Monthly Archives: December 2015

May Blessings Upon Thee Fall!

I have a dear friend, who sadly passed away a few years ago.  He was a dashing, British actor named Peter Dennis who was delightfully full of himself, as only British folk can pull off with graceful aplomb.  I think of him all the time, but the pearl of kindness that he always imparted upon everyone he met comes to me particularly often during the holidays.

He had this valediction that I thought was…just so…British.  In those circumstances where most of us say, “Goodbye!” or “See ya later!” Peter would say, “May Blessings upon thee fall.”

I met Peter in 1990 when he appeared with me in “A Man Called Sarge” (a classic thata-man-called-sarge you can find on Netflix – by all means order it so that I might receive 25 cents in residuals).  He brilliantly played British Field Marshal Montgomery and we became fast friends, remaining so after we finished the film in Israel, and while sharing my house in Los Angeles where he stayed with me during “Audition Season.”

I loved Peter, who also traveled the world with his one man realization of the stories of “Winnie the Pooh.”  It was, and remains, the only interpretation ever to be “blessed” by the Milne estate.  My first son, Christopher, is named after the namesake of those stories, and I painted both of my son’s nurseries with scenes from Winnie the Pooh…but I 3404-square-1536digress…

So, as you can see, it didn’t take long to realize that Peter was a sincere man, and, in fact, could not be any other way if he tried.  Peter’s “blessings” meant protection to all whom he came in contact with, and he sincerely wished for good fortune and glad tidings to be discovered by every single person, every single time they met.

Today, as the spirit of the season finds its way through decorations at work, the lights and candles adorning houses and businesses, and from my Bing Crosby Christmas CD, I hear Peter’s words coming out of my mouth, in place of “See ya!”  From these words I hope you sense sincerity, and perhaps, the inspiration of hope for the future.

To you, to Peter, and to the world that surrounds us—-


Where The Responsibility Lies

Most of us, as adults, have many responsibilities.  We have a responsibility to our communities, locally, nationally and globally, and although we view those responsibilities in varying ways, we must share the responsibility to co-exist.

I am responsible to my employers to give them what they pay for, and personally, I feel a responsibility to go beyond those expectations.

FB_IMG_1448492742310-1We have a responsibility to family and friends to be the best person we can be in the different ways that they may depend on us.  And, like every parent, my paramount responsibility is to my children; to be strong, wise, fair, and to imbue the characteristics of humanity.

If I were to be elected to Congress, I will have been given the responsibility of representing all the people of Iowa’s First District.  As a candidate I still bear a responsibility, and that is to communicate and display my message to the district, and to allow for everyone’s concerns to approach me.

My candidacy is now 8 months running, but I have written this blog for many years and for several years I was a columnist for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.   I became known in the community as a progressive voice, and as a visible Democrat.  That profile has exposed me to a few surprising confrontations, but more often, enlightened me to the responsibilities that come with it.

On one occasion a few years ago, I was enjoying the company of friends at a restaurant Angry_Santa_BN8KAA_3141801bwhen someone from another group called me out as a “stupid liberal.”  No reason to bait me except that they felt a need to vent because liberalism, they said, was “the undoing of America” and apparently that was on their mind at Christmastime.

About a year later, I was dining with other friends and a person I’d never met before passed our table and said without provocation, “I can’t stand your politics.”

My friends were aghast that anyone would be so rude, but were particularly floored since, as one friend put it:  “Your politics are about civil rights and helping people.  How is someone against that?”

I’m a grown up, I can take it, and these encounters don’t rattle my cage or cause me consternation; what they did, however, was make me aware of a societal knot that is getting tighter and tighter that I believe could unravel at such a velocity that “the undoing of America” will be a very real possibility.

Civil discourse is being replaced by the language of fear.  An extreme rhetoric, rooted in a fear of Islam, the fear of secularism, the fear of egalitarianism, the fear of governance, the fear of change, is becoming as common as an Oxford comma.  It is amped and fanned by media, by unchallenged web information and communication cells that share only the most extreme perspectives, and those perspectives are turning into actions; sometimes violent actions to counter those fears.

