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I was surprised to find out that a warning label on an electric skillet reads, “Caution: griddle surface may be hot during and after cooking.” See, I thought I had a reason figured out for the whole thing; as in: why that label would need to be there? I found out I was wrong.

As anyone knows, if a skillet is not hot during cooking, it is either a magical skillet, or it isn’t functioning. The real reason the label is on the skillet is likely because somebody sued because they felt entitled to be warned that a cooking surface would be hot. At first glance, this might very well be one of the stupider reasons to sue, however, lawsuits like this are filed on a daily basis.

Among freedom, apple pie, and a few other things, America is also known for people the most lawsuit-happy nation on Earth. An estimated 15 million lawsuits were filed in the year of 2011, or about one lawsuit every two seconds. There are also more lawyers in America than in any other country in the world.

Now, this may not seem to be of any significance to anyone who accepts the exceptionalism of the United States legal system, however, in actuality the American addiction to lawsuits has become a growing problem. Lawsuits have turned from a method to secure civil rights to a method to secure liability checks, no matter the ridiculousness of the case at hand. Tort litigation, the handling of cases dealing with civil wrongs, has hit   $250 billion in the U.S. That’s the equivalent to 2.2 percent of GDP and roughly $838 per person, according to Towers Watson.

When a company does something wrong, it should be held accountable for its actions. However, many companies are being put into court and sued to the tunes of millions of dollars having done nothing particularly wrong, and the American legal system is allowing it to occur. Lawsuit abuse has become a serious problem.

People sue for anything and everything they even feel they have a slim chance of winning. For an explanation why, let’s take the electric razor which warns, “Never use while sleeping.” The reason the razor has such a ridiculous warning label is because someone used the razor while asleep and felt the need to sue because he/she hadn’t been warned of the obvious.

Now, considering that hiring a team of lawyers and having them defend the product in court would cost the razor company upwards of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, the razor company simply secedes and pays the person suing a check. This occurs on a daily basis throughout the country.

To try and avoid lawsuits like this, companies rack on the warning labels. “We think that the three foot step ladder may be an endangered species because its not long enough to put all the warning labels on,” said one person.

Consider a different example of a physical therapist who was tragically paralyzed in 2004 after she pulled a piece of exercise equipment onto herself. The Cybex leg extension machine that fell on her was not faulty or dangerous, but rather the woman had used it the wrong way. Despite the fact that she was the one at fault, she took Cybex to court and got a 65 million dollar settlement and set the company back in several millions more in legal fees. Those millions could have gone to something useful, like business expansion or product development, and instead they are pocketed by someone in a genuinely ridiculous legal case.

In the American system, even if you win, you lose, because legal fees to defend a case end up costing more than the settlement at hand.

The sort of environment of fear that has been created by the legal system of America around inventors and businesses has taken its toll on the country. For example, about 27% of all medical insurance spending is lost to tort litigation. All of this extra spending is not being absorbed by the big companies, because they are being pushed onto consumers. Everyday things, like silverware, ladders, or even pillows are more expensive because the companies that make them have to first make sure they hire a team of lawyers to handle their warning labels. This is lest they want to be sued for million for not explaining a fork should not be sat on, or any other intellectual equivalent.

Small entrepreneurs are thus discouraged from even trying to bring a product to market, because they will be sued for not having the amount of money to secure a lack of legal liability. Considering even large companies sometimes cannot do this, small businesses surely won’t be able to either.

This is especially true considering many law firms even higher “inspectors,” who check products and places of business for legal “wrongs” for the lawyers. To think these practices occur in the American legal system is seriously jaw-dropping. For example, a fishing lure has the warning label, “Harmful if swallowed.” Considering fish cannot read, the only explanation for such a label is because the fish-hook’s lawyers basically said something along the lines of, “Put the warning on there, or you’re going to be sued.”

In the end, considering there are cases that do end up being defended, and the jurors decide the verdict. Yet, these jurors are usually confronted between defending a lone person and a large, extensive company. Many times the jurors vote against the latter, feeling they are “sticking it to the man,” when in truth, they are making a foolishly calculated decisions that strike fear into the hearts and wallets of entrepreneurs, and indirectly, into those of consumers like themselves.

