If the state you’re deployed to has more favorable tax laws, you may claim that state as your domicile and be obligated only to its tax laws.

Of course, tax laws are quite complicated, so check with legal assistance on base for further details.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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David Perdue is Making a Huge Romney Mistake

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David Perdue

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Michelle Nunn, daughter of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, has a more than legitimate chance to win the Georgia U.S. Senate seat.  As Republicans are passionately committed to taking back the U.S. Senate, and maintaining control of the U.S. House in the November 2014 elections, this would be a disappointing loss. Why disappointing?  Georgia is a slightly Republican-leaning state and a state that Republicans have already determined they will win.  If David Perdue, the Republican candidate for Senate and cousin of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, does not do a better job of defending his business record, he will lose to Nunn.  In the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election, Mitt Romney did a poor job of defending his business record against the attacks of President Obama, contributing significantly to his defeat.  Romney highly touted his business experience as the primary evidence he knew how to ameliorate the U.S. economy and do a far better job of handling the economy than President Obama.  Romney never, however, seemed to respond adequately to President Obama’s attacks on his management of Bain Capital, and never appeared to provide a sufficient response to Obama’s general attacks on his business experience.

David Perdue is in danger of making the same huge mistake Romney made; he’s failing to defend his business experience adequately.  Perdue’s business experience is even more important to his candidacy than Romney’s was to his candidacy in 2012.  Business experience is the only substantive leadership Perdue has.

Former Senator Nunn is highly respected across the state among Democrats and Republicans.  It’s possible that his daughter will be able to benefit from his name recognition and earn enough votes to defeat Perdue. Michelle Nunn is running a highly effective television advertisement about a company, Pillowtex, Perdue once led.  It shares the anger of some former employees of the company who were negatively impacted by Perdue’s management of the company.  If Perdue wants to stop the adverse impact this advertisement is having on his campaign, then he must run a television advertisement that directly counters Nunn’s Pillowtex advertisement.

Although Republicans are targeting open Senate seats where incumbent Democrats are vulnerable, it’s time for them to send David Perdue some much needed support in Georgia.  Some polls show Perdue leading Nunn and some show Nunn leading Perdue, with an average of the polls giving Perdue a slight edge.  This race will go right down to the finish.

Perdue is doing an excellent job of casting Nunn as being a rubberstamp vote for President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  He says that she will be a “proxy for both Obama and Reid,” and she will be “Obama’s Senator” and “not Georgia’s Senator.”  Nunn leadership experience is fairly limited but Perdue has not really done an effective job of exposing it.  To win, Perdue must become more aggressive in defending his business record and in exposing Nunn’s limited leadership experience.  His current campaign strategy will not be enough to win him the Senate seat.  Perdue cannot simply rely on the fact that Georgia is a Republican-leaning state, considering demographics have constantly been moving in favor of Georgia Democrats.  He needs to take an honest look at how much of a fight incumbent Governor Nathan Deal is in with Jason Carter, son of former President Jimmy Carter, as evidence of how tough it’s going to be to defeat Nunn.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

10 Ways to Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery

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Bob Marley Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery

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If you desire to emancipate yourself from mental slavery, then the following is a list of ten ways that will lead you to liberating yourself from mental slavery:

  1. Never be a “people-pleaser.”
  2. Give yourself the freedom to think for yourself.
  3. Never worry about the judgments of others.
  4. Always be yourself.
  5. Benefit from learning from revolutionaries. Observe them directly and/or read about them. Learn what makes/made them distinctive and truly liberated.
  6. Enjoy the beauty of everyday life.
  7. Don’t fall in love with tradition of any kind.
  8. Bloom where you’re planted. Be great and a leader in the areas and gifts you naturally have and/or have worked to obtain.
  9. Read and learn something new every day.
  10. Learn how to see things from the perspectives of others and not just your own perspective.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dispel the False Allure of the “Facebook Fire Challenge”

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Facebook Fire Challenge

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Recently, there has been a burgeoning interest in the “Facebook Fire Challenge,” where mostly young guys, are sharing via Facebook their acts of self-immolation. This phenomenon is one of the strongest examples of how destructive this willingness to do almost anything to gain fame has become.  As someone who has devoted his academic and social justice work to ameliorating the lives of Black boys and men, it’s disheartening to witness a disproportionate number of these self-immolations being committed by young Black males.  This is why we have to continue to promote strengthening the Black male educational pipeline. Ensuring that Black males are receiving a high quality education, regardless of their backgrounds, is the key to combating a nihilistic spirit that’s running rampant throughout America, including in many impoverished Black communities.  Authentic, selfless and quality mentoring of young Black males is one of the most powerful tools of resistance we have at our disposal against this growing nihilistic spirit in America, especially in many Black communities.

Our young Black males need people around them who will tell and show them they love them and that they matter.  Nihilism is imbuing the psyches of too many young Black males.  We have to stay actively involved in their lives to help them avoid doing damaging and unproductive things.  While many may assert that one of the central reasons why many Black males are involving themselves in the “Facebook Fire Challenge” is the absence of numerous Black fathers in the home, we can no longer allow this to be the oversimplified conclusion of the narrative.  We have to identify homes where there are young Black males with absent fathers, and when we locate these homes, we need community leaders to partner those young guys with quality mentors.  How can we practically accomplish this?