Two days ago I went to a restaurant to relax before going to a performance of the New Horizons band, with which my mother plays the saxophone.  I was taking the night off from politics when an old friend appeared, runtitledeady to engage.  This fellow and I are on opposite sides of the political fence, but we’ve always enjoyed each other’s company.  On this particular evening he was with a friend of his and I was introduced.

“How’s the campaign going,” my friend asked.

“It’s going,” is my usual reply.  Campaigning is complex and always changing and so I find the expected response of “Great!” to be disingenuous.  I know….I should always give the positive answer, but I’m wired to be more revealing.  I continued, “Taking the night off to see my mother perform.”

After a few pleasantries I was left to my thoughts.  I saw the two of them converse quietly for a minute and then the young man to whom I was introduced came over to me.

“I just have to ask,” he intoned.  “Why are you a Democrat?”

I really wanted to be left alone, but I have taken on a new responsibility since I’ve chosen to be in the political arena to, at least, be respectful of any inquiry.

“I have a lot of reasons, “I replied, “and they would take up the rest of this evening, but I will give you this.  Social justice.  Whatever I do relates to finding the respect and opportunity that I believe all people deserve.”

He laughed.  “That’s the biggest load of horse s#!t I’ve ever heard. Explain yourself.”

“Oh boy” I thought to myself.  “But this comes with the territory…here goes….”

(Not to myself: ) “Let’s start with the history of systemic racism and sexism in America.  It is a fundamental flaw in a presumably free society, predicated on justice, and we must continually examine justice and equality until we can transcend prejudice.”

That was too much for this fellow.  He bellowed:  “I can’t believe what I’m hearing.  You’re saying that government will take care of everything.  I believe in individual liberties and your Big Government is telling me what and who I have to believe!”

“I said nothing of the kind, “I replied. “You are putting words in my mouth and answering your own false premise.”

“Are you saying I’m stupid?” came his response.  His brow was now furled and he was in my face.  I should point out that this young man was probably over 6’ 2” and clearly a body builder.

“Not at all. Why don’t we just let this be and we’ll get together to talk at another time?”

“I will knock those f*@#in glasses off your face!”

The restaurant was very aware of this situation now and our mutual friend came over to take him away.  The angry young man instead marched out the front door and never returned.

“He gets that way around Democrats.  That’s happened before” was my friend’s conciliation.

“Not a problem” I said, but in reality it was.  The problem wasn’t the disagreement itself, but the intensity of the anger that came with it.  The same anger I had witnessed before that stepped outside of the realm of respect, but this time there was a physical threat from an intimidating source.  It wasn’t the thought that I could have been nursing a broken nose that bothered me as much as the senselessness if I had.

This isn’t the first time I’ve asked, “What is happening in America?”  and just today I read about a man in Michigan who robbed a convenience store and called an Indian American employee a “terrorist” as he shot him in the face.  This not an anomalous reveal of violence and anger, it is indicative of an epidemic of irrational behavior all over America in restaurants, churches, mosques, schools, clinics, stores and city streets.  They are the acts of people inflamed by fear.

But the fear is not rational, not to such an extreme that uncontrollable rage should strike out at a distortion of reality.  Where is this insanity coming from?

INSANITY2The noun “insanity” is quite possibly the most overused, misappropriated and misunderstood word in the English language.  It is used to define everything from serious mental illness to simply making a subjectively questionable judgment.

“Don’t be insane!  The Packers will win the Super Bowl!”

There is a wide berth in terms of what insanity implies, but a definition can be refined to this:  A mental illness of such a nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.

We are all capable of shades of fantasy and impulsiveness, but it is clear when someone steps over the line into the fog of genuine insanity.  The trouble is that an overt act of insanity is not the only measure of its existence; insanity is being created right before our eyes.

The extreme fear that is cornering our socio-political reality is being trumped up (pun intended) and fanned by irresponsible, irrational, demagoguery, that is primarily coming from the Republican side of our national debate.  That is confirmed by the fact that no Republican presidential candidate condemned any of these admitted hate crimes as having been motivated by prejudice.  Marco Rubio, for one, blamed America’s anger at Big Government.

What I hear, instead, are unfounded claims:  “You liberals care more about the rights of Islamic terrorists than Christians.”  Or I hear a justification:  “That’s how upset people are with liberal policies.”

Or:  “Liberal protesters are just as bad.”

