Category Archives: Gary Kroeger

I Wish You Well

Sometimes it is easy to write these posts.  In fact, I usually find it fairly simple because I write about political issues where I already have some knowledge and a feeling about my position and the words come out rather quickly.  When matters are of a more personal nature, it is more difficult.

Partly because there is a tendency to question the motive behind personal narratives, and the balance between being useful to a reader and self- flagellation is always present. My hope with anything that I write is to engage someone to either activate their thinking on a particular subject or to find information that can benefit their own journey one way or another. When I step away from politics and write about my family and my children, it is with that in mind, as well.

This essay is about being divorced.

I know many divorced people.   Men and women.  Most of them with children.  We share the stories of our struggles with regard to visitations, child support and attitudes in order tocalvin_arguing calibrate our own perspectives and to give support to another who is experiencing the inevitable frustrations of shared custody.

At stake is always respect, dignity, fairness and agreement.  Yet, the reasons each of us got divorced in the first place was a lack of respect, dignity, fairness and agreement.  And so the same issues exist, now we just don’t have to see each other every day to be in constant conflict.  We rely on legal counsel, documents, decrees and judgments to mediate when loggerheads are reached, but even those prove to be useless at those times when….respect, dignity, fairness and agreement are in question.

Very few divorced people that I know speak highly of their ex spouse.  I do know of a couple of ex-couples who claim to be better friends now, but the lion share (by a long shot) are not on such terms.  Most will give an exasperated grunt when they finish a conversation with an ex that is otherwise only heard in bullfighting rings (from the bull).

“My ex husband is an imbecile”

“Listen to what my ex wife just did…”

“My ex doesn’t even care about (fill in: kids, bills, making payments, etc)”

Justice was never part of the cosmic agreement between human beings and it doesn’t matter which side of the ex-spouse argument defines your situation, every bit of negativity that you foster toward the person on the other end of the phone, text message or parking lot, lands in a puddle of sludge.

“There is no comeuppance,” one friend reminded me.  “No one ever walks away feeling that they could have been more thoughtful.”

I have bouts with anger/frustration/disappointment with my child custody arrangement and I’ve found myself at odds with my better nature at various times. Every time a new “situation” develops where I feel persecuted by the same dysfunctions that engineered the end of a marriage, the cumulative weight of every previous frustration and lack of respect, dignity, fairness and agreement, comes to bear.  I’m writing today because there’s hope.  For me, and for you, if any of this is familiar territory.

Life has an uncanny way of putting answers in front of us when we need them. Or maybe they are always there and we see them when we’re ready, but I attended a lecture about the release of stress and reprogramming our minds to recognize joy and love before fear. It was by Dr. Amit Sood of the Mayo Clinic.

He offered 3 steps to begin the process.

-Today I am taking two minutes to think of 5 people that I treasure (that’s an easy one).

-Every stranger I see, I will acknowledge with my eyes by thinking (not verbally) “I wish you well.”

-And any loved one that I talk to or should see today I will treat as if I haven’t seen them in a long time.

Three easy steps toward flushing away the negativity that only eats at one’s own tranquility.  I will do this every day. This exercise is designed to program the Focus Mode and the Default Mode that navigate our brains. I did it and you know what? I felt the purging of negative feelings. More than that, I felt from this brief meditation the influx of positive feelings.

Maybe this seems too simple a solution for complex, deep, emotional issues and conflicts that have spanned years. And maybe the next time the peace is broken by one of those Acts of Obstinacy that is unique to the world of Divorce-Custody I will be back to burning effigies and making incantations…but what I do know for sure is this-  No one suffers but me when I’m unhappy.

Peace and love, my friends.  And even if you’re not my friend, “I wish you well.”

Faux Quo

I’m a little skeptical by nature. GE DIGITAL CAMERA Whenever someone’s argument seems too perfect, filled with too perfect evidence with too perfect quotes, I tend to become perfectly suspicious.

If I am in their presence in a face to face discussion, I will politely smile and say, “Well, that does seem rather compelling” and slowly back away.  I don’t want to continue a discussion that could quite possibly be built on a foundation of fake facts.

When I find a spare half hour I go to my computer and do a little research.  I’ll put the information they shared into a search engine to find the original source and then dig deeper into that source.  I’ll check quotes, weigh the facts with other sources, use some sites like FactCheck.org and I’ll Google variations.  More often than not, my suspicions prove to have been valid.

