Monthly Archives: January 2017

I know you are but what am I?

Donald Trump is often called a “bully.” There is a sound reason for that:  He is.

Not of physical strength, but often the most formidable ones are the ones who rely on neither muscle or even wit, but dismantle logic.  It’s a ploy where you win every time because there is no requirement in the fight beyond the rhetorical dismissal of your opponent.

“I’m rubber and you’re glue; what you say bounces off me and sticks to you!”

The Trump phenomenon is consistent with modern populism and so it comes as no surprise that his technique would attract followers. I’ve been observing this in my own experience for several years.

When I argue with what I perceive as obstinate viewpoints it can feel as if a large, gray mass of volcanic rock is growing in my sensory cortex .  It is the exasperation I remember as auntitled child on the playground when someone stuck their tongue out and whined, “I know you are but what am I?”

It can be like trying to get directions in a foreign country where no one shares a common language, and, in fact, one of us is mute and the other is blind.

But, I’ve noticed something about conservative debaters (including Trump).  Even when the argument degenerates into condescension, insults, or goes completely off point, they are always willing to keep the debate going.  They’ll gladly jump in at the next opportunity, too.  In fact, I’ve never heard one of them say: “Go away!  I can’t deal with you anymore!”

Not so true with liberals.  I’ve even been banished myself by other liberals in those times when we don’t see eye to eye on an issue.

Why is this?  Or is this even true?  I asked some liberal friends and, coincidentally, they couldn’t agree.  One was immediately defensive:  “Conservatives are much worse!”

Another acquiesced:  “Yeah, that kind of seems true.”

Another clarified:  “It’s pointless to argue with most conservatives because they’re not interested in the truth, but when you argue with a liberal, well, we don’t like that.  We kind of expect you to agree.”

I offered a conciliatory observation to placate the liberals who were now angry that I would suggest that we were less tolerant during disagreements: “In my experience,  it is the conservative in an argument that is quicker to a personal attack.”

(I posted on this a while back after a rather contentious debate:

I went a little deeper and found a study from 2008 in the journal “Nature Neuroscience.” It concerned research that found that these differences in thinking may be traceable to brain differences.

A New York University neuroscientist conducted an Man-with-electrodes-on-hi-007experiment on participants who ranked themselves on a scale ranging from Very Liberal to Very Conservative.

With sensors attached to their skulls, they played a computer game requiring them to press a button as fast as they could when a certain shape flashed on their screen.  When a different shape randomly appeared, however, they were not supposed to hit the button.

Most made mistakes and hit their button when they weren’t supposed to, but, with each mistake, the researchers recorded a pulse coming from a region of the brain that signals the presence of conflicting information as if their brains were saying: “Oops—I meant to do one thing, but I did another.”

Results showed that the more liberal a participant claimed to be, the greater the “Oops” brain signal and the fewer the number of mistakes made.  The researchers concludedbrain that the “liberal’s brains were more sensitive to how accurate their ongoing responses were, and were more likely to adapt to changing demands.

Conservative brains, on the other hand, might be better equipped for tasks that require a more fixed response style.”

How would this apply to the Liberal Dismissal Syndrome that I’ve personally encountered?

Here’s my take:  Liberals don’t like to be wrong.  They may adapt more quickly to changing circumstances, leading to fewer mistakes, but that also leads to intolerance for what they perceive as mistakes, and leaves them with a lesser capacity for a pit fight.

To conservatives, being correct isn’t as relevant as it is to outlast the conflict; confrontation is simply a byproduct.

I could be wrong (although I don’t like to be), but I believe that from some reflection on how we argue, we might draw some personal conclusions that could bring both sides closer together.

11993823-largeIt won’t dismantle the Trump bandwagon, and hugs may remain rare, but perhaps an understanding of our different ways of thinking could lead us toward a more civil discourse within our electorate.

Or at least begin to understand our own shortcomings so that bullies don’t bring out the worst in us.

“Oops! I wasn’t supposed to hit that button!”

Our Beloved Plutocracy

I won’t lie.  I like money.  I would like to have more and if I did I could make investments to make even more.  I’d love that.

I like my bank too. They are very nice and I think that if I had more money to put into my bank they would guide me wisely to protect and grow my investments.

What’s more, I’m a Capitalist!  I like the motivation to create. I also like my job and I like my employers.  I have many wealthy friends and I like them too!

You see, I have no problem with the accumulation of wealth or the lifestyle advantages wealth brings.  Many people see the castle on the hill and that is what inspires them to work; that is the capitalist model that we have embraced.

