Monthly Archives: March 2013

Gay Sera Sera!

I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other night. She told me that her teenage son “came out.”

“My son told me that he’s gay” were her deliberate and precise words.

My exterior reaction followed the principles by which I often write in my blog and I said, “Good for him!”

My interior question was, “How did you react? Are you okay with this?”

I didn’t have to ask, however, because my friend immediately followed with, “His friends, some gay, most straight, all surrounded him and gave him a big hug. I am so proud of him.”

Then, the inevitable question arose in the back of my brain and quickly moved forward. “I have two young sons. How would I feel if my son told me that he’s gay?”

My own answer was as swift as hers and I was confident that the answer I quietly gave to myself was honest. I wouldn’t care. Not one bit.

My only concern would be that my son is happy and that the persecution from those who don’t understand will not interfere with his happiness and his life goals. That’s a big concern, of course, but happiness does not necessarily follow the fairytales we were indoctrinated with as children. Sometimes we are challenged, and our lives can be fulfilled by the fight for freedoms our hearts should enjoy.

Then another, perhaps more interesting question arose…what if my son told me that he was a right wing conservative who opposes gay rights? How would I react?

I’m going to continue with this threadbare honesty….I would be disappointed.

Sexuality is what you are; the chemistry of your corporeal self, given to you by nature, but your politics are your ideology; they are part of who you choose to be. It is how you perceive justice, fairness, equality, it is your compassion and your generosity.

I cannot say that the political “left” or the Democratic Party hold an exclusive lease here or that conservatism does not share any of those values. Certainly both sides can claim valuable achievements, and both have conversely shown selfishness and shortsightedness, but there is a core platform to each side and it is from that perspective that I align with one side over the other.

I align to the left because of a core value that fights for everyone, not just the privileged or those with the wherewithal or gifts to compete.

I align to the left because there is a history to correct the imbalance of power that deprives too many from America’s resources that should be shared.

I move away from the right because I don’t believe that economics should be a measure for justice.

I move away from the right because I don’t see the world in black and white ideological platitudes rather I see the shades of gray that can lead us closer to the truth.

My sons are sovereign souls, however, and can be whomever they wish to be and I will respect the choices they make. But I don’t have to like every choice.

The “who” in the equation is where I played a role as a moral influence, and if my son (or sons) were to one day choose a political platform that would deny equal rights to others, that would pander to wealth while creating challenges for the physically, mentally, socially or economically afflicted….well, I would have a problem with that.

Slings and Arrows

I recently had what seemed like an essentially pointless argument on one of my posts. It centered around which President was abused the most, Bush or Obama?

untitledI make the case, without hesitation, that it is Obama who has suffered the slings and obama_is_a_socialistarrows of outrageous partisanship far more than any president, but my “foes” contend that it was as bad, if not worse, for George W.

To me, the differences seem obvious, but this is where the partisan argument begins and simultaneously derails.

I believe that Obama has been the victim of a conspiracy to destroy his presidency and that the networks to create and deseminate false information, along with a willingness to propagate that information, are infinitely wider.

Those who tend to agree with me are now saying, “Yes!” and those who consistently disagree are surely crying, “You’re crazy! That’s just your partisan bias!”

So, I’m going to offer some historical perspective on my “bias.”

My “political consciousness” was awakened during the Nixon administration.  I was a “tweenie” and I easily slipped into the armor of rebelliousness and so I took my cues from the left side of the debate.  Far too young to protest I nevertheless wore my “McCarthy” button to school, and later “Kennedy” (Robert) and then “Humphrey.”

When Nixon won (by a nose) it was, to many student protesters, as if Mussolini had risen from the dead.  As images of Nixon were burned in effigy on college campuses it seemed as if “Truth and Justice” were making a statement against “Tyranny and Corruption.”

Mind you, I did not take part in any of this, but the consciousness of young America rose in defiance against Nixon and it felt like the conscience of America.

After Nixon’s re-election, when Watergate was revealed, it seemed as if all the protest, defiance and anger had been justified. I think to some extent a lot of protesters were surprised at the fact that their suspicions were so correct, yet most felt victorious because they knew they had been right. Nixon toppled and half of America felt vindicated.

