Monthly Archives: January 2016

THIS is the right time!

The other day a friend asked me why I am running against two well-known Democrats. He said, “Kroeger, you’re not known in politics, maybe you should look at this as your trial run and prepare for another race in a couple of years.”

I understood where he was coming from, I’ve heard that before and believe me, I’m faced with challenges, but I replied, “Because THIS is my time to run.”

This is my time for precisely the reason he stated: Because I’m NOT a well-known why2politician.  This is the time for a middle class guy, from outside of politics, with two young sons and a mother who is a senior citizen, to run.

This is the time because many of America’s most urgent issues are the issues I face every day-

How do I put 2 boys through college with escalating costs and skyrocketing tuition?

How do hand over to my sons a fragile world due to reckless foreign policy?

Will health care in America be what my mother requires?

What about the men and women who go to work, like me, every day?  Where is their opportunity to build their careers and to save for their retirement?

What about the environment in which we all live that allows 7 billion tons of inorganic gas to be pumped into our atmosphere every year without even the slightest compensation for what that is doing to our planet?

I am in this race because, like a lot of other Democrats, I was very unhappy after the 2014 midterm elections. I was unhappy with what happened as an extreme right wing ideology swept like a brush fire across the United States.  I was unhappy with my fellow Democrats.  We didn’t inspire voters.

But, the other side did!  They even inspired without policy!  They inspired voters with empty platitudes like “Make ‘em squeal!” and their rank and file came out to vote.  Ours didn’t.

Democrats don’t win without policy and that is as it should be, but Democrats inspire by being bold.  And we weren’t.  We settled for poll-driven rhetoric that told candidates which issues to champion and which to ignore.  And we lost.

needlemanI used to be an actor and I’m not shy. I’m not afraid to point out the fact that many of us will disagree on different issues.  And I’m not going to pull back my views just to stay on your good side.  We don’t have to take a poll of the room before I take a stand against TPP, or stand up for gay Americans, or for minority rights and better immigration laws.

Some of you may not like my stand for stricter guns laws, but that’s okay- I’m going to tell you how I feel anyway.  And that’s how we start to build better government.

garyhasissuesWe must always talk about civil rights, a woman’s right to choose, and the health of our planet.  Those aren’t always the topics du jour, but we inspire when we are bold, forthright and transparent about ALL of the issues we face.

We inspire when we are unafraid to be Progressive.

That is why I am running.  And that is why THIS is the right time!

www.kroegerforcongress.com

Words Between the Lines of Age

A recent poll said that 43% of the Democrats polled in Iowa identified themselves as “socialist.”  I find that a bit suspect and alarming and it has stirred controversy among Democrats and Republicans, alike; Democrats who don’t want to identify with socialism and Republicans to fan the flame that Democrats want to take America toward Marxism.

Here’s the poll: http://media.bloomberg.com/bb/avfile/rgsikEKtNf30

The problem with the “Socialism” label is that it’s just that: a label.  Without delving into the meaning, it is nothing but a word to distract us from the intelligent discussion that America needs to have.

The literal definition of socialism is a set of social and economic measures, policies and systems characterized by social ownership and democratic means of production.  “Social ownership” may be public, cooperative and citizen ownership of equity.  In a representative Democracy, such as ours, equity can be interpreted as a fair distribution of resources in the best interests of the people, or the Common Good.

So, what does socialism mean, exactly, in the context that Bernie Sanders and many Democrats are supporting?  It’s important to understand because that label is going to be hung out to dry throughout this entire election season, and Sanders is going to either rise or fall because of it.

Here’s a look at the history of social democracy in America….