But “Houston (Oakland, Seattle, New York, Chicago, Des Moines, and Detroit) we have a problem…”

Capitalism is not a perfect system. It started in the Middle Ages as Merchant Capitalism, but was never drawn from a plan as a flawless application of trade or the accumulation of capital in a fair and judicious manner.  In fact, justice was never part of the equation. It grew because it worked in terms of motivating growth and creating productivity.

We are, by nature, driven to accumulate, but that can also create shades of greed. We try (most of us) to suppress that part of us, but it is consistently revealed whenever we steal that extra cookie (literally and metaphorically). Capitalism exists today around the world as the principle economic alternative to Communism, and “Globalization” is the realization of the power of capital.

Where does that leave me and my dreams of wealth?  It leaves me with 90% of America.  Stagnant.

The Congressional Budget Office released data that shows that the top 1% earners in America have more than doubled their share of the country’s wealth over the past three decades. That means that they not only increased their personal holdings, but did so at an exponential rate that increased their stake in the entire country by over 250%. In other words a population of about the size of Iowa controls over half the wealth.

“Good for them,” some might say, “that’s how the system works.”

Is it?

The wealthy in America have been winning the public’s heart for decades, yet to hear the conservative side talk, you’d think they were in need of a nationwide yard sale to pay the bills.

During the 50’s, one of our most prosperous periods, the top federal rate was 90%, today it is 36.  Capital Gains under Reagan was as high as 28% and today it is 15%.funraiser-flyer-copy

Has this led to commensurate expansion from the so called “Job Creators”?  Nope.

After the Bush tax reduction in 2002, jobs were consistently lost over the next 8 years.  All that happened is that the upper 10% increased their holdings and the top 1% amassed wealth at the greatest rate in history.  The rest of us suffered a deep recession. Many people were seduced by the myth that when the wealthy have more money they create more jobs, but reality dictates that it is our money that creates jobs. Demand is the catalyst. Our piece of the economic pie dwindled in a shell game of shelters and loopholes that are already tipped in favor of the investment class.

A plutocracy is “rule by wealth” and has no place for a constitutional government of, for, and by the people. Money is power and when we move toward a plutocracy, our great Republic, even capitalism is at risk.  When a small, focused minority can use their great wealth to influence legislators and buy lobbyists the Republic of the People becomes a charade; money buys media, and when the information we receive becomes a bias toward the interests of those who have the most, there is no truth.  Without truth in the marketplace even capitalism becomes a silly puppet in the hands of the elite.

In the words of FDR: “The liberty of a Democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group.”

The only thing that can balance the massive force of wealth is the aggregate voice of the People; the communal power of government. And countering this oligarchic movement is not socialism (for those who will surely make that claim); it is the surest way to sustain capitalism in our democratic society.

We’ve gone down the rabbit-hole already, the question is: Can we get out?

Give the Guy a Chance!

Several times in the past few days people have said to me: “Give the guy a chance.”

They are annoyed that I jumped out of the box to criticize President Trump only one day after his inauguration. They have pointed out that I am usually more open-minded, and that I did, in fact, say that I would wait and watch before making judgments.

And I didn’t. Nope. When huge crowds gathered around the world to stand up for women’s rights because they felt diminished and threatened by the sexist, objectifying comments of an admitted “celebrity” predator, who became President of the United States of America, I felt the obligation to join the discordant chorus.

Within a day President Trump had begun sweeping his broom across long treasured American ideals with policy that will see the EPA frozen and the regulations that preserved our land and protected our air removed. With policy to defund the NEA and NEH and the artistic culture that defined our creativity and once led the world will be left behind. With policy to end women’s preeminent health provider and to marginalize health care and public education by placing them among market forces and away from the nobility of compassion and wisdom.

By Monday, the President had reiterated his plan for the escalation of the Military Industrial Complex forewarned by President Eisenhower to be what “we must guard against” as “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power.” And with the re-introduction of torture in our war chest that will slap America’s promise of justice and human rights across the face.

By Monday afternoon President Trump also reminded us of his tax plan that will increase the tax burden of those who can least afford it and allow the top earners to increase their holdings (1% of America already controls 40% of the wealth).

By Tuesday, collective bargaining rights had been threatened and by Wednesday voter fraud “in the millions” had been declared without a shred of evidence to support the claim. Voter suppression, here we come.

And he just got started.

“Give the guy a chance.”

Was Obama given a chance? I recall hearing that it was one day after Obama was sworn in that leading Republicans met in a Washington bar to plot his undoing. A month later Senator Mitch McConnell galvanized the vow that Republicans will obstruct every single initiative the new President proposes.

