Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Travis County Guide Dog Program

Each morning that I walk into work at the Courthouse I see a program occurring that truly inspires me to hope. The Travis County Guide Dog Program is in cooperation between the Travis County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) and “Pawsitive Approach” of the Guide Dogs of Texas, a non-profit. The goal of the program is to help rehabilitate certain non-violent offenders (who meet certain guidelines to qualify for the program), and provide basic training for guide dogs provided to visually-impaired Texans.

Who are the people and pets impacted?

The program was authorized by the Travis County Commissioner’s Court on October 23, 2007, and was formally launched September 30, 2008. At this time, TCSO has involved 7 dogs and 19 total inmates working with the dogs, and 15 officers in various capacities. The inmates care for the dogs 24/7; when the dogs and the inmate handlers are outside, two officers accompany them at all times. The dogs are taken throughout the community in all situations that the dogs would need to guide owners. The full impact is not measurable, though. Sgt. Cindi Sassmanshausen commented on the program, “Being in jail is awful and depressing for them. The Dogs are so good for them. You can watch their eyes light up when they give the guide dog a command and he follows the request. It’s awesome to see. I know that it instills discipline and I know that it’s very rare if they return to custody.” The inmates learn and exercise responsibility, learn how to nurture, focus attention, solve problems, and cooperate with others to achieve a positive goal. Such skills help these offenders learn how to have positive impact, but more importantly, to want to make such impact.

In my efforts to help promote what the TCSO is doing, I have had a chance to read the letters written by several inmate participants in this program. The emotion and joy expressed is extremely palpable. From these letters, I can tell that the inmates had achieved amazing growth.

The inmates learned empathy, that dogs “are more than just pets … they have feelings that get hurt.” The inmates learned gratitude, all thanking TCSO and Guide Dogs of Texas, with one stating that the program gave him “the second chance of a lifetime.” The inmates learn love, with many openly expressing love and respect for the dogs and “love turned a negative situation into the positive experience.”

The cost of housing inmates for their lifetimes is expensive. By finding ways to help inmate not re-offend, Travis County's program can save such expenses to the taxpayers in the future, largely because of the love and kindness of dogs. This program is approaching a one year anniversary. These dogs are saving many lives, including the visually-impaired recipients who can receive a guide dog to assist them, but none more imperative than their inmate handlers who found a purpose and a renewed belief in themselves.

With some news cycles only showing the negative aspects of life, a program that redeems life is ... well hopeful! Thank you to the Travis County Sheriff's Office and the Travis County Commissioners Court for having the vision to engage life in a rewarding way. If you would like to a see a piece that KVUE did last year on this program, you can see that story at:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Recognizing Youthlaunch Service Scholarship Recipient, No. 3

Sydney Drain, Spring
2009 YouthLaunch Service Scholarship Recipient

Sydney Drain was deeply affected by the statistics she learned in her junior year about Sudan. One in four children in southern Sudan dies before the age of five. Half of those deaths result from water-borne disease. Women and children in Sudan must walk for miles to find water that often turns out to be contaminated.

These statistics propelled her to initiate a “Water is Basic” campaign at her school and church in Spring, Texas. “Water is Basic” is an organization that trains local Sudanese to drill and maintain water wells in their community. The concept appealed to Sydney because it wasn’t just a “free gift from ‘rich America’”—it was a way to equip the villagers to change their lives.

Despite being an introverted person, Sydney readily tackled the challenges of leading the campaign. After speaking about the cause in front of her church congregation and recruiting teams of volunteers, she designed and sold t-shirts for the project. She says, “I never knew I was good at organizing a project until I put together the Water is Basic project.”

Sydney hoped her campaign would raise enough money to build 3 wells, each of which would provide clean water to 2,000 Sudanese villagers. She was shocked to learn, at the end of her efforts, that she’d raised enough money to build 30 wells, which would provide safe drinking water for over 60,000 people in Sudan.