One of the most common misappropriations in our modern age of internet information is the use of great, historical figures to support positions by using their legendary quotes.

The two that stand at the top of the Pyramid of Political Wisdom are George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  It seems that their street cred abraham_lincoln_gangstersuperceeds all others and is of such indisputable relevance that anything they are quoted as having said is Political Gospel and can validate any ideological position.

Let me be clear right off the bat, this manipulative use of quotes is not the sole domain of either side of the aisle; both right and left politicos and pundits look to websites that share their views and pull down from a menu of Founding Father (plus Lincoln) short order specials.

A left leaning website that was looking to rally support for labor used this classic Lincoln quote:  “All that loves labor serves the nation.  All that harms labor is treason to America.”

Perfect!  Except that Lincoln never said it.

Here’s a Lincoln quote that I’ve used myself: “If this nation is to be destroyed, it will be destroyed from within; if it is not destroyed from within, it will live for all time to come.”

That one works for the right, the left and for Libertarians.  It is a call for balance, civility, and justice.  Except, that Lincoln never said that either.  Research by Paul F. Boller who wrote, “They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions,” and historian Matthew Pinkser, supports that many famous Lincoln quotes, even ones used by historians, do not exist in any of his writings, letters, speeches or in his official biography, but were simply drawn from the winds of rhetoric and repeated so often that they became truth.

Lincoln, however, may no longer be the champion of Faux Quotes.  Lately, it seems, cool-presidents-10George Washington has replaced the Great Emancipator as the noblest voice of true American ideals.  In this case, the Right, in particular, seems to feel a need to have the preeminent founding father on their side, in order to make their case that America was a Christian nation from its inception.

Today on Facebook I saw this Washington chestnut: “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.”

I don’t have a problem with that quote, per se, but I happened to know that it wasn’t quite right.  I’m a history buff and I had a recollection of reading Washington’s Farewell Address long ago (but long after the actual address!).  What he actually said was, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.”

There is a difference.  Washington was speaking of the dispositions that he saw as crucial if one is to be successful in politics and what is required, in his view, for politics, in general, to serve the people.  Where the quote gets bent is in the interpretation of “religion.”  Religion to Washington (and many of our founders) was a rational moral discipline, a humble piety and respect for Providence.  Washington was a registered member at a number of churches, but did not attend regularly and his writings rarely elaborated on his specific religious beliefs.

My point here is not to diminish his Christian influences or respect, but to clarify what “religion” meant in the late 18th century.  It was an understanding of and respect for morality that was held accountable by a Higher Power; not specifically Christian, or even necessarily church, related.

The Washington myth continues, however, and the most famous of all Washington quotes, with regard to Christianity, is:  “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”

That, he simply did not say.

What he said (wrote, actually) was this:  “It is impossible to reason without arriving at a Supreme Being. Religion is as necessary to reason, as reason is to religion. The one cannot exist without the other. A reasoning being would lose his reason, in attempting to account for the great phenomena of nature, had he not a Supreme Being to refer to.”

A testimonial in support of religion and it embraces non-Christian doctrines, as well.  No reason to change a word of it, except fundamentalists feel that by making Washington a Christian-specific sage they can further an expansionist agenda of religious exclusion.

A new sporting goods store opened in my town and in front of the store are beautiful, brass sculptures of Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson.  Beside each figure is a brassalinc document with individual quotes.  There is at least one false quote on each of those documents.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you feel that your ideology, whether political, social or religious, needs the support of these legendarily wise, credible and patriotic figures, and you are compelled to make up perfect words to put in their mouths to show that support….then you may need to reconsider your original premise.

And if you find a perfect quote on a website…do a little research before you post it.

In the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Except that he didn’t actually say that.

Rome is burning!

k7863536I’m confused….What are we trying to accomplish?

Does either side of the political fence think that total annihilation of the other side is plausible?  Is that the goal?  If it isn’t then why aren’t we working together or even listening to each other?  Why are the arguments so extreme?

Does anyone really think either party is going to lie down and confess, “You guys were right!  We need to shut up, step aside and let you take over!”?

I’ll admit that I did not like the Bush Administration and I was vocal as I opposed the invasion of Iraq and I was baffled by reducing revenue while engaging in two wars.

I bristled as money was siphoned from the bottom toward the top due to continuing market de-regulation allowing toxic derivatives. 

I scoffed at the poorly conceived and underfunded “No Child Left Behind,” as well as falsifying costs of the Prescription Drug Program.

