Monthly Archives: November 2016

“What so proudly we hail”

flagOur flag has been getting a lot of attention lately.  President-elect, Donald Trump, has entered into the conversation (via Twitter), after a flag burning protest, to say:  “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

His comment is gathering momentum from Americans who resoundingly agree, but it also ignites another side to a First Amendment debate.

In 1969 the US Supreme Court determined that burning a flag is protected as freedom of speech.  That never set well with a lot of th16zm4dloAmericans and in 2005 an Amendment passed in the House to make flag burning illegal.  It failed in the Senate, however, and even Republican Senator Mitch McConnell argued against it.

“The vast majority of Americans honor the flag, and rightly so. Some would go so far as to amend the Constitution to protect the flag against those who would burn it. While I share and admire their patriotism, altering our First Amendment, even for the worthy purpose of protecting the flag, is not a position I can support.

McConnell continued:  “Weakening our First Amendment could also set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the Bill of Rights. If we successfully carve out an exception to one basic freedom, perhaps those who seek to curtail our Second Amendment rights, —the right to bear arms—, will carve out another. Or the right to own private property, as expressed in the Fifth Amendment, could come under assault.”

Certainly, those who wish to override that 1969 Supreme Court decision will have to grapple with the fact that our Supreme Court also ruled that corporations have the rights of people and that giving unlimited money to a political campaign is an expression of their (corporations) free speech.  Such an elastic interpretation would have to include the burning of a patriotic symbol as a protected expression of grievance.

How ever we look at the flag, it is a flashpoint for people who feel betrayed by it, people who are inspired by it, people who are afraid of it, and people who stand by it.

flag-burnThe flag was burned two years ago in Ferguson, Missouri by people who feel that America does not provide equal protection of freedom and justice and it appears to them as a betrayal of that promise.

A flag was taken down by a university where a student displayed it on his campus porch because to foreign students passing by it represented a form of nationalist patriotism that doesn’t welcome them.  It scared them and the university agreed.

untitledWhen it is either waved or desecrated, people rally to one side or the other to defend what it means, what it doesn’t mean, what it stands for, or what it stood for.  The only common thread of that upon which we do not tread is that “Our flag represents American freedom.”

So the question is:  What is American freedom?

That’s not easy to answer.  American freedom, even as it’s outlined in our Constitution, is a vague construct.  Freedom to do what, exactly?  Live free?  What if my free imposes on your free?

Freedom to worship?  What if your beliefs deny my beliefs?

Freedom of speech?  What if that speech promotes the restriction of freedom for others?

Freedom from government tyranny?  Sure…but, government was also created to keep us free from…government tyranny.

I’m not trying to be pedantic here, but there are conundrums inherent to the very concept of the freedoms we defend.  All we can actually believe in is an idea of freedom, but ideas are not always clearly defined.  What we are believing in is not a concrete set of principles, but the feeling we get when we consider our own personal identification with that idea.  Good or bad.

Which brings us back to the flag…

A national flag is a symbol of that nation.  It is visual statement to identify the temperament, history, ideology and people comprising that nation.  The US flag signifies, as stars, the 50 united-states, and has 13 stripes representing the original colonies that revolted against Britain.  The history of that revolution, democratic representation, our sovereignty, along with the constitution binding those states with unalienable rights is woven into that fabric.

But, therein lies the problem.  A symbol is as perfect as it is benign; its realization is not.

In the 1960’s a phrase entered our lexicon in answer to the protests against the$(KGrHqZHJEEFDN6t2SSZBQ6TmcfJZw~~60_3 Vietnam War:  “America, Love It Or Leave It.”  It was conservative-ideology shorthand to define American patriotism and it meant that if you don’t like the way America handles its business, you should go (or stay) elsewhere.  It was draped around our symbol; the flag.

There was a double-standard as easily revealed as its patriotic intention as those saying it usually hated any government representation that wasn’t from their own party. But it was nevertheless embraced by many because it made them feel good about their personal connection with America.

And they proudly waved their flag.

During that time, however, conservatism was in the shadow of an emerging liberalism that began after World War II and reached its zenith during the Machiavellian, ethics-defying presidency of Richard Nixon.  In the 60’s and 70’s it became more culturally relevant to be liberal.

“America, Love It Or Leave It” endured, but it was a bumper sticker confined to the more extreme right wing.  That is until a new revolution came along; an ideological revolution from 30 years of pent up, conservative, nationalism, took hold:  The Reagan Revolution.

President Reagan, more than any other president (or at least as much as any) galvanized a decaying nationalist spirit and he turned a disenfranchised form of patriotism into something positive.  He made a lot of Americans feel good again about being an American.

reagan2_largeEven though many of us did not believe in Reagan’s jingoistic interpretation of American exceptionalism and we bristled at the wealth-pandering, class-separation he helped create, it was undeniable that a new conservative-patriotism was sweeping America.

Being a “liberal” was now being labeled less patriotic.

The neo-cons cornered the market on such brilliant, shorthand messaging to diminish liberalism and to rally the spirit of their base.  During the George W Bush administration they found a new cry, again in support of a war, and this one no one could take exception to:  “We Support Our Troops.”

What it meant, initially, was that they supported the military action in Iraq taken by that President,support_our_troops1 but it soon transcended that limitation as it was folded into the centerpiece of the sentiment; the bravery of the men and women in uniform.  The flag was part and parcel again with every representation of that statement.

But, again, we have to ask, “What does that mean?”

It doesn’t necessarily mean support of the government (of which our military is part).  Or support of the president who is their Commander in Chief, as many of the people using it today, don’t.

It no longer means support of the foreign policy directives those troops have been called to defend.

It doesn’t even mean domestic support of our troops with better health, job or education benefits.

It succeeds as socio-political panacea because there is no greater rapture of true patriotism than from the acknowledgment of those who are willing to stand in harm’s way to protect us, and that cannot be argued.

Which, again, brings us back to the flag…

a2929d6d1742f22c640f6a70670009a2Anyone standing next to me at a football game will know that I sing our National Anthem (loudly), and will see that my hat is in my left hand and my right hand is on my heart.  They will also see me making sure that my sons do the same.  I do this to show respect, humility and sincere love for our nation.

I do this to support our troops, and our citizens, in our joined fight for freedom.  I look at our flag as I sing “The Star Spangled Banner” (with its traditional patriotic understanding).  When I sing “The land of the free and the home of the brave” it is with the sincere belief that we really can stand as a nation in support of that ideal.

And I also realize that to some people that ideal has been lost or has never been realized.  They are saying that we cannot be the “land of the free and the home of the brave” if only for some.  They remind us that a flag is only cloth flapping in the wind unless the nation that flies it is true to its purpose.

We can argue either way, but the bottom line is that our flag symbolizes the idealism of a Republic and the spirit of freedom that carried our nation to sovereignty, but it can also contain the divisiveness, separation and fear that can result from exclusionary nationalism.

And so…what is that freedom it represents?

It is all of the above.  It has contradictions, vagueries, truths, triumphs, defeats, promises, shortcomings, and inspirations.  The sum of all of these gradations is the freedom to protest, even to burn a flag, and the freedom to be repulsed by that action.

Our flag is powerful because we have the freedom to interpret its symbolism in whatever way our experience compels us.  The flag belongs to all of us to wave proudly or to protest.

And that makes some people really angry.  One way or another.139405111314023385798284

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