I am not somehow asserting that all of these legal decisions are wrong. In fact, I appreciate that the United States has a simple process by which we can protect our civil liberties. However, something has to be done to stop the absolute ease by which people can get away, with money in hand, following unreasonable lawsuits. Any sort of tort reform would likely lead to an economic boost and a general lowering of the prices of manufactured goods, and this is what needs to be looked at if America wants its legal system to be more legitimate.

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In my walks through Bronx streets, stretched with the hot noise of train tracks and street vendors, I have been keen to witness the fall of the small business. Nowhere has this been more clear to me than in streets with my local shops.

A locally owned flower shop and 99-cent store wrecked in a train fire were no longer rebuilt, despite any clear insurance claims. Instead, on the property was opened a Planet Fitness. A woman’s clothing store was closed to make way for a Verizon store, and a dress shop had to be sold to make way for a new Sprint store. Much earlier, a local book store was closed and rebuilt into a Pay/Half, another small-clothing store was turned into a Children’s Place and a sporting-goods/men’s apparel store made way for a 7 Eleven. The most recent store to close was a local ice-cream store that was turned into a Subway.

This has all occurred with a single strip of stores on a couple of blocks; local and small businesses have been slowly replaced by large, national, chain stores. This is arguably because it is no longer friendly to compete as a small business in such an expansive world. Who wants to visit a small clothing store when a short drive can take you to a Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart or a Khol’s.

Considering there are about two deli groceries on the same block as the newly built 7 Eleven, who’s to say they will even last another year in business competing with the resources and abilities of a national chain? The sheer resources these big businesses have amounted are on such a scale that they can offer lowered prices and a dexterity that is impossible to imagine. For example, a 7 Eleven can afford to sell coffee at 50 cents a cup for its first month in business, but the deli it was built a store away from may not be able to.

I was shocked to see that the men’s wear store had closed after so long, but I was more shocked to see a 7 Eleven built and fully functioning within a week and a half of the permits being issued to the company. The efficiency these companies proceed with is impeccable. In contrast, a locally owned Chinese restaurant that opened a bit closer in proximity to my house took about 5 months to get built and become functioning.

Another interesting observation I have made is that large, competing businesses purposely seem to cluster near each other. On the street that new Sprint and Verizon stores were built, a T-Mobile store had been in business for years. This business of big chain stores out-crowding a block for competition is quite frequent. It is the equivalent of two gas stations opening across the street from one-another, and how often does one see that?

I do not disagree with free competition and big businesses. These are the companies that hire the majority of U.S. workers and compose a large part of the retail economy. However, I am sad to see the almost constant loss that a small business in America feels, and the effects of an economy based on a select group of powerful chain-stores  has become evident now, even at the local level. To some extent, we cannot blame anyone, because everyone is in it for the money and some win and others fail.

Yet, there has to be some sort of a relief (tax, fee, or regulation-wise) established to help the small businessman be able to breathe and potentially expand or hire more, rather than be replaced by a big company that has a team of legal professionals that can take care of  tax and regulation loopholes to be able to do the same thing.

Today, as my family and I drove through the dampened streets of the Bronx, thick with the heavy breaths of old men speaking in hushed tones around benches and chess tables, I noticed something was quite awry. There were lines of vehicles swung around cramped city blocks all over the borough. Gas stations were crowded to the brink with consumers trying to get gas into their cars; on those that were closed were thin strips of yellow, mocking ‘Caution’ tape. In Manhattan, the lines are even longer and the tape more frequent. It is clear the effects of hurricane Sandy linger.

As we made our way a bit upstate, we could see the damage was even greater. Trees had toppled to the ground like toy blocks, on every street, and downed power lines dangled from mailboxes and wooden fences. In Scarsdale, a particularly affluent village, the line for gas stretched the entire length of a parkway. A line of cars, almost a quarter mile in length, had accumulated outside a Gulf station in the center of town. A sheriff and several workers in bright green coats tried to assure the people that they would all get gas as they also directed traffic.

