The Emperor Has Designer Clothes

Disclaimer: Anything in this article pertaining to President Donald Trump has been written by someone who does not admire the aforementioned president. The views contained here are of a person pre-disposed to believing that the character of Donald Trump is based in a malignant narcissism and devoid of empathy, and therefore Donald Trump’s motives are not in the best interests of America. Offer expires 1/21/21. See dealer for details.

Yesterday, President Donald Trump gave a speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, not far from where I live. I did not attend the rally, and instead went to see Ann Wilson (of Heart) perform. When presented with the choice for the evening I opted for the entertainer who sang “Crazy On You” instead of the one who IS crazy on you (please refer back to disclaimer). Besides, I knew that I would get an earful from people who attended the Trump Rally and from numerous reports from the Fake Media.

Okay…I got that out of my system.

I am riding the fence here because I am very vocal about making the plea to all of us to become more civil and to reduce the hostile rhetoric that fans the ire of those among us with weaker ethical constitutions. Even for those who delineate between right and wrong, the conversations often become arguments and create lines that separate us from our better selves. But, my “plea” did not mean (nor should it) that we lay down our ideological arms and acquiesce to impertinence.

Donald Trump is, to me, the embodiment of the problem created by a narrow view of America’s promise of freedom and justice. In my view this is the most dangerous presidency in the history of the United States because it is a culmination of controlled information, lack of access to the free press, and plutocratic leadership. We have been inching toward an oligarchy for 40 years, but now we are fast-tracked by an authoritarian who is seduced by theocracy.

Hyperbole? To some (perhaps, to many) that is how my thoughts here will be judged. Yet, I am not prone to hyperbole in such matters and so I am going to give myself the benefit of reasonable doubt; I sincerely fear for the health of the nation I love. I honestly believe that if we allow Donald Trump’s fascist tendencies to become the New Normal, the country my children and grandchildren will inherit will be at risk of collapse. Not just another deep recession, or even a catastrophic depression, but actual collapse.

John Adams wrote in 1814: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy.”

Adams WAS prone to hyperbole, but nevertheless, his caution led to safeguards within our Constitution to protect us from a tyrannical majority. We can see the wisdom from his prognostication in the creation of the Bill of Rights and it may be the only thing that gives us a fighting chance.

I watched video of the President’s speech in Cedar Rapids. I heard the cheers when he made his case for “loving America” and for caring about “all Americans.” He recited a new phrase, “We’ll have to see,” as a pardon for controversial policies, in order to proclaim that his aim is true. It was received by the sizable crowd with thunderous applause. I know people who were there, who previously did not trust Trump, but became new believers after an hour of this well-crafted speech, designed to assuage that very mistrust.

“I don’t want poor people in top economic positions,” said President Trump. He went on to defend his appointments of billionaires to his cabinet: “Because that’s the kind of thinking we want…because they’re representing the country. They don’t want the money.”

That will make sense to a lot of people. It seems logical. But it is the very core of what is wrong with this Trump presidency. It is exactly how a plutocracy is sold to the general population; a false proposition that claims that the wealthy will hold, at heart, the interests of the less well-to-do in their policies, rather than pander to increasing their holdings.

No load of BS was ever put forth that was closer to actual bull s#!t.

Yet, people buy into it with the same optimism they feel when they buy a lottery ticket, and also with the same chance of winning. It is the same Supply Side economic sale that has been winning the hearts amd minds of hard working Americans for decades: Give the wealthy more of the money that was created by their investments (which did not actually create a product, but was money spawned by money) and they will invest more in the expansion of businesses to create more jobs….more jobs, more income, more spending, more economic growth and prosperity.

It is a perfectly logical paradigm. Except that it doesn’t work. It never has and it never will. It never will because of the very flaw espoused by Trump’s reasoning that wealthy people will be less motivated to create more personal wealth and will, in fact, be more inclined to increase opportunity for the rest of us. What happens, in reality, time and time again, when supply-side (Trickle Down) principles are implemented, is that the wealthy become wealthier, the divide between the haves and the have-nots widens, wages remain flat, and expansion doesn’t occur because the truer economic principle is DEMAND.

When the working class does not have any disposable income (or, in fact, sinks from mounting bills) to stimulate the economy, the bottom falls out and we have what we saw (as a result of Trickle Down) in 2008: a bottomless recession.

What does work, however, is the intentional creation of a plutocratic government where wealth determines the rules by which we are all governed.

“Trump truly loves America and cares for all of us” was the takeaway from one rally attendee on Facebook. But in the very same speech, Trump derides those silly (stupid) Democrats for being so foolish as to put a 30 year old who “doesn’t even live in the district” on the ticket in Georgia. A head scratcher, for sure, on the part of Democrats, but is this how Trump expresses his deep, abiding faith in all of us? Aren’t Democrats Americans? I’m not feeling the love.

Or is this a Christian-influenced principle where we accept that God loves us and only asks for our love in return? If so…well…something just made a lot more sense with regard to how Trump views himself.

Trump had LGBT support removed from the White House website. Is that because he loves them? Are his proposed policies that lend themselves entirely to the theocratic ideal of the Christian-right, his way of showing his love and support for the gay community?

Is this what we parents call “tough love”?