I don’t condone the violence that occurred in Seattle when thugs emerged from the Occupy Movement and broke628x471 windows, nor do I turn a blind eye to violent riots that resulted from protests against racism in cities all over the country.  I may even agree with the fundamental causes in those cases, but violence, destruction, or harm to anyone, is not justifiable in any context.  But there is a difference between the right and the left that I will not let slip by unnoticed.

I don’t consider the protests in Baltimore, Ferguson and elsewhere to be from a specific political party, but the reaction to them fell along ideological lines; the left being sympathetic to the protesters cause and the right aligning with the status quo and a denial of the racism in question.  The crucial distinction is that the protests themselves stemmed from extreme dissatisfaction with institutional or systemic failures that deny justice.  That doesn’t make a violent outcome any more justifiable, but the root issues stand on rational ground.

These extreme acts of violence like the convenience store in Michigan, the church in South Carolina, a mosque in California are clearly a manifest of rightwing ideological positions born from hatred construed from fear.  The root issues that lead to xenophobia, sexism or racism do not stand on rational ground; it is an emerging cultural insanity.

Insanity gives a perverse peace of mind to those who are most susceptible to being programmed by extreme rhetoric, especially when that rhetoric plays upon the very real instinct of fear.  Fear is a vital, emotional response to perceived danger, but it also triggers the most primal, non-intellectual part of our psyche.

So where does responsibility lie?

rs_1024x759-150916173506-1024_Donald-Trump-Republican-Debate_ms_091615Can Donald Trump say “Ban all Muslims from entering the United States”?  Yes, he can.   But can he absolve himself from the Islamophobia that results and has led to violence?  No, he cannot.  His comment is based in fear; fear that causes many people to stop looking for truth and to settle on the most shallow and superficial reasoning.

The shallow reasoning that gives sanctuary to insanity.  For this to stop, our political rhetoric has to be held accountable to reason and facts; it has to be scrutinized by historical truths, honest reflection on our intentions, and the reality of our circumstances.

Unless we start to unravel this knot, it only gets tighter.  Another responsibility that we all must bear.

Reply to All

Sometimes something will circulate on the internet or pass around as a mass email that will catch my attention and I will feel the need to respond.  When it is something that I believe to be dangerously false or propagating a destructive myth, I will send a “Reply to All” message back to address some of the fallacies.  Sometimes things are sent to me that I find so aggravating that I will go through it line by line, offering my perspective to each.

They aggravate me because they represent the dysfunction in our national debate as they fan the flames of adversity with misinformation.  And a false premise becomes the gospel of erroneous ideology.

This came to me in an email from two different sources in the span of only 24 hours.  In bold print are the statements that were made in the email, and in italics are my responses.  Let it also be made clear that I do not believe that America should become more “socialist” nor do I identify with Democratic Socialists.  What I do understand, however, is their historical and philosophical context and I am willing to defend social justice.

The email was titled:  7 Conundrums of Socialism in the United States of America:

1) Free people are not equal.  Equal people are not free.                                       This statement is meant to refute social equality but is a reflection of a misunderstanding and conflates different meanings of equality. “Equal” as it is used in the Declaration of thIndependence refers to the unalienable and equal right of human beings to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

It was derived from the Massachusetts Constitution which reads:  “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”

What it does not mean is what the above phrase implies; that social equality means that every person is of equal ability, equal talent or intelligence and will be given equal reward.

2) America is capitalist and greedy – yet half of the population is subsidized.      The “subsidizing” of people who have fallen through the cracks and the Capitalist economic system in America are two different things.  Social programs are not a gift from Capitalism, but are, rather, the demands of a government of, for and by the people.

Capitalism is not a moral construct, nor is it a form of public governance; it is an economic paradigm in which there will necessarily be failure as well as success.  A moral society, however, demands that its government provide for the malfunction of an imperfect system.

3) Half of the population is subsidized – yet they think they are victims.            Such a dismissive statement isn’t worth the time I’ve already spent writing this sentence. When someone writes such a thing are they saying that people on welfare have it easy?  That they want to be there?  That they enjoy having little?

Myriad reasons can lead to poverty, from being laid off to sickness, either physical or mental.  Or from the pathologies of poverty that can be imprinted generationally or environmentally, where survival is learned from a perpetuating system of struggle.

