Monthly Archives: August 2012

“I pledge allegiance to the flags of the Divided States of America…”

If I were magic, do you know what I would do?  After, of course, giving myself untold millions…and Brad Pitt’s pectorals…and, well, several other things that there’s just no point going in to if I’m ever going to make the point I’m here to make….

I would divide the United States into two equal parts to make a point (after which, of course, I’d  put it back together).

Equal in size, equal in resources. I might have to zig-zag the line of demarcation to accomplish this, but since I’m magic, I can make it happen.

One part would be governed by liberals and the other by conservatives.  We each share the same Constitution and we have a small tribunal government that governs the same military (we don’t want a civil war, after all), but each side gets to have their dream interpretation and implementation of government as outlined by the Constitution.

What would happen…?

Let’s say that everyone has 6 months from the instigation of the new Divided-United States of America to decide where they’re going to live.  At first, there will certainly be a greater influx of people into the conservative states from the simple fact that lower taxes appeal to most of us and there will also be a disproportionate number of unemployed people who migrate to the liberal states because they know that entitlements will soon come to an end in Conservative America.

But at 6 months the borders close and immigration is subject to the same restrictions as foreign immigration today.  We can travel freely with passports and visas, but citizenship comes only with regulations.

Conservatives understand the need for some taxes and so there is a flat 15% tax across the board creating a giant treasury, but any tax will exacerbate a poverty class created from those in necessary, but low paying labor positions.

The pure Capitalist structure that is the conservative dream is an unregulated free market. The motivation to succeed and the rewards will keep the engine running, allowing the biggest winners to accumulate without restrictions, but the reality of success will also produce failures.  What, in fact, is success, if not measured against those who are not doing as well?  Like the inevitable lower class paying the same tax percentage as the wealthy, but cannot pay their bills.

Those who do not have the fortitude, cunning, skills or ability to compete, will fall by the wayside.  But even Conservative American’s don’t step over their dead in the streets; something must be done to help.

Social programs in Conservative America?  Never!

“We’ll let them immigrate to Liberal America!”

In Liberal America things aren’t exactly dreamy either.  Taxes had to be raised to support the programs to help those who have not supported themselves and for increased medical and retirement expenses.

In Conservative America, marginal taxes could be lower because regressive taxes and fees were increased as a result of privatizing necessary functions.  Resources and services are paid for on a Pay Per Need basis but poorer conservatives cannot consistently pay such fees and without government funding, infrastructure, as well as parks and public recreational facilities, start to decay.  Conservative Americans take their vacations in Liberal America (with an appropriate visa!) where taxes support National Parks and recreation facilities keeping them in better condition.

Naturally, in Conservative America there are parks, schools and roads that are the crème de la crème because money always gravitates toward the facilities of the affluent, but for the rank and file who cannot afford the fees, the options are to stay home, spend less or travel to less expensive venues like the government run facilities in Liberal America.

In 30 years the divide between rich and poor in Conservative America is severe as the wealthiest, with the opportunities to invest and make money without increasing production, have increased their holdings 250%.  The middle class has become the lower class and the growing class of poverty occupies the majority of space.

In Liberal America, after several years of struggle to compensate for the inequity caused by the influx of poor conservative immigrants, taxes eventually came down because, as facts support, most people on welfare go back into the work force and contribute to the tax base after using the programs that sustained their lives or furthered their education. The growing tax base improves schools, roads, commerce, parks and recreation.  Increased consumer spending keeps the economy stable and growing.

Fantasy?  Partly.  But, look what happens when we hold our political timeline up against economic charts…

I may be magic, but I can’t do all the work…please, have fun…

True Americans understand the value of debate

I had an interesting experience today.  A friend was afraid that she might have missed my latest column in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier (for which I am a new Op-Ed columnist) and so she went to their website and did a “search.”  When an article came up, she read it and assumed that it was brand new.

She posted it on Facebook, I read it and was confused.  It read like something I could have just written; the subject matter was relevant to today’s political debate, but I didn’t have a clue who wrote it.  I saw my name at the bottom and then I noticed the date.  August 8, 2004.  I had been given a guest column in the Courier 8 years ago.