I told one friend who is critical-of-my-criticism that I am afraid of the sweeping changes that have already taken place. She said: “Well, he can’t make things any worse than they already are.” That is a statement that I’ve heard a lot over the past few years. In fact, Donald Trump won on the drum beat of how bad America has become and the need for a complete reversal of fortune.

But, are things worse?

This is a sensitive direction to pursue because many people have not recovered from what in 2008 was the worst recession in 79 years, but that particular person bought a beautiful new house a couple of years ago. The auto industry (which is an economic barometer) had a record year in 2015. Stocks rebounded since their complete collapse over 8 years ago.

Is it terrorism she (and 62 million voters) believe is worse than ever? It is a tremendous concern to me (and 64 million other voters), as well, but wasn’t 9/11 the most catastrophic act of terrorism ever on American soil? That was in 2001.

In 2008 our economy was in a tailspin. Unemployment rose to nearly 10% (today it is at 5%). Many people I know took pay cuts during the recession. Today they have recovered.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of the Affordable Care Act (and I accept that it can be criticized), 20 million people who were previously uninsured are now covered. Debate it if you want, but it was an honest attempt to improve lives.

So…how bad is it compared to where we were 8 years ago?

And now those trends that have seen America rebound from the lows that began the 21st century, are not only in jeopardy, they will be reversed.

“Give the guy a chance”

Our system is not based on a “guy” it is based on people and all of the voices that rise within that body as the ultimate check and balance against corruption and tyranny. My voice will be one of them. Not because I want to see Donald Trump fail (I don’t), but because I want America to succeed.

I would like to finish with this: My friends who have asked me to give President Trump a chance, want the same thing; for America to succeed. I may be a thorn at times, we may infuriate each other and go to our separate corners or we may simply “agree to disagree.” But this process “with the right to peaceably assemble” and “petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances” is what keeps us strong, and it is how America will survive, regardless of who is in government. But that was put into our preeminent Amendment for a reason, and that reason was not simply to be read and admired, but to be exercised.

And we will.

The Price of Freedom

There are several signs around town that read: “Freedom isn’t free.”  Often that is followed by: “Thank a Veteran.”

Template1I agree wholeheartedly with that entire statement, but when I use the phrase I might be using it in a slightly different context.  Service men and women are part of the equation to keep America free, but, as important is an informed electorate and how we understand our constitutional charter.

There is no freedom in America without our system of laws and justice, and without our charter to form representative government and to clarify our unalienable rights.  Freedom is realized only by our collective willingness to live by that charter.

Freedom isn’t free and it isn’t necessarily safe.  We can choose freedom or we can choose security, but we cannot necessarily have both.  The laws which protect our freedoms can also leave us vulnerable.

The 4th Amendment to our Constitution provides us with freedom from illegal searches and seizures by law enforcement officers.  “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

The 14th Amendment contains the “Due Process Clause” prohibiting state and local governments from depriving persons of life, liberty, or property without certain steps being taken to ensure fairness.  The amendment’s “Equal Protection Clause” requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction.

Even the seemingly irrelevant 3rd Amendment, preventing the government from quartering soldiers in civilian’s homes, is part of our Framer’s intent to secure individual rights and freedoms from government overreach, even in the pursuit of security.

With freedom come risks and our efforts to reduce those risks, can limit our freedom.  Which brings up several topics:  Wiretapping, Immigration, and Waterboarding.

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) as part of the “War on Terror,” was authorized under the Bush administration to monitor, without warrants, phone calls, internet activity, text messages, and any communication involving any party that was deemed suspicious by the NSA.

This program, referred to as the “terrorist surveillancethCAYS3432 program” was condoned by the administration, as well as many in the private sector, as a necessary program to combat terrorism in the wake of 9/11.

Enough public pressure did cause the Bush administration to cease the warrantless wiretapping program in January 2007, but forms of it, under new guidelines, continue today.  In April of 2009 officials from the Department of Justice acknowledged that the NSA had engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications.

At what point do we draw the line?  Security can be expanded to mean anything and so what does our right to privacy mean?

American citizens should not have to worry about their phones being tapped or their emails being read by government agencies, even in the name of security- THAT is the price of freedom.

The Arizona Immigration Law requires all aliens (legal) over the age of 14 who remain in the United States for longer than 30 days to register with the U.S. government, and to have registration documents in their possession at all times.  Additionally, state law enforcement requires proof of immigration status when there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is an illegal immigrant.nationalidpapersplease

But, we are not a fascist country and no American citizen should be required to carry Citizenship Papers to pass within our own borders- even in the name of finding illegal immigrants- THAT is the price of freedom.