Popular culture said that it was now good to be a liberal and bad to be a conservative. The liberals had previously lost their hold on middle America by associating policy with rebellion and alienated America’s center, paving the way for Nixon’s victory, but as the first Republican/Conservative out of the box since Eisenhower (a moderate Republican) his paranoia and perceived villainy screwed the pooch and a Democrat won the White House again.

I was young and proud of being a liberal, but I also wanted America to heal and I liked the man who assumed the office when Nixon resigned. I voted for Gerald Ford in my first opportunity to vote in a national election. I wanted integrity in the White House no matter how questionable a leader Ford might have been and I accepted the Pardon he gave Nixon, despite the angry protest from the left.  I wanted the bad stuff to be over and I wanted to get on with being a proud nation again.

And that’s why I voted for Carter in 1980. I was not voting for strong leadership then either, I was voting for integrity and intelligence and Ronald Reagan appeared, to me, to be a far right reactionary, poised to light the arch-conservative torch that had been extinguished. I saw a hawk.

I had to accept, however, that Reagan won in a landslide and while certainly he witnessed his share of protests, the radicals on the left were now “fringe” and most of the liberal pack had moved toward “moderate”; it was, after all, “Reagan Democrats” who assured his victory.

There was, to be sure, always a strong anti-Reagan contingent that never backed down, but radical protest, in general, was no longer front page news and Reagan’s personality was able to buoy his popularity even when questionable matters arose. This is where I began to pay serious attention.

Reagan lowered marginal rates and even the lowest wage earners praised him as the Great Tax Emancipator, but he then did something sneaky to overcome the deficit discrepancy. Two bills passed in 1982 and 1984 that together constituted the biggest tax increase ever enacted during peacetime. The bills didn’t raise more revenue by hiking individual income tax rates, they made it tougher to evade taxes, and through “base broadening” which reduces various federal tax breaks and closes loopholes.

More asset sales became taxable and tax-advantaged contributions and benefits under pension plans were limited, but, because the upper class primarily profits from capital gains and still have shelters available to them, they were essentially unaffected. In the middle and on the bottom, however, it was a much different story. It was the perfect application of neoliberal economics, call it Trickle Down or Supply Side, it was a shell game of crony capitalism that widened the gap as the breaks that benefitted the salary/wage earners were taken away.

Reagan could make greed taste like ice cream, however, and even Americans who became casualties due to Reaganomics still believed in his Shining City on the Hill rhetoric and loved him for it.reagan2_large

The fact that so many people were endeared by him is no mystery, but out of Reagan’s nobler cause emerged the neo-con henchmen like Cheney, Pearl, Armey, and Wolfowitz, who seized his agenda and turned it into self-serving cronyism, designed to keep them in pearls until the Second Coming.

His neophytes engineered the Iran/Contra scandal and I became convinced that this administration was even worse than Nixon’s.  Iran/Contra, for those who may have dismissed it as a minor footnote in our history, was anything but.  It was American Imperialism at its worst; breaking our own law in order to serve a foreign policy agenda that was itself, immoral.

Yet Reagan walked away in his aw-shucks, self-deprecating manner by saying he should have known what was going on and is sorry that he didn’t.

Reagan’s foreign policy and economic Two-Step was masked by the fact that production levels increased and a recession was diverted, but the bill for the dance eventually comes due.  Business expanded as the wealthy withdrew their profits and increased their holdings, but the “demand” side of the equation, that carried the greater burden, could no longer sustain purchasing and the tab was presented as a new recession began in 1990.

George HW Bush was now in office (on the popularity of the Reagan Revolution) but he OPI-3001.epslost his re-election when he betrayed his promise of “no new taxes” by raising them. An opening was plenty wide for William Jefferson Clinton to talk his way into American’s hope for prosperity.

It was no wonder the neo-cons hated Bill Clinton.  Clinton was a moderate with the charm of Reagan but he was not on their side; and he had an agenda to take the prosperity neo-liberalism creates for the wealthy and to share it with America.