I am posting it here to allow my blog readers to draw their own conclusions about how the poltical debate has evolved….or how it hasn’t.  Bear in mind, the “president” that is refered to in this article is George W. Bush.

August 8, 2004

I love my country.  I’ve thanked God many times for the blessings I have received from her.  I fly the U.S flag on my front lawn, and I will defend the freedom it represents and argue in defense of our Constitution to the last person standing.

Recently, I have lent my support to a Democratic candidate for county supervisor, and I display his placard on my front lawn. The other day a passerby asked me how I could support a Democrat and still fly the flag. I was speechless for a moment, but then replied, “I don’t see why that would stand in contrast to the flag.”

He said, “The Democrats betray every thing that flag stands for.”

This was not the first time I’ve heard that ill-logic.

“In what way do you mean?” I asked, hoping to get a dialogue going.

He countered with his own question: “Do you support our president?”

Suddenly I realized that his misunderstanding of how democracy works was much deeper than anything I was going to unravel in a few minutes.

“How,” I asked, “does that have anything to do with supporting a Democrat running for county supervisor?”

“Liberals are communists,” he declared, and sped away.

Any rational-thinking person, whether a Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal, should be appalled at that position. Even if that is a minority voice, it is far too prevalent and far too dangerous. I read letters to the editor every day, and it is not uncommon to read similar sentiments; that liberals and Democrats are immoral and that they “hate” America.

We have a democracy only because of our multi-party system. In fact, there is a very different name for the kind of government that has only one way of thinking (it rhymes with “tater chips”).

What secures democracy are the tenets of our Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech, freedom of thought, the freedom to disagree, our freedom to support any candidate and ideology without fear of retribution. A true American abhors censorship. A true American understands the value of debate. A true American can be liberal or conservative.

We cannot equate political, religious or ideological affiliations with degrees of patriotism. The movement that does so undermines the essence of what our Constitution stands for and for what American soldiers have died for.

I choose my candidates on an individual basis. Whether local or national I have voted issue to issue, man (or woman) to man. That is my right. It is that passerby’s right to disagree with me on any issue, and to express his right. It is, however, an incorrect and dangerous assumption to think that I, my candidate, Democrats or liberals in general are un-American because of how and with whom they stand.

In high school it was part of the required curriculum to take an American Government class. Most students I observed hated the class and didn’t pay attention. I thought nothing of that until now. Now I am frustrated as I see that many of those people who were apathetic to learning how democracy works and the real meaning of freedom are exercising their misconception.

I would like to remind some of the passionate “anti-liberals” that it was a radical challenge to the establishment in 1920 that led to the passage of the 19thAmendment giving women the right to vote. It was left-wing thinking in Kansas in 1953 that upheld the 14th Amendment by saying it was unfair that a little black girl had to take a bus for an hour and a half to attend an all-black school when there was a white school just down the street from her.

It was the Democrats who championed the civil rights legislation of the ’60s that we all, Republicans included, now consider part and parcel with America’s proud flag.

Those agendas were fought against tooth and nail by establishment bureaucrats who said it was “un-American” to change; that it was against the principles of patriotism and even Christianity to extend those freedoms. I thank God that there have been brave souls on both sides who have continued to fight when the misinformed have branded them traitors.

America is an incredible country, but it is only because of the polarity inherent in our system that democracy and freedom can remain secure, not in spite of it.

Actor Gary Kroeger, whose TV credits include “Saturday Night Live,” moved back to Cedar Falls last year to become the director of new media for the Mudd Group

Playground Defense

Three months and counting. I have more confidence today toward Obama’s re-election than I’ve had all year, but the truth is, this campaign season will get even uglier in the few remaining months.

We can’t be too surprised, we saw Democrats go for the jugular 4 years ago in the primaries as Obama and Hillary Clinton sparred, and this year, during the Republican debates, it was clear that Republicans are capable of eating human liver with fava beans. And with the Koch brothers picking up the tab the chianti will flow like water.

Even if the Democrats lose again as they did in the Midterms, I won’t be one of those saying “Bon Voyage, America! I’m going to become a shepherd in Scotland and escape this plutocracy and corporate tyranny.”