I was miffed when President Bush shunned counsel from his own economic advisors, and angry at Dick Cheney’s self-serving involvement in creating Halliburton loopholes.

I was ashamed of the administration’s jingoistic foreign policy that alienated allies and I was incensed by the Patriot Act which gave government virtually unlimited powers of surveillance over its citizens without judicial oversight!

In short, I wanted George W Bush and his neo-cons, the post-Reagan Republicans on the right to go away.  I wanted an election sweep where the left took over.

I was naïve.

The lines of division are now so wide that bi-partisan cooperation has been as improbable as Justin Bieber becoming an advisor to the Princeton Review.

Here’s my conundrum:  When I offer an olive branch by acknowledgingwafer-thin-mint-monty-python-i10 accomplishments of Republicans, or even when I am critical of Democrats, I don’t get even “one thin wafer” of appeasement from my friends on the right.

Instead, they reveal a grave double-standard as they chastise me for supporting our President while they condemn him for some of the very things they once embraced.  Or, at least things they once cared far less about.

Things like the Patriot Act, Deficit Spending, Debt Ceilings or the Debt, for that matter.

Obama essentially continued the same economic recovery plan set into motion by Bush with Stimulus Spending and Bailout Loans to Detroit and Wall Street.  Very little was done to actually “regulate” the markets that had just betrayed us.  Obama did not immediately de-escalate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, either.  He didn’t change counter-terrorism policies and he continued the Patriot Act.  In fact (olive branch coming) if President Obama’s stimulus package and loans to Detroit and financial institutions were instrumental in the recession’s reversal trends, we have to share that credit with President Bush, as well.

Yet, the Republicans hate President Obama and when I point out the inconsistencies in their arguments, their reply is consistent:  “Excuses!  When are you going to stop blaming Bush?”

Well….history is what it is, but this isn’t really about placing blame.  It’s about trying to figure out what it is that they believe on the right.  Unless it is to assume all Muslims might be terrorists, that Mexicans are primarily criminals, that gay marriage will destroy civilization, and that a zygote should have a checking account.

If the Republican “offense” is that Democrats are making excuses and still blaming Bush for what is wrong, then why can’t they acknowledge what is right?

And I have to ask…”Excuses for what exactly?”

Look at the stock market, corporate cash reserves, hiring, and the housing market.  More Americans have health security.  Look at real budget numbers that show deficit spending was coming down even before draconian, Republican demanded, austerity measures.

Those words will fire up the Republicans who read my columns as they insist that America has only fallen deeper into every political hole for the past 7 years.

I am not suggesting that it’s time for anyone to take a victory lap; we still have deep, dark issues surrounding civil liberties, immigration, un-employment, foreign policies, and Constitutional protections.  But, unless we can find common purpose; unless we can define mutual principles to guide America, we will condemn ourselves to continue this unhealthy and destructive journey toward an eventual implosion.

Rome-burningThe Roman Empire lasted 400 years, and it crumbled from the inside out, before it fell.

The Simplicity Revolution

It’s gotten too complicated.

“What has?” you ask.

Everything!

Legislation, rules, requirements, regulations, taxes, disclaimers, ingredients, instructions, assembly, guidelines, labels, games, parameters, codes, wills and codicils.

We have over- emphasized, protected, contained, explained, briefed, covered, controlled, programmed, denied and lied about…. legislation, rules, requirements, regulations, taxes, disclaimers, ingredients, instructions, assembly, guidelines, labels, games, parameters, codes, wills and codicils.untitled

As a result, we need lawyers to unravel, negotiate and approximate what is fair and legal.  We need tax preparers to unravel, negotiate and approximate what is fair and legal; we need more law enforcement, more upper management, more brokers and more regulators to….you get the point.

Who can I blame for the complications that have become my life?

People on the right will say, without hesitation, that it is the left because the liberal agenda to even the playing field and to bring justice along with opportunity creates more laws and lawsuits to regulate the encroachment of privileges and prejudices.

And they would be correct.

People on the left will say, without hesitation, that it is the right because the conservative agenda to de-regulate and individualize creates more unfair practices, pandering, cronyism, and opportunism that infringes upon the rights of others.

And they would be correct.

I was in a conversation with a couple of guys, good friends but of opposing ideologies, and we were discussing a trend in secondary schools to limit, or do away with, contact sports.  They blamed the left for “wuss-i-fying” America.

I replied, “Believe me, it isn’t just liberal parents suing schools when their children are injured, it’s everyone.”

