Monthly Archives: November 2014

Losing My Religion

I made a statement to some friends while having drinks that “Conservatism is kind of like religion and requires blind acceptance of its dogma without being self-critical.”

Actually, there is a name for this, it’s called the “Asymmetry Thesis” and it contends that individuals who subscribe to a conservative viewpoint are more likely to resist evidence that challenges their existing beliefs.

I contrasted this to Liberalism which emerged from the Age of Enlightenment as a repudiation of the status quo.  I added that there was no clear set of principles from which conservatives operated; their belief system was rooted in a repudiation of change.

One person immediately asked, “What is unclear about lower taxes and smaller government?”

“Everything” I replied. I compared those political platitudes to a “clear” commandment from Christianity:

Thou Shalt Not Kill.

“What is clear about that?” I asked. “It may be a definitive Biblical statement but we kill all the time. We wage war, killing millions and even justify collateral civilian casualties.  We execute, and we apply subjective criteria for killing in self-defense.”

If we were honest, we should amend the Commandment to: “Thou Shalt Not Kill…Unless We Feel We Have A Really Good Reason To.”

My flippancy is not far off; that is more consistent to what our society has determined, yet, many consider all of the Commandments as immutable and literally written in stone.

“What is clear about lower taxes?” I asked. “Lower taxes to reduce military spending? Lower taxes to reduce what is available for disease control, transportation safety, education, highway maintenance or unemployment for those who cannot find work? Should we lower taxes so there’s less pay for teachers, police or firefighters? How about lowering taxes to reduce research to create better medicine or to help disabled Americans?”

“No! I’m all for the things that improve the quality of life and help others,” one of my friends insisted. “I’m tired of politicians giving themselves raises, I’m tired of handouts and government waste.”

“Okay,” I answered (amidst the cheers his statement inspired). “Give me the list then and be specific. Then let’s do the math. What are we going to cut and what are the realistic repercussions?”

“The Stimulus was a trillion dollars!” came the first volley. “That was a total waste.”

“We can debate the Recovery Act until the sacred Keynsian cows come home, but in the world of business, which many of you believe should become the operating model for government, it is an ‘expense’ on our P&L statement. The relevant equation is the Debt to GNP ratio and our argument should be about production and jobs.”

I made that too easy and I deserved the roundhouse punch that followed:  “Thou Shalt Cut Taxes– that’s how you stimulate growth!”

“But, tell me,” I asked, “why didn’t that work 12 years ago? We even had a surplus and were just trying to correct a minor recession, but businesses contracted anyway and jobs were lost. In fact, it set the table for the catastrophe that followed.”

Maybe…taxes are not the direct answer. Or maybe…they can help but only if they are lowered in the right way at the right time- as Kennedy did in 1963 (the bill passed after his assassination in ’64); closing loopholes at the top, and better breaks at the bottom.”

I have yet to hear a precise answer to that.

Another “clear” Conservative Commandment is:

Thou Shalt Make Smaller Government.

Okay. I’m all for containing the spread of anything that is not useful, but what, specifically, needs to be trimmed?  Financial reform commissions, safety boards, criminal investigation, food and drug supervision?

I’ve heard some people say that we should do away with the Department of Education, but I’m not sure, that will resonate with most Americans who are concerned about education standards.

Can we all agree that the Military Industrial Complex needs the red pencil?

No? Well, just try to get rid of Social Security and Medicare and see how far you get.

I’m not disagreeing with anyone who believes that government has redundancies that need to be cut or trimmed or that taxes need reform, it is a self serving drum beat from conservatives, however, that perpetuates the idea that liberals think that government can’t get big enough or that taxes are never high enough; it simply isn’t true or historically accurate (at all).

The Zimmerman trial illustrated the liberal/conservative divide. The parameters of the case and the resultant verdict fell along ideological lines between the left and the right, with the right supporting Zimmerman’s defense of “self-defense” and his acquittal, and the left finding the circumstance of Martin’s killing fundamentally suspect and the aftermath to be a miscarriage of justice.

On a social media site a conservative defended the American court system as “still being the best in the world.”  Another conservative defended America’s non-racist values by pointing out that this country elected a black President “twice.”  Another accused Liberals of “hating America” because of the liberal contention that our socio-political system is flawed.

On one hand, this evidence supports the Asymmetrical Thesis because these conservatives will not question their storybook nationalism, but at the same time, many Liberals will not allow for anything that doesn’t support their existing belief that those flaws are more accurately defining us.

So I calibrate my own thinking by coming back to what my Liberal Doctrine demands and that is to consistently challenge the status quo and to fight for the principles that should come before any action; the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; egalitarianism and justice for all. The ideological clarification I’m looking for from my conservative friends is specifically what they believe in beyond those giant, fairytale platitudes…like, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.“

I want clarity from those who claim they are clear and I want ideas accompanied with facts and historical evidence. I want objective, self-critical analysis.

You know…kind of like what liberals do.

Every Dollar You Ernst

Okay….Republicans swept into Washington in one of the biggest political polarityuntitled shifts in history.  I worked for Democrats to keep that from happening, but ultimately it came as no surprise.  Mistakes were made, Democratic blocks didn’t vote, historically this happens anyway, and an unpopular President was reflected onto his party.

My focus has shifted away from making cases for Democrats and toward how we make all of this work.  My concerns, however, have not changed.  One of several things that concerned me about Joni Ernst, for example, were her statements about welfare; sentiments that she shares nationally with a majority of Republican lawmakers.

Senator Ersnt campaigned saying:  “We have fostered a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them.  It’s going to take a lot of education to get people out of that. It’s going to be very painful and we know that.”

Painful for whom?  The people without the means to endure that pain?Mitt+Romney+Campaigns+Iowa+Senate+Candidate+JL3vy1uKyDjx

And what evidence supports that statement that drew cheers from every conservative crowd?

There isn’t any.  But it is repeated so often that it has become truth to many.

What is used a lot is a statistic that tells us that nearly half of America doesn’t pay taxes (“47%” according to Mitt Romney).  The deduction they are making is that this represents the failure of welfare programs, and that if people don’t have to work, they won’t.  It has become a cornerstone of modern Republican rhetoric; Republicans who are now in control of Capitol Hill and who will create (or remove) policy.

A more relevant deduction from 47% is the fact that too many people don’t make enough to pay taxes or they are unemployed.  What it isn’t is a statistic showing lack of desire to work, or laziness.  What it shows is that the balance of opportunity in America is out of whack.

Most working Americans have at some time or another taken some form of welfare, if just a temporary unemployment check, and most Americans who receive welfare will go back into the work force.  Welfare (only 2% of the federal budget, excluding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), is not “wasted” tax money, either.  Beyond the ethical fact that sustenance is being provided, every dollar goes back into the economy as cash exchanged for products; it is liquidity in the market.

In the micro-view:  Among all households receiving food stamps, almost twice as many include at least one working adult as those that don’t.  In other words, welfare does not discourage work; it simply supplements a wage that is inadequate to provide the essentials of living.

Furthermore, according to the Food Research and Action Center, only 56% of people eligible for food stamps nationwide actually claim the benefits they are eligible for.

Here’s a macro-view:  According to UNICEF, nations with stronger social welfare programs report a smaller percentage of population living in poverty.   Denmark, 2.4%; France, 7.5%, Norway, 13.4%; Canada, 14.9%; United Kingdom, 15.4%.

In the United States it is 22%.  Social programs keep us relatively low when compared to world standards, but it still translates into more than 1 in 5 Americans living in poverty.  In the richest, most powerful nation on earth, how is that possible?

I’ll tell you.  It’s possible because 40% of everything is owned by only 1%.

And that is why welfare has existed since the Roman Empire to provide sustenance to those who ultimately provide sustenance to the ruling class.  While we prefer to look away from our own socio-political inequities and pretend that there is no “Power Elite” in America, poverty is a bi-product of an economic engine that creates exhaust.

What we cannot ignore is that our “exhaust” is a human life with a family.

Senator Ernst, when you look at real numbers and not rhetoric, we are paying a small price to help those who have fallen through thehungry cracks.  And when you oppose living wages, how are you not exacerbating the problem and only increasing the pain that you believe they must endure?

Welfare should fall on our ledger as our privilege to provide, and not as our burden.

Are you kidding?

Does this ever happen to you?  You’re having an argument with someone when they accuse you of a certain behavior, and you respond, “Are you kidding? I was just going to say the same thing about you!”

thCAL7F73JApparently, the criterion by which we judge others is not always applied to ourselves.  This happens to me a lot when I discuss politics with people who are firmly entrenched conservatives.

They consistently accuse liberals of:  1) Lying, 2) Being afraid of facts, 3) Putting blame elsewhere.

Are you kidding?  I was just….

My study here is anecdotal, but I observe this often enough to have drawn some conclusions that I stand behind.  I suggest this:  Conservatives are brilliant in a debate.  Their polished and refined strategy is:  If you take away your opponents strength by calling it your own, they have nowhere to go.

A Republican friend who likes to periodically goad me into a debate, came up to me the other day and said, “Liberals can’t stand facts!”

He went on to give me some “Facts.”WIN-Daily_Supplement-Facts

“Did you know,” he asked, “that the average unemployment rate under Bush was 5.3?  Obama’s is over 8.”

He went on:  “Bush increased the debt over two terms by 5 trillion while Obama increased the debt by more in less than half the time.”

I read Republican and conservative websites, and will tune into Fox News periodically to calibrate my perspective and so I’ve heard these numbers before.  I responded:  “Those are real numbers and I guess you could call them ‘facts,’ but they thdo not tell the truth.  Truth requires analysis and your conclusions from those numbers are as relevant as saying, ‘When I’m in a room with Bill Gates we have over 70 billion dollars between us.’  It’s true, but it doesn’t tell the true story.”

Laughter follows, but I argue enough that I’m more or less prepared.

“Bush inherited a robust economy with unemployment at 4 and handed off 8 with a bottomless recession right at the tail end of his presidency.  This month it is at 5.8.  Most of President Obama’s debt is from continued policies. President Bush decreased revenue and then borrowed to pay for two wars and a prescription drug program.  Plus war costs rise as they continue.”

Like I said, this wasn’t my first rodeo and so I transitioned into my rote rant:  “President Reagan still retains his crown as the Great Tax Emancipator, but the bill came due for his policies when George Bush, Sr. became president and tanked that presidency.  Same thing happened here, except that it wasn’t a minor recession; it was the worst in 80 years.”

My friend’s eyes are now rolling because he’s heard this before and he knows that he’s going to pull out the trump card soon.

I continued:  “Recessions don’t immediately reverse when new presidents take office and the quagmire of continuing job loss, increased unemployment benefits, necessary stimulus to stop the bleeding, resulted in trillions in new debt. That’s the truth beyond your easy to sell ‘facts’.”

And, right on cue, he pulled out the card:  “All you Democrats can do is blame the past and Bush.”

“I didn’t know that there was a statute of limitations on truth.” I fired back.  “Maybe we lincolnshould get over blaming Booth for assassinating Lincoln.  The truth is what it is.  A recession was caused by predatory lending in an unsupervised market with unscrupulous toxic assets and rising economic inequality.  We can argue all day about who is complicit, but we can be sure that it all happened before January of 2009.”

“I love you Kroeger,” was his sincere, but nevertheless dismissive, response.  We are good friends and we enjoy poking each other with argumentative sticks, but I felt that I’d “won” this little strategy debate and so did he.

My conclusion was, as it has been before, that “facts” are meaningless without analysis that goes deeper than simply offering evidence to support an already drawn conclusion.  And, my conclusion was, as it has been before….one side is less likely to go that deep than the other.

Were you just about to say that about me?

Make ’em squeal! Vote Braley!

joni-ernstI don’t dislike Joni Ernst as a person.   She appears to be very nice and it is with sincere admiration that I thank her for her military service.  I believe that she is sincere, as well, in her commitment to improving Washington and to change the course of America in a better direction.  But that doesn’t make her the right person for the job.

c8d34a066f68aac8f8f552efbab6cec1Not by a country mile.

An article the day before an election may seem like too little too late to influence a race; many absentee ballots are already cast and most people know with certainty which little box they’re going to fill in tomorrow, but a vote not yet cast is still a vote not yet cast.  The Braley/Ernst race will be close and a few people reconsidering their decision could make a difference.

The most aggravating aspect of this race has been the erroneous rhetoric that has attacked the candidates.  Bruce Braley’s record has suffered the most in this regard due to dark and unlimited soft money that have given attack ads the lion share of airtime.

He has been portrayed as uninterested in our veterans “just when they needed him most”- yet nothing could be further from the truth.  Braley has made Veteran’s benefits the signature of his terms in the House.  Braley introduced and passed a law to give tax breaks to companies that hire veterans returning from duty, unemployed veterans, and wounded warriors.  He took on the Pentagon to secure overdue combat pay for 800 Iowa National Guard troops  and helped secure full GI Bill education benefits.

Committee attendance records are a weak issue.  Ernst, in particular, has a low attendance record in Des Moines, but that doesn’t mean that she’s been uninterested in the job, it simply means that she (like Braley) was serving her office in other ways.  I don’t hold her low attendance record against her.thCA2CH61F

In one of the more ironic twists of any campaign, Braley missed a committee meeting because he was literally welcoming Iowa veterans in Washington from the Honor Flight.

Several Republican PAC commercials have cited Braley as a regulations creating, tax and spend Democrat.  Each of these points are simply political rhetoric.  The Bush Administration left America with an economy in a death spiral and spending was the inevitable result.  Detroit was buoyed by both Bush and Obama stimulus.  Wall Street, as well.  New regulations were put in place to curtail devious practices that led to toxic assets that crippled the stock market.

To now pin spending on Braley and Democrats is as disingenuous as politics can get.  In fact, deficit spending is now less as we move toward balancing the budget that Ernst says would be her priority.

George Bush had a Republican Congress for 4 years (Democrats only had a majority in both the House and the Senate for 2 of Bush’s 8 years) and the brick and mortar were laid that resulted in economic collapse.  Why, America, would we think that the same formula would lead to different results?

We may not have a Republican President today, but if Republicans sweep into Washington in these midterm elections, we will be one step away from the trifecta that opened the financial faucet for the wealthiest Americans to amass greater fortunes and choked the Middle Class to where they could no longer spend and sustain the 1411952863007-desm0928DebteErnstBraley0022economy.

6 months ago, Bruce Braley led this race by a wide margin.  Since then Joni Ernst has mounted a very strong and clever campaign.  She is a nice Iowa farmgirl and a self sacrificing patriot and that translates very well in the midst of a contentious political climate.

Braley meanwhile pulled a gaff in Texas that was exploited by the Ernst campaign.  I can say with certainty that he wishes he could take a remark back where he appeared to belittle Senator Chuck Grassley by categorizing him as a farmer, but the comment has to be put in context.  He was speaking privately to lawyers suggesting that someone with a law degree and not a “farmer who never went to law school” should head the Judiciary Committee.  That, in itself, is not an outrageous statement.

Would he rephrase that if he could?  Absolutely.  Does it mean he doesn’t care about farmers?  Absolutely not.  Braley has fought tirelessly to re-new the Farm Bill to provide our farmers and ranchers the tools they need to produce abundant and affordable food.

Your vote is important.  Have you taken the time to look at his REAL position on farming?  http://braley.house.gov/issue/agriculture

It comes down to this.  Bruce Braley has been a Congressman who has reached across the aisle to get things done.  He cares about Iowa, he cares about America, and he fights for better benefits for veterans and subsidies for farmers.  He is a passionate advocate for renewable energy to bolster Iowa’s economy as well as provide better environmental standards.  Yes, he is a lawyer, and thereby knows a thing or two about the system our Founding Fathers created.  We are a nation of laws; that is how we keep order, justice, service, fairness, opportunity and advance our interests.

Joni Ernst has gained a lot of attention for her position to “bring Iowa values to Washington.”  Great statement and it has worked because we are tired of the hostility in Washington.  But it’s hostility created by a 100% obstructionist agenda by Republicans since January of 2009.  It is hostility created by superficial memes and news agencies with nothing but a financial agenda.  It is hostility created by billions of dollars that serve only the special interests of those spending it.

A vote for Joni Ernst continues the gridlock that defines today’s politics.  A vote for Ernst supports the special interests of corporations.  It is a vote toward undervaluing women in the workplace and away from the freedom to have dominion over their own bodies.  A vote for Ernst is a vote against affordable student loans, a living wage and a healthier environment.  A vote for Ernst moves us toward the privatization that steers America toward plutocracy.  A vote for Ernst leads us toward policy that threatens the civil rights guaranteed by our constitution to all Americans.

A vote for Bruce Braley is a vote for the kind of politician we all say we’re looking for.14776993581_e36e55437b_o  Intelligent, willing and able to listen and respond, who reaches across the aisle, who is passionate about his state, his country, and those who serve, from our agricultural roots to the service men and women who defend us.

A vote for the Democrat in this race helps to secure balance on Capitol Hill to ensure that we do not, once again, begin a slide into economic and cultural catastrophe.

Unnecessary Roughness!

I had a revelation while attending a college football game.  Perhaps, it wasn’t so much of a revelation as it was a connecting of the dots between human nature and politics, and it triggered a realization.

9049097463_018d1e170bI am an Iowa boy, born and raised, once again living in the “Fields of Opportunities” and I have always rooted for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

In LA, where I lived for 20 years, I attended every Iowa Rose Bowl appearance and cheered along with other Iowa expatriots in bars any time Iowa was televised.  Yet, I am a Northwestern University graduate and so, I must admit that I root against Iowa once a year.

Where we go to college usually becomes thCAGZHRATthe focal point for the rest of our lives in terms of who we cheer for and what colors will decorate the rec room.

As I cheered for the Wildcats, alone in a sea of black and gold, with the exception of my teenage son who wants to go to Northwestern law school someday, I noted a behavior concerning how we take sides.

A ballcarrier from Iowa was racing toward the sidelines and right at the point of being at the sideline he was hit hard415-6Eoxz_SlMa_55 by a Northwestern linebacker.  A flag was thrown and the crowd cheered for the inevitable “unnecessary roughness” call.

The officials convened and two refs were quite adamant about something.  The flag was then picked up and the official announced, “There is no flag on the play!”

The crowd was furious.  The Hawkeye fans surrounding me screamed, “You’re blind!  That was a personal foul!!”

The JumboTron then showed the play, all the way through the alleged crime.  It wasn’t a foul.  The runner’s body was leaning over the line, but his feet were still in bounds when he was hit.  The Iowa crowd was still not convinced and the woman next to me and the man behind her were dumbfounded.

So…I leaned over and said, “It was a clean hit.”

“B@!!$#!t!” bellowed the woman, with Hawkeye logos under both eyes and wearing black and gold striped overalls,  “It wasn’t even close!  That was flagrant!”

There wasn’t the slightest doubt in her mind that she was correct and the man behind her concurred as he said to me, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

But….it was a clean hit.

And that doesn’t matter.  They were convinced, along with 60,000 other Hawkeye fans that they’d been cheated and betrayed by the officials.

As fate would have it, soon after that play, Northwestern had the ball and the sequence of events were nearly untitledidentical.  The Northwestern quarterback was hit by the sideline and flew well into the Iowa bench.  No flag.  And the Iowa crowd was perfectly satisfied that it was the correct No-call.

The woman turned turned to me and said sarcastically, “I suppose you think that was a foul.”

“Nope,” I replied.  “He was in bounds just like the Iowa guy.”

“B^!s#!t,” she grumbled again, “those refs were %@#ed on the other call!”

That’s how we are.  The home team never gets enough calls to fall their way and the officials are always blind when things go the other way.  That home turf behavior is no different when we apply our feelings to politics; when our side wins it is because it was the correct course of action, when the other finds success it’s because they were given unfair breaks.

(Let’s replace “officials” with “government” or…could that be where I was going with this in the first place?)

I’m having a very hard time defending our President these days, not because I am having doubts about his integrity or his record, but because the other side has been complaining so loudly about bad officiating that the game is constantly under review.

It appears to many people that everything is falling apart; the health care debate rages on, the NSA ramps up survelliance, ISIS emerges from the sands of Syria, a couple of stock market fumbles, and the right wing media machine has a field day.

“We told you so!”

“This is the worst President in history!”

They’ve coined “Obama-pologists” to describe those of us who continue to defend the administration.

But, the truth is not apparent to the angry crowd.  The truth is, ACA is essentially working, and with cooperative improvements, it could work even better.  The highest percentage of Americans are now insured than any time in history.  Worries of bankruptcy due to medical costs are fading.

The truth is, the NSA is simply continuing the same out of control agenda outlined since the Patriot Act.

The truth is, a government shutdown, engineered by Republicans, came with a 24 billion dollar price tag, and slowed our growth.

And the truth is, emerging militant caliphates are a result of a fractured balance largely caused by the invasion of Iraq.  Saddam Hussein was a bad man, there is no doubt, but he kept any threat to his authority, even extremists, in check.

The pack mentality of whichever side you’re on, and the behemoth of media that will fan whichever flame brings the best revenue, willcrowd continue to grow.  We’ve created a mythical concept of what Presidents can do and the crowd has done this without reading the rule book.

And we hate the officials who are bound by those rules when they aren’t applied in our favor.  Human nature, it seems, just might be the enemy of reason.

The role of the media (the press) in the design of our Republic was to keep the conversation honest and to report the facts so that we (the people) can make informed, rather than inflamed, opinions.  But, perhaps, there is a glimmer of hope, if we could apply the media to politics the way it still operates in sports—

images_display_imageI watched the replay on television of the game I attended, and lo and behold, when the “flagrant foul” was committed, the play by play announcers said, “That was a good call by the officials to pick up the flag; it was a clean hit.”

They told the truth.