Snark Monkey Live!

200px-The_Golden_Jubilee_(1982)This isn’t a political post, but I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Larry Morgan, the Snark Monkey, on his podcast.  The pleasure stems from the fact that someone actually wanted to talk about my career in show business.  The result is a fun hour long conversation, but Larry and I stumbled upon a little wisdom regarding surviving the “business we call show.”

http://www.snarkmonkey.net/podcast/2014/10/28/snarkmonkey-6-gary-kroeger

Losing My Religion

I made a statement to some friends while having drinks that “Conservatism is kind of like religion and requires blind acceptance of its dogma without being self-critical.”

Actually, there is a name for this, it’s called the “Asymmetry Thesis” and it contends that individuals who subscribe to a conservative viewpoint are more likely to resist evidence that challenges their existing beliefs.

I contrasted this to Liberalism which emerged from the Age of Enlightenment as a repudiation of the status quo.  I added that there was no clear set of principles from which conservatives operated; their belief system was rooted in a repudiation of change.

One person immediately asked, “What is unclear about lower taxes and smaller government?”

“Everything” I replied. I compared those political platitudes to a “clear” commandment from Christianity:

Thou Shalt Not Kill.

“What is clear about that?” I asked. “It may be a definitive Biblical statement but we kill all the time. We wage war, killing millions and even justify collateral civilian casualties.  We execute, and we apply subjective criteria for killing in self-defense.”

If we were honest, we should amend the Commandment to: “Thou Shalt Not Kill…Unless We Feel We Have A Really Good Reason To.”

My flippancy is not far off; that is more consistent to what our society has determined, yet, many consider all of the Commandments as immutable and literally written in stone.

“What is clear about lower taxes?” I asked. “Lower taxes to reduce military spending? Lower taxes to reduce what is available for disease control, transportation safety, education, highway maintenance or unemployment for those who cannot find work? Should we lower taxes so there’s less pay for teachers, police or firefighters? How about lowering taxes to reduce research to create better medicine or to help disabled Americans?”

“No! I’m all for the things that improve the quality of life and help others,” one of my friends insisted. “I’m tired of politicians giving themselves raises, I’m tired of handouts and government waste.”

“Okay,” I answered (amidst the cheers his statement inspired). “Give me the list then and be specific. Then let’s do the math. What are we going to cut and what are the realistic repercussions?”

“The Stimulus was a trillion dollars!” came the first volley. “That was a total waste.”

“We can debate the Recovery Act until the sacred Keynsian cows come home, but in the world of business, which many of you believe should become the operating model for government, it is an ‘expense’ on our P&L statement. The relevant equation is the Debt to GNP ratio and our argument should be about production and jobs.”

I made that too easy and I deserved the roundhouse punch that followed:  “Thou Shalt Cut Taxes– that’s how you stimulate growth!”

“But, tell me,” I asked, “why didn’t that work 12 years ago? We even had a surplus and were just trying to correct a minor recession, but businesses contracted anyway and jobs were lost. In fact, it set the table for the catastrophe that followed.”

Maybe…taxes are not the direct answer. Or maybe…they can help but only if they are lowered in the right way at the right time- as Kennedy did in 1963 (the bill passed after his assassination in ’64); closing loopholes at the top, and better breaks at the bottom.”

I have yet to hear a precise answer to that.

Another “clear” Conservative Commandment is:

Thou Shalt Make Smaller Government.

Okay. I’m all for containing the spread of anything that is not useful, but what, specifically, needs to be trimmed?  Financial reform commissions, safety boards, criminal investigation, food and drug supervision?

I’ve heard some people say that we should do away with the Department of Education, but I’m not sure, that will resonate with most Americans who are concerned about education standards.

Can we all agree that the Military Industrial Complex needs the red pencil?

No? Well, just try to get rid of Social Security and Medicare and see how far you get.

I’m not disagreeing with anyone who believes that government has redundancies that need to be cut or trimmed or that taxes need reform, it is a self serving drum beat from conservatives, however, that perpetuates the idea that liberals think that government can’t get big enough or that taxes are never high enough; it simply isn’t true or historically accurate (at all).

The Zimmerman trial illustrated the liberal/conservative divide. The parameters of the case and the resultant verdict fell along ideological lines between the left and the right, with the right supporting Zimmerman’s defense of “self-defense” and his acquittal, and the left finding the circumstance of Martin’s killing fundamentally suspect and the aftermath to be a miscarriage of justice.