Public school teachers are Americans, too. Is marginalizing their impact on our children, reducing their budgets, and eliminating their bargaining rights his way of showing love?

I agree with Trump’s position against NAFTA and TPP, but is that his love of workers or his love of populist politics? Perhaps, I am being too cynical here, but if Trump truly loved American workers how come his policies don’t support unions and collective bargaining, and instead push to privatize as much as possible? Is it in the interests of the working American to put their health care, pensions, and working conditions into the hands of shareholders whose preeminent interest is in profit?

Don’t people who need health care qualify as “Americans”? Why then has ACA been demonized when it was exactly what Republicans proposed 28 years ago? It needed work and changes, but to eliminate the availability of insurance to over 20 million people, to reduce Medicaid, and threaten Social Security, is that an expression of how much he cares about the 98% of us who need such things?

Children born in America to illegal immigrants are Americans (read the 14th Amendment). Where is the compassionate concern within his immigration mandates that will deport their parents? Go ahead and buy the false argument that purports that these illegal immigration “criminals” are raising our taxes by suckling off our welfare, that they are taking our jobs and committing a high percentage of crime (all untrue), and that still doesn’t spell “compassion” for the children.

And speaking of children…does Trump love the children, outside of the womb, who have seen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program reduced; reduced because their parents are perceived as freeloaders?

I suppose one can argue that green lighting oil pipelines will reduce energy dependence and create a lot of temporary jobs, but is that a genuine expression of caring for our country? To bleed carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, ignoring the warnings from the scientific community, and to reduce the funding (that creates jobs) to create a greener and more sustainable environment?

This is a strange kind of love in my book. It is a strange kind of love for America when I see the free press restricted, when information is guarded, when transparency in government becomes opaque, and when wealth populates the administration of “the people.”

I have no wish to create hostility with this article. None at all. But dissent; a redress of grievances; the expression of free speech (and entirely civil) is the function and responsibility of this great nation. It is not only necessary, but if the First Amendment goes on life support (and I believe it is dangerously close), there will be no more America to love.

In Public Education We Trust

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is expected to offer details about the Trump administration’s vision for a federal investment in school choice in a major policy speech. The School Choice and Charter School initiative she and the administration supports is based on the idea that they will create a competitive market and thereby improve all schools.

They argue that if there are charter schools in a region, they will lure away sufficient numbers of students (and therefore money) from the existing public school system so that “the system will be forced to make positive changes, or cease to exist.”

It is based on the competitive market principle that corrections are in the control of each entity and in the case of failing public schools it assumes they are failing because they aren’t motivated to succeed; or are too stubborn to make the necessary changes. But, it is shortsighted as it does not consider if those “positive changes” are reliant on funds. And moreover, impeded by socio-political hurdles. What if the burden of certain public schools lies in the fact that its student population has unique challenges inherent to their location?

What happens when failing schools cannot make those “positive changes”? What happens to the students who couldn’t go to a choice or charter school? What happens when the charter and choice schools are full? What happens to the spill over students? To the teachers? To the community around those schools that have closed?

And what happens to the choice schools when they absorb underachieving students? Won’t they be faced with the same challenges the public schools faced? What then has been “fixed”?

Are they underachievers because they just aren’t motivated enough? Or maybe they have to hold down a job? Maybe some of them support their family. Maybe some of them live in abject poverty and have succumbed to the pathologies that come with it.

A spinning wheel of competition is not an educational paradigm. Public Education was founded on the principle that DeVos espouses today in support of school choice, and that is the reality that students are of different abilities, capacities, learning curves, and myriad differences in growth and maturity. In our public schools this was attained from class sizes conducive to such attention and by giving teachers and schools the best materials with which to administer to those differences. Competition existed against one’s own progress, not a standardized criteria designed to follow a winner-takes-all directive from politicians.

School Choice can be part of the system, but as the framework for the system itself it will be the undoing of Public Education. I believe that is ultimately the true intention of those supporting the program (and to direct tax dollars to parochial schools). Struggling schools will lose students, lose funding, and be closed. Students that needed those schools will be lost because the new system is not designed to absorb all of them. That is what the Public School system accomplished.

That old Public School was their best “choice.”

What We Pray For


Two years ago I was in the Democratic primary to unseat Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s 1st district. Along with businessman Ravi Patel and Cedar Rapids city council member Monica Vernon, I ran on progressive values and we strengthened each other’s resolve by engaging every single day with constituents and with each other.

By late summer, Mr. Patel left the primary race and former state representative, Pat Murphy, joined. By the following spring (the race was so long I saw seasons change 7 times), I bowed out to support Monica Vernon because I felt that she had the best chance of winning. I went on to run for the Iowa House and Vernon gained the nomination to run against Blum, but incumbents are hard to beat and political intangibles were not in our favor and we both lost.

I’m not pointing this out to re-live the narrative of defeat, but to re-vive the spirit on which we all ran. It was the conviction that we, as Iowans, and as Americans, can do better. We each ran in our respective races because we believed that a dramatic course correction was necessary. Rod Blum rode a wave of Republicans that swept the 2014 midterms, and signaled a significant redirection in American policy. The Blum-Ernst-King trifecta in Washington, the Walt Rogers-Branstad couples-dance in Des Moines, and the Grassley about-face away from Iowans and toward lock-step party interests; caused us to move into action.