America’s revolution was ignited by respect for life, liberty, human rights and impartial justice. That realization cannot allow for torture, even in the name of intelligence gathering. “Waterboarding” is the sensation of drowning and causes extreme pain, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage, and evenwaterboard death.
When we condone such a thing by justifying its effectiveness to gather information from extra-judicial prisoners, we lower ourselves to the most barbaric order of civilization; we betray the fundamental human rights that we stand for and compromise the freedom that we claim to uphold.

If America is to be, as President Reagan once imagined, “The Shining City on the Hill,” then we cannot allow for the invasion of our privacy, the profiling of our citizens, and the sanctioning of torture.  Not if we wish to uphold the principles of unalienable rights that we treasure–  THAT is the price of freedom!

Benjamin_Franklin_PortraitPeople willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”    – Benjamin Franklin

Tom or Ted? You Decide

What does it mean to be free in America? I believe it means that in the United States of America, no citizen will be denied services, opportunities, benefits, goods, transactions, acquisitions, access or mobility on the basis of their race, creed (religion), color, gender, or sexual orientation. In fact, if there were distinctions to determine the extent of such rights, based on any physical or spiritual difference, then “American Freedom” would become meaningless.

This is not a state to state issue, either. There cannot be one definition for the qualifications of civil rights in one state that differs from another. American citizens can pass freely with a full complement of rights and expect the full protection of federal law. How could that be argued?

Yet it is. It is in legislation that is being re-introduced by Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. And with a supportive Republican Congress and the blessings of President Trump, the First Amendment Defense Act could pass.

The First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) may very well be the most frightening oxymoron of all time. Its “defense” of the First Amendment quite literally offends the First Amendment. Specifically, FADA would prohibit the federal government from taking “discriminatory action” against any business or person that discriminates against LGBTQ people. The act creates the right to refuse service to LGBTQ people based on two sets of beliefs: “(1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, and (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

The bill positions the right to discriminate against one class of Americans as a “first amendment” right, and bans the government from taking any form of action to curb such discrimination. The irony is that FADA allows individuals and businesses to sue the federal government for interfering in their right to discriminate.

Many people (some are reading this) believe that Religious Liberty is at stake here and that it is logical to allow people, and businesses, to follow their beliefs, even if those beliefs contain discrimination against a group of people. But there is an ill-logic at the root of that reasoning; that being the First Amendment disallows state dominance of one religion over another and it allows for the interpretation of religion.

No one here will (nor should they) argue that a Christian baker shouldn’t bake a cake for a Jewish wedding, even though there is a fundamental religious difference; Ephesians reveals that earthly marriages are a picture of the church’s union with Christ. Christ is the Messiah in Christianity, in Judaism, He is not, but if the denial of services was acted upon, due to such religious differences, then our First Amendment has been directly violated. FADA would have protected the crime, not the amendment.

“The free exercise of religion” outlined in the First Amendment does not mean the free exercise to impose one set of religious beliefs upon another, or onto non-believers, as well. That is the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. If a person is gay and their beliefs likely include that they are acceptable human beings entitled to full civil rights, should they be denied service within a country predicated on equal rights?

Makes no sense.

“How can a person who supports gay marriage be religious?” I’m sure someone has asked. Well, I know of many. I have religious beliefs and I also recognize the rights of the LGBTQ community. How is the First Amendment defended if my beliefs can be arbitrarily discriminated against?

Makes no sense.

The First Amendment was based on Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute. In it he states:
“Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right.”

In summation: We have the right to fully live and express our religious views- right up to the point when they interfere with the civil rights of others. In America that means that every citizen can expect to receive service without regard to the nature of their beliefs or their being. FADA would erase Jefferson’s clear directive.

Let’s see…the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson or Ted Cruz…I’m going with Tom on this one.

Intercourse With Foreign Nations

We need to create a Foreign Policy Constitution.  A document that we hold up to the light to reveal how we should approach every foreign engagement.  We can refer to this document so that America can consistently carry the moral authority expected of this free and powerful nation without compromise.

Am I being facetious?  Not really.  Naïve?  Maybe.  What we have is a vague set of evolving principles that have been subjected to so many diverse and conflicting interests that our authority on the world stage has become a liability.

There are principles, in theory, if not even actual pieces of paper tucked away in State29757841 Department drawers, but they are not necessarily consulted.

The officially stated goal of the foreign policy of the United States, from the Foreign Policy Agenda of the U.S. Department of State, is “to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.”

Could anything be more vague and open to interpretation?  What determines security?  Prosperity?  What are the parameters?  By what measure?  When are we benefitting?  How far do we go?