On a social media site a conservative defended the American court system as “still being the best in the world.”  Another conservative defended America’s non-racist values by pointing out that this country elected a black President “twice.”  Another accused Liberals of “hating America” because of the liberal contention that our socio-political system is flawed.

On one hand, this evidence supports the Asymmetrical Thesis because these conservatives will not question their storybook nationalism, but at the same time, many Liberals will not allow for anything that doesn’t support their existing belief that those flaws are more accurately defining us.

So I calibrate my own thinking by coming back to what my Liberal Doctrine demands and that is to consistently challenge the status quo and to fight for the principles that should come before any action; the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; egalitarianism and justice for all. The ideological clarification I’m looking for from my conservative friends is specifically what they believe in beyond those giant, fairytale platitudes…like, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.“

I want clarity from those who claim they are clear and I want ideas accompanied with facts and historical evidence. I want objective, self-critical analysis.

You know…kind of like what liberals do.

Every Dollar You Ernst

Okay….Republicans swept into Washington in one of the biggest political polarityuntitled shifts in history.  I worked for Democrats to keep that from happening, but ultimately it came as no surprise.  Mistakes were made, Democratic blocks didn’t vote, historically this happens anyway, and an unpopular President was reflected onto his party.

My focus has shifted away from making cases for Democrats and toward how we make all of this work.  My concerns, however, have not changed.  One of several things that concerned me about Joni Ernst, for example, were her statements about welfare; sentiments that she shares nationally with a majority of Republican lawmakers.

Senator Ersnt campaigned saying:  “We have fostered a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them.  It’s going to take a lot of education to get people out of that. It’s going to be very painful and we know that.”

Painful for whom?  The people without the means to endure that pain?Mitt+Romney+Campaigns+Iowa+Senate+Candidate+JL3vy1uKyDjx

And what evidence supports that statement that drew cheers from every conservative crowd?

There isn’t any.  But it is repeated so often that it has become truth to many.

What is used a lot is a statistic that tells us that nearly half of America doesn’t pay taxes (“47%” according to Mitt Romney).  The deduction they are making is that this represents the failure of welfare programs, and that if people don’t have to work, they won’t.  It has become a cornerstone of modern Republican rhetoric; Republicans who are now in control of Capitol Hill and who will create (or remove) policy.

A more relevant deduction from 47% is the fact that too many people don’t make enough to pay taxes or they are unemployed.  What it isn’t is a statistic showing lack of desire to work, or laziness.  What it shows is that the balance of opportunity in America is out of whack.

Most working Americans have at some time or another taken some form of welfare, if just a temporary unemployment check, and most Americans who receive welfare will go back into the work force.  Welfare (only 2% of the federal budget, excluding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), is not “wasted” tax money, either.  Beyond the ethical fact that sustenance is being provided, every dollar goes back into the economy as cash exchanged for products; it is liquidity in the market.

In the micro-view:  Among all households receiving food stamps, almost twice as many include at least one working adult as those that don’t.  In other words, welfare does not discourage work; it simply supplements a wage that is inadequate to provide the essentials of living.

Furthermore, according to the Food Research and Action Center, only 56% of people eligible for food stamps nationwide actually claim the benefits they are eligible for.

Here’s a macro-view:  According to UNICEF, nations with stronger social welfare programs report a smaller percentage of population living in poverty.   Denmark, 2.4%; France, 7.5%, Norway, 13.4%; Canada, 14.9%; United Kingdom, 15.4%.

In the United States it is 22%.  Social programs keep us relatively low when compared to world standards, but it still translates into more than 1 in 5 Americans living in poverty.  In the richest, most powerful nation on earth, how is that possible?

I’ll tell you.  It’s possible because 40% of everything is owned by only 1%.

And that is why welfare has existed since the Roman Empire to provide sustenance to those who ultimately provide sustenance to the ruling class.  While we prefer to look away from our own socio-political inequities and pretend that there is no “Power Elite” in America, poverty is a bi-product of an economic engine that creates exhaust.

What we cannot ignore is that our “exhaust” is a human life with a family.