We’re all in this.  When the lunch meat is bad and our kids get sick, conservatives are as vocal as liberals when it comes to demanding answers from local, state and federal government.

When toxic paint poisons our children it doesn’t discriminate between the children of Republicans and Democrats, and we all demand new rules for manufacturers, importers and new accountability standards.

When a plane goes down, or the bridge collapses and a school bus crashes, there are no political ideologies coming to bear, there are only families and friends, demanding to know why, and demanding new or better rules to protect us in the future.

Is that how we got here?

The population in America has grown, since the time of our founding, from 2.5 million to over 315 million and, yes, our conflicting interests have grown alongside.

We have evolved from a nation carrying one shot muskets to assault weapons with 30 round magazines.

We have seen horse drawn buggies become racing machines that travel at 250 miles per hour.  Traffic in America has gone from 40 million automobiles in 1950 to 250 million today.

With all of these innovations, the problems, confusions and conflicts, grow exponentially and so does our fear of myriad ways we can get hurt.  A litigation industry was created and has expanded in order to help us (or encourage us) to navigate these waters, with less risk and less accountability.

Which brings me to a conclusion for what may have seemed like a, more or less, rhetorical question:  What do we do about this?

Once upon a time, bad things just happened.  Mistakes were allowed, or at least absorbed into the matrix of life’s vulnerabilities and foibles.  Now we litigate because we have lost our acceptance of life’s pain.

There is a meta-physical solution here that we may never again be able to realize, but as the Buddha says: “Life is suffering.”buddha_crgbr_T0

Somewhere in our history we decided that progress includes the elimination of pain and we affix blame onto whatever timeline of events fits our claim to it.

This is not to say that we should tolerate the suffering of anyone or any group, or that we should not do everything we can to help those who have been dealt a vulnerable hand, but an acceptance of life’s trials and tribulations, could slow down a runaway train.

It is also not a solution for poverty to hold the under-privileged more accountable for their plight, but by narrowing our own claims of victimization, we might improve the ability to improve.  The social services, education and safety nets that a compassionate society should provide could become more effective.

The Simplicity Revolution could, over time, make our lives less complicated, or at least more manageable.

freak-accident-china-1-458x305Maybe…some bad things that happen are no one’s fault.  Not even our own.

If Pigovians Could Fly!

flying-pig  I heard a radio ad the other day that chastised Congressman Bruce Braley (currently running to replace Tom Harkin in the Senate) for supporting a Carbon Tax.  The woman in the ad said, “Call Congressman Bruce Braley now and tell him that you think that a Carbon Tax is a bad idea.”

I was thinking, “I need to investigate this issue,” when the disclaimer came over the radio:  “This message was sponsored by the American Energy Alliance.”

f015ea66f71ec0c54622d8f06325c998_biggerI had to laugh.  Of course the American Energy Alliance thinks it’s a bad idea!  I imagined a similar commercial that could go like this:  “Tell Congress why you think anti-bullying laws are a bad idea.  Brought to you by the American Alliance of Bullies.”

The AEA was founded by a National Petrochemical and Refiners Association lobbyist along with Koch Industries.  A carbon tax will force them to pay for the pollution that has heretofore been free to pump into the atmosphere, and to develop alternatives with less carbon emission.  The obvious manipulation from the commercial created an even greater bias on my part to side against the AEA, but I did, nevertheless, investigate the issue.

The first thing I do when I want to broaden my view is Google the opposition.  I put into the search engine:  Arguments against a carbon tax.

It came as no surprise that there are arguments against such a tax.  The most compelling to me was that it may push “dirty” industries to unregulated countries and make the world problem worse, and that oil could become very expensive and the costs will be, as they always are, transferred to the consumer.  It is very difficult in a troubled economy, with a middle class on life support, to convince people that raising gas prices is the way to go.

Before I look for pundits and activists who support a position, I consider what I already know.  At first glance, this is a classic Pigovian tax where a negative output or result is taxed and the revenue collected can be applied toward a counter-action to offset the problem.Pigovian tax

Also, there is an upside to energy price inflation because it leads to consumer reduction of its use and the development of alternative resources.  Very simply, people consume what is inexpensive and consume less of what is expensive, and while the immediate effect will strain a household budget, the change in consumption habits occurs very quickly; the market will adjust to demand.