Well, we’re always taking about starting a movement and/or being part of a movement.  Why don’t we start a national movement to take back our Black boys from the manacles of despondency and nihilism?  One of the best ways to prevent our Black boys from being destroyed by despondency and nihilism is to create mentoring programs in every community where Black boys are present.  We need to partner every Black boy with a mentor, especially those boys with absent fathers.  These programs don’t have to cost any money to form.  It does not cost any money to be willing to accept the role of a true mentor.  If community leaders would like to develop mentoring programs that are highly sophisticated and well-financed, this, of course, is absolutely fine.  Regardless of the approach taken in each community, what’s most important is for the community to act.  Young Black boys need to see more examples of success in their communities.  Successful individuals within their communities can aid in modeling success for them.

Have you endorsed the “Facebook Fire Challenge”?  You have if you’ve shared one video of these acts of self-immolation.  Stop sharing these videos.  When these young people begin to see that they don’t have a large audience for their foolish acts, they will realize self-immolation is an act that will not gain them the attention they desire.  Instead of sharing videos of acts of self-immolation, let’s use various social media platforms to oppose participation in the “Facebook Fire Challenge,” and let’s provide substantive education about the dangers of involving one’s self in such risky behavior.  Too many young people believe they will earn respect from millions of people across the country and world by posting videos of themselves participating in the “Facebook Fire Challenge,” but when more young folks hear and read a significant number of fervid protests against involvement in this phenomenon, we will have made a noble effort to encourage them to come off of a metaphorical bridge to disaster.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

4 Ways Mobile Technology is Improving Your Motorcycle Ride

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Motorcyclist using cellphone

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Whether you’re a casual motorcycle rider or a hardcore biker, your smartphone can make your riding experience even better.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 93,000 people were injured in a motorcycle-related accident in 2012, a 15% increase from 2011.  Texting while driving demonstrates a lack of responsibility, but using a smartphone to enhance the safety of your motorcycle? Smart move.

High-Tech Helmets

Motorcycle helmets are quickly becoming more high-tech.  Recently, Reevu, Skully and Nuviz revealed modern helmets that have GPS, cell phone, rear-view camera and music player capabilities.  The Skully Operating System integrated in the Skully AR-1 connects to an iPhone or Android smartphone via Bluetooth, allowing drivers to send texts and take calls through voice commands—no need to take your eyes off the road. Skully announced that the AR-1 will be released sometime in 2014.  However, if you just can’t wait for the release of the AR-1, BikeBandit carries Bluetooth communications systems and other helmets with advanced technology, including advanced ventilation systems and carbon fiber construction.

Tap2Pass

Current technology enables smartphones to help keep us safe from the moment we start our engines to the moment we’re back home.  It’s now possible to turn a smartphone into an automatic garage door opener.  The company Flash2Pass created the Tap2Pass receiver.  This receiver communicates with a smartphone through the Tap2Pass app.  The system can be installed on up to 7 phones, essentially giving every member of your family with a smartphone his or her own garage door remote.  The four digit PIN offers an extra layer of security in case the smartphone is lost or stolen.  Tap2Pass works with both iPhone and Android smartphones.

Vehicle-to-Pedestrian and Vehicle-to-Motorcycle Safety Technologies

Although still in the testing phase, vehicle-to-pedestrian and vehicle-to-motorcycle technologies will soon become a possibility, thanks to Honda.  With dedicated short-range communications technology, a smartphone can detect nearby pedestrians and motorcycles and alert both parties of a possible collision using auditory and visual warnings.  In other words, the driver’s smartphone communicates with the pedestrian’s smartphone to predict the chance of an accident.  An app specifically designed for V2P technology will be able to determine a pedestrian’s position, direction and speed.  And get this: the app will even tell drivers if a pedestrian is texting, listening to music or on a phone call.

Spot Connect

This handy little device turns your smartphone into a satellite communicator, something that comes in handy when you’ve lost all cell phone connection and are stranded in the middle of nowhere.  Spot Connect assists you in reaching friends, family, service providers, and, of course, emergency personnel. Notable functions include SOS mode, which discloses your GPS location to the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center, and a Help Mode that sends custom or predefined messages to your chosen contact group.  Spot Connect isn’t just for emergency situations, however.  It also enables you to share your motorcycle adventures with family and friends on Google Maps.  They’ll be able to see your ride progress and know exactly where you’re located.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Summer 2014 Will Be Remembered by Pharrell’s “Happy”

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Pharrell Williams "Happy"

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When we look back 20 years from now, we will define Summer 2014 by Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” “Happy” is the hit track from Williams’ second album, Girl (2014), and the Despicable Me 2 (2013) soundtrack.  The song calls each individual to love being who he or she really is.  It’s becoming increasingly more lucid where we are right now in the postmodern epoch is a time when too many individuals suffer from psychic fragmentation.  Too many people have become so focused on being what others want them to be that they don’t even know who they really are any longer—it’s possible they never even gave themselves a chance to learn who they really are. With the release of “Happy,” Williams offers a valuable counter-narrative to the dominant American narrative that says who you really are isn’t good enough, and to be good enough you need to be someone you aren’t.