We may as well begin with none other than George Washington.  Washington (who was non-partisan) believed that broad-based worker ownership would ensure “the happiness of the lowest class of people because of the equal distribution of property.” Washington even gave tax incentives to New England fishermen to rebuild their fleets after the Revolutionary War on the condition that the captains and the crew sign contracts ensuring broad-based profit sharing among all workers.*

The-Founding-FathersJames Madison wrote that “the owners (the People, themselves) of the country itself form the safest basis of free government.”  He also stressed “the universal hope of acquiring property.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote to Madison that “legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property.” Jefferson secured the Louisiana Purchase to allow for more land ownership by citizens.

John Adams, our preeminent Federalist (a title he disliked), favored “preserving the balance of power on the side of equal liberty and public virtue (by making) the acquisition of land easy to every member of society.” Land being the most valued currency of the time.

Even, Alexander Hamilton, the favorite of the money-class, argued that few people wanted to be wage laborers only, and he believed that a strong middle class was, thereby, the mechanism for mobility. Our founding fathers believed that democracy would work only if citizens had an ownership stake in the economy, and they feared that property inequality would prevent America from fulfilling its promise.*

But our history of social concepts does not end where our history began; late 19th century tycoon, George Eastman (Eastman Kodak) helped to invent stock options for employees, and early 20th century business magnate, John D. Rockefeller, encouraged worker ownership.

Henry Ford echoed Alexander Hamilton 120 years later as he modeled the Ford Motor Company on his belief that a strong middle class was needed to become “energetic customers of businesses in the entire economy.”

100 years ago, iconic Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, ran on his Progressive Party platform, titled “A Contract With the People.”

AR-701089997Mainstream Democrats and Republicans considered this a dangerously socialistic document. The party’s call for social reforms included:  A National Health Service; social insurance, to provide for the elderly, the unemployed, and the disabled; a minimum wage law for women; an 8 hour work day; a federal securities commission (to rein in Wall Street malfeasance); farm subsidies; and worker’s comp.

The Progressives advocated for what were considered left-wing, socialist, ideas like women’s voting rights, and strict disclosure on campaign contributions. The main theme of the Progressive Party platform was to challenge and reverse the domination of politics by business interests that Roosevelt believed were controlled by both established parties.

The platform specifically stated that their purpose was to “destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”**

Now…let’s catch our collective breath. How different is any of this from what Senator Sanders is saying today?  That is the breadth of the “socialist” label that he affixed to himself and is being bandied about by everyone, from supporters to foes.

A representative Democracy, or the Republic, for which we stand, is predicated on the thNKXU32AKpremise of a government of the People.  Our venerable Constitution begins, let’s not forget, with “We the People…” and not “We With All the Money….”

 

 

*Source: “The Citizen’s Share” Blazi, Freeman, Kruse

**”Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Socialist’Party Platform” Timothy Ashby

 

A Capital Idea!

castleI’m a Capitalist.  I want a boat, a bigger house (maybe with a moat!) and I want make enough money so that I never have to worry about the bills…along with a sports car and a little bling.

And if my capitalist dream ever comes true….I won’t change one word of what I’m saying today about the market, regulations and the necessity of containing the corruption that is an inevitable byproduct of a free market.

Someone said to me recently that “the liberal economic model has taken over the United States” yet, over the past 35 years the divide between rich and poor has grown to be the largest it’s ever been. The top 10% have increased their holdings by over 250%; the marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans has been reduced by nearly 55% since Eisenhower; and Capital Gains have been reduced by 80%.

Who’s winning and who’s losing, again?

If they were talking about the “neoliberal economic model” (neoliberal economics are not social “liberalism”) they would be right, but we know that they’re not. The truth is that the liberal model, based on “trickle UP” to create the consumerism that propels capitalism forward, has been losing for decades to the conservative model that believes that wealth accumulation at the top trickles down to create more prosperity at the bottom. Neoliberal economics planted that seed over 40 years ago and became embedded in our economic policy. The Great Recession of 2008 revealed the consequences of that trend.

“When has a poor person ever given you a job?” was the cute, and all too common, retort from my friend.

Well…I guess the answer is never.