In addition, the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs states:  “Export controls, including nonproliferation of nuclear technology and nuclear hardware; measures to foster commercial intercourse with foreign nations and to safeguard American business abroad; international commodity agreements; international education; and protection of American citizens abroad…”

Forgive me, but the best, and most ironic, part of that is “intercourse with foreign nations…”

I like the specificity regarding nuclear proliferation, but we are witnessing today that “export controls” has wide latitude.  It doesn’t say “Strangle or obliterate perceived rogue nations that have nuclear potential,” yet that has been added to the debate.

Constitutionalists and modern Federalists will reiterate the foreign policy themes expressed in George Washington’s farewell address.  These thCABEE2DTincluded:  “Observing good faith and justice towards all nations and cultivating peace and harmony with all, excluding both ‘inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others’, and “steering clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”

The primary trend of U.S. foreign policy since the American Revolution has been the shift from non-interventionism to hegemony, becoming the dominate world power during World War II.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s support of the Allies against Germany and Japan resulted in an intense internal debate that initially determined that our policy arsenal_of_democracy_by_gonzoville-d4us61kwas to become the “Arsenal of Democracy”; financing and equipping the Allied armies without sending American combat soldiers.

Roosevelt then defined fundamental freedoms to rally American involvement which he said ought to be enjoyed by people “everywhere in the world.”

These were “freedom of speech and religion, as well as freedom from want and fear.”

From here on a new expansionist American Foreign Policy objective was realized, and trouble has followed a never-ending, exponentially expanding, and impossible set of directives to accomplish.  How, when, where and what will a sovereign, democratic Republic determine how, when, where and what we can accomplish?

We have rules to direct and contain how our forces are deployed, but even these have become lost and vague as sincere objectives become obscuredSep_of_Powers_thumb_1-1 by myriad political and corporate interests.

While the President is Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces, only Congress has authority to declare war.  The United States Secretary of State is our foreign minister and is the primary conductor of state-to-state diplomacy and both the Secretary of State and ambassadors are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.

But those are just the rules.  Rules need to have purpose, vision and clear directives to retain relevance.

This may be the fundamental dysfunction of government, in general, but it is a conflict that we must resolve if we are ever to find balance domestically and abroad.  Just as we refer back to the Constitution of the United States of America, and a Supreme Court was created to interpret the application of its laws, we should have a document as accepted and revered for its timeless wisdom, by which to inform and guide our involvement in an ever changing world.

We should call for a new Continental Congress (I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I do believe that Thomas Jefferson suggested that we hold one every 50 years or so to remain relevant) to draft:  The Constitution of American Foreign Policy.

Such a charter will always be subject to interpretation, just as the breadth of our Constitution is continually challenged, but its essential purpose to outline fundamental laws protecting our freedom is respected around the world.

As we continually face military action in the Middle East, and as we consider loss of life and global impact, we must be clear on what it is we’re doing and why.  Chemical warfare and genocide are unthinkable crimes against humanity, but can we be sure that our policies are preventing any of it from happening?

Have they so far?

The Heritage of ObamaCare

Who knew that the concept of an individual mandate to purchase healthcare was initially proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation?thCAXY929M

During the George HW Bush administration the conservative think tank devised an alternative to the single-payer health care being proposed by Democrats.  It followed the reasoning that was proposed by President Richard Nixon in 1974 (and even that was an extension of what Republican President Eisenhower had considered 20 years earlier) to require employers to buy private health insurance for their employees.  It gave subsidies to those who could not afford insurance.

Nixon argued that this market-based approach would build on the strengths of the private system: “Government has a great role to play, but we must always make sure that our doctors will be working for their patients and not for the federal government.”

142116_Papel-de-Parede-MonokuRo-Boo-Boo_1280x800No one said “boo” that Nixon’s plan was “unconstitutional,” and the irony is that it faced opposition from Democrats who were insisting on single-payer.

15 years later, an individual mandate was championed by Republicans as a free-market approach to health care because, according to the Heritage Foundation, it “resonated with conservative principles”; it promoted individual responsibility and opened up the unique healthcare market to endless profitability.

In 2006, Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, enacted an individual health-insurance mandate (with bipartisan support) and “RomneyCare” was praised. Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said: “Take some good conservative ideas, like private health insurance, and apply them to the need to have everyone insured.”

untitledRomney himself said: “I’m proud of what we’ve done. If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be the model for the nation.”

And then….