Each one of us felt the calling to stand for the middle class, collective bargaining, public education, a cleaner environment, and better access to health care. Today, as Americans are beginning to see where their inattention to details have led them; as health care is being threatened, as Medicaid is privatized and mental health marginalized, as teachers in Iowa can no longer negotiate for benefits they deserve, and budgets are being redirected to pad the pockets of a few at the expense of many—-certain Republicans may be more vulnerable than they ever have been before.

Fool me once, shame on you….you know the rest.

I am not going to run this cycle, I believe that I can help elect good people by helping with messaging and by keeping the pipeline full with topics to discuss. With that in mind, I also want to help recruit great people. One of the most rewarding aspects of running for office was meeting and working with dedicated, bright, energetic, passionate and informed people. Some were elected officials, some were running for office, and many were the people working for candidates and political organizations. One such person is Stacey Walker. This may be a surprise to even Stacey, but I am hereby, suggesting that he seriously considers putting his hat into the ring to run against Rod Blum in 2018.

Stacey Walker is serving his first year as a Linn County Supervisor, and while I know that he is committed to that job, he is exactly the kind of person we need and who, I believe, can unseat Blum. Stacey….if you’re reading this, and assuming we haven’t already spoken, I am going to offer my case for you to run for the 1st Congressional district.

I met Stacey Walker in 2014 while he was working on the Anesa Kajtazović campaign for Congress. Stacey was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, but needed a crash pad in Waterloo and I offered him a room in my house. Over that summer we would take advantage of the rare moments of down time and we’d sit on my back patio to talk politics. His knowledge of issues on every level; local, state, national, and world was impressive. Even more impressive was his personal connection to them.

He is an activist of the most passionate and informed variety. He sincerely wants to help people of all walks of life to succeed and to contribute to the prosperity of a great nation. Even then, I thought to myself: “This guy would be a great representative someday.”

Stacey went on to run Ravi Patel’s campaign and we saw each other at committee meetings, fundraisers, dinners, meet and greets and other Democratic party functions. Even though we were, in fact, running against each other, we benefitted from the honest and positive exchange of ideas. We were not rivals, but friends with a common purpose; to give voice to the needs of working families, the middle class, workers, students, the elderly and infirm.

When Ravi came to the conclusion that his business activities could provide better opportunities for young Iowans than he could as a Congressman, he bowed out and Stacey continued to work behind the scenes for others. That is until he ran for Supervisor. He won on the substance of his ideas, his engaging presentation of them, his passion for people and the community, and his charisma.

All of the qualities we, as voters, pray for in a candidate.

Stacey, someone will surely have sent this to you by now (or I may just give you a call), but I hope that you are seriously considering this. You are a young Iowan with experience and expertise that America needs in Washington.

Though Love and Life make tearful intercession…

dc82853e7904b0731f4e903e56980211Theologian, A H Strong, defined the human will as “the soul’s power to choose between motives and to direct its subsequent activity according to the motive thus chosen.”

No more apt description of the duty of a politician has ever been written. Such reflection strengthens our moral purpose; the convergence of ideas and motives should reveal to voters what kind of a public servant they will be.

Strong continues his description of will as “The soul’s power to choose both an end and the means to attain it.”  Within our soul is our moral purpose.

The journey I am on has led me to biographies of political leaders to learn more about their motives and recently I have been drawn to biographies about Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and James Garfield.

universe-wallpaper-20It would be easy to develop a fatalistic point of view, considering that each of these men were assassinated, but my belief is that life is a series of capricious events orchestrated by our capacity for reason; we attach meaning to stories drawn from the collision of our will and forces outside of our control.

My point of view does not deny the existence of God, it only admits that I cannot define God any more clearly than I can define love for my children; the concept transcends the confinement of words.

Lincoln, Kennedy, and Garfield each seemed destined, yet their demise was the result of careless mistakes; a lack of attention when they should have been more aware of their vulnerability.  As purpose and fate comingled in my mind, I began to think about my own mortality.  Not in a morose “Oh-my-God-I’m-past-the-halfway-point-and-the-last-half-includes-incontinence!” way, but in a reflective “What-is-the-sum-of-this-journey-so far?” kind of way.

Life will always reveal a lesson when our awareness is heightened.  I was on a flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids in pitch-black darkness, zero-visibility cloud cover, andplane-lightning-100610-02 buffeting crosswinds from a huge storm system passing through.  I fly a lot, but this was one of those flights where the wings tilt dramatically side to side and simultaneously hit air pockets where the plane drops several feet, and I’ll admit that I said a prayer.

It wasn’t a fear of dying at that moment, but I thought to myself, “What if I did?  What was the sum of my life?  What would people say?  Would I be remembered as a good man?  Did I remember to pay the cable bill?”

I try to tame the tendencies of self-indulgence by mediating such thoughts, but I think it’s a primordial human desire to want to be worth something to others.

Suddenly a moment with my father entered my thoughts.

The memory was from an evening only two months before he passed away and he asked me if I was happy.  Not willing to accept that my father wouldn’t be here for years to come, I replied, “Yes…why are you asking me?”