My jobs have all been given to me by entrepreneurs who risked their money, and I have nothing but thanks and respect for them.  The point of the question, of course, is to say that we need to protect the upper class and give them the incentive to create and grow business so that we can have jobs.

Their position reminds me of the relationship between Renfield and Dracula; if Renfield worships and protects him, Dracula promises to provide Renfield with an endless supply of blood.

It is without a doubt a sycophantic relationship. Incentives?! Seriously? Aren’t they protected and incentivized enough?

As I observe the wealthy class in America it appears that they must have been incentivized along the way pretty well and nicely rewarded by our financial system. But when I look again at their actual tax to income ratio and then consider who buys the products that created or increased their wealth, it becomes all too clear that a different incentive must emerge.

WalMart isn’t a billion dollar corporation because rich people shop there; it is the middle class, the working class, that comprise 90% of America and consume the goods and services to create the wealth.

They are the ones that need to be incentivized and protected for our economic engine to keep running and to prosper.

That’s how Capitalism sustains.

I look at it this way…I am part of that dwindling Middle Class, but I am healthy, have great friends, and most importantly my kids are happy and safe. I am by the measure my father used in his life, a man with great riches and I don’t begrudge affluence at all, not one bit. I know how important financial success is to the system and, as I said, I’d love to be more affluent myself.

So, if that day comes when I can move into The Ridges and put a Bayliner in my third garage space, I will say: “Thank you America for providing the opportunity that I was able to capitalize upon. I will gratefully pay the taxes that our progressive system has asked of me so that our government can work toward an equitable distribution of resources for others; others who also fuel the engine that allowed me to prosper. And thank you for creating the programs that can help those who have not been as fortunate.”

Long live Capitalism!

The Sky is Falling!

I was talking with someone after the State of the Union address with whom I share very few political positions.  We respect each other and I always enjoy our discussions, but we are political opposites.  This was not an angry or contentious discussion by any means, but toward the end I realized, perhaps for the first time, that our views of the condition of America are as opposed as our solutions.

From my view, there is a rightwing- fringe movement in America and that has captured the center of Republican-conservatism and has moved it toward an extreme ideological edge.  Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, in particular, have become focal points for that movement, and they fan the belief that America is in such dire straits that we are likely to implode or explode at any moment.

They sincerely believe that liberal economic and social policies are taking us to thedanger-will-robinson3 brink of extinction and that our demise will be fast and furious unless a completely conservative direction is taken in 2016.

They believe that health insurance mandates, immigration compassion/reform, Dodd-Frank regulations on Wall Street, and clean energy development is the agenda of a socialist President who is Hell bent on destroying production, privatization, and wealth accumulation in order to create a fascist, nanny-state.

And they mean it.

Allow me to clarify my own position.  I have grave concerns and levy criticisms regarding our state of affairs, but I also believe that America is a great country, with great accomplishments and I hold the promise of freedom and equality high.  I also see that our history is peppered with contradictions and human rights failings that have to be overcome in order to improve; and constantly improve, we must.  I believe that progressive ideology has been integral in moving our collective consciousness toward a greater realization of that destiny.

If our history has shown us anything it’s that we can endure missteps, misappropriations and mistakes that result from this complex experiment in democracy, but we must be vigilant in holding ourselves up to the light of justice.

My friend, as we were parting to go our separate ways, wrapped up his evening thesis by reiterating the severity of this liberal/socialist conspiracy.  He believes that America will soon be laid to waste unless we drastically alter our course.

I was surprised by the conviction in his view, but my reaction was more quizzical than alarmed.  “But….aren’t we in a nice place right now?  Haven’t we been getting our food and drinks without incident?  Didn’t the traffic lights work as you drove here this evening?”

I continued:  “Do you feel that you could be threatened by missiles tonight?  Do you expect your work to be there tomorrow?  I mean…how bad is it for you and me, really?  Shouldn’t our attention be on those who don’t have what we have right now?”