Senator Ernst, when you look at real numbers and not rhetoric, we are paying a small price to help those who have fallen through thehungry cracks.  And when you oppose raising the minimum wage to a living wage, how are you not exacerbating the problem and only increasing the pain that you believe they must endure?

Welfare should fall on our ledger as our privilege to provide, and not as our burden.

Are you kidding?

Does this ever happen to you?  You’re having an argument with someone when they accuse you of a certain behavior, and you respond, “Are you kidding? I was just going to say the same thing about you!”

thCAL7F73JApparently, the criterion by which we judge others is not always applied to ourselves.  This happens to me a lot when I discuss politics with people who are firmly entrenched conservatives.

They consistently accuse liberals of:  1) Lying, 2) Being afraid of facts, 3) Putting blame elsewhere.

Are you kidding?  I was just….

My study here is anecdotal, but I observe this often enough to have drawn some conclusions that I stand behind.  I suggest this:  Conservatives are brilliant in a debate.  Their polished and refined strategy is:  If you take away your opponents strength by calling it your own, they have nowhere to go.

A Republican friend who likes to periodically goad me into a debate, came up to me the other day and said, “Liberals can’t stand facts!”

He went on to give me some “Facts.”WIN-Daily_Supplement-Facts

“Did you know,” he asked, “that the average unemployment rate under Bush was 5.3?  Obama’s is over 8.”

He went on:  “Bush increased the debt over two terms by 5 trillion while Obama increased the debt by more in less than half the time.”

I read Republican and conservative websites, and will tune into Fox News periodically to calibrate my perspective and so I’ve heard these numbers before.  I responded:  “Those are real numbers and I guess you could call them ‘facts,’ but they thdo not tell the truth.  Truth requires analysis and your conclusions from those numbers are as relevant as saying, ‘When I’m in a room with Bill Gates we have over 70 billion dollars between us.’  It’s true, but it doesn’t tell the true story.”

Laughter follows, but I argue enough that I’m more or less prepared.

“Bush inherited a robust economy with unemployment at 4 and handed off 8 with a bottomless recession right at the tail end of his presidency.  This month it is at 5.8.  Most of President Obama’s debt is from continued policies. President Bush decreased revenue and then borrowed to pay for two wars and a prescription drug program.  Plus war costs rise as they continue.”

Like I said, this wasn’t my first rodeo and so I transitioned into my rote rant:  “President Reagan still retains his crown as the Great Tax Emancipator, but the bill came due for his policies when George Bush, Sr. became president and tanked that presidency.  Same thing happened here, except that it wasn’t a minor recession; it was the worst in 80 years.”

My friend’s eyes are now rolling because he’s heard this before and he knows that he’s going to pull out the trump card soon.

I continued:  “Recessions don’t immediately reverse when new presidents take office and the quagmire of continuing job loss, increased unemployment benefits, necessary stimulus to stop the bleeding, resulted in trillions in new debt. That’s the truth beyond your easy to sell ‘facts’.”

And, right on cue, he pulled out the card:  “All you Democrats can do is blame the past and Bush.”

“I didn’t know that there was a statute of limitations on truth.” I fired back.  “Maybe we lincolnshould get over blaming Booth for assassinating Lincoln.  The truth is what it is.  A recession was caused by predatory lending in an unsupervised market with unscrupulous toxic assets and rising economic inequality.  We can argue all day about who is complicit, but we can be sure that it all happened before January of 2009.”

“I love you Kroeger,” was his sincere, but nevertheless dismissive, response.  We are good friends and we enjoy poking each other with argumentative sticks, but I felt that I’d “won” this little strategy debate and so did he.

My conclusion was, as it has been before, that “facts” are meaningless without analysis that goes deeper than simply offering evidence to support an already drawn conclusion.  And, my conclusion was, as it has been before….one side is less likely to go that deep than the other.

Were you just about to say that about me?

Make ’em squeal! Vote Braley!

joni-ernstI don’t dislike Joni Ernst as a person.   She appears to be very nice and it is with sincere admiration that I thank her for her military service.  I believe that she is sincere, as well, in her commitment to improving Washington and to change the course of America in a better direction.  But that doesn’t make her the right person for the job.

c8d34a066f68aac8f8f552efbab6cec1Not by a country mile.