As I argue regarding what president has endured the most ridicule, it seems that many have forgotten the attack that was leveled on President Clinton. The neo-cons found his weakness (personal integrity) and spent tens of millions of OUR tax dollars trying to bring him down. The stain on a dress became front page news over the budget surplus.

Today, even Republicans wax over the good old days under Clinton, yet many of them hated him more than fascism back when Monica was smoking more than cigars.

When George W Bush became president, a lot of us were angry over the attacks that defined Clinton’s time in office and we were poised to make the new Republican president squirm.  The fact that the election was suspect from the start, loaded our cannons, but soon 9/11 blindsided us all and diffused the brewing hostility.

Bush’s popularity initially soared over political and economic lines, but when he squandered the unity the world offered, with his Cowboy Diplomacy that led us into a manufactured war, the left re-emerged with a vengeance.

bush-expression_1016531iHis revival of Supply Side economics increased the holdings of the wealthy, yet diminished our budget, while at war on two fronts, and unemployment started to rise.

The economy bottomed out, he bailed out the banks and approved the stimulus, but when Obama was elected, and after a honeymoon that lasted less time that the post 9/11 bridal dance with Bush, was over, the right wing started beating the drum that this is Obama’s economic failure, that he bailed out the banks and that the stimulus plan was all his.

The argument against Obama was in full stride after only two months in office and it was not based on a suspect election, economic decisions that contributed to an epic collapse, an unjustified war or arrogant foreign policy; it was based on the fact that it was Barack Obama, a Democrat and if God Forbid, his presidency is successful after Republicans tanked, they would not be back in power for…who knows…?

Fox News had already annointed The Tea Party as the official voice to propagate an irrational message that would resonate with a frightened public. They imagesprotested tax raises that hadn’t occurred, they cried that Obama was nationalizing the banks and industry while blind to the fact that it was all initiated under Bush.  And because Obama made good on an election promise to reform healthcare with the hope that people wouldn’t have to file bankruptcy because of illness, they screamed, “Socialism!”

Birthers emerged from the fog of hysteria and marginalized our President in every way they could. “He wasn’t born here, he’s not a Christian- he’s a Muslim (and all Muslims want to kill us, right?).

After 3 months the right wing drums added cymbols: “When is he going to stop blaming Bush?!”

At 9 months: “This is Obama’s recession! Look at the mounting debt!” (Never mind that its two wars and the deepest Recession in 80 years that created it and never mind that every economist on the planet said things would get worse before getting better).

After 2 years: “Obama wants to raise the Debt Ceiling!” (Never mind that Bush raised it 13 times. Reagan did, as well, and he also tripled the national debt and used deficit spending as economic stimulus so as not to compromise our national credit rating.  Just as Obama intended.

It has been insanity since Obama took office and very little real information has entered the national debate.

Mudslinging has always been part of politics and no President has served unscathed, but, I believe the bar of indecency has been raised ten fold in the past 4 years.  I must admit that I hated seeing images of George Bush vilified and burned in protests and I often remarked that it accomplishes nothing and only diminishes the protest, and when I saw images of protestors in foreign countries doing the same, I was disgusted, because he was, like him or not, my President.

I’m not seeing that latitude being extended from the right wing toward President Obama.

To conclude the premise that this post began with on a personal note, I am capable of objectivity in my discourse. I have a history of observation from which I draw my conclusions and I am capable of criticizing even the presidents I have voted for, and using rational arguments to oppose those that I haven’t.

I am not seeing the same objectivity, or courtesy, from the right.  No, I am not.

Nope.

Tyranny-saurus Rex

A criticism was leveled at me the other day.  A close friend said, “I don’t read your blog like I used to because you kind of recycle the same topics.”

I asked, “Which topics?” (somewhat defensively, because that had not occurred to me).

She said, “Poverty, Gay Rights, the Constitution, and Economics.”

My first reaction was quietly to myself: “Ooo!  That sounds scholarly!” but quickly I recoiled outloud with, “Really?”

“Really.  And since I know where you stand on all of it, it isn’t that interesting anymore.”