GE DIGITAL CAMERA“Because I’m not going to be around forever and I want to know my family is happy. I can believe I had something to do with that.”

I asked him if he was scared and he said, “No.  I raised good sons and that’s how I want to be remembered.  And maybe you’ll tell your children that there was once this man named Glenn Kroeger…”

I found solace in his words because I already knew that my memories of my father would always construct a story about a good man, who was kind, wise, intelligent, and who loved his family. It would be the story of a man who achieved great success by giving his children the safety, comfort and dreams his own childhood was denied. His flaws would be as forgiven in death as they were in life; they were not the measure of the man.

On this flight I asked myself, “Will my children feel the same way about me?”

There was an unsettling vibration under the fuselage as the plane banked against the wind to land.  But as we touched down softly and safely, it occurred to me that the answer lies in the question itself.  In these moments of perceived peril that turn into the fortune of living, our vanity is arrested by reality.

The present is a moving target that passes seamlessly into the future and instantaneously becomes the past; and it was within that infinitesimal space where my lesson found words:  To live the best of my life from each moment on.  Value is not measured by quantity, but quality. The number of years, the amount of wealth, or the accumulation of things, have no bearing on the value of a life.

As I serve the purpose of being a father by sharing with my children the best that I have to give, I hope that we can all choose to serve our communities, large and small, with the same resolve.

As my father could have proffered:  “We are immortal when our sincerest motives live in the memories of those we’ve loved. And served.”

 

Fiscally Full of S#!t


People hate being labeled. Or at least being labelled by others. Every one of us bristles when we are summarized within restricting parameters, especially when those parameters are defined by someone from the “other side.”

Yesterday I was called a “far left liberal.”

I countered, “Far left of what? I just try to be right.” (pun intended)

I prefer to categorize myself, thank you very much.

We often create broader categories to define ourselves and one another, perhaps, as an answer to our aversion to being ideologically pidgeon-holed.

“Left of moderate,” or “Moderate-Right,” are bandied about with regularity, but the most common it seems is “I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative.”

Even the great Chair Whisperer himself, Clint Eastwood, labels himself that way.  Several conservatives that I converse with call themselves “socially liberal” while being “fiscally conservative.”

Basically, what that means, I think, is that they don’t care whether or not gay people get married, but when it comes to finances they are ultra conservative.

When it comes to voting, however, they are conservatives across the board.  Social issues, like gay marriage, civil rights, health care, environmental policies, consumer protection, workers benefits; go out the window at chad-punching time.  When it comes down to choosing ethics or the bottom line, socially-liberal/fiscal-conservatives vote Republican all the way.

Fiscal conservatism means the avoidance of deficit spending and the overall reduction of government spending and national debt, as well as ensuring a balanced budget.  Nothing ignoble about any of that.

Yet…. fiscal conservatives voted twice for George W. Bush who increased deficit spending by reducing revenue while entering two expensive wars.  He spent like a drunken sailor (Clint’s term, not mine), even increasing social spending with ill-fated programs like No Child Left Behind and his Prescription Drug program.  He was the exact opposite of a fiscal conservative.

But…do you know who WAS fiscally conservative?

Bill Clinton, who balanced the budget and created a budget surplus. 

The fiscal conservatives, however, hated him.  “He was a stain on Washington” was the oft quoted refrain.  I thoroughly enjoy revisionists I encounter today who say, “I liked Clinton.  I did well under Clinton.”

You HATED Bill Clinton! Tens and tens of millions of tax payer dollars were spent to topple Clinton!  It was the beginning of hate-media.

Strap in or strap on for this one, but Federal government did not grow under President Obama. In fact, there were less federal workers under Obama than under many past administrations. The “increased spending” under Obama is the result of policies in place regardless of who is President, and discretionary spending, relative to previous presidents, actually rose the slowest under Obama. The truth is that our National Debt and Deficit has less to do with increased spending than with lowered revenues. 35 years of tax cuts, largely for the wealthy, saw to that.

Which begs for us to go back to the beginning of organized, government-led, Trickle Down Economics. Back to President Ronald Reagan who is considered in the history of conservatism to be the Fiscal Messiah.

But, was he?

Nope.

By reducing overall revenue by 1% yet increasing military spending 40% the United States had to borrow heavily both domestically and abroad.  He raised the national debt from just under $1 trillion to nearly $3 trillion; percentage-wise, the largest increase in history.  The United States went from being a Creditor to a Debtor Nation for the first time.  You could almost say he invented deficit spending.

Yet…the fiscal conservatives loved him and his name is spoken more reverently today than it was even then.

Between the fiscally unsound Reagan and the fiscally responsible Clinton there was George HW Bush.

The conservatives didn’t like him very much and bailed on him when he ran against Clinton.  I don’t think they ever forgave him for going toe to toe with Reagan during the 1980 primaries and coined “Voodoo Economics” to define Reagan’s Trickle Down version of Supply Side theory.  But, GHWB was a true fiscal conservative.  He tried to curb Reagan’s deficits by cutting government spending without raising taxes.  His failure was due to a Democratic Congress that he could not cajole into believing his formula.

