Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Shadow of Our Burden

Over the years I’ve heard opponents of social spending say, “If I were taxed less, I would give more generously to charity.”

On the surface, at least, that statement seems to have some validity.  I am privileged to host several fundraisers every year, helping to raise money for everything from the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, MDA, Family Children’s Counsel to local hospitals and schools, and I am always pleased by the generous turn out of this community’s citizens, many of whom are Republicans, who favor tax reductions.

Democrats attend, as well, of course, but I consistently count on reaching out to Republican friends and they rarely disappoint.

Nevertheless, the statement, above, is something that I hear with regularity and it begs for an investigation.

Could federal spending be reduced, by reducing taxes and thereby allowing for more personal charitable giving to care for those in need?

It would seem logical, if that’s true, that as taxes have systematically decreased since 1959 that charitable giving would go up commensurately.  And it has…except not with Americans who have seen the greatest decrease in their federal taxes. It has among those who can least afford to give and whose taxes have been reduced less dramatically.

The Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year give away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 give away 2.7 percent.

Paul K. Piff, a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology from the University of California, reaches the same conclusion that “lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.”

There is a more basic issue underlying charitible donations, however, than percentages. Charities have long known that donors give to charities with which they identify and from whom they might expect a more direct return. While the poor give to organizations like the Salvation Army and to their church, wealthy Americans tend to donate to the arts and humanities and to organizations where only about 10% is directed toward the poor.

Furthermore, most charities are localized and reflect community values and interests; wealthier communities get more substantial contributions than poorer communities, not in terms of percentage of local incomes, but in total dollars.

Marvin Olasky, the conservative author of “The Tragedy of American Compassion,” concedes that the federal government is more efficient at handling national economic disasters (Depressions and Recessions) but argues that in “a normally functioning economy, charities are sufficient to handle the everyday poverty…”

This, however, is not true when you look at the micro economic picture. Challenges can arise in any economy and can affect one region more than another, and poorer communities will have less resources for charity.

For reasons due to changes in local industry or natural disasters, certain areas can attain higher unemployment and economic devastation, and if that area cannot generate dollars, poverty grows, crime rises, education suffers and a new self-perpetuating cycle of depressed living occurs.

In theory, it is the Federal Government, the blind arbiter of social and economic justice, that steps in to help where the private sector cannot.

A little math reveals that Americans would have to give 10 times more than what they are currently offering to charities to replace what is spent on social welfare and relief programs, and if we are to continue to use logic, there is no reason to believe that people who hate paying taxes would increase what they currently donate in order to compensate.

As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “There are not enough social workers, not enough nuns, not enough Salvation Army workers to care for the millions of people who would be dropped from the welfare rolls” without government subsidized programs.  What’s more, private charities often spend up to 90% of their revenues on administrative costs.  By contrast the federal government is held to strict accountability standards and transparency.

Tax rates for the wealthiest Americans have dropped from nearly 90% during the Eisenhower administration to 36% today, yet their percentage of private charitable giving has remained steady at 2% of their income.

Whereas for the rest of us, our tax rate has always been about the same, hovering in the 20’s, while our charitable giving has risen to nearly 3% (over 4% from the lowest earning Americans).

Many people (rich ones anyway) argue that 2% of a million dollars is a lot better than 3% of 40,000, but there is an important part of that mathematical justification they are leaving out.  While headline grabbing donations like the $100 million, billionaire Steven Schwarzman, commited to the New York Public Library might make an argument regarding what income bracket gives the most, such mega-gifts translate into less than one and a half percent of overall donations, according to Giving USA.

Rather, it’s the smaller donations by hundreds of millions of non-billionaire Americans that fuel most of the nation’s nonprofits (individuals account for about three-quarters of donations).

I do not mean to belittle the compassion of those who attend and give to charities, and I am eternally grateful to those in my community that I see, event after event, giving generously, whether Conservative or Liberal. The argument I am making is that the relatively small amount taken from our taxes and spent by the federal government to bridge the unavoidable gap between private giving is neither the enemy of our household budget nor of our economy.

I hope to offer some perspective on the truth of giving.

“There is no sweeter pleasure than to surprise a man by giving him more than he hopes for.”  – Baudelaire

The Higher Moral Ground

What is the greatest threat to our political system? Oligarchic control? Elections manipulated by wealth? Economic disparity?

Those are all issues in crisis, but they are results of inattention to foundational principles. The root cause of our dysfunction is: Hypocrisy.

Until we discover the enlightenment that allows us to be honest; that mediates the deflection of accountability; we will continue on a course of political divides that will deepen, obscure reality and remove us from responsibility.

donald-trump-supporterThis is evidenced as many of the Christian Right celebrate the election of a man who should be considered the anti-thesis to their cause (if that cause is to be pious and principled).  A man who has been married 3 times, which wouldn’t necessarily be a moral crime itself except for the fact that he openly conducted affairs before each marriage ended.

And he is on record as a braggadocious sexual assailant.

That hypocritical stance holds righteously firm as the “Moral Majority” absolves this contradiction by pointing out that Bill Clinton was just as bad. But this is false equivalence because they never supported Bill Clinton. In fact, they vilified him for the very reasons they now dismiss as just “locker room talk.”

For the record, I never excused President Clinton’s behavior. I, like many others, was critical of his character and I even wrote him a letter to express my displeasure. He wrote back agreeing with me.

After this election and the eruption of protest that resulted, I overheard someone stating: “We didn’t protest Obama when he won, but look at what the liberals are doing to Trump!”

That has to be a transcendent definition of hypocrisy.exp_ac_baugh_obama_email_cnn_640x360

After Obama was elected I saw pictures of him as a chimpanzee, and photographs of him being hanged in effigy.