Sydney’s campaign has changed the way that she and her classmates perceive service: “I believe that teenagers often feel powerless when it comes to making a difference in the world. They look at all the effort that goes into changing existing systems and become discouraged. However, when they see one of their peers impacting the world, they begin to realize that they can do the same.”

Affected by Sydney’s efforts with Water is Basic, two of her peers have started an organization that inspires teens to become involved with service.

Sydney volunteers as a mentor for younger high school girls and has taken a leadership role in mission trips to Honduras and Montana. She will attend Baylor University in the fall. After college, one of her dreams is to open an orphanage in Africa for children who have lost their parents to AIDS.

“I refuse to settle for a mediocre life,” Sydney reflects, “because I know there is so much more out there to do. I will not rest until I see positive changes occurring in some of the most broken regions in the world.”

In a letter written to Sydney by Jennifer Delaney, Executive Director of Global Action for Children in Washington, D.C., Ms. Delaney states: "As someone who has been working on these issues for over 15 years, I thank you for the work you have already accomplished and I look forward to hearing of the ways you continue to help improve the lives of vulnerable children and their families around the world."

Sydney was selected from more than 100 applicants state-wide for this recognition.

The Luncheon recognizing Ethan, Tyler and Sydney is June 11, 2009 at 11:30-1:00pm at the Hyatt Regency of Austin. The Luncheon will also recognize Youthlaunch's own youth participants in its programs for service excellence. For more information about the event, go to:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Peppermint and Starlett in The Ebony and Ginger Project

I want to solely promote Peppermint and Starlett here, since both are amazing dogs and just having continued difficulty getting adopted.

Peppermint is my absolute favorite dog currently at the shelter; she is an AWESOME dog but she is having a particularly hard time being adopted at the Austin Humane Society. While I thought she had been adopted, she had not. She was having trouble in the kennel, and so the AHS temporarily took her off the adoption website, and took her out of the kennel. She was doing better so they have put her back into the kennel area and back on the website.

If you go visit Peppermint, you can understand the stress that the kennel environment can cause a dog like her. She is obviously a very sensitive dog, VERY sweet (and the staff at the AHS apparently are all in love with her), but the loud environment in the kennel seems really to effect her. When the AHS first opened yesterday (Sunday) for visitors, there were only a few visitors and I could tell Peppermint was pretty happy and centered. By the time we left when it had gotten so loud, I could see her anxiety increase in her eyes. Even in the 20 minutes that we were there, the environment got EXTREMELY loud, with tons of dogs barking as a lot of people came in, with the normally loud sound resinating off the concrete and steel. As I looked around at all the dogs, saying hello to the "friends" that I am tracking, many of the dogs that were more sensitive were just as unnerved by the racket as Peppermint. Those dogs have to live there all the time; some can deal with it better than others. However, for those sensitive souls that ultimately do find a quiet home, they can do well ... in another environment.

I don't think Peppermint shows well in the kennel environment, and the staffer we talked with really confirmed my sense of Peppermint - that she is a sweet, affectionate and a really neat dog. I think she is also extremely cute, and for her age, 14, she is VERY healthy and active.

For whom would Peppermint be great? - a family with children who might be a little afraid of dogs (since she is so gentle); a couple or single person who want a good companion dog; or particularly a retired person or couple who want a companion ... and maybe a dog to help them get out and walk regularly and who would be a watch dog for them; or ... anyone else who would want an AWESOME dog.

AHS has a listing that Peppermint should not be included with cats or dogs. If the prospective adopting parents had other dogs, they might want to check with AHS for any particular facts regarding other dogs. It might be that Peppermint could still be adopted by other dog owners, but she probably would want to be carefully integrated. Ginger likely might have been listed as no other dogs, but my parents have VERY effectively integrated her in with their other two dogs, who are both submissive enough and large enough, that they do well with Ginger now.

I hope you will continue to spread the word about Peppermint. While she may have 2-4 years left in her life - maybe more if provided a healthy environment, I really hope she finds a home that can make sure those years are full of love.