In White Plains, out of seven gas stations I spotted, the only two open had tails of cars stretching block upon block. Several dozens of cars chained around the corners of streets in hopes that they would get some gas before the day way done. When shown the line by a fellow he had asked on the street, a man hopped out of his 4×4 and screamed profusely at the top of his lungs. In his apparent rage and confusion he actually knelt by the side of our car and started banging on its front bumper, only to later apologize for thinking it was his car.

To say the least, it seemed like chaos. The power outages had resulted in the majority of gas stations being closed, and thus not being able to pump the gasoline they had. Other gas stations have not been able to get gas deliveries due to street closures and flooding. The hurricane effectively knocked out the gas supply to many gas stations for days. A woman I talked to while she was pumping gas into a gas can said, “Some of the stations are closed because they don’t even have gas left to sell.” She continued explaining how a neighbor of hers had been stuck home from work for the past two days because her car had run out of gas, and that she was filling the gas can for her car. “She was also expecting a heating oil delivery on Tuesday but it had to be canceled, so she has been practically freezing in her home the past couple of days,” she said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “The issue of gasoline has created concern and anxiety and practical problems all throughout the region. People can’t get gas, there’s a slow down of the delivery of services, it’s increased the stress level all across the region. It’s going to require some patience. This is not going to get better overnight because this was a major, major assault by Mother Nature that we went through.”

These problems have been present since Tuesday, when the storm’s final blows receded and the chaos and unrest these problems of gas, oil and energy have caused are explicit and clear. Right now the problem is mild because people are being assured at the state and federal level that things will return to normal. A person stuck at home for a few days without energy knows not to panic, for example, because things are only temporary.

However, it would be a different tale if that were not true. What if, for some hypothetical reason, OPEC decided to withhold oil shipments to the U.S. for even a week? The nation would see a burst of outcries and social unrest would ensue. Some sort of military action would follow shortly, likely in the Middle East. Surely even, the President of the United States would sign an executive order spilling out into the public the American oil reserves. In other words, the U.S. would be confronted with a bout of instability.

This possible instability need not exist in the underbelly of the U.S. considering that there is enough oil in North America to make the continent self-sufficient, energy-wise. The fact is, although this truth is evident and both political parties have conceded it, they have yet to make any sort of an agreement on how to go about achieving such a goal. Although the aspirations of Republicans give far too much control over policy to oil companies, Obama has barely lifted a finger with regards to decreasing foreign energy dependence. With hardcore environmentalists still grasping a hold in the Democratic party, no such bill to increase onshore and offshore drilling, expand coal operations, or increase natural gas production will ever be passed in Congress.

The bitter truth is that clean wind and solar technologies are not nearly as cheap, efficient and job-producing as are fossil fuels. In this time of economic hardship and $4-a-gallon gasoline, there needs to be, and should be, a clear consensus on where to take this nation to energy-wise, lest we want to see the potential for social unrest and disturbance continue to grow in America.

With the coming mid-day, most men in Yemen gather in their homes to chew on a shrub they know as khat. They have spent most of their day occupied with their jobs and they now head home with a stack of khat as their days salary; a salary of psychedelic stems and leaves. As much as 90% of the adult male population in Yemen chews khat on a daily basis. A newcomer might compare the apparent ritual to sights of a group smoking a joint or partaking in the addiction of other drugs more popular in the US.

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The legality of khat in Yemen has wrecked the impoverished nation.  It has one of the worst economies in the Middle East and is one of the most socially deprived states in the region. The drug has established a firm grasp on the advancement and modernization of the nation, which it has held back almost entirely. The society has developed into one seemingly backwards, in which women are oppressed. This is arguably because people’s freedoms are too firmly established. They can choose not to go to work, they can choose to grow khat and chew on it all day, and they can choose to fantasize about their superiority in a psychedelic universe they sit in all day.