He became a Kenyan Muslim to nearly 30% of the right and Donald Trump himself carried the “Birther Movement” to the extreme in an attempt to prove that Obama was not even qualified to be President.

o-obama-effigy-hung-57016x9The entire Republican Party agreed to, and followed, the directive of Senator Mitch McConnell to obstruct every single measure the new President offered in order to “destroy his presidency.”

Shall I go on? Okay, I will….

Imagine if there were a recording of a pre-presidency Obama saying that he “grabs a woman by her p…” Would there have been any containment of the Fox-led right wing’s condemnation of the man? Their fury/delight would have created enough wattage to declare energy independence.

Imagine pictures surfacing of Michelle Obama naked before becoming First Lady. The right wing would becomeefe16aafd9a6c907458e4ad59821a4f7 apoplectic; the blogosphere would have exploded with nasty memes to degrade her conduct. In fact, they did when the First Lady was actually ostracized for having worn a strapless, evening gown to a White House function.

And so when people protest the fact that a man is now our President who insulted women for their looks (not even privately, but on national television regarding another candidate) – insinuated that a moderator was menstruating- who belittled a physically challenged journalist- who openly brags of sexual exploits- who besmirches the Constitutional premise of free speech…

It is false to condemn their dissent.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States and I, for one, will continue to do everything I can to move the needle to improve life for Iowans and Americans, and work for world peace to protect the lives of our children. I believe, sincerely, that this can only happen with cooperation from all sides on the local, state, and national level. I will conduct myself respectfully and honorably.

I am not surprised by, however, nor do I condemn, the0602-2016-trumpprotestsj millions of people who, at this particular time, are angry, frightened, sad, hurt, or profoundly perplexed, and are dramatically demonstrating those feelings.

Yet I implore anyone who reads my posts or with whom I may have any influence – Keep protest within the parameters of peaceable assembly. Violence is also hypocritical.

We lose ground when we do not stand on the higher moral ground.

 

My Thankful Prayer

Someone said to me: “Gary, I don’t see any evidence of American pride in your positions.  You criticize our great country.”

I was startled.  I honestly feel that my perspective is a tribute to America, even when I am critical of politicians, policies and political parties.  I never take for granted what this country provides, and I consistently give thanks for all that I have.  I’ve been educated, I have a great job, I have healthy children and I am free to speak my mind in the public square.

To bring some harmony to this dissonant chord I decided to form my political views, realized and hopeful, into thoughts of thankfulness.

I am thankful to live in a country where we are free to protest, to peaceably assemble to empower the voice of the people.  A country where such a right is recognized as essential to securing our freedom from tyranny.

I am eternally grateful to our military men and women who have bravely sacrificed so that we may have that freedom.

I am thankful that I live in a country that has recognized that clean air and clean water are vital to the health of our nation.

I am hopeful that health care reform will continue, and improve, so that more Americans can live healthier lives and reduce the fear of illness and financial ruin.

I am thankful that I live in a country where the rights of citizens are protected by ethical laws regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion; and that these laws are vigorously examined to suppress the tendencies of prejudice and fear.

I am thankful to live in a country that offers support and help to those who have fallen on hard times or who are challenged by obstacles of ill health, physical or mental, or who have been raised in an environment without advantages.

I am thankful to live in a country where education is acknowledged as the engine of prosperity and freedom, and public education is offered to every child.

I am thankful to live in a country where more reasonable voices can subject an imperfect system to better governance and demand accountability from those who have taken advantage of its flaws.

I am concerned, however, that the national debate has turned into demagoguery that could compromise much of what I am thankful for.

I am concerned that many politicians are working to marginalize, even eliminate, many of those great things that we have fought for.  Things like civil rights for all Americans, environmental protections, equality of opportunity, public education, religious freedom and valuable social programs.

I’m a divorced father with two young sons, and this year my family has been extended. Today we will all gather for a lively conversation of hopes, blessings and politics.  My 17 year old is becoming engaged in the world around him and I believe he gets a little memory chip from Dad’s passion for public service.  Lately he’s been coming to the table to play his own hand.

My youngest is 11 and little of this resonates, but this won’t be the last time ol’ Dad talks about how much he cares about America.

And for now, I am thankful just to have them all for dinner.

Truth in Political Advertising

20161103_130002If there was time before the election, you know what commercial I’d like to make? It would start on a television screen that was showing one of the attack ads against me. It would be the one where the voice-over says: “Gary Kroeger said ‘Obamacare is a good start.”

The camera would pull back and I’d be watching the ad and then turn to the camera.  I’d ask the viewer: “Aren’t politics fun? For the record what I said, before the Affordable Care Act was actually in place, is that it looked like it could be a good start (toward reform), but only with changes that lowered costs. I said that bi-partisan cooperation could make it better, and I noted that it was actually hatched by a conservative think tank 25 years ago. In their own words (the Heritage Foundation) it was ‘a proper use of government to serve the people.’”

I’m tired of double standards in politics. I have a feeling you are, too. Several weeks ago, pollsters called people in my district and were asked about Obamacare. When it polled low, the forces against me played their hand by linking me to it. For the record, my forays into ACA have been to offer critical improvements. The ads also linked me to Single-Payer support and, also for the record, that is not something that I’ve gone into at any great length. In fact, the only time I’ve written about Single-Payer (www.garyhasissues.com) was to simply trace the history of proposed health insurance reforms by both Democrats and Republicans.

Here is my Health Care policy: I would like all Iowans to receive the best possible health care, become the healthiest we can be, with the lowest financial risks and insurance expenses possible.

That’s it. How we get there has to be a cooperative effort between left and right and we have to be able to discuss all of the market forces and options that could serve that end. What has to end is partisan vilification of ideas.

What has to happen is that we have to start believing again that it’s about the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

I’m Gary Kroeger and I approve this message.2763