Monthly Archives: February 2012

Remembering a good man

I knew of Ron Knapp for years, but I didn’t really know him until I moved back to the Cedar Valley just over 8 years ago. We were the same age but we didn’t cross paths until I ran into him at a bar in Cedar Falls in 2003.

I had just been hired as the new video guy at the Mudd Group and as he introduced himself he immediately let me know that he was the “man” in the know when it came to who has what in terms of video production.

His manner was so easy going that I felt as if we’d been hanging out for years and I quickly got to know Ron beyond the “legend” of being the guy who looked like Robert DeNiro.

Everybody knew him and everybody liked him. He worked with everyone at one time or another, shooting local commercials, political campaigns, what have you.  He was professional, kind and had a smile that….well, if you said it lit up a room, you’d be making a profound understatement.  His personality was just as electric.  He was quick with a joke and even faster with a pat on the back when he came up from behind you at any of our favorite pubs.

We saw a lot of each other in each other and could talk about anything…except politics.  Ron would politely walk away if I got onto my soapbox.  Without fail, though, we would always talk about someday pooling our resources and abilities and starting a production company of our own.  We knew we’d be successful.

I went through a divorce a short while after arriving and it was Ron who had the words I needed to prop myself up and to believe in my future.  I will always treasure him for that.  On occasions, one of us, or both of us, would be going through one of those times that middle aged men go through where we question our worth.  We’d posture to show the other how mentally tough we were and how we’ve got everything figured out.  We both knew better.

Over the years, we didn’t see that much of each other, but, when we did, we always had laughs and said, “We gotta make plans to get together!”  I guess we always felt as if we would, and so we never actually did.

Ron’s birthday is just a couple of weeks before mine and we celebrated our 50th, along with some other 1957 babies a few years ago. Ron and his wife Wendy and a dozen of us rode our motorcycles on a charity run for a Children’s Hospital.  I remember being jealous of Ron because he looked so damn cool.

I can’t pretend that we were best friends; he had a lot of friends who were a lot closer to him than me…but , I thought I had time. It turns out that I didn’t because Ron passed away from a massive heart attack last night.

So many tears are flowing in this town and from everyone who knew him.  Even the sky is crying today.  I write because I believe that these messages travel through space and into other dimensions and that this one will reach Ron.

I’m going to miss seeing you at Hy Vee, old man.  When I said “You look good” I meant it.  You always do.

Save Our School!

Something sinister is happening in my home town.   The University of Northern Iowa, once known as the Iowa State Teachers College, and a national leader in the education and preparation of teachers may close down its laboratory school in order to answer budget concerns.

Let me put this in perspective.  The stature of a university is predicated on the quality of the resources that are given to its core directive.  The University of Iowa, known for its superior education in medicine created the University Hospital as a practical, applied-science laboratory for its students.  How else, in fact, could a leading medical university, produce great doctors and dentists if they didn’t have such an environment?  It would be unheard of for the Regents to recommend closing it down for budget reasons.

Iowa State University is renowned as an agricultural school and created a working laboratory from which students can gain hands on experience in agriculture and animal science.  The applied, real life experience is what sets that education apart and gives it world status.

Our preeminent school for education, UNI, has had a K thru 12 school for UNI education students to learn firsthand how to teach and create cutting edge curriculum through the day to day experience of working with students in class, after class, intramurals, debate, theater, music, and social interaction.  How, in fact, could good teachers learn any other way?

Hang on to your Panther caps!

UNI President Benjamin Allen and the Board of Regents think that it’s an unnecessary budget burden and that Online Education might serve as a better model for Teacher Development (It is certainly a less expensive one).   In other words—-the core principle of the University of Northern Iowa, which is to offer students the best curriculum, environment and experience to become a teacher, is going to close down the Research and Development School that was created to do exactly that.

Education creates jobs.  Jobs stimulate the economy.  The economy secures our future.  Teachers are the educators that give the students the tools to become educated.  It’s a pretty simple cycle.  What President Allen and the Board of Regents are preparing to do is a DIRECT affront to our future and our prosperity; it is short sighted; it is INSANE.