For Starlett, she is only 2 years and 3 months, and I think is a more hardy dog, since she is part pit bull. However, when I saw Starlett a month ago, she seemed much happier. Yesterday she seemed ... well depressed. Starlett has been in the shelter since Halloween 2008, and she is the longest resident dog at the shelter. While also being a great dog, I think the issue may be that Starlett is not a "tough" looking pit bull mix, so the people who favor the breed pick other pit bulls over her. For people who have a concern or bias against the breed, she is overlooked by them. As I have written before, pit bulls that have a more even disposition breed mixed with them can be quite different that pit bulls are often stereotyped as being. While you can't be sure, I think Starlett probably has Labrador in her since she is larger and has longer legs than most true pit bull terriers. The AHS staff are all very positive about Starlett and have done a out of outreach for her. Starlett definitely would do best with confident dog owners, or ones willing to take go to training with her (so they care comfortable handling her). I hope you will continue to try to spread the word about her, too.

Whatever you can do to help mention both these dogs to people, I would very much be appreciative.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Recognizing Youthlaunch Service Scholarship Recipient, No. 2

Tyler Folse, Houston
2009 YouthLaunch Service
Scholarship Recipient

Tyler Folse began high school as an introverted young man who was grieving the death of his father just a few years before. When he got involved with service, he was searching for a way to honor his father’s legacy and make a difference in the world. He began with a small but inspired idea: a garage sale that would raise money for the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

More than two million people have been displaced from their homes and over 400,000 killed in Darfur. Tyler shared information about the crisis with his community, and in his first garage sale he raised $1900 for rescue and relief in Darfur. He donated the money to the International Relief Committee, which works to deliver medical care, safe drinking water, and comfort to families fleeing violence in Sudan.

Over the next two years, Tyler’s garage sale event grew from a modest sale of things found around Tyler’s own home to a large-scale affair. Tyler took charge of marketing, soliciting item donations, handling eBay sales, and managing 17 volunteers, as well as coordinating the 3-day event. By the time he executed his third garage sale, he’d raised over $18,000 to benefit refugees in Darfur.

Tyler says, “I am most proud of the fact that through my garage sale efforts, I created an opportunity for people in Houston to help. I have found that sometimes people really do want to help others, but find it overwhelming to know where to begin. Because their lives are busy, it is easy to continually put off thinking about it. Through my garage sale, I made it easy for people to help.”

The garage sale project is just one example of Tyler’s creative service. While volunteering for a non-profit fair trade organization, he noticed the large amount of cardboard, paper, and plastic thrown away each week—so he created and implemented a new recycling system that dramatically reduced the waste the organization had been generating. “All I had to do was generate a good idea, make it easy for people to follow the plan, and we were able to unite a large group of volunteers around [it],” he says.

Tyler will enter college in the fall, majoring in nuclear engineering. He aspires to create inexpensive, renewable, environmentally-friendly energy to continue to fuel human progress. And he says service has opened his eyes to new possibilities: “By starting on a small scale, and then expanding as my skills and confidence grew, I learned that each and every one of us has the ability to make a difference in the world.”

Tyler was selected from more than 100 applicants state-wide for this recognition.

The Luncheon recognizing Tyler and the other two recipients is June 11, 2009 at 11:30-1:00pm at the Hyatt Regency of Austin. The Luncheon will also recognize Youthlaunch's own youth participants in its programs for service excellence. For more information about the event, go to:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Recognizing Youthlaunch Service Scholarship Recipient, No. 1

Ethan Garza, Sinton
2009 YouthLaunch Service Scholarship Recipient

Ethan Garza has had a big impact on his small hometown of Sinton, Texas. As a member of the Future Problem Solving Program, Ethan was encouraged to identify a challenge in his community and create a solution to address it—so he single-handedly started a project to rejuvenate the elderly community in Sinton.