My point was that his reactionary view is not rational, but that’s when something occurred to me and it gave me a new insight into the ideological conflicts we are having.  It occurred to me that the entire political belief system of his movement is predicated on the idea that the state of affairs in America are so dire that we must react swiftly and severely with the broad sword of extreme conservatism in order to survive.

The sky HAS to be falling for the imminent anarchy point of view to have any validity.chickenlittle  We must be in a state of emergency, not an Orange Alert, but RED, or their measure of the economy, immigration, social justice, and foreign affairs becomes irrelevant.

We have serious concerns in America, domestically and abroad.  I, for one, am very worried about what ideology takes the reins and either leads us closer to the path of peace and prosperity, or creates greater challenges for both.  But, I also believe that solutions will come from vigilance and diligent attention to reality, as well respect for history and its outcomes.

Taking action is necessary, but our objectives must be clear.  We cannot be complacent, but we must be patient.  Our policies must be strong, but they must be equally as smart.

Who’s the greatest of them all?

I saw a poll among voters that concluded that President Obama has been the worst president in post-FDR history.  They ranked President Reagan as the greatest.  It isn’t hard to dismiss this sort of faux-information as meaningless, given the fact that The Kardashians and The Bachelor continue to get high ratings, but I must admit that a wave of dark energy coursed through my veins.

It made me want to hold a nationwide Webinar where I show America howaverage-government-spending unemployment is below where it was when the recession started (in spite of the obstruction of a jobs bill), and how deficit spending is down.

I want to remind America, even those who have believed the budget alarm rhetoric, that more Americans can live without the fear of losing everything due to illness.

Then I want to show them stock market graphs, deficit gaps and unemployment figures from 2001 through 2009 and ask them again:  “Who was the worst president?”

But…I’d be wasting my time.  Fox News reaches them, too.

As troubling to me as the Obama-fail in the poll was the Reagan-canonization.

The Legend of Reagan not only endures but grows, as he now stands neck and neck with Abraham Lincoln as The Great Emancipator; taxes versus slavery.

It grows because the Republicans have not had a legend since Lincoln.  They marginalized Eisenhower during his presidency of prosperity because America had also moved to the left, post World War II, and Republicans created a more extreme ideology in order to define some relevance; ergo the second Red Scare, McCarthyism, the emergence of Goldwater conservatism and finally the great alliteration himself: The Ronald Reagan Republican Revolution.

I can admire Reagan as a great communicator and his brilliant media presence that still inspires people and policy around the globe; his televised indignation toward communist repression resonates to this day.  Love him or hate him, he was a galvanizing figure in history.

I will never forgive his inaction toward HIV/AIDS after 48,000 vibrant American men and women had already died by 1987.  Hindsight reveals that Reagan, himself, may have been sympathetic to the gay community, but his staff had nothing but animus for homosexuals and I remember my anger, as if it were yesterday, as friends and colleagues died, and the gay community pleaded helplessly to his administration for action.

Reagan’s lasting legacy is not about social awareness, however, it has been of economic success and this is where I want to shed some revealing light onto his “greatness.”

I contend that it is a myth; a fable; a story woven from selective memory in order to put a noble face on failed policy.

In 1980 (Jimmy Carter’s last year in office) inflation averaged a very high, 12.5% and America was heading into a recession.  Carter’s failed economic policy was the perfect platform for the Reagan myth to begin.  Reagan immediately implemented supply-side economic policies which meant tax cuts across the board and expanding the tax base to offset revenue loss.

“Reaganomics “now entered our lexicon and certain economic indicators began to improve quickly.  During Reagan’s administration, the unemployment rate averaged 7.5% over his eight years after reaching a high from the recession in 1982 of 10.5.

Reagan’s legacy was already set halfway through his first term because he was the man who lowered our taxes and turned the tide of a recession.  Production was up, unemployment was down, Mount Rushmore can’t be far behind! 