This is when I like to start sewing things up by reaching some sort of conclusion.  I have one, but I’m reluctant to share it.  I don’t want to label people with my own restrictive parameters.

Here goes anyway….

Fiscal Conservatism is an honorable, logical, sensible, and viable economic discipline. No resource, including money, is unlimited; we should all weigh priorities before making budgets. Fiscal Conservatives, however, are historically, full of…

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood


Allow me to show you a classic example of disingenuous political rhetoric. Known also as “mumbo jumbo” or more precisely as “lying.” It is language cleverly designed to appear as thoughtful, truthful, even generous. In reality, however, it is a dishonest form of communication because often a sinister objective has been disguised as compassionate, and in the best interests of all concerned.

I pause when Rep. Walt Rogers is the subject of my scorn, because he defeated me and my criticisms may appear as sour grapes. And, in fact, if that is the case, then I am guilty of the same manipulative rhetoric that I am illuminating here. But, the simple the truth is, I don’t have that axe to grind. The statements that Rep. Rogers makes are exactly why I ran against him in the first place. His position on the following issue, and a host of others, are anathema to what I feel is the better course for our state.

Rogers defends HSB 93 which would instigate voter verification processes in the state of Iowa. The sub heading of HSB 93 is: “Election Integrity and Modernization.”

Rogers writes in his newsletter:

“Iowans should have confidence in their elections. Measures like voter verification and election modernization give Iowans assurance that our system is fair, clean, and ensures eligible voters aren’t disenfranchised. House Republicans have been working with Secretary of State Paul Pate on changes to Iowa’s election process, including voter verification, that make it easier to vote, harder to cheat, and ensures no one is turned away.”

I’m going to respond to this as a letter to Representative Rogers.

Dear Mr. Rogers,
Let’s cut to the chase. Why is there a legislative act to minimize a “problem” that has been shown to be 10 fraudulent cases out of 1.6 million votes cast in Iowa? That’s a fraud probability of 0.000000625%. You are more likely to be hit by lightning while winning the lottery. You are willing to spend the millions it will require to set up and maintain a system to fix a problem that barely exists, but you can’t budget more money for our school children?

Take a big gulp of Truth Serum so we can hear you say: “This is really about voter suppression because a higher percentage of Democratic voters are the ones who have hurdles toward getting such verification.”

I’ll even give you more information for your serum-induced, revealing regurgitation of truth: Many eligible voters will lack the necessary documents and getting them can be difficult. Even expensive. Many will be older voters who can no longer drive and have long lost other documentation. And polls have shown that many poorer voters are hesitant to give more information that can lead to inquiries that aren’t welcome. You can judge that as harshly as you’d like, but whatever their reason may be, it does not mean they aren’t eligible to vote. Voting is a RIGHT not a privilege.

And since, as a Republican, you are a devout Constitutionalist, I’m sure the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits laws that have a disproportionate impact on minority voters, is relevant to you. The requirement of voter ID’s is most challenging to voters who are more likely to be poor and undereducated, and that is traceable to the effects of discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and housing. And so….that would be un-Constitutional.

Serum has worn off? Okay, go back to the BS-Double-Speak-Mumbo-Jumbo that has become your MO. Bear in mind, I don’t dislike you as a person, in fact, I think you just might believe what you say. But that would mean that you are falling for the BS-Double-Speak-Mumbo-Jumbo you are being told. Either way, Iowans lose.

Sincerely,
The Guy You Beat

p.s. HSB93 certainly isn’t smaller government, it’s bigger. And smarter? Only if it’s smart to spend valuable tax dollars fixing a problem which is 0.000000625% of…nevermind, you won’t go off script.

The Mayor of Cedar Falls


I just read the news that Jon Crews has died from cancer. Jon Crews, the mayor’s mayor; the heartbeat of one of America’s finest small towns. Condolences framed by sweet memories and tears will go from house to house today and for many days to come.

I first met Jon Crews in 1971. I was a 14 year old just about to enter high school and I wanted to work on anything political that summer. America was involved in Vietnam, there was civil unrest in the streets and I wanted to be part of the movement that was holding elected officials to the fire.

The national scene was disheartening, but then I heard about this young man running for mayor. I said, “Right on!” Yes, “Right on!” was an acceptable term in those days. Jon Crews was only 24 and would be the youngest mayor in Cedar Falls history; maybe any history anywhere; and I saw him as the future. Jon Crews was part of the movement of young America!

I can’t tell you even one policy point that he was running on, but I showed up on Saturday mornings to hand out flyers and go door to door for this Young Turk. Jon won, as we all know, and went on to win many more times. He served our town for over 30 years. 15 terms, I think.

He won because he was the right person for the job.

He was the right person for the job because he showed up. I’m not saying that to be funny or flippant; showing up is the job. He showed up for every function, fundraiser, event, gathering, meeting, congregation and committee. He showed up because he loved this town and all of us in it.

This town was his life and would become his legacy. The streets, the buildings, the schools, the parks, and the shops that made Cedar Falls a showplace of the American dream. He showed up for the owners, customers, students, seniors and children who called Cedar Falls their home.

He connected townspeople with business people, students with entrepreneurs, and politicians from the city to the state. And we are all better off, much better off, because of his leadership.