In his junior year, Ethan became an advocate for what he calls “the most dignified group of people I have ever encountered: the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #8625 and its Ladies’ Auxiliary.” Noticing a decline in the organization as its members aged, he decided to revitalize his local VFW post.

Ethan independently planned and carried out a membership drive for the VFW, cleaned up its dilapidated building, and helped members place flags at cemeteries on national holidays. He also interviewed veterans and wrote newspaper articles highlighting a different VFW member each week.

In an effort to increase community support for the VFW, Ethan took his project to the city council, Rotary Club, School Board, and even State Representative Juan Garcia. And he didn’t let setbacks deter him. He says, “I had to realize that no community service project or activity has instant results.” When he initially encountered some negative responses to his planned project, he was discouraged—but instead of giving up, he contacted the editor of the local newspaper and wrote an article about his experience that garnered community support.

As a result of Ethan’s efforts, Sinton’s VFW membership has increased by 10% and its members have been inspired to re-engage with their community. This year, the VFW entered a float in the annual Christmas parade, something they hadn’t done in years.

Ethan’s connection to the elderly and dedication to improving their lives has taken many forms, from dressing up as Santa Claus at the local nursing home to drawing attention to the need for a Veteran’s Administration Hospital in the Coastal Bend. For his dedication to the elderly community in Sinton, Ethan received the “Beyonder Award” at the Texas Future Problem Solving State Bowl.

Ethan plans to study biology and eventually become a doctor. After he’s completed his schooling he plans to return to Sinton because, he says, “people in this part of Texas are in desperate need of doctors who want to practice in rural areas. I won’t forget where my roots are, and I’ll come back to help the community that provided me with a great education.”

Ethan was selected from more than 100 applicants state-wide for this recognition.


The Luncheon recognizing Ethan and the other two recipients is June 11, 2009 at 11:30-1:00pm at the Hyatt Regency of Austin. The Luncheon will also recognize Youthlaunch's own youth participants in its programs for service excellence. For more information about the event, go to:

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Ebony and Ginger Project, No. 2

This last weekend, I went to the Austin Humane Society (AHS) to photograph dogs. While I did my "no rain" dance so I would be able to photograph them outside, I didn't do the "no humidity" dance. They, at least, got to go in after 10 minutes or so - while I was outside for 2 hours straight. However, I think I got some good shots and good stories. For all the dogs available for adoption, see For further discussion of what The Ebony and Ginger Project is about, see my prior posts.

The first dog I actually want to highlight is also the AHS Featured Dog, "Petey." Of the dogs currently up for adoption, I think he is definitely a really good one to consider, and my assessment is based upon my personal interaction with him. Petey is a fit dog, seems like he has a confident and good disposition, attentive to the people around him, and not overly distracted by everything else. Pretty laid back dog.

However, for someone who is comfortable with a medium-sized dog, I think he would be a good option. He has a little pit bull in him, but that part of him does not seem to dominate his personality. I have known some great dogs with pit bull in them, and Petey seems like the more even-tempered ones ... all were great dogs. However, I sense that Petey would be "defensive" when he needed to be. It should be noted that Petey has heartworms, and would need to be treated in a new home, but you might ask about that - if that is a concern.

Probably one of the other really good dogs there is a pit bull mix named "Starlett" and she seems to have similar personality as Petey. She is a dog who has also been there the longest, since October 2008. While mixes are hard to tell for sure, I would bet she has something like a labrador retriever mix in her. One of the pit bull mixes I knew well looked VERY much like Starlett, and he likely had a mix of labrador (because of the larger size and longer legs). With my friend's dog, Indy, the temperament was largely more playful and friendly, out of his labrador side, except when he had to become the alpha in a situation. Indy had great judgment about the appropriate use of his command.

Starlett strikes me as she might be similar, so you might consider meeting her. If you want to see a neat video of her, there is one online with her description at the AHS website linked above.