If you think the “subsidies” are so great, try living on them.

4) They think they are victims – yet their representatives run the government. This statement is nothing short of delusional. 

5) Their representatives run the government – yet the poor keep getting poorer.  Actually, the poor are not well represented in government.  That is why for over 35 years the system has been rigged in favor of the well to do who have paid for our government to look after their interests.

The wealthiest Americans increased their holdings 250% over those years while most Americans saw flat or falling wages when compared to rising costs of living.  The poor have gotten poorer precisely because the rich have gotten richer.

6) The poor keep getting poorer – yet they have things that people in other countries only dream about.                                                                                    What is this statement implying?  That poor Americans should be happier to go hungry in America compared to elsewhere?

7) They have things that people in other countries only dream about – yet they want America to be more like those of other countries.                                           This makes no sense whatsoever.

Think about it!  That pretty much sums up the USA in the 21st Century.  Makes you wonder who is doing the math.  These three, short sentences tell you a lot about the direction of our current government and cultural environment:

1.  We are advised to NOT judge ALL Muslims by the actions of a few lunatics, but we are encouraged to judge ALL gun owners by the actions of a few lunatics.         This is twisted logic, using a classic deduction principle:  If rules apply to one circumstance, they must apply to another.  Yet, the statement clearly questions the “advice” of not being able to “judge all Muslims by the actions of a few lunatics,” but refuses to continue the same justification to mistrust of gun owners.

For the record:  I have never heard anyone say that all gun owners should be judged as murderers.

2. Seems we constantly hear about how Social Security is going to run out of money. But we never hear about welfare or food stamps running out of money !   What’s interesting is the first group “worked for” their money, but the second didn’t.                                                                                                                An interesting analysis, but only if you know nothing about how both systems work.  Actually, welfare and food stamps do run short of money. And when they do, children go hungry in the wealthiest nation on earth.

The comment that the hungry and poor have paid no price for the benefits they receive says more about the intent of this series of statements than any rebuttal I can make here.  I am so grateful that my own sons are being raised with a conscience that cares for others.

3.  Why are we cutting benefits for our veterans, no pay raises for our military and cutting our army to a level lower than before WWII, but we are not stopping the payments or benefits to illegal aliens.                                                                    Because Republicans refused to increase benefits and they insist on austerity measures throughout government so that taxes won’t increase for those who have benefitted the most.

The latter part of the statement is a myth, because undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive any “welfare” benefits.  In many cases even legal immigrants are restricted in the benefits they can receive.

Am I the only one missing something?                                                                     No, unfortunately you are not the only one who is missing something.  You and others are missing either the desire to research or the ability to reason.

“If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.”  –  Plato                                                     Plato also wrote:  “As a just and healthy person is governed by knowledge and reason, a just society must be under the control of society’s most cultivated and best informed minds.”

In conclusion, I will bookend this post with the words of Thomas Jefferson:     “Whenever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.”

Of course, that means the reverse implication of Jefferson’s wisdom is equally as true.20151207_135636  If people are not well informed, they cannot be trusted.

This email that is circulating is not well informed.



Is Newer the Truer?

Much is being said about what it means to be a true Conservative.  In the Republican presidential debates each candidate is jockeying to place themselves as the truest and most consistently conservative of the group.  This has bothered me because I’m not sure what they mean by conservatism anymore.  Is it the most historically accurate realization of the conservative movement, or is it what the neo-cons have carved out as conservative values over the past few decades?  Or is there a newer conservatism that is, in fact, truer?

So I decided to offer some historical insight into the evolution of conservatism over the course of my lifetime in order to, hopefully (but probably futilely), re-calibrate the modern conservative argument.

I’m going to start with Barry Goldwater, because he was the preeminent “conservative” during his career, whose revived conservatism during, and post, Kennedy, tilled the soil for the Reagan Revolution.

Goldwater did not favor blind partisanship and advocated for Nixon to resign at the height of Watergate. From that the term “Goldwater moment” entered the political lexicon and is used today to describe situations when influential members of Congress disagree so strongly with a president from their own party that they rise up and take a stand against him.