The challenge to the status quo “Happy” presents begins with the song’s ingenious author, Pharrell Williams.  Although we’re living in a time when people highly embrace flashy phenomena they hope will make them standout, Williams finds peace in simple elegance.  He knows how to make simple clothing, clothing that’s not flashy, refreshingly elegant.  When we see Mr. Williams, we’re witnessing a human being who has been liberated from the postmodern impulse to be someone he’s not.  “Happy” has given us an opportunity to experience the true substance that composes Pharrell.  Through his amazingly successful song, music fans are provided with a powerful alternative to the prevalent fear countless individuals have about loving who they truly are.

“Happy” has been #1 on the Billboard Top 100 and #1 on music charts in 19 countries.  Even with this song’s great success and wide popularity, it does not seem to have had any meaningful impact on changing America’s fascination with the superficial over the substantial.  One of the primary reasons for this could be how distracted we can get with hot beats that make us dance.  Unfortunately, we too often don’t want to reflect on why these beats make us want to dance in the first place. If we would engage more closely with the positive messages of “Happy,” it’s possible for us to move closer to understanding the value of diversity, and we might even start cherishing diversity.  This will require us to move past the hot beats and the dancing those beats promote and develop into a more reflective people.  Critical reflection enable us to see how Pharrell’s song can be employed as a vehicle to engender a massive wave of camaraderie and harmony among sundry people across the nation and globe who are presently divided.

For the real power of the song to be unleashed, it will take intellectuals, scholars, activists, community leaders, religious leaders, politicians, teachers, and many others to muster the courage to host nationwide forums, lectures, debates, and etc. where substantive discourse can take place about the song and how its messages can be used to instigate change in America and across the world.

Music has the ability to transform lives, to transform nations.

Even though Williams’ song may not produce the type of critical discourse across the nation and globe it merits, the song’s staying power will give us an opportunity to heed its vital messages even 20 years from now.  When we take a moment to envision a nation and world that mirrors the one offered by the music video for “Happy,” we begin to acknowledge how priceless the song is.  The song helps us to realize that our differences should unite us instead of divide us.  “Happy” seems to suggest that our differences shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of our universal longing for happiness.

History will inevitably mark Summer 2014 as a watershed moment in world history when “Happy” caused people to think seriously about the importance of simply being themselves.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Kids and Technology: Set an Example While They’re Young

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Children and Technology

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As most parents know, your kids are watching you all of the time.  You don’t have to sit down and have a formal conversation with them to teach them things; even kids who seem like they rarely pay attention are observing and learning from your behavior.

As your kids start getting their first smartphones, tablets and laptops, you want them to be responsible. You don’t want them to spend all day in front of a screen, and you want them to be kind to others over the Internet.  One of the best ways to ensure that your kids are responsible with their technology is to be a great role model with your own devices.

With this in mind, the following tips can help parents set an excellent example with their use of technology.

One of the best things parents can do to be good technology role models is to turn their devices off as often as possible—and definitely during family time.  While you might be excited about your new LG Optimus or the latest iPhone and all of the features and apps that can help your busy schedule, if you are on it all of the time, then your children will mimic your actions when they get their own phones.

Moreover, each time we take a quick peek at our texts while aiding our kids with their homework, or each time we interrupt them to say, “I’m sorry, I have to answer this email really quickly,” we’re sending a clear message that we prefer technology over people, claims Dot Complicated.

When your children get their own devices, you will still want them to pay attention to you, so when they are speaking to you, make sure to be fully present with them.  Resist the urge to constantly check emails and texts, and instead give them your full attention.  You also can avoid the distractions by setting some family rules about screen time.  For example, no phones or tablets at the dinner table.  Be sure to follow the rules you establish.

Limit Your Game Time

Yes, you’ve been trying desperately to get past level 199 in Candy Crush so you can crow about it to all of your friends on Facebook.  However, as DigiParenthood notes, keep in mind that your kids are keenly observing how much time you spend playing games on your phone.  Show them the importance of discipline, and that work should come before pleasure by finishing your necessary tasks first.  Finish your chores around the house, help your kids with their homework and walk the dog all before sitting down to play a game.

Many time limit apps out there such as TimeLock, allow parents to designate a certain amount of time their child can use the device.  This is a wonderful tool for you to track how long they spend on the Internet each day, and you can set your own time limits to show your kids that you limit your game time as well.

Be a Good Social Media Citizen

We can talk to our kids about the importance of privacy on social media sites until we are blue in the face, but if our Facebook page is full of posts about personal experiences and situations, our words will probably fall on deaf ears.  Use social media very carefully, and never post anything you wouldn’t want your young children to see—because chances are they will.  Also, be kind and polite while online, even when others are rude; this will help to show your kids the importance of online etiquette.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison