Monthly Archives: August 2015

Dirty Words

I was told by a friend, who’s a Republican and attends meetings of the local Republican Party, that my name came up once and someone said, “He’s the biggest socialist in the Cedar Valley!”  My reaction was to laugh because that is an affirmation of everything I’ve been writing in this blog regarding the misunderstanding of economic and political theories that primarily exists on that side of the aisle.

“Socialist” is, of course, that dirty word that is being used to warn good Americans that we are on a slippery slope toward government tyranny nothing short of complete oppression, i.e., “communism.”  When I attempt to explain that communism and socialism require definitions to explain differences, I don’t seem to get very far.  To be clear, however:  I do not believe in “socialism” in terms of it’s extreme political-economic theory, but rather “social awareness and responsibility” and the “community” aspects inherent to our Republic.

It is not difficult to understand where the confusion lies but there is a difference. “Communism” is a classless political system in which all property and wealth is ownedarticle-2255693-16B57A8C000005DC-948_964x647 by all the members of that society. It fails on several levels; it denies the human motivation of competition and it is vulnerable to an oppressive and tyrannical government that is created from that absence. It is the realization of “Marxist socialism” but the defining and crucial difference is that communism requires a “classless political system.”

Socialism is a system of social organization that does not preclude the absence of different class constructs (and profits), but advocates the vesting of ownership and control of the means of production and distribution (capital, land, etc.) to be in the community interest. That does not even mean equal, or non-competitive distribution, it simply means that the distribution is influenced by what is best for the community.

The function of government in a representative democracy (or republic), such as what we have, is to maintain a fair distribution of our resources to promote the common good; it has roots in a social concept.

We have a form of democracy where voters choose in free elections representatives to act in their interests, but not as their proxies, i.e., not necessarily as directed by the majority, but with enough authority to exercise initiatives in the face of inevitably changing circumstances. That was the directive of our Founding Fathers to provide for the “general welfare” of the people.

The argument here is that “socialism” by itself is not a dirty word when it’s understood, and that understanding is essential in establishing better government.

A related misunderstanding is in the type of financial structure we have in the United States. I often hear that “government regulations” hamper the “Free Market” where prices are determined by supply and demand and from which our capitalist economic system, favoring private ownership, is derived. It needs to be explained that nowhere in the history of economic theory is it said that capitalism is a perfect system.

The concept of a free market is predicated on the market receiving “perfect information” and that no company can be so large that it has enough power to set the market price; but that is an erroneous concept in real world, unregulated competition.  The Great Depression proves that capitalism is not a flawless system and that, in fact, it has a cyclical vulnerability that can be catastrophic. That is why we have a “Mixed Market/Capitalist” economic system where there are regulations to control the drastic and potentially devastating swings.

Mixed%20Economy“Mixed Market” is defined as an economy where there is some government intervention to manage those swings and to eliminate malfeasance and market manipulation. An example is the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission and while we can argue its effectiveness until the Day of Rapture comes, its failures are primarily a result of turning a blind eye to infractions (especially when under administrations promoting de-regulation). The SEC was established during the Great Depression to regulate the stock market and to prevent the corporate abuses that contributed to the collapse.

Let’s put the socialism rhetoric to rest. We are a Republic, founded on the principles of representative government that provides for the common welfare of its people; and in doing so offers the best realization of personal freedoms, while not infringing upon the rights of others, that a civilized society can provide.

Our prosperity is secured when the same principles apply to our financial system; a modified free market where judicial fairness is mandated and enforced by that representative power.

We Love Our Guns!

wayne_la_pierre_09_26_07_lrgExecutive Vice President of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, stated that government should not interfere with our right to possess guns to defend our homes and protect our children.

It’s such an appealing statement.

The “right to defend our homes and protect our children.”  It makes us feel like warrior-kings protecting our domain with bravery and nobility.  It erases any question of strength and replaces timidity with fierce, unquestionable valor.  It’s so easy to support that claim because it is shorthand to understanding our paramount purpose, the protection of children.  So why would anyone ever doubt its sincerity?

Because it isn’t entirely true.

The proliferation of firearms is less about protecting our families than it is about America’s love of lethal force.

Guns shoot things.  They are powerful, yet contained within our grasp to become extensions of ourselves making us almost super human.

They are sculpture.  Whether entirely metal or a combination with polished wood, they are curved, angled and sexy.

gunsThey are a culture unto themselves.  With guns come ammunition, clothing, sports, and clubs.  There is no “gun,” there are “guns.”  Like automobiles, comic books, figurines, and trading cards, guns are collectibles that come as pistols, revolvers, bolt action rifles, carbines, shotguns, machine and elephant guns.  They are single barreled, double barreled, long and short.

And they all have a function:  To take out, take down and obliterate whatever they hit.

They can be used for hunting, target shooting, military defense, personal protection, and murder.  I’m confident that no one reading this is promoting the last entry, but it’s a reality of guns.

Personal or family protection is the pivot point of the gun argument, but, if anyone is serious about protecting their families they should be sobered by a study from Emory University.  It determined that the likelihood of a murder occurring in homes that have guns nearly triples.

They should be even more concerned by a survey conducted by the Archive of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine that shows us that 40% of the children in homes with guns know where the guns are stored.  20% of those children have handled the guns without adult supervision or even knowledge of the handling.

I lived in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles for 27 years and never needed a gun. And I hardly lived an isolated life in upscale neighborhoods.  That’s not to say that bad things don’t happen where a gun could be used for protection, but why does a guy I know living in Iowa need an AR 15 under the bed, a sawed-off shotgun in the closet and a handgun by the nightstand to feel safe?  Especially when you consider that according to that same Emory University study, 77% of those killed in their homes were murdered by someone they knew with no signs of forced entry.  Strangers account for less than 4% of the murders.

If protection is what anyone is seriously concerned about, they should be an advocate for sensible gun legislation, because the truth is that the possession of guns increases the risk of someone you love being injured or killed by a gun.

There just might be safer ways to protect your family.

second-amendment-220x220I can argue until Ted Nugent joins Greenpeace what I believe was the true intent of the 2nd Amendment, but I will acquiesce to the fact that words are there to create an argument for private ownership of firearms.  But, that doesn’t mean that I’ve put logic and sanity off to the side; quite the contrary.  That “right” demands sane and logical regulations that evolve right alongside the evolution of firearms.

If you are a law abiding and responsible gun owner- no one is coming for your guns, but, don’t hide behind a deceptive belief that you are really protecting anyone.  Be honest.  You like guns.

 

For information regarding violence and guns, www.bradycampaign.org, has compelling statistics.

 

Press Two for a Zombie

Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe everyone else uses technology flawlessly and all of the sources of new technologies work for everyone…except me.  If it is just me then I’d like to vent my frustration and, perhaps, someone will come forward to help.

471785_1-lgI think it’s a sham.  I think we have programmed ourselves into believing that all of the new technologies work, when, in fact, they don’t.  Yet, everything in business, from finance to advertising, is now predicated on Smart Phones, computers, tablets, wi-fi, internet access, search engines, analytics, and Big Data sourcesWe’re told that they all work.

They don’t.

Oh, sure, they work most of the time, but not ALL of the time, yet our messaging, analytic research, events, and programs, operate on the assumption that the technology is flawless and it will accumulate, download and distribute whatever we need as it’s supposed to.

It doesn’t.

This morning as I downloaded Facebook onto my Nook (I know…Nooks are old news), the green bar across the top that tells me when the download is complete, only went about two thirds of the way.  It does that fairly often.  No idea why.  So I powered off then on to reset my tablet.  This time I got on, but whenever I put the cursor in the message box, the thread would scroll to the bottom of the page and I’d have to navigate back up for every letter I hit.  So I restarted again.

Even though the shut-down-re-start-sequence probably only takes a minute, minutes seem longer these days.

Yesterday, my cellphone shut down (it had a full battery).  For no apparent reason, it will do that now and again.  Once in happened in the middle of a long adventure of navigating through those automatic “Press One for….etc” options, and I’d gotten about 4 levels into where I wanted to go to “talk with a sales representative” when I had to start over.

I was using the Bluetooth function in my car and when I turned the phone back on to start over, I was apparently driving through a “dead zone” with no bars and couldn’t get through.return4002

I have this idea for a zombie movie called “Dead Zone” where zombies have taken over all customer service call centers….or is that already a reality?

I have a computer in the basement where I use a wi-fi connection, and because of some flare from the sun (or so I’m told), it wouldn’t get online for about an hour.

solarflareMy computer at work froze the other day for an hour.  Someone sent a message to the entire company with too many bytes and our email collapsed.

Twitter had too many “tweets” coming in on Monday and had to shut down for a while.

Even my Hotmail account said, “Temporarily unavailable for service. Try again later.”

I get so much Spam these days that legitimate emails often get caught in my filter and friends get angry because I haven’t responded.

Now, don’t get me wrong!- I use all of this technology!  Constantly.  I email, text, tweet, Google, share, IM, and Facebook like a teenager- section_search_engine_marketingbut I also suffer a new kind of anxiety that didn’t exist when I actually was a teenager.  It is the anxiety caused by the impatience that is a result of not receiving what I EXPECT.  I expect instant access to information because that is what I’ve been told that I can (and must) expect.

We are told that every new Smart Phone, search engine, social network, Big Data accumulating and analyzing tool, is the bleeding edge of technology and that it is the new standard everyone has to use if they want to be up to date, in the moment, to lead, follow, create, manufacture, and disseminate, whether in a club, on the plane, in a boat, on a house, over a moat, or with a mouse.

It isn’t.

We landed on the moon using the calculations that came from a slide rule!  We brought back three astronauts in a broken ship from a lunar orbit, using that slide rule.  There were no cellphones, or even answering machines.s70-35145  A hungry engineer couldn’t even run to an ATM to get money to buy a cheeseburger.

The computer on Apollo 13 had 1 RAM that ran on coded tape.

I’m not saying that the speed and relative efficiency of modern technology isn’t a good thing, but I’m asking this:  Is it always better?

I don’t think so.  But maybe that’s just me.

Iowa, A Place To Grow

CNBC, along with several business analysts, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the Council on Competitiveness, have ranked the state of Iowa #11 in terms of Top States for Doing Business. That is down two places over the past two years.

Although, ranking #11 is not bad, we aren’t going in the right direction.  It tells us that in areas where we were weak, we continue to be and have dropped in an area where we were once the leader.

Iowa ranks #13 in terms of the overall lowest “cost of doing business” dropping from #1 only 3 years ago, and #5 a year ago, but before we place that blame on a corporate tax rate of 12% (Iowa’s corporate rates are 6% to 12%), that number has not changed and cannot, therefore, be attributed to the drop in rank.

Iowa sits smack-dab-in-the-middle when it comes to property taxes, and although historically low in terms of utility costs, wages, and rental costs for office and industrial space, it is in those latter categories that we’ve seen a rise in costs.

I join members of the House favoring a reduction in business property taxes, but part with Governor Branstad and Republicans at reducing (or eliminating) corporate taxes. Lower taxes will reduce our revenue, for sure, but do little to encourage new business because it’s not giving them what they are looking for, which is made possible by having such tax revenue.

Where Iowa fails in past and current rankings are in 4 categories:  1) Infrastructure and Transportation, 2) Technology and Innovation, 3) Access to Capital, and 4) Workforce.

“Access to capital” is out of our hands directly, but if we inform ourselves as to what that means we can begin close that gap. “Access to capital” is literally where venture capital goes and where businesses are therefore attracted. Iowa ranks poorly and continues to fall in this category because venture capitalists do not perceive this state to be sophisticated or technologically savvy.

We should not, therefore, be talking about cutting infrastructure spending as Governor Branstad insists, we should instead be focused like a laser on improving our transportation and communication systems, creating new opportunities in technologies and by promoting the quality of life we offer.

The latter is where I believe everything begins.

Iowa also fails in how we market ourselves.  Instead of regretting what we geograpically cannot be, we need to focus on what we are.  We don’t have mountains, but we have forests and rolling, green hills.  We will never be on an ocean, but we have the longest rivers in North America along our borders, with streams and lakes of tremendous beauty and recreational value.

We have covered bridges, Victorian towns, great academic institutions, world class industries and a great quality of life from cosmopolitan opportunities to rural splendor.

We have the richest most fertile soil on earth (that is jeopardized by the current administration’s near-sycophantic courtship of chemical companies); rare for a relatively small parcel of land (only 300 miles wide by 200 north to south).

We are a great place to live, to raise a family, stay healthy and to enjoy diverse seasonal activities.

We have a strong work ethic and high ranking integrity.

This is a reality that we fail to market even amongst ourselves and this is where our attractiveness to investors falls flat.

Iowa is still a punch line in America in terms of the perception of our worth. Our graduates leave the state in record numbers because we have not shown them the value of what we have, and we have not shown them the salaries and commitment to new industries where their interests lie. We rectify this by creating those educational opportunities and we do this by understanding how we should be prideful.

Iowa Pride has to be more than regent university sports; it has to be in valuing our land, our history, cultures, cities, towns and farms; in recognizing the beauty of our unique corner of the world and by protecting our educational, business-friendly and geographical environments.

We don’t need to cut funding for pre-school and we don’t need to shortshrift the University of Northern Iowa– which retains the highest percentage of Iowa recruits and graduates compared to the other Regent Universities….we didn’t need to demolish our only laboratory school to train new teachers.

No help is coming from Governor Branstad who vetoed a bi-partisan agreement on a needed K-12 budget increase.   House Democrats wanted a realistic 6% increase, but House Republicans refused to budge from a small 1.25% increase.  Democrats compromised to 2.62 percent, but a break-through didn’t come until both sides agreed to 1.25% along with an additional $56 million in funding.  Branstad vetoed the additional funding.

Branstad continues to confound Iowa’s growth by cutting infrastructure rebuilding and development even though, in reality, we have a surplus in our general fund and a stable economy.  The previous administration left us with a budget surplus and the numbers wash to allow us to invest in what we need to do to attract growth. To then “balance” the budget we have to consider that the cost of doing business in Iowa is still low and we can afford to use corporate taxes to help fund the very things corporations are looking for and why they are looking past Iowa today.

In fact, we must put our investment there if we are to attract new business and retain our young workforce.

Gridlock continues in Des Moines, but we, as Iowa citizens, can start the process of moving the needle despite political loggerheads. We can become stewards at home of the Iowa Faith; this is our skin in the game and this is where we begin.

The “Faith” that the Iowa way of life is valuable; that what we have outweighs what we lack, and that “Quality of Life” is something to cherish and promote if we are to grow into the future.

And to the Mob for which we stand…

Today, I read two things in the “Opinion” section of the Waterloo Courier that reinforced a concern that I’ve had for quite awhile now.  That concern regards a fundamental misunderstanding that many Americans have as to the nature of our Republic (a representative democracy), and that misunderstanding is corroding our nation.

A columnist wrote:  “People are fed up with leadership in America all the way from the local to the national level.  Our ‘public servants’ act more like public masters who avoid being downwind form the unwashed public and ignore majority wishes after being elected.”

A letter to the editor opined: “Christians with an orthodox view of Scripture who take Biblical condemnation of homosexuality seriously have a strong theological case.”

These two observations, while seemingly disconnected, have one thing in common:  They don’t understand our representative democracy.

How many Americans can actually define a “Republic”?

I’m not attempting to be pedantic or condescending, but it has occurred to me that a lot our political debate is centered around the concepts of representative government, and the words “democracy” and “republic” are bandied about freely with the assumption that we all know exactly what they mean.

As Plato is my witness, I believe that the words are not understood and that is causing a great deal of confusion for too many people as we try to improve our governmental processes, elect good representatives and in our understanding (or misunderstanding) of the parameters of government.

Our Founding Fathers designed a republic, with democratic principles, to ensure that the voices of all the people are represented.  They understood that the citizens within a republic, under the auspice of a charter (our Constitution), will elect representatives to govern, and because they are bound by that charter defining the limits and the powers of the state, the people are kept free.

The fact that people vote for representatives is not what keeps them free, it is their willingness to live by that charter.*

A pure, or direct, democracy, on the other hand, is government by the majority.  It could also be defined as “mob rule.”  There is still a political unit formed by citizens in a democracy, but this group rules directly and runs the state.  They may delegate specific leadership tasks to individuals, but the ruling force in a democracy is not a charter (if there even is one), but the vote of the majority.*

There is a chasm of difference between these two systems of government and the concern at the Constitutional Convention was that the government they created would be too democratic because a majority could vote itself anything it wanted.  The potentially dangerous slide into a direct democracy was foreseen by John Adams who observed, “Our experiment with being a Constitutional Republic is rapidly coming to an end….democracy never lasts long.  It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.”

Historian, Alexander Marriott, points out, “When ignorance of this distinction contends that this country is strictly a democracy, a disservice is done to all of the people who created and have fought for our republic.”

Our representative government was created to contain the tyranny of a majority that could, in fact,majority-rule1 limit freedoms because the law is whatever the majority says is the law.  No inalienable right would be safe, not even freedom of speech.

While it is not the duty of elected representatives to defy the will of the majority, it is their duty to weigh a majority opinion equally with a minority in order to determine what is best for the Common Good.  Whether our debate is over health care, military deployment, budgets, debt ceilings, or religious freedom, it is not the will of popular opinion that determines legislation, it is the government that was elected by us.

The columnist above misses the point that a representative democracy can make determinations that are contrary to the will of the majority population.  A woman’s right to vote, for example, was not a popular consensus across America, but enough elected legislators in enough states realized that it was correct for a constitutional government predicated on freedom and equality.

The letter writer above, defending the actions of religious moralizing, has missed the most crucial aspect of religious freedom within a republic.  Fundamentalists do have the right to exercise their beliefs as they wish, but only within the circles of their religion, and not in the context of the republic as a whole, if those beliefs contradict the freedoms of others.

Not one of us has to agree with any legislative decision, but we have agreed, by our acceptance of our constitutional charter, to abide by them.  Our charter also protects freedom of speech, and our right to petition the government with a redress of grievances; collectively that is how we contain the government that is designed to protect us.

Plato predicted that in the long run a democracy will always become a tyranny, either by majority, or if the majority screws things up so badly and a tyrant seizes power from the ensuing chaos.  We must keep coming back to these fundamental understandings and definitions before we can create the change that will, instead, improve government, secure our freedom, and claw our way out of this maddening cycle of anger that produces shutdowns, filibusters and stalemates.

black-clouds-over-the-capitol

 

 

 

 

 

*Alexander Marriott