I used to tease Jon. I think he liked it, because when I didn’t he’d remind me of the last time when I had. One year when I was announcing the Sturgis Falls parade, he emerged from the convertible holding his wife Ronelle’s purse. I commented to the audience “how fashionable our mayor looks in his Palace Clothiers blazer with a matching man purse.”

He laughed, and every time I saw him since he’d comment on how he forgot his man purse. I enjoyed having fun with him because I truly liked and respected the man.

Before he ran for the second to the last time he had intimated to some that he might retire. Candidates put their hats in the ring, committed to continuing Jon’s vision and stewardship of our community. It turned out, though, that Jon wasn’t quite ready to retire and he ran again. And he won again.

He won because he was, and always will be, “the Mayor of Cedar Falls.”

A Tax on Your House!


Taxes. The ugly step child of our Republic. Both political sides share parenting and are responsible for its well-being, but no one wants to admit that taxes are part of either gene pool. The line between what is the right amount of tax and what is too much is as blurry and contested as the Toledo Strip that divided Ohioans from those nasty wolverines to the north who called themselves Michiganders. Blood is shed over the disagreement.

If a politician wants to get elected they promise to lower taxes and even if the truth demands that taxes are insufficient, any promise to raise them will guarantee defeat. Remember Walter Mondale in 1984? Or George Bush Sr., who promised not to raise them, was elected on that promise, then raised them out of necessity, and then lost his bid for re-election. Above all other issues, taxes are the straightest line between victory and defeat.

So…what are they for? Who benefits? What is necessary? What isn’t? What is the right amount? Are you paying too much? Or…God forbid, too little?

The clearest illustration is probably on a local level and the tax that most directly affects the services we require (or don’t, depending on your status) is Property Tax. Here in Black Hawk County about 18% of a property owner’s taxes goes to the county. 38% goes to public schools, 38% to the city budgets, and 22% is split between Hawkeye Community College and university extensions.

The average property tax in Black Hawk County is $1717 but, to clarify our expenses, let’s round that up to $2000. $360 will go to Black Hawk County, $760 goes to schools, and another $760 to the city.

And what is the county providing that requires $360 from you every year?

-It goes to the county home, Country View, with 150 residents, 25% of whom are severely handicapped and have no means of support from family or personal finances.

-The Health Department budget uses the money to inspect all public food dispensers, nursing homes, schools, and restaurants to protect us from conditions that lead to food poisoning. They manage every school nurse, monitor communicable diseases (and STDs), and engineer the removal of hazards and provide emergency operation plans for any outbreak. The Health Department protects all of us, and particularly our children.

-The Sheriff’s Office is funded. 276 beds are maintained in Black Hawk County jails, where nearly 40% of the occupants have been diagnosed as mentally ill. Substance abuse issues raise that percentage to nearly 70%. The Sheriff’s office patrols the incorporated areas of the county, assists all municipal law enforcement, and maintains training for local and regional law enforcement.

-It goes to Conservation. The county manages over 8000 acres of land, with 5 campgrounds, 2 shooting ranges, our extensive bike trails, and the Hartman Reserve. Our quality of life relies heavily on the conservation of these acres.

-And it goes to Veterans Affairs. Black Hawk County supports nearly 20,000 veterans with transportation, medical support and housing for those who would be homeless.

-Additionally, and most importantly from an economic standpoint, the county maintains the 765 miles of roads that we depend on, with 273 bridges. Half a billion dollars of produce are moved to market, annually, on our roads and over our bridges. That is the life’s blood of our economy.

Add to these services other maintenance, civil services, emergency management, the medical examiner, juvenile court services, social services for the impoverished and mentally ill, the county auditor, solid waste management, district court administration, the county recorder, code enforcement, and emergency 911 services…

Is all that necessary? You can decide that for yourself, but not one thing listed here should be considered an extravagance when compared to what is provided and what the benefit to all of us can be.

Property tax, obviously, is only a piece of the “tax” equation. We also pay state and federal taxes (and of course, regressive taxes like sales tax). But the breakdown is not dissimilar to the county “pie.” On average, Americans pay just over 26% of their total income in taxes, including state, federal, and property. To put that in perspective: a little over a quarter of every dollar.

A quarter of a dollar to pay for our national defense and security, roads and bridges for commerce, educating our children, providing health services, support for the veterans who deserve our help, for senior citizens and disabled Americans, for disaster relief, disease control and research, for our system of justice and the enforcement of law and order in our civilized society.

Is that too much?

Of COURSE, we need to hold government on every level accountable. Of COURSE we should look for redundancies and inefficiencies. Of COURSE, we should adapt, re-organize and reconsider local, state and federal budgets as our needs and safeguards change or evolve. But, MAYBE…we should also consider, every bit as diligently, WHO is paying.

I pay 27%. Poor Americans pay less….and many rich Americans pay an even lower percentage. Much lower. Much, much, lower. So much lower. A yuuuge amount lower.

The point of this article is not to say that we should ignore or be less concerned about our taxes, but it is to suggest that “TAXES” are not the evil menace that should be determining our elections. When we look at what we get, for what we pay; even at what may go to some who others feel are undeserving (or “lazy”), the conversation should, at least, be based in rational evidence rather than emotional hyperbole.