A little research revealed some interesting numbers.  A carbon tax of $20 a ton would raise about $120 billion a year or $1.2 trillion over a decade.  Pretty good revenue from a negative emission which compromises our environment and stalls the creation of more cost effective and cleaner alternatives.  That money could be used to develop new technologies and be applied toward tax relief and corporate compliance credits.  With the carbon tax’s $1 trillion plus we could exempt low-income families, reduce the payroll tax, lower overall tax rates, and still bring down the debt and deficit.

These advantages are on the table before we even begin to discuss what is more troubling to many Americans:  Our Environment.

At current rates we will put half a trillion more tons of carbon into the atmosphere by 2045 and 1 trillion more by 2080.  Creationists, Republicans and everyone in between CarbonEmissionscannot dismiss over 10 billion tons of inorganic gas being added to the atmosphere every year.

If God did, indeed, create this ecosystem with its own cleansing apparatus, even His HEPA filter does not grow in exponential proportion to the filth created by humans.

So….I’ve reached a conclusion.  As I see it, a Carbon Tax could be-

1)      Economically stimulating

2)      Environmentally healing

3)      Debt reducing

4)      Innovation incentivizing

The argument against is-wanted

1)      Less relevant in comparison

2)      Temporary

3)      Whining from the biggest environmental offenders

 

“This has been brought to you in part by the Pigovian Alliance to Counter Self-Serving Propaganda.”

The Golden Door of Freedom

I went to “Orientation” with my 14 year old son who is attending Washington High School in Cedar Rapids.  Tschoolhe evening was an introduction to the philosophy, achievements and curriculum of the school, hosted by the principal, Dr. Ralph Plagman, and several department heads.  It was followed by break out sessions in 14 different classes.

The teachers were passionate, accomplished and devoted.  This is a public school that lives up to the standards from the Iowa Department of Education and it rises to the best of what education can offer young minds and bodies by offering diverse and specific disciplines, all designed to equip students with every possible tool to succeed.

This is also the criteria of all Public Education.

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” –  Victor  Hugo

Washington High is consistently ranked by several sources as the #1 High School in Iowa and so it should come as no surprise that it was an impressive orientation, but as I sat there and listened to teachers explain their course material, I thought back on my own experience in high school.

I went to a very small school, a “lab” school, that was part of the University of Northern Iowa, and they did not have as wide a selection of electives as what I saw at Washington.  The courses that were offered, the teachers that taught them, the facilities that were at my disposal, and ultimately the guidance I received, was extraordinary, none the less.

Chemistry Teacher with Students in Class --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisI thought about the teachers that I know in my own community; who are part of Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Waverly, Hudson and Dike.  They are committed, informed, motivated, and nurturing.  The students are cared for, given opportunity and are facilitated to discover themselves and their goals.

I thought about other public schools that I’ve visited over the years where I’ve been asked to talk about my own career path and I recalled how consistently impressed I was with the staff, the curriculums, and the energy I witnessed from students.

This is not to say that there are not bad schools in our public school system, or that there are no bad teachers; this is not a blind affirmation that ignores falling test scores (particularly in math and science). What this is, is a call to action in a different direction from what the public discourse regarding education has been—

The problem, as it occurs to me, is in the private sector; it lies with parents, our socio-economic and political perspectives.

“It is very nearly impossible… to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” – James Baldwin

The status quo in America has begun to de-emphasize math and science.  A turn toward anti-intellectualism, a cultural shift that denies science in order to accommodate dogmatic ideologies, has led to a falling curve in disciplines where America once led.

In the political arena, representatives fighting for education funding have been met with rejection from austerity obsessed opposition.

In the private sector, the convergence of these fights has created a hostile view of teachers, their unions, their pensions, salaries and benefits.

Echoed in this discourse are phrases like “Public schools suck!,” and “We have bad teachers!”

Neither is true.  Quite the contrary, actually.  What we have is a diseased view, from too many people, of the entire concept of education.

The mission statement from the U.S. Department of Education is …to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”  Improvement will come toward achieving that end when we improve our political commitment to public education and when we improve our respect for the men and women who have chosen as their life’s work to facilitate the life’s work of our children.

776449-teachers-union-protestStop blaming the schools.  Stop blaming the teachers.  Start making the system work by believing in education itself.

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” – George Washington Carver

North Dallas Fifty

imagesSoon, the airwaves will be filled with images of Dallas, Texas, from November 22nd, 1963 as this year marks 50 solar revolutions since that fateful day.  Americans love to re-visit events annually, but decades, semi-centennials and centennials make us agog with retrospectives.  The Kennedy Assassination will perfectly fill the bill for melancholy remembrance in units of ten.