Barack Obama, running for President in 2008, took the torch for healthcare reform from Senator Ted Kennedy and made it part of his platform, and he was elected partly because of that promise.  Yet it was very clear from the outset that single-payer reform, or anything resembling Universal Healthcare, would never meet the congressional approval needed to pass, and so the newly elected President dusted off the Conservative Handbook and the Affordable Care Act was born.

It was hurried, however, as time was going to run short when the Republican obstructionist agenda started to oppose the idea, and if it didn’t pass with Democrats in control of Congress it probably never would.  I, like many others, was (and remain) critical of it’s implementation because subsidies for the middle class and cost reducing purchases over state lines were not part of the program, but I believed that it could be a “good start” if Congress cooperated.

But, that was not to be as every Republican Senator in 2009 voted to describe the mandate as “unconstitutional. ” Republicans, who had previously supported individual mandates, including Romney, emerged as critics.  Why would they oppose what they once supported, even created?

The answer is simple: Politics.

It had to be sobering for Republican leadership to realize that if a Democrat were successful with giving Americans health coverage, and by opening up the health market that the Republican Party would be in jeopardy. Especially after the economic catastrophe realized by George W Bush’s continuation of what his own father dubbed as “Voodoo Economics1229777.”

As so, the right wing emerged with a bankrolled vengeance and a new message was fed to the masses:  “ObamaCare is unconstitutional and unsustainable.”

It wasn’t a hard spin to sell. Republicans had hammered spending and big government to the point where anything implemented by President Obama became a “cost burden that we cannot afford.”  Never mind that deficit spending was practically pioneered by President Reagan or that it was Bush-era spending and tax cuts for the wealthy while funding two wars that ushered in the deepest recession in nearly 80 years; healthcare reform was going to be labeled “Big Government” and “Socialism.”

Never mind that ACA was a realization of conservative political thinking, it was now Obama’s and the right wing would give no quarter. The only agenda Republicans drew upon with consistent obedience was to destroy a Democratic presidency and they could bank on Americans having a short memory.

I am all in favor of voicing conflicting points of view in the Town Square; it is the way our Republic was intended to serve the best ideas. I believe that the polarity from opposing i1aquote-mcconnell-obama2deologies can lead to those new and better ideas.

I do not believe that there are any flawless realizations of any philosophical or ideological agenda, but when one side of the fence changes their core principles simply to oppose the other, then we are not having the debates that lead us to improved legislation.

Then we are only playing a dishonest political game to gain power.  And that is not good for America’s health.

The Tail Wags the Dog

I had an interesting experience speaking to a first year government class. I began the hour by asking the students this question: “What form of government do we have in America?”

No response.

“I mean is this an oligarchy, a monarchy, a theocracy…?”

Finally, a young man in front, probably no more than 18 and clearly wishing he weren’t in this class (and in front), offered: “A Capitalist Democracy.”

Now, I could play teacher!  “A Capitalist Democracy…interesting….”

Before I could continue a young woman chimed in (the ball was rolling): “We are a Republic!”

“A Republic! “ I repeated (I love when teachers just repeat things so as to appear as if they’re leading students down a path).  We were onto something, however.

“What is a Republic?”

Ooops!  I’d gone too far.  The room was even more silent than it was when empty.  No one wanted to venture down that path.  I’ve learned over the years that to most people, a “Republic” is nothing more than the thing “for which we stand.”

“If I said that a Republic is a Representative Democracy what would I be saying?”

The young woman started wiggling around and was encouraged a little—

“It would mean that we elect representatives to….represent us in government…”

“And…?” I coaxed.

“And…that is why we are…free?”

“Pretty darned close!” I said. “The people elect representatives to create and vote on legislation in the public’s interest.  But, I want to go back to what the young man in front said. He said ‘a Capitalist Democracy.’ Can anyone explain Capitalism?”

The room was now buzzing a little and the young man had more confidence.

He offered: “Capitalism is free enterprise!”

“Yes, indeed!  That is correct.  But is it a form of government?”

No response.  Suddenly another young woman threw her hand in the air—

“No!  It’s an economic system.  The opposite of Socialism.”

“Well…” I corrected, “Socialism is a form of government but it does control certain economic principles. Capitalism, on the other hand, is an economic system based on the private ownership of production and distribution of goods, facilitated by, as that young man pointed out, a free market and motivated by profit.  But…a government of the people must hold itself to ethical principles.”

That landed with a thud.

The class was engaged, and the hour was productive, but the young man’s comment stayed with me. To many people this is the land of freedom to attain capital, above and beyond other notions of unalienable rights. Later that week I was in a conversation with someone that I do business with and this person echoed the thought of the young man who said this is a “Capitalist Democracy.” Only he put it in words I hear more often these days: “This is America where our system rewards hard work and success!”