An article the day before an election may seem like too little too late to influence a race; many absentee ballots are already cast and most people know with certainty which little box they’re going to fill in tomorrow, but a vote not yet cast is still a vote not yet cast.  The Braley/Ernst race will be close and a few people reconsidering their decision could make a difference.

The most aggravating aspect of this race has been the erroneous rhetoric that has attacked the candidates.  Bruce Braley’s record has suffered the most in this regard due to dark and unlimited soft money that have given attack ads the lion share of airtime.

He has been portrayed as uninterested in our veterans “just when they needed him most”- yet nothing could be further from the truth.  Braley has made Veteran’s benefits the signature of his terms in the House.  Braley introduced and passed a law to give tax breaks to companies that hire veterans returning from duty, unemployed veterans, and wounded warriors.  He took on the Pentagon to secure overdue combat pay for 800 Iowa National Guard troops  and helped secure full GI Bill education benefits.

Committee attendance records are a weak issue.  Ernst, in particular, has a low attendance record in Des Moines, but that doesn’t mean that she’s been uninterested in the job, it simply means that she (like Braley) was serving her office in other ways.  I don’t hold her low attendance record against her.thCA2CH61F

In one of the more ironic twists of any campaign, Braley missed a committee meeting because he was literally welcoming Iowa veterans in Washington from the Honor Flight.

Several Republican PAC commercials have cited Braley as a regulations creating, tax and spend Democrat.  Each of these points are simply political rhetoric.  The Bush Administration left America with an economy in a death spiral and spending was the inevitable result.  Detroit was buoyed by both Bush and Obama stimulus.  Wall Street, as well.  New regulations were put in place to curtail devious practices that led to toxic assets that crippled the stock market.

To now pin spending on Braley and Democrats is as disingenuous as politics can get.  In fact, deficit spending is now less as we move toward balancing the budget that Ernst says would be her priority.

George Bush had a Republican Congress for 4 years (Democrats only had a majority in both the House and the Senate for 2 of Bush’s 8 years) and the brick and mortar were laid that resulted in economic collapse.  Why, America, would we think that the same formula would lead to different results?

We may not have a Republican President today, but if Republicans sweep into Washington in these midterm elections, we will be one step away from the trifecta that opened the financial faucet for the wealthiest Americans to amass greater fortunes and choked the Middle Class to where they could no longer spend and sustain the 1411952863007-desm0928DebteErnstBraley0022economy.

6 months ago, Bruce Braley led this race by a wide margin.  Since then Joni Ernst has mounted a very strong and clever campaign.  She is a nice Iowa farmgirl and a self sacrificing patriot and that translates very well in the midst of a contentious political climate.

Braley meanwhile pulled a gaff in Texas that was exploited by the Ernst campaign.  I can say with certainty that he wishes he could take a remark back where he appeared to belittle Senator Chuck Grassley by categorizing him as a farmer, but the comment has to be put in context.  He was speaking privately to lawyers suggesting that someone with a law degree and not a “farmer who never went to law school” should head the Judiciary Committee.  That, in itself, is not an outrageous statement.

Would he rephrase that if he could?  Absolutely.  Does it mean he doesn’t care about farmers?  Absolutely not.  Braley has fought tirelessly to re-new the Farm Bill to provide our farmers and ranchers the tools they need to produce abundant and affordable food.

Your vote is important.  Have you taken the time to look at his REAL position on farming?  http://braley.house.gov/issue/agriculture

It comes down to this.  Bruce Braley has been a Congressman who has reached across the aisle to get things done.  He cares about Iowa, he cares about America, and he fights for better benefits for veterans and subsidies for farmers.  He is a passionate advocate for renewable energy to bolster Iowa’s economy as well as provide better environmental standards.  Yes, he is a lawyer, and thereby knows a thing or two about the system our Founding Fathers created.  We are a nation of laws; that is how we keep order, justice, service, fairness, opportunity and advance our interests.

Joni Ernst has gained a lot of attention for her position to “bring Iowa values to Washington.”  Great statement and it has worked because we are tired of the hostility in Washington.  But it’s hostility created by a 100% obstructionist agenda by Republicans since January of 2009.  It is hostility created by superficial memes and news agencies with nothing but a financial agenda.  It is hostility created by billions of dollars that serve only the special interests of those spending it.