No, I will stay right here and continue to offer my ideas toward correcting what I see as mistakes. Historically, America changes Presidents and Congressional control as effortlessly as Rush Limbaugh changes wives and prescriptions and I am fairly certain the lights will continue to go on in my house and the water will continue to flow.

This isn’t a surrender in the War of Ideas, rather it is a call to arms in the Battle for Truth. The political landscape has been manipulated by fraudulent claims that have swayed the American people into a hostile discourse; lies, misinformation and twisted messages have dictated our national debate and that is what scares me the most.

Every time I make a call toward civility, I get cited by friends for my own negative statements and I have to consistently remind myself to look inward before my outward positions will resonate.

In recent posts I’ve talked about searching for truth, facts and justifiable statistics, because I don’t want to see America go Blue or Red because the information the electorate received was false. Even though the stoplights will still function, no matter how the election goes, that is a testament to our past and not a guarantee for our future.

So, let’s get some facts straight…

A few weeks ago my 13 year old son told me he had gotten into an argument with some kids from school who said, “Obama put us in this recession.”

My son countered, “The recession started before Obama took office.  How could he have started it?”

Another friend responded, “That’s not what my Dad said.”

Okay, so kids parrot their parents, but that parent has changed the space-time continuum.  Just last night I overheard someone at a favorite restaurant say, “The United States wouldn’t qualify for a car loan because of Obama.”

Because of Obama? That disingenuous refrain is repeated so often that it’s echo sounds like the truth even to those who should know better.

I hear Republicans talk about Obama’s “bail out of Wall Street” and his “government takeover of private business.” Even when I remind them that TARP (Trouble Asset Relief Program) where $700,000,000,000 in bad debt was purchased by the government and signed by President Bush in 2008, they return with a dismissive, “Blame it all on Bush, is that all you Democrats can do?”

Republicans have effectively maneuvered the message so that bailouts and spending only attach to incumbent Democrats. It was in 2008, however, that the phrase “Too big to fail” entered the financial/political lexicon and when AIG angered us all by taking the money and giving themselves giant bonuses.

When I point out that the Big Three automotive CEO’s travelled to Washington to ask for bailout loans in the Fall of 2008, I get the same dismissive response, “When are you Democrats going to start taking responsibility?”

It is an application of that brilliant playground defense that we all learned, “I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!” ( “I know you are, but what am I?” might be a better example).

There is no come-back that ever feels satisfying since their intention isn’t to make a point; it’s just to shut you up. I remind them that the package was approved and signed by Congress and by President Bush and that is the “government takeover of business” they remember, but timeline facts only seem to make their denial more resilient.

What Obama did, in fact, in February of 2009, was create a task force to oversee the restructuring of GM and Chrysler to guarantee that the American people wouldn’t be asked to bail them out again. 3 million jobs were at stake in the automotive industry and I am not afraid to say that I agreed with President Bush just as I agree with President Obama that we needed to keep them afloat.

The Right, however, has beaten the drum so loudly that this is an Obama failure and a “liberal conspiracy to socialize business” that it now rings as a Gospel truth among Republicans and their evil twin, the Tea Party.

I remember thinking in 2008, “Well, the Republicans can’t run away from this collapse. They had the White House 8 years and Congress for 6 –they will have to own up!”

Democrats did sweep into Washington and statehouses because everyone recognized at the time the bad management of the Bush administration….but soon after the election I noticed something happening; leading Republicans and right wing pundits started to cleverly transfer the blame by writing a new story that it was Democrats all along.

I can’t count how many times I said, “It won’t work! It won’t work! They’re counting on Americans developing amnesia!” (Hold for laughs)

OMG! It worked!

And then came the healthcare debate…call it bad timing, maybe, but in terms of political clout, the time was right. Would the opportunity ever exist again to pass reform that has been talked about since Eisenhower (that even Nixon proposed)? The President ran on the promise of such a bill and had a Congress controlled by his party; the stars seemed aligned.

Well…they weren’t.