A mistake is being made if we think of our country as having been founded on principles of an economic system and not a system of ethical governance. The mistake is in thinking that the roots of American independence were planted in a paradigm of financial success; a system that has no moral allegiance and does, indeed, reward the hardest working and the strongest, while those who fail…fail.

Today, there is a disconnect in America between why we were created and where we should be heading.  Although we were created by original Christians escaping religious persecution in England, they, themselves, became exclusionary as different, predominately Christian sects emerged.  Over time the colonies produced Theists, Atheists and Agnostics, as well.

From this theological melting pot, our Founding Fathers had the wisdom and vision to create a great charter; predicated on government that protected religious freedom, freedom of speech and guaranteed a voice and representation to the least powerful among us.  It demanded a system of impartial justice.

Nothing in this Charter said, “And we shall be a nation founded by the free market; where justice is governed by margin of profit; and where access to freedom, its benefits and resources is determined by financial success.”

That may sound a little extreme, yet that is how half of America is defining our greatness and what we should be inspired to return to.  They view American freedom as an unbridled Free Market, where profit is a moral directive and success is measured by accumulation, rather than the protection of liberty and justice.

The America I am proud of is a nation that endures the complexities of her fight for Freedom and Tolerance; that has risen from conflict to champion human rights; a nation that has proven its sovereignty with its realization of individual freedom and has the capacity to shine as a beacon of justice around the world.

To my students, my friends and foes- Capitalism is the natural and fitting economic model for a free nation, but let’s not let the tail wag the dog.  While merchant capitalism gleamed across the American coastline well before our thirst for freedom was realized, that economic principle was welcomed by the theory of governance that emerged from a nation longing to be free…not the other way around.

Power to the People (Right On!)

The ascension of a corporate-welfare bleeding, amoral, overrated host of a reality show to the Presidency of the United States was not the result of a populist movement alone, but was supported by a reaction to that populist movement. How else can we explain the contradiction that saw voters, terrified of oligarchic takeover of government, elect a billionaire, and subsequently his billionaire cronies, to lead the country?

Doesn’t make one iota of sense does it?

Not on a rational level, but it does on a grassroots level. There has been a movement in America that has been building under our fertile plains and amber waves of grain for decades. It is a truer popular movement, not of a political doctrine, but of simplicity. Born from the fear of the complicated encroachments of taxes and regulations, it yearns for simplification so that government can be understood, and ultimately controlled.

Donald Trump is, without question, the apex of the oligarchic shift that rooted during the Reagan years and grew in the modern world of market-access to exponentially increase wealth from investment, but that trend didn’t elect Donald Trump, it simply coronated him. The popular movement toward simplification elected Donald Trump, but not for any reason other than the fact that he represents a “do-over.” A complete Etch-a-Sketch shakedown that requires us to start over, from the beginning, with simple lines.

Sit down for this my liberal, progressive and Democratic friends- but I can live with that. At least I can for 4 years. Donald Trump will fall on the sword of his inconsistencies, lack of genuine ideology, his proclivity for the weaker side of decency, and, quite frankly, his lack of interest in the process and policies that have shaped America. This was a merger in his world; an acquisition; a business move that was both brilliant and resilient. He already has what he came for: He won. Game over.

Where actual governance is concerned, he’ll wait this out, putting in bankers hours, and hand over the reins to Mike Pence.

And THAT is what does concern me. Pence is part of another genuine, grassroots, populist movement; the extreme-right revolution (that will embrace any Republican, even Donald Trump) that wants to see America return to policies and principles that we have long since left behind. The establishment of theocratic governance that would narrow civil rights; a status-quo driven society that looks fondly back on the “good old days.” Those good old days when Jim Crow laws permeated pockets of America, when factories poured refuse into our rivers and skies, and when women knew their place.

Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan reached into the psyche of those Americans who, like Mike Pence, believe that the reversal of progress IS the road to progress; the same conundrum that allowed them to put money in power to control money in power.

It is here, at the grassroots level, where this lives, and breathes, and thrives. Here at the state level, in Iowa, there is a celebration of those contradictions. Republican legislators who claim the mantle of religious, moral principles, are just fine with the fact that their new president is anything but morally or ethically motivated. They are in control now, and that is all that matters. Winning is everything. And those contradictions will author their policy.

Walt Rogers (who, by election day, defeated me resoundingly), who has fought against appropriate education funding that would match rising costs, and supports school vouchers that will ultimately decrease public school viability even more, has been named Chairman of the House Education Committee. A laughable irony if it weren’t so….dangerously ironic.