They say their budget can’t support the school and that we all must be aware of the economic hardships that our state and our country are facing, but…the state of Iowa is in the black.  Our budget surplus stands at $900,000,000 (yes, that was a 9 followed by 8 zero’s).  If you add the $600,000,000 in our “Rainy Day Fund” we have 1.5 billion dollars in budget surplus.  The funds needed to continue the rich, wonderful, successful legacy of Malcomb Price Laboratory School are there.  What is missing is common sense and vision and I urge you to write to Governor Branstad today.

Whether or not you are a Price Lab graduate, a teacher or student does not matter; this is a matter for our city, our state and our country.  To close that school is a move in the WRONG direction and if we don’t try to stop it- shame on us for allowing it to happen.  And shame on the legislators who vote to make it so-  we are taking names.

Governor Terry Branstad, Office of the Governor, State Capitol, 1007 East Grand Ave., Des Moines, Iowa 50319

For the love of God!

I saw this posted on Facebook:

“The leftist media has really been effective with its disinformation about the Tea Party.  We are against bail outs, crony capitalism, and big government.  The only thing that separates us apart from the occupy movement is that we do not want to turn the USA into the USSA.  This country already “spreads the wealth” more than any other country in the world.  The communist labor party was behind the Occupy movement. The top 4 Communist goals to ruin America are- 1) Hijack media and education, 2) Demoralize a nation, 3) Create a crisis, 4) Take power.

(The post ended with:) For the love of God and country, don’t let these bastards (the Communist lefties) win!”

I actually get a little giddy when something that can be so easily destroyed is laid in front of me.  Let’s go point by pseudo point—-

1) The leftest media?  Sure there are left wing media sites, but not as many as there are right wing media sights, at least when you scour the internet.  Fox News unabashedly promotes a right wing bias and while Clinton called MSNBC “our Fox News” because their editorial content leans on the port rudder, their accuracy in reporting receives higher marks.  If the sentiment above is an indictment of CBS, NBC, or ABC,  I cannot see a historical record of left wing agenda in their reporting.  They are, after all, owned and operated by Corporate America.

2) “This country already spreads the wealth more than any other…”  Pure myth.  We are the largest economy and we are the largest democratic nation and we have more accumulated wealth than any other nation, but the discrepancy between rich and poor reveals the greatest divide within industrialized nations.  Our taxes are relatively low (of the 30 nations in the OECD only 4 are lower), yet a larger and larger percentage of our nation’s wealth is centralized within an increasingly smaller percentage of people.  1% of American’s at the top make 25% of the all the money and control 40% of the accumulated wealth. The wealthiest Americans have successfully implemented neo liberal economics that have increased their stake in America by nearly 250% over the past 30 years.   No one has “taken from the rich and given to the poor” but quite the opposite; today the top 10% control over 90% of America’s wealth according the Federal Reserve Board.

3) The Communist Labor Party?  First of all, there is no CLP anymore, they became the Communist Party of America in 1929 (I must be a Communist to know this!!) and in recent years they have dwindled to only a few thousand members and have, in fact, defaulted on office rent.  Does anyone seriously believe they have the money or the muscle to fund Occupy Wall Street?  No, I mean SERIOUSLY!  I’m not looking for laughs here.

4) The Top 4 Communist Goals to Ruin America…”  (The writer basically took these from the 1933 National Socialist agenda in Germany to make his, or her, point)

a) Hijack Media and Education.  Who’s hijacking who?  The hijacking of media is evidenced by Fox News and right wing talk radio and the movement to marginalize education is the work of conservatives, particularly Christian Fundamentalists who are working hard to take science out of the curriculum and replace it with theology.  They want to privatize education and while public education in America may not be perfect, it is the first and last line of defense against the growing anti-intellectual and pro-ignorance movement being fostered by the likes of the Tea Party and other extreme right factions.

b) Demoralize a Nation.  Who’s demoralizing a nation more than those who put a Hitler mustache on our President and frighten their own ignorance with cries of “Socialism”?  Who has demoralized America more than those who mock our President by questioning his faith, his patriotism and his place of birth?  Who demoralizes a nation more than those who demonize peaceful demonstration against corporate tyranny, such as Occupy Wall Street?

c) Cause a Crisis.  Do they mean like the “Debt Ceiling” crisis?  The crisis that had been abated 13 times during Bush’s presidency alone, not to mention how many times Reagan lifted the ceiling so that he could borrow against the deficit he created.  Today, because people fell for the political scam, our credit standing is diminished.  Republicans in Congress proved that the interests of the American people are not as important to them as their mission to seize power.

d) Take Power.  Which party has stonewalled a Job’s Bill simply because their agenda is to see that Obama loses so that they can “take power”?