What was frustrating, however, is that the American people never heard a rational argument. The Right seized another opportunity to change the story and they did such a good job that I still have to correct people that what passed is not “Universal Healthcare” or “Socialized Medicine” or even close to it. The message was twisted and engrained in so many (in the same way 25% of Americans still think Obama is a Muslim) that the truth never entered the debate, it became solely about Democratic spending and the debt.

Never mind that Americans were going broke faster with the previous system than what this reform can do, never mind that the bill is designed as a non-burden to the budget as 35,000,000 new subscribers pay into the system; the Right manipulated the message into a cost issue that “we cannot afford.”

It was lumped into the “Democratic spending run amuck” rhetoric and it fit perfectly into the fear mongering that was galvanizing the Republican base and the new Tea Party.

As for the “car loan”….the relevant equation is the Debt to GDP ratio and not the staggering deficit number. America’s Gross Domestic Product is 1/5 of the entire world’s purchasing power. Where were the Republican tears for “our children’s future” in 1985 when serious deficit spending began under President Reagan’s tax cuts and increased military spending and took us for the first time from being a Creditor nation to a Debtor nation?

Where is the accountability among present day Republicans who approved a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans while simultaneously entering two wars?

Where was the outrage and fear for the monstrous debt that one-two punch created?

And how can Republicans still sell the same myth that Trickle Down works?  The wealthy were supposed to take the money that they saved from the Bush tax cuts and put it back into the system by building their businesses and creating jobs.

They didn’t.  Instead, they kept their wealth and increased their personal holdings.  How can that not resonate with the American people, if they are, in fact, looking for the truth?

I’m not afraid of a balance of party power in Congress, I’m afraid of the fact that too many will have gotten there by manipulating the truth or propagating lies that too many Americans will have bought into.

That is the part of this story that makes me kind of…mean.

Where everybody knows my name…

Let me preface by saying that I have not agreed with President Obama on every decision he has made in his crisis-from- the start presidency.

I believe he mishandled the health care debate by not personally taking the case directly to the American people and I believe that he allowed too much leniency to Congress when crafting the stimulus package and that aroused suspicion among many regarding the size of it.

In his forgivable desire to be bi-partisan he has accomplished quite the opposite; he should have stuck with being a Democrat and let the chips fall as they may; things would have been no more contentious than what we’ve seen.

What has kept me by the side of our President has been the fact that we have an intelligent man who possesses wisdom with regard to long term and world relevant goals.  Gone has been the “You’re either for us or you’re against us” foreign policy rhetoric and a new conversation began with negotiation and cooperation.

The world was ripe for such cooperation after 9/11 when even the critical French paper Le Monde declared “Today We Are All Americans,” but because the French then dared to question the legitimacy of the Iraq invasion the Bush Administration goaded the American people into admonishing them for a reasonable point of view.

Today the right wing admonishes President Obama for having the nerve to say, “No more. We must sit at the table and talk without preconditions.”

Many people believe that our national security is achieved only through military might and the premise that “America doesn’t apologize.” They cannot fathom that Obama would propose nuclear disarmament (as Reagan did) and that he would suggest that we have, in fact, forced imperialist policies onto weaker nations at various times in our history.

I agree that the United States must maintain the strongest military, but it will only serve the order of peace if it is backed by a moral directive; that is achieved through actions of generosity, compassion and negotiation.

We are a magnificent nation; a nation that rises to the occasion of crisis anywhere in the world and I am truly proud of so much that we have done in the face of famine, earthquake, and reparations of war, but we remain great only if we are vigilant toward our purpose of preserving peace and upholding human rights.

The following is a conversation with a group of friends at a favorite pub.  It is as real as I can remember it and it is not my intention here to belittle anyone.  I have respect for the people I converse with on both sides of the aisle, but the some of the views expressed here concern me.

The names have been changed, except for my own, to protect the guilty.

Steve:  Disarmament now?  When so many people want to destroy us?  I don’t understand why we don’t use our weapons and end our problems tomorrow.

(Cheers from the group)

Bob:  Obama embarrassed America. No president has ever spoken negatively of a previous president before.