THAT might even be the better way to reduce tax burdens.

One Fish Two Fish…

Americans love numbers.heart  We especially love big numbers because big numbers means there can be no argument against whatever point we are using the big numbers for…because they are so BIG.

Here’s a big one—The National Debt clock at this very moment is $19,856,689,020,596.

It is higher right now as you read this from what it was when I wrote it down.  That is daunting.  No one can say, “What’s 19 trillion when you’re having fun?”

The number is often used to make the point that government cannot spend any more money, nor borrow any more, to spend on things we don’t need.  Things like welfare according to most of those sounding the spending alarm.

But we also love tiny numbers. “1’s” have great impact, primarily when we are talking about percentages.  1% of anything is next to nothing and that can make a very dramatic point.

There was a column in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that was, more or less, a rebuttal of my column in the paper the previous week.  I had written (as I have here, there and everywhere) about how a “compassionate, just, and civilized society offers assistance to those who have fallen through the cracks.”  I wrote in defense of welfare spending, and the columnist centered his case on a report that roughly 47 million Americans are receiving food stamps.screen-shot-2011-12-13-at-23-10-08

He then whittled the math to illustrate how gigantic a number that is by pointing out that to equal it, every Iowan would have to take on 16 boarders.

The columnist was impressing upon us that we cannot, as a nation, afford to pay that kind of money.

Well….here’s where little numbers come in.  Food stamps are1% of the federal budget.  Personally, if I only get a 1% return or loss on something, I don’t think I even bother to write it down.

The problem with the use of numbers, large or small, is that they can actually take us farther from the truth, because they are so easy to manipulate.  Recently I saw a blog post that said that 44% of working age Americans aren’t working and most “don’t want to.”  That assumption is already insulting and ridiculous even before we consider that the percentage was arrived at by including young people from the age of 16 to 22.

I guess I was one of those lazy Americans once because I spent those years in school.

Big numbers scare us, little numbers give us pause, but numbers, on the whole, are just ways to fill in blanks.  We need to know how many seats are left on the airplane so we can know how many more tickets can be sold, but the plane will still take off whether it’s full or not.

The National Debt is much the same.

The big debt number is flaunted to scare people into believing that government programs must be cut, and if those programs are cut, taxes will go down and we will have more money to spend.  That’s not entirely illogical, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Many services our taxes pay for keep what we would pay out of our own pockets down.  Things like federal research in science and medicine, transportation infrastructure, and security, just to name a few.

What aggravates many people are welfare programs, but those critics do not seem interested in the number of people who have been helped by programs to become, or return to being, productive.  They are obsessed with the scammers, which evidence shows is a relatively small percentage.  Yet they do not seem concerned with 100 billion dollars annually in corporate welfare that only serves to line already well-to-do pockets.  That really takes a bite out of our paychecks.

But the frustrating double-standard is not the sycophantic admiration many Americans have for those who are the most successful, it is that at one time or another 96% of all us have used some sort of federal assistance (I have needed unemployment on a couple of occassions).  Perhaps we should be careful when chastising social spending.

federal budget as family budgetThe National Debt frightens people because they have been told that the Federal Budget is no different from their Household Budget.  That is logical to many people, however, it is one of the biggest misconceptions in the budget/deficit argument.

They aren’t the same.  At all.

The most obvious difference is that a household will borrow money (from a lender against future income) to purchase something that they don’t have enough money for today; a house, a car, etc.  In contrast, the federal government, since it is the sole issuer of our currency, is never without money.  Iprinting-moneyn reality when government spends in excess of tax receipts, it prints more money.

As much as I’d like to print my own money to pay bills, my household is not afforded that luxury.  At least that’s what the Secret Service has told me.

Printing money can cause inflation, but only when measured against stationary production.  A real world economic model indicates that more liquidity in the system will cause production to rise and offset inflationary trends.  ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/johntharvey/2011/05/14/money-growth-does-not-cause-inflation/ )

Furthermore, a household has a finite period of existence, and therefore, the debt is real, while our government, in theory, goes on in perpetuity.  So long as the US dollar remains the world’s primary currency and so long as we are the biggest consumer, there is no time limit for paying back our debt.

What is relevant is the interest that we pay on debt, but even that concern has been exaggerated.  Where it stands today, around one and a half percent of the GNP, is manageable.  To illustrate, suppose we issue $4 trillion in 30-year bonds at 2.75 percent interest.  The economy continues to recover and the interest rate is up around 6.0 percent in a few years.  The federal government would be able to buy back the $4 trillion in bonds it had issued for roughly $2 trillion, immediately eliminating $2 trillion of its debt.

The same is true with that food stamp number.  Sure 47,000,000 is a big number but any rational perspective will conclude, whether you agree or disagree with stimulus spending, bailouts, extending unemployment benefits, or tax cuts from either the Bush or Obama Administrations, that more people were going to qualify for assistance following an unprecedented recession.

Okay, I’m tossing around big and little numbers, too.  My goal is to show how panic, fanned by daunting numbers, is clouding the issues, stagnating progress, and challenging compassion.

I stand by my moral premise:  A compassionate and civilized society provides a safety net to everyone, as best as it can. 