I don’t mind disagreements and arguments; it’s healthy to argue and to find peaceful compromises on common ground, but I can’t stand positions founded on ignorant claims or political dogma created from a hypocritical thesis.  The writer of the Facebook post above may seem fringe to some, but I believe that the “fringe” is infringing on more sensible conservative ideology and moving the needle toward lunacy.  After all, even to this day over 20% of Americans polled still think that Obama is a Muslim and that he wasn’t born on American soil.  That’s a LOT of voters and frankly, I don’t want them tanking my country….AGAIN!

The “disinformation” about the Tea Party is not created by “left wing media” but by the Tea Party itself; from their words, placards and contradictory statements like the one above with their misaligned facts. To be fair, the post writer was in agreement with the Occupy Wall Street protest up to, “The only thing that separates us apart from the occupy movement is that we do not want to turn the USA into the USSA.”  With that statement they betray their own premise and divert from reality with “spreading the wealth” and the subsequent list of left wing “communist” agenda.  The turn is such a profound misunderstanding of the Occupy movement that my critique falls short of the disgust I actually felt.

Keep the spirit of Occupy Wall Street alive!  Occupy Main Street!  Occupy the Merchandise Mart!  Occupy Wal-Mart!-  Occupy the political rhetoric and fill it with truth so that voters can challenge the greed and the tyranny that follows when money drives our system of government.

For the love of God and country, don’t let those bastards (the plutocracy creating, wealth pandering, sycophants) win!!!

Caution: Cancer may cause smoking

Personally, I like election years with lame duck Presidents.  That way we have primaries for both parties and there can be some comparisons of the character of the debates that might calibrate sanity a little better than what we’re seeing now.  I have my theories as to what the Democrats would look like in a dogfight, but I’ll keep those to myself for now. I’m pretty sure, though, that it wouldn’t be slapping to prove who’s the most historically ill-informed.

As it is, we only have the Republican candidates from which to pull threads of continuity in terms of the public discourse and…well…I don’t like what I’m seeing.  There is such a contentious view toward government that is being held by candidates who are (or have been) part of that government.  If you believe their promise when they say, “I’m going to change the way Washington does business” then, I have to ask, why hasn’t that happened already?  And don’t we hear that every election cycle?

I’ve seen Republican presidents with a Republican Congress, Democrats with Democrats and every combination in between, and yet in nearly 250 years of government we are at the same juncture.  Why?

I’ll tell you why— Because this is the government we have demanded from those we’ve elected; filled with contradictions, specific interests, broad interests, pro-this and anti-that positions and programs- just like we are.  These are the problems and solutions we have created and our government is a reflection of our own crisis and concerns.

Does that mean we throw in the towel and resign our vote?  Absolutely not!  Does that mean that government cannot improve?  Hell, no!  It means that we can improve the efficiency and representation of government if we collectively educate ourselves and re-evaluate the criteria by which we decide.  Government will change when we change the conversation we’re having.

I was reading a comment by a leading Republican who was bemoaning the passing of the day when sincere friendships were made across party lines.  He mentioned how (late) Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Republican Senator Bob Dole were good friends and formed legislative liaisons to work for the common good.  He was regretting how that climate no longer exists and representatives are now thrown out of office simply for cooperating with someone on the other side of the aisle.

This is the result of the anti-government movement being spearheaded by the New Right and fanned by the Tea Party extremists.  Being “critical” of government should not be confused with this new anti-government agenda; we MUST be critical and oppose government tyranny, but we should also embrace the concept of government itself.  That is accomplished by electing people who want to “improve” government and not those who wish to render it less useful. This misunderstanding of purpose has led to an anti-information, reverse-logic, anti-intellectual movement to simplify (and amplify) the argument being made against government.