But, there was a virus deep within Reagan’s great plan.  There wasn’t enough revenue to pay for his defense initiatives and for the government programs that he supported, so along came…the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982; the largest peacetime tax increase in history.

And here’s the caveat that made him the Greatest Showman on Earth- while tax burden increased on the Middle and Lower classes by eliminating breaks, he sold the need for fiscal responsibility to the general public with a brilliant aw-shucks approach that furthered his legend as the Patron Saint of Tax Relief.

He then sold the Tax Reform Act of 1986 which “simplified” the tax code while raising the bottom bracket tax rate by 4% and lowering the top another 22%.  In theory, he could say that they were tax cuts, since the total percentage was lower, but tax burden fell to everyone but the wealthy.

Because I actually have an interest in fairness, I must point out that these Acts were bipartisan; Democrats were on the Trickle Down Train, as well; further proof of the historical journey toward oligarchy that has seen a 250% increase in the holdings of the upper class over the past three decades.

Again, my interest is in truth and it must be said that the widening gap between the rich and poor had already begun during the 1970s before Reagan’s economic policies took effect, however, it must also be stated that Reagan’s policies exacerbated that trend.  When Reagan left office there were 7 million more Americans living in poverty than when he started.

Reagan remains popular as the anti-tax hero despite raising taxes eleven times over the course of his presidency, in the name of fiscal responsibility.  Overall, the 1982 tax increase undid about a third of the 1981 cut.

Economist Milton Friedman argues that Reagan’s tax policies were the stimulation to our economy that created the economic boom of the 1990’s, but others like another Nobel Prize winner, Robert Solow, argues that the deficits were a major reason why Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush, reneged on his campaign promise “No new taxes” and ultimately raised them.

Even Reagan opined that his greatest regret was having tripled the debt and having turned America into a debtor nation for the first time.

My take away is this— Reaganomics were a short term fix with long term, negative, consequences. Republicans today can cite the fact of an economic recovery in the 80’s because of neoliberal economics (Supply-side; Reaganomics), but they step over huge canyons of shame such as fiscal disaster, increased burden on the Middle Class and the poor, and ultimately even a recession after his second term.

What the neoliberal economic movement (don’t confuse neoliberal economics with social “liberalism”) did was use the concept of tax cutting incorrectly.  Lowering taxes does stimulate spending and the precedent for how its done was set with President Kennedy.  Reaganites turned a blind eye to Kennedy’s reform that worked (because it was, after all, progressive) and they continued, instead, with supply-side economics.  They contended, and still do, that the more money the wealthy can keep, the more they will benefit the rest of us.

Kennedy also cut marginal taxes, and the largest percentage decrease was from the top, but he reformed tax burden by eliminating loopholes for the top tier and by giving breaks to the bottom tier.  It was REVERSE Trickle-Down; give continued opportunity to the base to increase their holdings and they will spend money, which creates more opportunity for wealth at the top.

So, revere Reagan or hate him…or you can be like me; respect his talents and accomplishments while disliking many of his policies and mistakes.  The proof of his successes and failures are in our real history, and they will not be revealed by polls, party rhetoric or platitudes; they are there for serious minded people to view and decide for themselves.

Greatest president since FDR?  Depends on your income.

The History of Winners

Years ago I was struck by a line from Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  ThethCAQY2U4G film’s protagonist, Judah, imagines his family celebrating a Passover dinner as he contemplates (his real life) guilt after having his girlfriend killed.

He asks the table about the ethical consequences and his imagined aunt responds, “And I say if he can do it and get away with it, and he chooses not to be bothered by the ethics, then he’s home free.  Remember, history is written by the winners…if the Nazis had won, future generations would understand the story of World War II quite differently.”

“History is written by the winners.”  That line has been attributed to many people, including Winston Churchill, but the only reference I can point to with assurance is the Allen film.  American history has been written by the victorious, and this is where my journey into American Ethics may run afoul for some.