As for the next dog, "Moose," he strikes me as having pit bull and possibly Akita, or even chow chow (given the black on his tongue). He is 3 1/2 years old and 65 lbs. While he definitely is an alpha male, for people who are comfortable with larger dogs and a stronger breed, he apparently has a great disposition and the Humane Society staff are vary positive about him. Again, while pit bulls are not for weak owners, Indy and other pit bulls mixes I have know were great dogs, and were great defensive dogs for a household. If you might have an interest in knowing more about him, definitely consider visiting with Moose. He strikes me almost as "Daddy" is on the Dog Whisperer.

One of the other pit bulls I photographed is "Olive," who just got surrendered and is not yet up for adoption, but likely will be soon. "Olive" is apparently dog aggressive, and would likely require an experienced dog owner, but she is apparently very sweet and loving to her people.

There are a number of all black dogs, likely all with some border collie and possibly labrador in them, or possibly shepherd.

The first of these, "Pumpkin" is a sweetie pie, very submissive and likely a dog that would be content to be with her owner, without too many distractions. She has the most striking eyes - very soulful.

"Ember" definitely has the personality of a border collie, and very active even at 10 years old. Ember was constantly assessing her environment and alerting to anyone in the area. For someone who wants a dog that will be protective and watchful, Ember is a good prospect - and likely very sweet to her owners, but protective as well.

The third one was "Hope," whose temperament is somewhere between Ember and Pumpkin, but was pretty observant of her surroundings. Hope is the youngest of the 3, since she is 3 years old.

Probably my favorite dog I saw actually is not yet up for adoption, but I happened to photograph her outside when she was getting walked. She was recently surrendered by her owner ... and is an absolute SWEETIE PIE. Her name is "Peppermint" and she is also in the photo at the top. Definitely be watching for Peppermint, on the adoption picture comes up, or call down to the Humane Society about this wonderful dog. Very sweet, even disposition for someone who wants a companion. While I don't think she would be aggressive at all, she probably would be a snuggler and I think would try to do everything she could to please her owner.

Another dog with an interesting story is also not currently up for adoption, but I hope that over time she might be. Her name is "Mopsy," and she is so scared of being surrendered that she barely eats or responses. The Humane Society is working with her, to see if they can help her become sufficiently outgoing to be put up for adoption. I didn't get her whole story, but I felt sorry for the little sweetie, and wanted to include her story and photo.

The last dog I would definitely highlight is "Princess." Princess ... is a chow mix puppy, and because chows are typically thought in negative light, I wanted to include her. Female chows, particularly mixes, are much less aggressive than full-blooded chow males. Since she is a puppy, she might be easier to integrate with other dogs now who will also be of equal size - 60 lbs or so. She probably should not be put into situations where there would be any small dogs or cats. However, chows can be VERY loving to their owners, and female chow mixes can be great dogs around people generally. Princess is so cute.

Definitely considering checking out these or other dogs in your local shelters.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Ebony and Ginger Project, No. 1

As the first edition of this project, I have put a sample of the cats that I photographed at the Austin Humane Society. For a complete listing of all available cats, you can see them at: For a description of The Ebony and Ginger Project, see my original posting on April 21, 2009.

I would, however, like to show you some photos and just how special and beautiful many of these cats are. The first cat that caught my eye was "Lilly," who was both curious, but also very engaging and easy going. Before I even started photographing, you could tell she was asking, "Who are you? ... want to play?" However, unlike kittens, she was also respectful of me and my time and didn't seem pushy about wanting to engage. Really neat cat.

Lilly is 1 year, 3 months old - and has been at the Austin Humane Society since early January '09. Of the young cats/kittens that you might consider adopting, Lilly would be awesome, so consider going to meet her.

One of the real sweetie pies I photographed was "Tia," who is 6 years, 2 months. Tia is all white with some minor marks on her fur, and has the sweetest blue eyes. She was surrendered about a month ago, and strikes me as a very loving and sensitive cat.