Needless to say, I started ruminating about the subjects in this blog, and I looked back over the past year and a half.  There is no doubt that I write consistently about social programs, constitutional meaning, economics, and, I’d like to add:  historical threads and inconsistencies within ideologies (conservatism and liberalism).  I can defend myself by saying, “These are THE issues to define the parameters of everything” and that they deserve constant analysis, but I began to question if there was any central point to these issues that connected them.

Life has this way of putting things in front of us when we’re open to seeing them and A_T-rex_Named_Sueit so happened that I was with my sons at the Des Moines Science Center for an exhibit called “A Tyrannosaurus Named Sue” when the docent, to whom we were listening tell of the origins of these fossils, said, “The name ‘tyrannosaurus” means ‘Tyrant Lizard’ from the Greek ‘tyrannos’ and ‘sauros’.”

Tyrant?  Did he just say ‘tyrant’?

I hear that word a lot.  Tea Partiers call President Obama a “tyrant.”  I just finished a Lincoln biography where his critics from the South called him a “tyrant.”  And I’ve been reading a lot, lately, about how the 2nd Amendment is what protects us from government tyranny.Obama-Nazi_comparison_-_Tea_Party_protest

It then occured to me that it is the avoidance of “Tyranny” that is the common thread tying the founding of this nation to its preservation, and it’s the concept by which we all differ, yet unite, as we argue its realization and its threat.

I recalled that not long ago I was talking to a5356774587_lincwant_xlarge conservative friend about government services and he asked me: “How would a liberal define respect for the Constitution and the avoidance of tyranny?”

My friend offered that he, and many others, see growing government as the realization of tyranny and he wanted to know how I could possibly stand any other way.

Thomas Jefferson is often quoted having said (although, it does not show up in any of his writings): “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take everything you have”  and I absolutely agree.  The question, I asked in return was, “What defines a government that is too big and when are we risking tyranny and the loss of our freedom?”

That sounded like a dodge to him, but, I was in familiar territory and continued:

“Personally, I see the growing empowerment of corporate interests and the overwhelming influence on policy from a small percentage on top controlling 95% of the wealth as the more threatening tyranny.”

The size of our government today is partly a result of the demands we’ve made to contain oligarchic tyranny.  Furthermore, the population of the United States at the signing of the Declaration of Independence was just over 2 and a half million (a million less than the state of Iowa today) and we are 140 times that now.  Obviously, government has expanded, as well.

The equation to assess “big”, however, isn’t just size of population but the exponential growth and creation that comes with it.  Our Founding Fathers did not prognosticate nuclear weapons, or a military that didn’t require the farmer/soldier militiamen.  They didn’t see smart bombs, or derivative trading or the manipulation of a market they hadn’t even conceived.  They didn’t imagine dependency on oil or the depletion of forests. They couldn’t imagine airplanes and an FAA or Transportation Department or for that matter an FDA, FBI or a CDC…

Suddenly, I’m realizing what my friend, who challenged my issue-diversity, had meant.  What I am writing right now are things that I’ve written over and over again.

The Socio-Political fabric which holds everything from our culture and customs together with freedom and inalienable rights is woven with the same threads; those threads are the abrogation of tyranny and the protection of our right to live free. thCAK0561W

What our forebears put in motion was a living document that in the hands of responsible and informed citizens could adapt to a changing world and maintain its core tenets to uphold civil liberties and justice for all.

I wrote to my conservative friend:  “We avoid tyranny with information; real information, not the doctored facts of corporate news or irresponsible bloggers pandering to the emotional fear caused by….lack of real information.

We avoid tyranny by improving government, not by bringing it down.  The Constitution is a check and balance system defining a division of power to cripple a despotic abuse of authority.  The representative democracy they included meant that we, the citizens of the United States, would hold our elected officials accountable and our collective obligation is to determine their ability to carry out their responsibilities.

I do care about government that gets too big, but let’s base our solutions in reality and not fear, otherwise, the polarity between sides will increase and the divide will only widen.”Saratoga-large-version

I’m pretty sure I’ve written that before, too, but it is the relevant issue and it will remain so until America no longer exists…because it fell from tyranny.