I was 6 years old when John F Kennedy was assassinated, and like most of my generation, it was indelibly etched into my memory.  The event didn’t take away the innocence of my youth, as I’ve heard some describe that seminal moment for themselves, but it informed my sub-conscious that I should begin to keep a record of my life; it arrested me into consciousness.

I had been aware of our president before Dallas because he was the guy who turned up a lot on our black and white Philco television and had an accent that I didn’t understand, but JFK-Bay-of-Pigs-TruthI was, after all, not even 4 when he was sworn in, and so he was in the background of my life, at best.  He was a guy, who went to work in a tie, just like my Dad, and he had a young family that resembled my own and I liked him. I heard my mother use the word “charisma” to describe President Kennedy and I instantly knew what it meant.

His tragic death triggered a youthful obsession to know everything about him in the way that young people can become overly enthusiastic about teams and athletes, musicians, or science.  Coffee table books about his life, presidency and the assassination itself, were everywhere and gave me all I needed to pore over and create a portrait of a great man who was cut down in his prime.  He became a hero to me as much for what he could have done as for what he had actually accomplished.

I drew his picture everywhere.  I even became (and am to this day) a decent portrait artist from penciling images of our 35th President.  John Kennedy became the man, injfk my mind, that every man should look like and I looked for similarities in my father.  I played my parents Vaughn Meader records and perfected the Bostonian accent.  I even built a model of PT 109 and sawed it in two so that I could re-create Kennedy’s heroism at sea, in my bathtub.

As I grew older and studied history, at first because of the requirements of school, but later out of personal interest, I realized that Kennedy’s presidency wasn’t a complete success.  It was, in fact,  a work in progress and a process of learning that never realized its potential.  The Bay of Pigs revealed Kennedy’s lack of experience in foreign affairs, but the Cuban Missile Crisis showed the world how much political savvy he had acquired in a very short time.  More enduring is what his successor, Lyndon Johnson, passed as Kennedy’s civil rights legislation, as well as Kennedy’s tax reforms.

As I learned about Kennedy’s indiscretions and about his father’s manipulation of the stock market (as well as his mistresses) a more complex and troubling portrait emerged of the Kennedy legacy, but I’ve never wavered from my dope_090612_crashfoundational belief that John Kennedy was a good man with a compassionate heart and could have set America on a better path than what followed.  Regardless of Joe Kennedy’s less than ethical rise to wealth and power, he instilled in his children civic duty along with respect for education and to advance the tenets of a free and democratic Republic.

Politics did not become my calling, but I keep them close.  I write about government policy and I actively attempt to be part of the informed electorate, engaging in the debates that can move us forward.   It was Kennedy who inspired me to be involved and that it is the responsibility of the citizens of a free Republic to engage and to defend the principles of equality.  Kennedy’s story also illustrates peace_corps_0that we may stumble along the way, but when our aim is true, we can do great things together to move our planet toward a more cooperative and peaceful existence.  His legacy, flaws and all, inspired a lot of people to serve our country and to uphold the humanitarian principles of a great and free society.

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”john-kennedy-ask-not-what-your-country-can-do-for-you-inaugural-speech-1961

“I have a dream…”

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech in which he called for an end to racism in the United States. The speech was a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement and was delivered to over 250,000 supporters. King became the century’s most iconic American civil rights leader and pacifist.

I want to share a dream that I had.

I’m not being facetious, by the way, I have a recurring dream that I want to share because it’s an olive branch toward the contentious arguments that have infected not only our political system, but our entire way of life.

In my dream I start a new trend.  Although this trend takes off immediately in my dream, I’m realistic enough to accept that it make take time to flourish in the real world, but I’m hoping that it can grow from grassroots to eventually become a national, even worldwide, phenomenon.  My wish is for this trend to influence not only the way we communicate, but actually change the way we live.

Things can happen quickly in America.  Who, outside of the world of dance clubs knew what “Twerking” was only a few days ago?  And now its already part of my mother’s exercise regimen.  Clearly, America has a great capacity for instantaneous participation.

Oh, yeah, what’s the new trend?  Sit down.  Prepare yourself…(drumroll)…I’m suggesting that we all start telling the truth.

That’s it. Telling the truth.

Not only telling the truth, but admitting when we’re wrong or when we have made a mistake; changing our minds when we’ve been presented with contrary but better evidence.