Gary:  I seem to recall Clinton being called a “stain on Washington” by members of the Bush Cabinet.  So did any of you defend our president when he was insulted by Amadinijad?

Bob:  They’re terrorists.

Gary:  Iranians? What do you mean?

Bob:  It means rules of war and that means “take no prisoners”

(I was as confused by that as you are)

Gary:  Rules of war means that we abide by the Geneva Convention, doesn’t it?

Steve:  Not with terrorists.

Gary:  What about justice?

Bob:  That only applies to Americans. They are terrorists.

Gary:  Because….they’re Arab?

(The crowd snickers and I get a “if the shoe fits” look)

Bob:  I don’t have a problem with Arabs and I don’t have a problem with gays.

(He wasn’t really making that far a left turn in one sentence, it turns out that the subject was about gay rights before I got there.)

Gary (all too happy to go in this direction):  So you support gay unions?

Bob:  I have a lot of gay friends and I have no problem with it, but marriage is between a man and a woman, so no, I don’t support gay marriage. It’s just wrong.

Gary:  According to….?

Bob:  Let’s start with the Bible!

(The crowd shows its appreciation for the trump card)

Gary:  The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to ban gay marriage.

Steve:  We’ll get that overturned.

Gary:  Why would you want to overturn a correct judgment?

(I withstand hoots and jeers over how foolish I am)

Gary:  The Constitution is not a religious moralizing document; it is a document to protect the basic human and civil rights of every citizen and to instruct us as to how to uphold those liberties.  I’ll bet I know more gay people than anyone at this table and not one of them chose to be gay any more than they chose the color of their skin or their gender.  It’s just the way they are.

So you’re telling me that a group of people should be denied basic civil rights because of the way they are?  That would be immoral.  How is it you say you want smaller government when you want the most invasive government possible?  A government that looks into your home and dictates behavior according to religious morality!

If you said, “I’m not a racist because I have black friends, but I just don’t want my daughter to marry a black man” I’m sorry but that would be racist, and there is no difference between that and your statement about having gay friends.  You are discriminating.

(I was prepared)

Bob:  This is a Christian nation. Our country was founded on Christian principles so why are we afraid to say now that we are a Christian nation.

Gary:  Bob, we are a nation that is predominately Christian but we are not an exclusively Christian nation. Our nation was founded on the principle of religious freedom. Even if every single American, all 315 million of us, became Christians, it would be contrary to our constitution to declare that we are now a Christian-only nation.

Bob:  Are you insane? Respect for God is everywhere in our history. “In God We Trust” is even on our money!  We used to pray in school until the liberals took that away!

Gary:  All of that was created along the way because obviously Christianity has been a major force, but nowhere in the Constitution is God mentioned except in exclusionary terms. The framers were agnostics, deists, and Christians, but they knew why they were creating a nation based on freedom, protected by laws and inalienable rights, and they knew there cannot be true freedom in a theocracy.

Steve:  What do you mean it’s un-American? That’s ridiculous.

Gary:  It is laid out very clearly in the First Amendment that there will be no law respecting the establishment of religion; the freedom to worship as we please, or not to worship, is the cornerstone of that amendment.

Bob:  Well….I don’t agree.

Gary:  So, you’re saying that you don’t agree that the Constitution says “There will be no law respecting the establishment of religion”?  It does and it’s there for everyone to see.  It isn’t subject to your opinion.

Steve: That’s your interpretation.

Gary: …….?

The conversation was now over; it had no place to go from there and we all settled down with friendly drinks and talked about collusion in Olympic Badminton.

I didn’t change anyone’s mind and no one changed mine.  The opinions of my friends were real and they represent a large percentage of Americans whose politics are born from what they believe protects them.  I know that a lot of Americans are unhappy with President Obama and Washington in general and 2012 could produce some changes (either way), but we would be well served to use logic, facts, and history to make our decisions.  I don’t believe anything that I don’t believe…as obvious as that sounds, it’s slightly more complex.

There are reasons we believe what we believe, but unless we are willing to investigate those reasons we will be confined by our emotions, and emotional thinking is rarely critical.  And that is what is sorely lacking in Washington, in our kitchens…and sometimes in my favorite pub.