This is where the battle for the character of America will be fought. Washington gets the press, but it will be in Des Moines, Madison, Springfield and Sacramento, where the people do their bidding. Evidenced just like the fallacy of Trickle-Down economics: ideas, like money, move UP the ladder, not down.

And so, my liberal, progressive and Democratic friends- this is where we must plant our feet and deliver our message. So that in 2 years, 4 years, 6 years and beyond, we are the movement that resonates. And we must listen to and embrace the message that is coming from good, hard working and patriotic Americans: Simplify.

Simplification does not mean compromise; we will still champion working families, the middle class, labor, education, the environment, living wages and safe conditions, and economic prosperity. We can choose, here and now, to learn the lesson that slapped us across the face: Politicians are elected by people, not policies.

“Stand By Your Manor”

With Republicans taking the majority in both the Iowa Senate and House there are going to be several Republican-based initiatives that have been waiting (im)patiently in the wings for several years, that will become front and center as the legislature reconvenes.

One such issue is going to be Castle Doctrine.

Castle Doctrine has been around for several years, but became scrutinized as a result of the Trayvon Martin murder in Florida in February of 2012. It is the position that a person’s abode (their “castle” or, in some states, any place legally occupied, such as a car or work envirnoment) is a place in which the person is entitled to certain protections and immunities and may attack an intruder without becoming liable to prosecution.

“Stand Your Ground” law is a term that we probably hear more often, and it is a broader realization of that concept and states that a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first.

Florida is a Stand Your Ground state and from the Martin shooting to the shooting of Jordan Davis over loud music at a gas station in Jacksonville, and to a retired police chief in a Florida movie theater, who claimed self-defense after shooting a man who was armed with popcorn, “Stand Your Ground” laws are being invoked.

These events shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; this is exactly what happens in a society where people carry guns into the town square and have at their disposal a defense that could exonerate them from any wrongdoing. When the fundamental principle of any civilized society, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” becomes vague, the circumstances that challenge it will widen.  Or as comedian Louis CK put it:  “The law against murder is the number one thing preventing murder.”

The problems with these initiatives are not their purpose to protect our domicile, our family or our person, positions we all share, but in the language that accompanies them:  “without becoming liable to prosecution.”

This is a sharp turn that compromises the foundational principles of liberty and justice.  In fact, it is the degeneration of justice.  Castle Doctrine implies that if a person has to consider their legal grounds that they will not act appropriately to protect themselves, so by eliminating that concern, they will.   But by making such an action immune to prosecution it also means that justice becomes less relevant than what a sane society should demand from its judicial charters.

Castle Doctrine is reactionary and symptomatic of the greater illness permeating modern society:  The sickness of fear and suspicion.

It is what we saw in Arizona with profiling laws that allow for legal citizens to be apprehended on the fear that they might be illegal.  It is witnessed by American imperialism due to the fear of enemies overseas; it is the creation of the Patriot Act that compromises our personal freedoms in the name of intelligence gathering due to fear of losing our freedoms!

In Florida alone, the law has resulted in self-defense claims tripling and all but one killed has been unarmed.

Critics argue that the law makes it very difficult to prosecute cases against people who shoot and then claim self-defense because they felt threatened, and in most cases, the only other witness is the victim who was killed.

thCADVHF9FMiami police chief John F. Timoney called the law “unnecessary and dangerous.” He stated further: “Whether its trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn’t want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you’re encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn’t be used.”

At a National District Attorneys Association symposium concerns were voiced that “Stand Your Ground” laws could increase crime as criminals could use the law as a defense for their crimes.  They questioned safety when more people are carrying guns, and they concluded that people would not feel safe if they felt that anyone could use deadly force in a conflict.  The report also noticed that the misinterpretation of clues could result in use of deadly force when there was, in fact, no danger.

People are saying, “I have the right to protect my home, my family and myself!” and I do not disagree. The question becomes how while maintaining impartial justice in a civilized society.  We have a long history in America of creating shorthand solutions to longhand problems and that’s what Castle Doctrine follows.   A law that exonerates a shooter because they make what appears to be a fair claim of self-defense is reckless and ultimately un-constitutional.

Put the 2nd Amendment blank check aside for a moment and let’s focus on solutions to save lives and reduce crime.  These laws, designed to give gun owners justifiable reasons to use their guns, do not reduce crime or create greater security around us.  They are instead reckless, irresponsible, and frankly, uncivilized.

They are the result of fear and suspicion and are the antithesis of what true protection requires:  Sanity and justice.