This movement is reflected in policy.  I was looking at the positions of several Republicans running for office and this reverse-logic, disconnect between rhetoric and reality was profound.  Candidate Dave Funk of Iowa said our objective in the Middle East should be “clear.” He said, that clarity is “Complete US victory and total defeat of the enemy.”

Could any statement be less clear?  What does “complete victory” look like?  Who is the specific enemy?  Muslim extremists?  Al Qaeda?  Is it everyone who “hates freedom” as George Bush clumsily pronounced?  All of the above?  Is Funk talking about complete annihilation of ALL of our enemies in the Middle East?  Again, I ask Mr. Funk, “What the funk is complete victory?”  Be “clear” please.

All of the candidates accuse the Obama stimulus of being the left wing “socialist agenda” of a government takeover and although I don’t expect everyone to agree with Keynesian theory (the way out of a recession is government spending because the private sector cannot possibly do what is necessary), the disagreement is hardly grounds to accuse this administration of a “socialist” conspiracy.

Of course, all of the candidates want to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. They all reiterated the premise that the wealthy will invest and that will create job growth.

Lord, give me strength!

It seems to me that didn’t work real well in the past decade to “stimulate the economy.”  The pledge that “Trickle Down works” reminds me of Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football.

Many people believe the Republican promise that this time it will work, but just as Lucy promises that she won’t pull the ball away, it’s a lie every time.

Save your breath, Reagan-is-God disciples– in order to cover his new federal budget deficits from lower taxes, the US borrowed heavily, nearly quadrupling the debt and we went from being the world’s largest creditor to the world’s largest debtor nation.  (Note to Republicans:  You can choose to believe that our debt/deficit is crippling our nation or you can choose Reaganomics, but you can’t have both).

Hey, I don’t love tax time either.  I barely get by after a mortgage, child support, federal, state, FICA, etc., and I sure would like to put away for a boat (*sigh*).  I don’t want to pay any more than what I believe is fair, but I also know that my personal interests are not the interests of all Americans.  Personally, I wouldn’t be pumping 700 billion or more a year into the military, but I know that there are needs and concerns that other Americans have that may conflict with my own and vice versa.  Therefore, I understand that taxes are not my enemy nor are they the solution.

My job as a citizen is to be informed and remind my representatives of my voice.

That is not what the Tea Party is doing; they are throwing people out of office with a malignant message that has led to a Republican (a Senate race in Utah, for example) losing simply because they cooperated with a Democrat to improve legislation in the best interests of their constituents.  That is not how good government works, that is anti-government and it is a cancer to our constitution.  Yes, a cancer.

This is the direction I am seeing and hearing, ad nauseum, from the new right, that is controlling the Republican debate, and it is forged from the foundry of misinformation and empty rhetoric.  It is defining “government” as a three headed dragon that must be slain to secure our freedom, when, in fact, the conflict is as much a fantasy as that image itself.

We improve government by improving our understanding of it and electing representatives who also understand its purpose….not by destroying it.

"It bleaches while it cleans hard to reach Santorum!"

Only a couple of weeks ago the Rick Santorum campaign was as irrelevant as proper grammar at a Tea Party rally and now, lo and behold, he pulls off a rare hat-trick and catapults back into the race.

As I listened to a gloating Rick Santorum speak after his campaign-reviving trifecta, I heard him say that the central issue in America today is “government oppression that is taking away our freedoms.”

The crowd cheered and nodded, validating to one another that they have, in fact, had some freedoms taken away. I’ve heard that before from Tea Partiers who protest an oppressive increase in middle class marginal tax rates…that haven’t actually increased…and from that other blistering cock fight called the Republican debates, but I’m never quite sure as to what freedoms they’re talking about. Unless, of course, they’re talking about the freedom to deny other people freedom; like the rights of gay Americans, or access to medicine for those who couldn’t afford healthcare, or perhaps they are talking about the freedom to blame the poor for not being rich.