Sounds simple enough, right? The truth is, however, I rarely witness anyone change their mind or even admit that they may have been wrong about a position they’ve taken, particularly in politics. On many occasions I have identified the Internet smears that circulate from mass-emails to propagate hearsay or myths and I hit “Reply to All” with a link that will contain more reliable information. I then patiently wait for responses such as, “I didn’t realize I was spreading misinformation and that my source was biased and unreliable.”

I never get any.

Sarah Palin may be old news, but during the last campaign season I had repeated on Facebook an often quoted position that Palin believes dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time.  No sooner had I posted this when I was persuaded by a friendly Facebook foe to look into the origins of that position.  It turns out that those “quotes” were made up in order to perpetuate the perception of her as a religious extremist and a non-intellectual (the entire story stems from a a single alleged interview with a Wassila, Alaska resident named Philip Munger).  I stood corrected.

I often get into debates regarding taxes, welfare, economics, stimulus spending and many other national issues, but my resolution is to dig even deeper, not only into my positions, but the positions of those I disagree with. My motive is not simply to substantiate my own beliefs, but to also look for validation of opponent’s beliefs.  Too much information can be passed erroneously on the Internet and on politically biased websites that cull “facts” from hearsay, but if a person is sincerely dedicated to finding out the truth, and not just substantiating a pre-conceived idea, the informational resources are out there.

Will we ever hear, “I stand corrected” in a political debate? If we did, would we respect that candidate’s candor and honesty or would they be castigated for “waffling” or “flip flopping”?

Can politicians, candidates and constituents admit to drawing false conclusions when presented with evidence that contradicts their previous beliefs?

Can the body politic become willing and able to challenge, investigate and change long held beliefs?

Trust me, I’m not suffering from soul searching self-doubt toward my core socio-political philosophies and positions, but I am questioning the ability of all of us to open our minds to better or more complete information. I am challenging myself to go further and look deeper and I am challenging you to do the same.

Let’s use the legacy of Martin Luther King, whose words inspired integration, as a platform to integrate truth and genuine integrity into our public discourse. I don’t expect many hard fought opinions to change overnight, but from the ability to at least open our minds, the soil of knowledge will become more fertile for truth and reason to spring forth.

Who’s up for a little Twerking?

“As I walk through the (Cedar) valley of the shadow of death…”

This past weekend, there was an event in Waterloo, Iowa called “The Cedar Valley Pride Fest.”  58621_origIt was a day of fun activities and music for anyone who wished to participate, to demonstrate that the LGBT community is a healthy and active part of our larger community; the message is one of inclusion and to celebrate diversity.

There was also a small protest with a sign denouncing “Sodomy” and a few people roamed the perimeter to engage participants in a conversation about how they must repent or suffer eternal damnation.

The protest was smaller than the year before which I should probably gauge as a good sign, but I’m not convinced that it means growing acceptance. I still encounter a lot of people in my travels, and witness the sentiments of many, who oppose Gay Rights, yet don’t carry placards.

One “missionary” engaged me at Pride Fest as he quoted IMG95201308249513443795752Leviticus, reminding me that what I am doing is a sin, while also telling me that he “loved me.”

I feel no need whatsoever to explain that I am not gay, and preferred, in fact, to let my loving assailant assume that I am.  I replied, “I don’t think you do love me. I think that’s just a convenient way to feel better about your hatred.  What is it you really hate?  Could it be because God made people all sorts of different ways and you feel vulnerable?  My God loves me, you, that guy, that girl, just the way we are.  And He’s fine with me eating shellfish on Sundays.”

I’m not so naive as to assume that I “won” the argument, but he walked away.

This was actually the 2nd annual Pride Fest and last year there was a different protest called “A Day of Fasting and Prayer” by an organization called the “Cedar Valley Patriots for Christ.”  A spokesman from that organization said, “Our goal is not to persecute the gay community; our goal is to pray for them and our community out of love. “

I get goose bumps from all this generous and altruistic love.

(End of sarcasm)

Perhaps, I lack credibility as a spokesman for the LGBT community since I am not a member, but I AM a card carrying member of the “Society of People Who Understand Freedom and Justice” and “The Order of Those Who Have a Clue” and I would like to extend our love to those who don’t.

We understand that you’re scared and we just want you all to know that we will be there with you, to help you through these difficult times when it seems like your world is caving in from the forces of progress.