We have been taught from pre-school through graduation, from communion to our demise, about the honorable principles that founded and sustain America.  We are the “Land of the Free” and the “Home of the Brave.”  Our Constitution was forged from the Spirit of Independence and the Nobility of Human Rights.  Liberty and Freedom are granted by Providence as unalienable rights.

These platitudes are so engrained into our collective psyche that they are inseparable from our national identity.

Yet…slavery drove commerce on this land for 250 years…666b98cd9e6b7c4e0b4270d423f2c233

While the reality of human bondage is recognized in our story, it has essentially been forgiven as history records the victory of Emancipation.  Clearly we were not the “Land of Freedom” from the colonies through the Revolution and 100 years to follow, but slavery became part of the tale of our journey to fulfill our destiny; it is adopted and adapted to follow freedom’s storyline.

Another sinister reality was evidenced by the destruction of the people indigenous to this land and their exclusion from determining its fate.  It has been recorded instead with tales of American bravery and christened as our manifest destiny.

The fact that basic civil rights were not extended to women (half of the population) for another 50 years after the Civil War, or that extreme segregation policies, born from institutionalized racism, continued for even another 45 years, is astonishing, yet appear as merely bent branches on Lady Liberty’s family tree.

Our ethical shortcomings become rites of passage toward realizing our greatness, rather than hideous manifestations of the ugliest realities of humankind.

5180565640_95ff6566a4_2Worker’s hours, wages and conditions were exploited for 150 years after the Declaration of Independence, but are woven into the story as the substance of our awakening rather than serving as examples of our greed.

History is written by the winners.

The other day a couple of friends were at my house watching Bill Maher and we were discussing differences between Democrats and Republicans when another part of America’s legend surfaced.  A guest of Maher’s said (I’m paraphrasing):  “I love America because this is the land of opportunity.  Today, capitalism is being denounced as ‘stealing’ but it is capitalism and it’s reward for innovation that built America.”

Suddenly, it dawned on me that this is only as true, and as precarious, as our history of freedom.  America’s story of “innovation” was “written by the winners,” as well.

We love the stories of railroads and steam engines and we embrace the inventions of american-inventors-ingenuitythe light bulb, telephones, phonographs, lasers and the discovery of fusion.  The assembly line and mass production are as much a part of our story as liberty, but these, too, are histories of those who succeeded.

The myriad inventions, risks and gambles that failed, however, become lost into archival history and are not the narrative of our conscious one.  The thousands upon thousands of businesses that faltered or were destroyed by the ambitions of others are not part of how we understand our destiny.

There is cohesion, however, within our story, and it unites our history; our failures with our successes, our shortcomings with our vision, and it is not the inventor or the industrialist.  The American worker is the thread throughout the fabric of American innovation and industrial dominance.

America was built on the shoulders of ordinary folks, wanting to put food on the table, protect their families, and with a desire to leave a better world to their children.

This was the conclusion of my television gathering to define the difference between political ideologies.  Republicans are basing their ideas and their policies on the fictive account of the winners. Their economic policy is predicated on the idea that it was, in fact, the capitalist/industrialist that built America and, therefore, they need to be set free of restrictions (and tax burdens) and rewarded so that they will be incentivized to “innovate.”

Their social policies are based on the story of America where the battle for Freedom has already been won and so they assume that there are no discrepancies or lingering prejudices that would call for renewed or continued actions.

It’s a great story and one we would all prefer to believe – but it is also the apologue of our winners and does not tell the whole story. The complete story reveals prejudices,contradictions and inconsistencies in our saga.  The truth reveals that noble principles are not as rooted in our nature as we’d like to believe and we’ve had to be governed by our collective morality.

That’s the part of the story where Democrats look to create ideas and policy. Democrats yearn to tell the story of American greatness, as well, but by recognizing our mistakes, and not by believing a fable that does not question them.