I think Tia probably took surrender pretty hard, but I also think she would be very loving to whomever will provide her a forever home. Ginger was much like that when we adopted her. But because Ginger does bond so strongly, once she opened up to us - she was extremely affectionate. You never know for sure, but Tia strikes me as having a similar personality.

One of my other favorites is "Ms. Madeline," who is the face of this project above in the top photo.

Madeline was probably one of the most cooperative in my photographing, and a cat that seems pretty confident and easy going at the same time. She was pretty willing to let me do what I needed to do and didn't fuss about it. Madeline is also one of the most beautiful cats there! If you were to just see her in her cage, I don't think you would get just how striking she is, but she seemed very happy to pose for me. I hope you enjoy her images, too.

I also think Madeline is an old soul, but is only 2 years old. She has been at the Austin Humane Society for over a month and a half, and I think is one of the real jewels there - in my opinion.

Bless "Linus's" heart, he is the longest resident of the cats currently at the Austin Humane Society. Linus is very sweet and also extremely cooperative in my photographing him - which says a lot about his temperament.

Linus has been with the Humane Society for almost 5 months. Of the boy cats I think you could adopt, Linus would definitely be one worth considering and definitely one you should visit. He is also very handsome! Really neat and engaging cat.

One cat that I had to individually show off is "Biscuit," a female black cat who is 2 years, 9 months old and has been at the Humane Society for a month and a half. Given that Biscuit looks REMARKABLY like Ebony, I think it is only appropriate that I focus on her as well. She seems to have the same personality that Ebony has, ... very curious, likes human interaction and very sweet.

Finally, while I can't promote all the cats here, definitely check out the Austin Humane Society website listed above if you want to see the other cats who also are currently looking for loving parent(s) and homes. There were many great cats with sweet personalities, such as "Carrie" and "Sissie," and several cats who were also sweet but strikingly beautiful, such as "Callie" (to the side) and "Delia" (below).

While this posting is of cats, be looking for my future posting of dogs at the Austin Humane Society, coming soon.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"The Ebony and Ginger Project"

In a new effort to assist non-profit, charitable and individuals seeking to assist the re-homing of cats and dogs in the Central Texas area, I have launched what I am calling "The Ebony and Ginger Project."

Because of the events in January 2009, my wife and I have come to appreciate how difficult it can be to re-home great pets, when circumstances require it. We had the unfortunate need to re-home our dog, Ginger, and had very little time to do it. Ginger had injured our cat, Ebony, and we needed her out of our home by the time Ebony returned from the vet. When we adopted Ginger almost 4 years ago from the Austin Humane Society, she was listed as "likes to chase cats and squirrels" but we suspect the prior owner had not honestly disclosed her as "cat aggressive" in efforts to try to help her (based upon pretty valid analysis I think). By not being honest with the Austin Humane Society, the owner put Ginger at mortal danger, since she could have ended up in inappropriate homes - and most new owners would not have worked with the situation so thoroughly to save Ginger and find her a home that would work for her.

We found that one thing that helped Ginger after the event was great photography of her, which I had taken. (See photo above and this one).

We human animals can be visual creatures, and the need to "see" something is often more significant than the mere description of the thing or being in words (i.e. a picture is worth a 1000 words ..."). We also found that often the best pets, those that are most sensitive, sweet, intelligent, and personable, are the ones most difficult to place - for those very reasons. Such pets understand and feel the loneliness and isolation when they lose their owners/parents more deeply and profoundly, and are most affected by shelters or new circumstances. For them, being surrendered is often literally as "heart-breaking" to them as it is to their owners. It is then hard to see their "real" personality in the shelter ... as they might be in your home.

Because of these issues, Ginger was deemed un-adoptable at the time by the Austin Humane Society because she was so distraught when we were not around her. When we had first adopted her from there, she had also been so distraught that she would barely eat, did little to "market" herself and just laid in the kennel. Part of what drew us to her was the personality we sensed, but since then the shelter has apparently and understandably had to select for pets that will be sufficiently responsive to their new surroundings that they will be "adoptable." As a non-profit, the shelter has to make sure to allocate its resources in the most effective place. While we all would want all pets saved, there is more need than resources often in the system. The Austin Humane Society, however, were very kind to us and helped us review all potential options to help Ginger. Given that Ebony was also an alumni of the Society, they were particularly interested in finding situations that would work for both Ebony and Ginger.