The numbers, big or small, will support whatever it is you want to believe, and so it comes down to this:  What do you believe a great nation provides?

Do you believe that a great, powerful and wealthy nation should not set aside 1% of 3.5 trillion dollars to provide food for people who are making 0 to $15,000 a year?*

il_fullxfull_154307375And what is the alternative?  Better wages?  Better education?  More motivational posters?

I’m listening…

 

 

 

 

 

*This is per person and households will have higher combined incomes and receive more assistance due to more family members.  Each state has its own guidelines and my numbers are averages.

Good reading:  http://malincursive.blogspot.com/2013/04/truth-about-welfare-debunking-welfare.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patrick-takahashi/how-serious-is-our-nation_b_366811.html

http://www.valuewalk.com/2012/03/the-big-bad-national-debt-who-is-afraid/

Two Tickets to Paradise

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, I was made aware of a social media site titled:  “I’m an American, why shouldpress_1_for_english_011 I have to ‘Press 1 for English’?”

I’m sure that I was directed toward it to get my dander up, as they knew what I would find, but I could not resist that confirmation and I went there.

Big surprise! (sarcasm) – I read post after post that denigrated former President Obama, Hillary Clinton, immigrants, liberals, and Democrats, while conversely praising Donald Trump, gun proliferation, and anti-immigration laws.

There were several fair criticisms of government, and even links to prevent animal abuse, but over 90% exhibited hatred for any screen-shot-2015-07-11-at-10_52_19-amconcept that even bordered on being progressive:  Immigration reform, the environment, gay rights, public option health insurance, gun purchase regulations, religious diversity, and allowing for refugees.

One post said stated:  “Speak English or get the (expletive) out!”

Another proclaimed:  “This is one nation under God and if you don’t like that get out you(ethnic slur)!!!”

There was a meme with two bullets over an American flag, titled: “Two Tickets to Paradise” with “paradise” written to resemble Arabic.

Another post pointed out that the “KKK was formed by Democrats” and someone piled on:  “Democrats are the real racists in this country.”

This is where I started to talk back to the page.

While there is historical accuracy in terms of the Democratic Party holding on to a founding ignorance, that is not the relevant point in today’s discrepancies.  We must ask, “Why is it that today the KKK, Aryan Nations and other white supremacist organizations now identify as Republicans?

There is no shortcut answer and first we must look at racism, itself.  Racism is the result of adopting, or inheriting, beliefs born from ignorance and fear; it does not hold a political allegiance.

Let’s also get the history straight:  Racist Southern Democrats, who were segregationists, formed the KKK.  They were not “liberals” and they are not part of the Democratic Party today.  In fact, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many Southern Democrats joined Republicans to form the Conservative Coalition.

It was the Republican Party during the Civil War that championed the Abolitionists, but it was not social conservatism that led them to embrace emancipation, rather it was a non-partisan, progressive ideology at the center of their movement.

On the “Press 1…” site there were countless endorsements from Tea Party factions, of NRA sites, and links to conservative blogs and websites.  It was clear where most of the participant’s political ideologies were placed, and they reiterated the spectrum of xenophobia, segregation, and sexual stereotypes.  I am not suggesting that Republicans or all conservatives support such things – not at all – but, I have to ask the question from above:  “Why do those who do, find the right side of the aisle to be where they belong?”

This issue goes deep for me.  I don’t want my children to inherit the country these people are fighting to establish.  I want my children to embrace all cultures and rtheligions.  Not because they saw pictures in a book, but because they went to a friend’s house who is Jewish or Muslim.  Or is from Mexico, Bosnia, Syria or Iran, and they saw how other cultures contribute to a free nation.

So I called a conservative Republican friend for a “lifeline.” I asked him:  “If a growing part of your party shows the stripes of exclusionism, racism or sexism, don’t you have to evaluate why?  Don’t you have an obligation to rid your party of such affiliations?

He replied, thoughtfully: “There are as many extremists on the left, you’re simply more aware of those who disagree with you.  But they are angry at growing government infringing on their rights, spending money and threatening their children’s future with debt.  They have as much right to protest as you and I’ll bet they find your positions as repugnant.”

A well reasoned answer, but my question wasn’t answered.

“This site wasn’t created to discuss government overreach and debt,” I replied. “Where are those posts?”

He countered:  “Look at the extremists who led your party in the 60′s and 70′s, like Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman.  They were more dangerous than anything I see today.”

chicago7I conceded: “They were radicals, but they didn’t lead the Democratic Party!  Democrats didn’t seek their endorsements.   Yet today, the right-wing extreme; those crying for a one-language, one-religion nation with exclusionary civil rights, took the Republican Party to the edge…and won.”

I kept going:  “Tom Hayden (one of those 60′s radicals) ran as a Democrat but he was running for ‘participatory democracy,’ for civil rights and policies centering around peace and social justice.  You need to acknowledge the difference or this discussion can’t get anywhere.”

The discussion didn’t go any further.

I knew this would happen when I traipsed over to the site, and so I deserved my frustration.  I didn’t get the answer to my question, but there is good news and hope for the conversation.  I spent the evening with my family and friends and we talked about these issues.

And here’s what pleased me the most—-my “lifeline” friend was one of them.