So, I’m likely to write about this again…and again…

 

Kennedy Asks Not

It’s interesting to me how words are introduced through tragedy and then assimilated into our casual vernacular. The Kennedy assasination brought us the “grassy knoll” to describe an unassuming, small hill with grass that ran parallel to the President’s “motorcade” (another word that entered our popular lexicon). The mention of a “grassy knoll” invariably conjures thoughts of that tragedy, but I’ve heard it used recently to illustrate benign subjects, as in “there is a grassy knoll behind the garage that would be perfect for Winter sledding.”

This past year has ushered in a mother lode of tragic political terms that we may, at first, not understand, but very soon use as if we have been for years. “Deficit spending, debt ceilings and now sequestration” are part of our daily conversation.

Sequester and sequestration are the words of the day. I’m sure that in 10 years parents will talk nonchalantly of “sequestering the children” but right now it is a word that represents tragic consequences regarding federal spending cuts. I don’t need to go into detail in this post about the federal sequestration, suffice to say, that they are cuts that were intended to be so severe that they wouldn’t be allowed to happen when the time came. The time came, and so will the cuts.

The central stumbing block between Democrats and Republicans are over tax reforms and the size of spending cuts to eliminate the deficit and pay down the debt. Republicans feel that eliminating tax loopholes (which would create revenue) is no different than a tax hike, and that is something they will not budge on, while President Obama and Democrats see the mandatory sequester cuts as draconian (even though they were instrumental in proposing the cuts in order to reach a deal regarding the “Debt Ceiling” controversy’ but that’s a different episode of American Political Loggerheads) and they recommend tax reform to close loopholes and the spending gap.

Kennedy comes to mind again as I reflect on the fact that until the latest stalemate between the White House and Congress, before the concept of sequestration came into vogue, Republicans would cite the “Kennedy tax cuts” as fuel for their argument that cutting taxes invariably stimulates the economy. They were the sweet potatoes of neoliberal economic theorists, yet, they might be the most argued and misunderstood legislation in the history of marginal taxation.

An examination of Kennedy’s tax reforms reveal that they were not the supply-side (Trickle Down) cuts that Republicans would like to believe, but were, in fact, “demand-side” theory. They are what the Democrats are proposing again in today’s sequestration battle, but President Obama should also take a page out of the Kennedy play book in terms of closing loopholes (to raise revenue) while cutting tax rates (to shut up the economic neoliberals).

Kennedy proposed the largest tax cut in history, but, his plan also closed loopholes for the wealthy and therefore taxation on the upper class increased in terms of actual revenue.  The reason Kennedy’s tax cut was effective was because it was a balance of the right amount at the right time and in the right way. In 1963 the highest rate was over 90% (the lowest marginal rate 20%) and Kennedy proposed a balance of cuts, lowest and highest, which had a great stimulus effect. By stark contrast, Bush (II) did not see growth because the tax base was already so low and the theory of diminishing returns came into play….and continues to reek havoc on our economic structure.

20 years after Kennedy’s reforms, President Reagan, to end a recession, used the concept of cutting taxes to stimulate growth but married it to supply-side theory by eliminating breaks on the bottom bracket in order to make up for the shortfall in tax revenues (and effectively destroyed the presidency of George Bush Sr).  This is the elusive reality in the tax argument; what Kennedy’s tax tables and effective tax reforms did was make federal taxation more progressive.  The bottom got the greater burden relief, and while the top got the greatest tax rate reduction, they paid more from closed loopholes, and that is what stimulated the economy; it was more Keynsian than Friedman…sian.

(Here is an interesting article from several years ago on this subject: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history_lesson/2004/01/tax_cuts_in_camelot.html)

This is the same reform that we need today to end the dangerous and acidic cuts caused by sequestration. It is the only way where the middle class and the poor don’t carry the lionshare of burden and where those who can afford to help, and who have benefitted the most from unbalanced tax loopholes, could light the way out.

Let’s introduce a new term into our political lexicon to replace the tragic disparity caused by sequestration and see where it goes:  Accountability Reforms.