While I might not be able to save every pet, I am allocating a good amount of free photographic services in this venture. As a very-skilled amateur photographer, I spent 3 hours on Friday at the Austin Humane Society on this project, and an additional 15 hours editing the photos (which is common with good photography - a 5 hour post-production to every 1 hour photographing). I look to do more as my time permits for the Austin Humane Society, Austin Pets Alive!, Blue Dog Rescue and others as I can.

For Ginger, we have a happy ending after all. My parents decided that they would take Ginger temporarily to help us get her immediately out of the home, and ensure that Ebony survived her injuries. Although Ginger really missed us, we put some "dirty" clothing in her crate for the first several nights and she could go in there and "smell" our scents and be comforted. She did - and was. In a short amount of time, my parents fell in love with Ginger, and she with them, and Ginger is now well integrated with their other pets, two elkhounds (also rescues; one is Zarko, pictured below, who is as noble in spirit as appearance). Ebony has fully healed and happy being an only pet again. She has also earned that sole status for the remainder of her years, hopefully many!

For such Grace, I am now committed to helping other sweet pets also find happy endings in homes that will best suit their needs! Consider adopting pets from rescues and shelters - although they may be older pets, have some issues, often you will find that they are extremely wonderful. I hope that The Ebony and Ginger Project will both help achieve ends in themselves (placing pets), and also help others understand the difficulty of such pets more thoroughly.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Is there a silver lining to the bad world economy?

While others might dispute my claim here, I think the answer to the above question can be "yes." Why you ask - when so many people are suffering?

In summary, the reason might be that because of the downturn, we as a world now have a chance to correct not only an imbalanced economic system that benefited the few corporate heads at the expense of the corporate team and middle-class. Even more importantly we have a chance to balance our world energy and resource policies to protect the human existence on the planet from growing dangers of climate change. Finally, we might have the ability to resolve the nuclear conflict with Iran and the military uncertainty with Russia - since both countries are hurt by the fall in energy prices.

As Donald Trump mentioned recently on "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, a precipitating factor in the economic collapse was the energy speculation that spiked prices in the Spring-Summer 2008, causing rapid inflation in many areas of the economy world-wide. I had long believed this, as well. Much of the run up of oil prices was due to speculators who were fleeing the Mortgage/CDO (collateralized debt obligations) collapse, but wanting to maintain high rates of returns. Even as the demand dropped for oil in 2008 world-wide because of the increasing prices, the energy sector prevented price corrections (drops) by cutting back on refining because of the slumping demand. Oil companies wanted to keep prices inflated to near $4 a gallon gas in the US in September 2008, blaming the hurricanes in public documents, but in internal energy sector publications recognizing that refining had been taken off line because of falling demand. Rather than the oil companies being content with $3 a gallon, they struggled to keep the price near $4 a gallon. With food, travel, and many other commodities experiencing inflation through 2008, for families in the US who had frankly cut their budgets too close with credit, many could not keep up and failed, defaulting on mortgages that were poorly conceived and tenuous at best in good times.

In the height of the energy crisis, while there became a market for new technology such as Prius vehicles, the ability to retool in such an energy crisis would have been difficult if not impossible. Even as demand fell in 2008, it could not keep up with the speculators, who drove up the price of a barrel despite dropping demand, and oil companies that simply cut supply to prop prices as high as possible to make up for the falling demand. With only a few large, consolidated oil companies and countries controlling a large percentage of the world's oil, competition had failed. However, with the worldwide economic collapse, many of those speculators did not fair well when the price per barrel fell to a third of what it had been, and when demand dropped throw the floor. Speculation has minimized for now. We now can retool the energy sector and give our species a shot at the 21st Century.