“You sit up discussing all your problems and think you’ve solved everything, but in fact you haven’t done anything in the last four hours, because you’ve just been chewing khat and all your problems actually got worse,” says Adel al-Shujaa, a professor of political science at Sana’a University and the head of the Yemen Without Khat Association. He aslo adds, “all the decisions you’ve made are bad because you’ve made them while on khat.”

The country is facing a food crisis and more than 5 million people, nearly a fourth of the country, have problems with hunger according to a U.N. Agency.  One of the reasons as to why there is a crisis at all is that a huge portion of fertile lands is used to grow khat. Nearly 50% of agricultural lands in the mountainous regions of Yemen, where people don’t have as much access to produce, are used to grow the shrubs.  Most families spend more money on khat than on food, according to many government figures. There is no federal say in what people can grow on their lands, and there is no federal encouragement or pressure to grow more beneficial plants and produce instead of khat.

A khat-addicted public is more inclined to complacency about the failings of the government. Khat ceremonies reinforce the exclusion of women from power and, as is obvious to anyone finding a government office nearly empty on a weekday morning, khat is keeping the country awake well past its bedtime.

Yemen is not completely at a loss, the ability to grow a cash crop does diversify the economy somewhat, and does serve as a source of income for many, but despite this somewhat small benefit the drug has taken over the minds of the people and has rendered them weak and useless. It has even corrupted the politicians there, with many prominent leaders on khat as well. An analogous situation would be if it was public that our president and his cabinet smoked marijuana while contemplating new policy.

Despite the danger, Yemen isn’t about to go cold turkey anytime soon. Not only are most of the country’s leading landowners deeply involved in khat production, but khat is only one of the few things still holding the country together following a quite recent unification of North and South. Khat does play a big role in keeping people calm and keeping society temporarily stable, but it is also delaying change and making it hard to convince people to act. The result is a sessile nation that refuses to deal with its problems and continues to allow a select class of politicians and landowners to undermine the power of any concern to boil over into some sort of a change.

Freedom is a wonderful thing, and yet it seems so that it can be abused and misused to such an extent that it acts as a detriment to society. Yet, any citizen must not concede to allow the government enough power to determine the freedoms of the people, because that is the job of the people. Nonetheless, there are many parallels to the US that may be drawn from Yemen and the khat issue, and those, LemonOpinion asks you to draw out by yourself and with context to your society.

*Article proposed and drafted by M.A.

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There is no doubt that Hurricane Sandy has caused an unprecedented amount of damage all across the Caribbean and the Eastern Coast of the United States. In the U.S. as of October 31st, 46 people have been reported dead as a result of  the hurricane and metropolitan areas in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia and DC have come to standstills as transportation systems have been flooded and millions have been left without power.

This all has occurred with only a little over a week to go to the presidential election. It almost seems as if we have forgotten, but we are indeed selecting a new president on November 6th of this year. The big challenge, it seems, for the two candidates is to not seem careless and cold-hearted as many people are currently suffering.

This week, Barack Obama canceled all campaign events until Wednesday, October 31st, when he will tour the aftermath of the hurricane with New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a big Romney supporter who has nonetheless applauded the president on his handling of the crisis. Romney made a storm-related appearance in Dayton,Ohio and has made several appearances aiding Red Cross workers load and unload materials (although his helpfulness there has come into question).

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Basically, both politicians have tried to use it as best to their advantage as they can, and indeed they can’t really do much more until Sandy has gone off the news, lest they want to look like heartless scumbags. The interesting thing about this specific disaster is that it has effected very few swing-states to a great extent, except Pennsylvania. This meaning that the Romney surge of support and momentum may not have been fully deteriorated and yet that possibly any enthusiasm Obama had on the east coast has been downplayed by the storm. This will probably not be too significant as the storm has also given Obama an opportunity to seem presidential and to establish a leading position in storm relief very close to the election.