“As the Colon Turns”

230px-Flexibles_EndoskopEarlier this week I had a colonoscopy.  How many of you are still reading this post?  Everyone?  Good.  This isn’t a political post, but it’s still a call to action.

Only half of those over the age of 50 who should have a colonoscopy comply with recommended guidelines to do so, and 60% of all Americans over 50 do not utilize any screening measure for colon cancer whatsoever.  Yet colon cancer kills over 50,000 of us a year and is the third leading cause of death.  This screening measure reduces the colorectal cancer death rate by two thirds and by 37% for all colon related cancer.

After doing some research it appears that one of the major reasons people avoid having a colonoscopy (outside of the fact that 21 states still do not require insurance companies to cover colorectal screenings), is the “prep.”

The day before the exam, patients drink large amounts of a vile imagesCAW9SRX6mixture and spend the better part of the night making trips to the bathroom. Though unpleasant, this intestinal purging is a critical part of the process because the more thoroughly the colon is cleaned beforehand, the easier it is to detect and remove potentially dangerous precancerous polyps.

The prep mixture I was given was called “Movi-Prep.”  A bit disingenuous, I thought, as I nearly expected popcorn in the box with a video to ease the anticipation anxiety from the insertion of an endoscopeSLX02010 into my rectum.  It wasn’t.  It was the vile liquid that is made all the more vile by adding a sugary flavor to make it less vile.

I was reminded of aerosol air fresheners in bathrooms; I think I’d prefer the actual odor to the actual odor perfumed like a strawberry garden.

Nevertheless, I soldiered through the experience and actually found a modicum of entertainment value, after all, as I watched my…stool (sorry, there is no better word)…gradually turn clear.  I felt clean.  Very clean.

You are on a clear liquid diet for 24 hours and I was forward thinking enough to know that when I was brought home after the procedure (that’s what middle-aged maintenance is called- a “procedure”) that I would be starving, so I went to the grocery store and bought a deli-sandwich and Hawaiian Punch that would be waiting for me.

Very challenging, however, to be hungry and strolling through a place where the sole function is to have everything you can imagine to eat in one place (a thought might be to do this one day earlier).

A friend drove me to the Allen Digestive Health Center in the morning.  It is essential to have a driver because the Demerol that they use to make an invasive event feel less invasive will leave you in a state of conscious-unconsciousness.  I’ve heard stories of people who were left alone and then went on shopping sprees and had no memory whatsoever of doing so.

hospital_gown01As soon as I was called in from the waiting area, I was told to put on a backless gown (naturally) and was laid onto a comfy gurney where a nice nurse checked my vitals.

An IV was inserted and all systems were GO for launch.  She wheeled me into the examination room where Dr. Ravi was waiting.

I knew Dr. Ravi from fundraisers and charity balls that I host about town, and admittedly, I felt a little awkward knowing that he was about to examine the MC’s “a-s-s.”  My inclination when I’m uncomfortable is to find humor and the moment called for comments that are more or less expected from a marginally funny guy.  I assumed that he’d heard every joke that could possibly be made, but, as I said, I felt an obligation.

“I wouldn’t feel so cheap,” I said, “if we’d had dinner first.”

No response, but I had fulfilled my duty and was actually relieved knowing that Dr. Ravi was all business.  The nurse said, “I’m administering a sedative now.”  I felt nothing andimgTestColonoscopy2 looked at the tv screen that was going to feature “My Colon” in living color.  Within seconds….I was out.

The next thing I remember was being told to relax until I felt good enough to put my clothes back on.

“Everything went well,” the nurse said, “Dr. Ravi will come by to give you the results.  Should I tell your ride to come in?”

“Sure,” I must have said.

True to the story I was told about Demerol, I have no memory of Dr. Ravi coming back, getting dressed, getting home, getting into bed or eating my sandwich.  What I can tell you, however, is that I felt great after a long nap and even better when I read the report of my clean colon.

I’m middle-aged.  This is a reality for us all if we want to continue healthy lives for as long as we can.

I want to leave you with this –   if you are over 50 and you haven’t had a colonoscopy, do it.  The alternative is something you might not be able to live with.