While often the thought is we must "save the planet," as many environmentalists note the planet will do fine without us (albeit taking 1000s to 10,000s of years to recover) but our species might not be there when it does recover. As President Obama correctly advocates, we must use this calm in the energy storm to retool our economy to green/clean technology.

The failure of the energy sector also has the benefit of hurting Iran and Russia, who were using their energy surplus as a means to hurt the rest of the world. Iran and Russia were becoming leading strategic threats with Iran being close to having nuclear weapons and Russia showing its return to old "KGB" ways in Georgia during the summer. Both Iran and Russia were making huge profits on exporting oil and using those profits for the detriment of world stability. Both Putin and the radical portions of Iran are now diminished because they are no longer flush with cash. We now have some ability to try to reengage diplomatic solutions in both countries, with the hope of empowering the moderate elements of their populations. This is true on our side of the equation, as well, with the change in the US Administration to one that favors diplomacy. What Iraq should have taught us is that military intervention that is not broadly supported (Iraq vs. Afghanistan) is a bad way to resolve WMDs since our Iraqi invasion destabilized many countries in the region, where "democracy" simply brought in the extreme elements by popular demand in Lebanon, Palestine and Iran, and weakened those more favorable to the US like Jordan. If the nuclear threat of Iran can be contained diplomatically, then the world really does have a greater hope in the future. Much of this weakening of Iran can be attributed to the fall in oil prices, which is a consequence of the world economic collapse.

For the above two areas of concern, it is actually fortunate that we can much more easily correct the world economy from the CDOs, as BAD as that is given the sheer scope of the problem, then it would be to correct a complete collapse of the world ecology from the complete melting of the polar ice caps. What most people don't appreciate is that the polar caps are not just an issue of world water levels, but reflect a substantial amount of sun and heat because of the ice-albedo effect of white snow. About 600-700 million years ago, the planet was 100% ice covered and know as "Snowball Earth."

The reason was largely the albedo effect of the ice - no heat came through. Without polar ice caps at all in the summer, the reverse becomes the problem. The albedo of the ocean or land is very low and absorbs heat, rather than the ice in those parts that would have a high albedo and reflect the heat. The problem with albedo issues is that they accelerate on a curve, not on a straight line, and must be kept in balance. What does that mean? If we are not careful, we can start a cycle in the ecology that is irreversible. However, at least at the current time we might still have a chance to stop this train from running away, since world energy demand has fallen substantially ... at least until the economy returns.

Lastly, we can understand that economic mechanisms that overly reward the top 1% of the population at the expense of the economic middle-class are bad politically. Democracies survive by the security and contentment of the middle-class, not the wealthy. The poor are cared for best with a vibrant middle-class. The reason why many Latin American countries have struggled with maintaining democracy has been the lack of a vibrant middle-class. The hope of China long-term is the 300 million middle-class they have established in their country in the last decade. For the last 8 years, the Bush Administration and extreme Republicans just didn't get how limited the use of supply-side economic theories must be. Focusing on tax cuts for the wealthy, dereguation at the expense of the less powerful, and the falling of real wages for the middle-class while executive excesses were extreme, the Bush Administration put the middle-class into crisis. In this downturn, companies that simply provide bonuses to their failed management and cut employees will also fail as companies. Those companies that cut executive pay for such failures and maintain the most employees on the payroll as possible, while finding other ways to cut expenses short of layoffs, will succeed and help the economy return. We need middle-class consumers spending for the economy to return, and we need those consumers to spend wisely for the economy to be stable. History proves that.

The economy may be bad, no doubt about it, but we have a chance now to retool our energy and resource consumption/conservation and the rework how our economy functions. We have a shot at avoiding a nuclear disaster from Iranian supplied terrorists. If we as a world can come together in this crisis and rebuild diplomacy to solve global problems, while avoiding the grave dangers in our future, this time can become the best of times. I am hopeful.