He saw the religious right’s views as an encroachment on personal privacy and individual liberties and in 1981, gave a speech on how he was angry about the bullying of American politicians by religious organizations, and would “fight them every step of the way.”

While Goldwater was a staunch anti-Communist, he rejected the fringes of the anti-Communist movement and in 1956 sponsored the passage of the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act to establish mental health care in Alaska.  He faced fierce opposition from the far right who claimed that the Act was a communist plot in order to “brainwash” Americans.  Pretty ludicrous and undeniably FRINGE…but, it does sound an awful lot like what a current conservative Alaskan might suggest…

On the subject of gays in the military, Goldwater said, “Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar. You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.”

His disgust with the direction of the Republican Party in his later years compelled him to say this to the party: “Do not associate my name with anything you do. You are extremists, and you’ve hurt the Republican Party much more than the Democrats have.”

My favorite Republican of the modern era is Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Having been the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, Eisenhower had a pretty fair grasp on the realities and consequences of war.  During his presidency he said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone, it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense.”

He even offered insight on what would become the Bush/Cheney doctrine: “All of us have heard this term ‘preventative war’ since the earliest days of Hitler. I recall that is about the first time I heard it. In this day and time, I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.”

Can you imagine any Republican saying this today about Union organizing and labor?:  “Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice…Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. . . a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society.”

Or “social programs”?: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”

In 1960 Eisenhower signed into law the Kerr-Mills Bill, generally considered to be the forerunner of Medicare. For the first time, Kerr-Mills provided for government payment of medical bills of 70% of citizens aged 65 and older.

Then, of course, there’s Nixon…

Sullied forever, even within his own party for the shortcomings of his paranoid personality, Nixon was at one time the pinnacle of American conservatism and a landslide winner in 1972. Yet, it was Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency, he even proposed healthcare reform that wasn’t much different than “ObamaCare.”

Nixon’s domestic and foreign record stands firmly in the progressive tradition.  Federal spending grew faster during Nixon’s tenure on social programs than during Johnson’s (from $55 billion to $132 billion).  While Nixon would criticize and attempt to reform welfare, he nonetheless approved massive increases in funding for other Great Society programs such as the Model Cities program and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Even for cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients and other entitlement programs.

Federal spending for the arts (even though Nixon hated cultural elites and they hated him) quadrupled.

And finally….the Neo-Con God himself, Ronald Reagan…

Ronald Reagan sincerely desired to abolish all nuclear weapons and he proposed to Gorbachev that if a missile shield could be built, all nuclear weapons be eliminated and the missile shield technology shared, the world would be much better off.

Reagan wrote: The Pentagon said at least 150 million American lives would be lost in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union — even if we ‘won.’ For Americans who survived such a war, I couldn’t imagine what life would be like. The planet would be so poisoned the ‘survivors’ would have no place to live.

Such a comment today would receive from the right, “He’s making us appear weak!”

I suggest that, because that is exactly what they chimed, in unison, when Obama said the VERY SAME THING.

During the Reagan years, the United States borrowed heavily both domestically and abroad, raising the national debt from $700 billion to $3 trillion; percentage-wise, the largest increase in history. But to hear Republicans today talk of the debt and deficit spending, you’d think the concepts were hatched from Sodom and Gomorrah.

Reagan, by the way, continued to fully fund Social Security and Medicare because the elderly were dependent on those programs. Reagan once wrote that he was never trying to undo the New Deal and that, in fact, he admired FDR (he voted for him four times…although Reagan was a Democrat in those days).

The point that I am attempting to make here is that there once was a conservative center that was compatible with progressive values, and it is my observation that the modern Republican Party is being blinded by such a fierce sandstorm from far right-anti-liberal forces that reasonable debate has become folly.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, progressive ideas meant ideas for the betterment of society and conservatives could embrace many of them.

Today, Republicans are fighting each other over “Who is the truest, super conservative?” as if some pure, ideological blood line back to King George will prove that they should be the anointed leaders.  But, the fever-pitched, non-conformity that results from this fringe-mania makes rational thinking irrelevant, and cripples cooperative legislation.

To be fair, I should probably look at Progressive ideology over the past 50 years and offer some analysis of how liberal politicians have evolved…my fear is that I will be disheartened to see how far we’ve drifted to the right….