What this storm has done is it has taken away the interest from the clashing ideologies of the two possible futures of America. Indeed, Romney’s momentum has not shown to be stopping in most battleground states, and thus at this political standstill where politics has almost been forgotten in wake of a disaster has left Obama scrambling to attack his opponent indirectly through advertising  while remaining the apparent messiah during the storm. Both politicians have maintained their advertising campaigns in hope that they may influence the public in a time when they directly cannot.

On Monday, Obama returned to his job as commander in chief and Romney put aside his sharpest attacks on the president in wake of the storm. On Tuesday, Obama again canceled all campaign appearances and Romney renamed his appearances as relief efforts in an attempt to not seem out-of-touch while attempting to hold on to his debate-momentum.

The thing is, the two cannot go negative against each other directly and once the storm has passed, they will have to simply use a gut instinct to determine when to speak and what tone to use.

Following the attacks on 9/11 which came days before the New York City mayoral election, polls were frozen and votes cast on the day were voided. Following the rescheduling of the primary, the two contestants Mark Green and Bloomberg, had no playbook through which they could stump each other. The entire rationale for choosing a candidate became revolved around 9/11.

Following the massacre of 12 people in a Colorado movie theater in July of 2012, Obama and Romney both shifted their rallies from campaign events to events of mourning. They canceled events, took down negative ads in the state for a while and made appearances that turned into expressions of public grief. The likes of these actions have yet to be seen due to Sandy, and this may be the case because the shootings in Colorado were so much more secluded, event-wise than is this hurricane. Yet, we can expect similar actions to be taken later on by both candidates.

At this time it appears that the politicians have calculated that public approval of their reactions to this disaster is more important than campaigning during it. Instead they seem to want to look busy and caring, while trying to spark some sort of a dim enthusiasm for their campaigns in the rest of the country. In swing-states like Iowa and Florida, Romney continues to hold rallies with mixed political and relief-aid type undertones. Obama is also expected to resume campaigning in the coming days.

All in all, we must go back to the attention span of most Americans, which is quite short. Thus, it can be predicted that indeed this tragedy will impact the presidential race, but it will likely not impact it to the point where it will disrupt the other important matters in people’s lives.

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I normally watch the news on a regular basis to stay informed on day-to-day things, yet, it wasn’t until the elections came within a month away that I began to seriously contemplate the political coverage found on cable news. If one tunes in to ABC news,CBS, CNN or MSNBC, it’s as if the hosts are being paid to constantly praise president Obama. If one watches Fox News, the majority of program hosts seem to have the Obama administration on a hit-list. It seems as if there is not a source for pure factual coverage of the election. Not only that, but it also seems that the vast majority of journalists seem to favor Obama. A poll found that 87% of all journalists actually report news in a manner that favors Obama’s administration; yet, political spin exists on both sides.

Political spin is expected from hosts to some extent, but not to such an extent that one can predict without fail how they will vote. Not only do news hosts explicitly express a political bias but they also constantly obscure and even hide facts that may hurt their side. If you watch MSNBC you would be quite surprised to hear the stories on Fox News and vice versa because the producers of said news channels select what they want you to know. The producers on these shows also tend to choose what things to downplay or what things to play up. Obama’s first debate flub may be the end of the world on Fox News, but on MSNBC it will surely be played as a result of that pesky thin Coloradan air. What is sad is that the vast majority of Americans that get their news from cable news channels sticks to a single source, and this ends up developing within them a political opinion based on stories spun to suit said political opinion.

So that’s why you should use the internet as a source, right? Well, not exactly. The same thing occurs online, but even to a greater extent. People can not only select what facts they present, but also who they present them as. Online, you are never sure of who is writing what.

So it would seem that the only choice for an informed political opinion is to do your own research. Watch the cable news or read an internet article, but if something seems too good to be true for one side of the political spectrum, check it for yourself, possibly do a source check. If many other people did, I assure you we would have a greater deal of Independents than we have at the moment.

In the case that you do become informed responsibly, be assured that you will be able to securely wreck any fool on Facebook or Twitter raging all debate-night-long “#Obama2012 #YOLOSwag” or “#ROMNEY#CuzNickiMinajtoldmeto” in any sort of an argument.