Look…I plead guilty from that start that I support President Obama, I am a Democrat and I find Santorum to be sanctimonious with Holier than Thou rhetoric to condemn diversity, tolerance and, well, liberty….but that aside…I can admit that he looks sharp in a natty sweater vest…and I like him more than Newt Gingrich.

Be honest, if Phil Donahue had a brother who was kept in the basement for 60 years and finally escaped, you’d have to admit that it might be Newt.

Santorum even castigates Romney as a “Big Government” liberal in this “Who can be a crazier, far-right, lunatic than I am?” debate going on in the (once) Grand Old Party. Santorum (which I believe is the residue at the bottom of a fraternity hot tub) says that government is too big, corrupt and can’t do anything right.

Curiously, Santorum was one of the biggest earmark creating senators of all time, having 54 on one bill alone that resulted in nearly 125,000,000 dollars of (our) taxes toward special interests. But, hypocrisy seems to gain respect among the rank and file of the new Republican base and so he probably shouldn’t worry if, God forbid, the “liberal” press actually asked him about it.

All Republicans have built their platform on the premise that our Federal Government doesn’t work; that it is run ineptly and inefficiently and, therefore, it must be reduced and Santorum now stands front and center echoing the refrain. And so I ask…what is Santorum actually talking about specifically?

A fleeting glance will reveal that our government runs the most advanced and powerful military force on the planet.

Tilt your head just a bit and you can see that the Center for Disease Control is the template by which all disease research is measured.

The same is true of the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the disciplines of aerospace engineering and research.

The EPA ensures that our water is safe to drink, and our air cleaner to breathe.

Social Security that has provided just that for senior citizens for decades (and is only financially vulnerable today because presidents have borrowed, stolen, really, against its success to fund their own agendas).

The Justice Department monitors the most consistently reasonable system in the world.

National Parks, anyone?  For my entire life I have enjoyed the experience of our National Parks as a vast resource of entertainment and education at an unparalleled level.

Time out.  I feel the need, in order to establish credibility with those who disagree with me, to add a disclaimer.  Of course, there are government programs that need to be overhauled, some reduced and some may need to go away.  The discussion across America, however, should not be to chastise or defend government, we should be asking, “What is our measure for success and how can government be more effective and efficient at meeting those goals?”

Personally, I don’t believe that the anti-government movement is actually about incompetence in Washington or a loss of liberties.  I believe that those who decry our federal government do so primarily because of –  taxes.  End of story.

They don’t like paying them and if we say “government doesn’t work” then we can reduce it and keep more money in our paychecks.  I understand that reasoning, but it’s not rational.  I basically give a quarter out of every dollar I make toward the running of this country and for its defense, and I feel like I’m getting a pretty good deal.

I’m investing in my future security and that of my children, and if some goes to fellow Americans who have not had the breaks I’ve had or the ability to create as I have, then I think that’s a good thing, too.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, pays around 15 cents out of every dollar he brings home from a hard day of earning interest, and he joins Santorum and the other complainers.

untitledThe services, securities, programs and enforcements that we ask for, expect and require, add to our quality of life far more than the savings we would receive if we paid afushigi little less and likely wasted it anyway on Snuggies and Fushigi balls.

I’ve drifted from my original premise to question the “freedoms” Rick Santorum says have been taken away, but as I sit here looking out from my window, I don’t see the justification for frenzied panic that Santorum wants to instill in the electorate.  I see room for improvement, for change and for progress, but I am optimistic rather than “oppressed” because my freedoms are basically intact.

What I’d like to do is guarantee the freedoms I enjoy to gay people, immigrants and minorities, while extending those principles of justice and liberty to our foreign policy.  You know…kind of like what President Obama is doing.

When the argument starts from the premise that government is “run by incompetents” and “can’t run anything” then there is no discussion that can take place that will lead to better ideas to create better government-  even less government. 

Thomas Jefferson said, “That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.”

We can take from that a call for smaller government from no less than one of the preeminent author/philosophers of our Constitutional doctrine, but it is predicated on a premise that many overlook:  that people discipline themselves.

That is where the discussion should begin, no matter which one of The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight wins the Republican nomination.

So far…I’m not seeing it…Mr. Earmarks.