Just like we were there for you in the mid 60’s when the passing of John F Kennedy’s legislation to give “all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public” and for “greater protection for the right to vote” had your conservative forebears screaming in the streets, fearing that such legislation diminished their freedom and justice.

We even kept you in our hearts when the conservative Senator Richard Russell rose from your ranks and said, “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races.”

And we held your hands when you whined in 1938 that “capitalism will crumble” from the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act that ushered in a 40 hour work week, a minimum wage, workers benefits, health standards, and even child labor laws.

We can forgive you, because we are a forgiving kind of people.  Just like we forgave you in 1919 when the thought of including women in our political process was anathema to your comfort.  Many conservatives, not just fundamentalists, said that the 19th Amendment was “against Christian values.”

We’ve endured each time and we will stand by your side again, with love, as your fears continue to overwhelm your better judgment regarding the natural evolution of human beings toward a more civilized, peaceful, diverse and generous future.

Popular Grief

We seem to be a nation in mourning quite often these days. Is it because we have learned to be more sensitive, or is it because we are programming ourselves to feel more pain?

Or…could it be that we feel less pain nowadays and need the circumstances of mourning to feel anything in a de-sensitized world?

When I was a boy our flag was flown at its finial position (full mast) almost all of the time. It was rare, very rare, that we would come to school and see it at half-mast.  When it was, America was unified in a collective concern.

It was half-staff when JFK was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, for the Apollo 1 astronauts who tragically burned on the launchpad, and on Memorial Day. I’m sure that it was on other occassions, as well, but it seemed reserved to an event with national implications.

I certainly understand the deep sorrow that comes from remembering the victims of 9/11, and why the murder of an American Ambassador will create a collective consciousness of sorrow…or the murder of 4 Marines at a Recruitment Center, or any service man or woman for that matter.  Or the death of the first man on the moon, of innocent school children and bystanders at a marathon, or an esteemed leader….but, if we are a nation that is constantly grieving, can we repair our strength?

There is a protocol for flying the flag at half-staff. Federal law states:  “The President can issue an executive order for the flag of the United States to be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States government, and others, as a mark of respect to their memory. “

That law has been expanded by almost every President for reasons that are obvious and also for a reason that I believe is suppressed in our new national consciousness.

One obvious reason is that we are aware of tragedies as never before and we are not going to pick and choose which ones deserve greater importance. But a more subconscious reason, and the one that I believe is chipping away at America’s health, is that we’ve become a nation that is programmed to grieve.

Perhaps, grieving makes us feel better about ourselves.  This is not a liberal conspiracy or a conservative one, this is evidenced by myriad television programs, help books, and encounter groups that perpetuate victimization by elevating tragedy. In our effort to be helpers, counselors, gurus and guides we have collectively created a greater need for those who need to be helped, counseled, guru’d and guided.

Before I go too far down what is a rabbit hole that considers social programs part and parcel with this phenomenon, let me make very clear that I believe our economic and social structure justifiably demands safety nets to help the poor and unemployed– however, we have created challenges to overcoming obstacles.

We may even be correct in our assumption of outside culpabilty, but the psychological fortitude to break a negative cycle may also be compromised. Pain distracts us, rather than direct us toward the root of a problem; we build defenses to keep the results away from us, but not the sources.

We build walls, literally and emotionally, to protect ourselves from even the possibility of anything that could challenge our well-being, but the result can be a magnetic attraction to pain and grief.

article-0-0A32F507000005DC-406_468x647Years ago I observed that Sylvester Stallone surrounded himself with bodyguards and as a result everywhere he went he encountered a mob of people drawn to the idea of getting inside his circle.  More often than not, it attracted fights, which was, presumably, what he wanted to protect himself from.

In contrast, I once flew with Bob Hope who had NO ONE accompany him andiJGyMfeXgWK0 everywhere he went he was greeted by crowds that looked the same as Stallone’s, but treated him with adoration and respect.

I’ve always believed they both got attention exactly the way they wanted.

participants-burn-feet-at-self-help-seminarWe create policies, out of fear, to alienate others who might permeate our ring of protection, but like self-help junkies, who always profess at the weekend “Build Your Confidence” seminars at the Holiday Inn that they are “feeling stronger every day,” these are façades to cope rather than solutions to move ahead.

It’s okay to hurt, it’s healthy to work through our grief individually and often collectively; we should treasure and respect the lives that have been lost…but let’s not measure our nation’s pride or our personal resolve on how ceremoniously, or how often, we mourn.