A vote for Joni Ernst continues the gridlock that defines today’s politics.  A vote for Ernst supports the special interests of corporations.  It is a vote toward undervaluing women in the workplace and away from the freedom to have dominion over their own bodies.  A vote for Ernst is a vote against affordable student loans, a living wage and a healthier environment.  A vote for Ernst moves us toward the privatization that steers America toward plutocracy.  A vote for Ernst leads us toward policy that threatens the civil rights guaranteed by our constitution to all Americans.

A vote for Bruce Braley is a vote for the kind of politician we all say we’re looking for.14776993581_e36e55437b_o  Intelligent, willing and able to listen and respond, who reaches across the aisle, who is passionate about his state, his country, and those who serve, from our agricultural roots to the service men and women who defend us.

A vote for the Democrat in this race helps to secure balance on Capitol Hill to ensure that we do not, once again, begin a slide into economic and cultural catastrophe.

Unnecessary Roughness!

I had a revelation while attending a college football game.  Perhaps, it wasn’t so much of a revelation as it was a connecting of the dots between human nature and politics, and it triggered a realization.

9049097463_018d1e170bI am an Iowa boy, born and raised, once again living in the “Fields of Opportunities” and I have always rooted for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

In LA, where I lived for 20 years, I attended every Iowa Rose Bowl appearance and cheered along with other Iowa expatriots in bars any time Iowa was televised.  Yet, I am a Northwestern University graduate and so, I must admit that I root against Iowa once a year.

Where we go to college usually becomes thCAGZHRATthe focal point for the rest of our lives in terms of who we cheer for and what colors will decorate the rec room.

As I cheered for the Wildcats, alone in a sea of black and gold, with the exception of my teenage son who wants to go to Northwestern law school someday, I noted a behavior concerning how we take sides.

A ballcarrier from Iowa was racing toward the sidelines and right at the point of being at the sideline he was hit hard415-6Eoxz_SlMa_55 by a Northwestern linebacker.  A flag was thrown and the crowd cheered for the inevitable “unnecessary roughness” call.

The officials convened and two refs were quite adamant about something.  The flag was then picked up and the official announced, “There is no flag on the play!”

The crowd was furious.  The Hawkeye fans surrounding me screamed, “You’re blind!  That was a personal foul!!”

The JumboTron then showed the play, all the way through the alleged crime.  It wasn’t a foul.  The runner’s body was leaning over the line, but his feet were still in bounds when he was hit.  The Iowa crowd was still not convinced and the woman next to me and the man behind her were dumbfounded.

So…I leaned over and said, “It was a clean hit.”

“B@!!$#!t!” bellowed the woman, with Hawkeye logos under both eyes and wearing black and gold striped overalls,  “It wasn’t even close!  That was flagrant!”

There wasn’t the slightest doubt in her mind that she was correct and the man behind her concurred as he said to me, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

But….it was a clean hit.

And that doesn’t matter.  They were convinced, along with 60,000 other Hawkeye fans that they’d been cheated and betrayed by the officials.

As fate would have it, soon after that play, Northwestern had the ball and the sequence of events were nearly untitledidentical.  The Northwestern quarterback was hit by the sideline and flew well into the Iowa bench.  No flag.  And the Iowa crowd was perfectly satisfied that it was the correct No-call.

The woman turned turned to me and said sarcastically, “I suppose you think that was a foul.”

“Nope,” I replied.  “He was in bounds just like the Iowa guy.”

“B^!s#!t,” she grumbled again, “those refs were %@#ed on the other call!”

That’s how we are.  The home team never gets enough calls to fall their way and the officials are always blind when things go the other way.  That home turf behavior is no different when we apply our feelings to politics; when our side wins it is because it was the correct course of action, when the other finds success it’s because they were given unfair breaks.

(Let’s replace “officials” with “government” or…could that be where I was going with this in the first place?)

I’m having a very hard time defending our President these days, not because I am having doubts about his integrity or his record, but because the other side has been complaining so loudly about bad officiating that the game is constantly under review.

It appears to many people that everything is falling apart; the health care debate rages on, the NSA ramps up survelliance, ISIS emerges from the sands of Syria, a couple of stock market fumbles, and the right wing media machine has a field day.

“We told you so!”

“This is the worst President in history!”

They’ve coined “Obama-pologists” to describe those of us who continue to defend the administration.

But, the truth is not apparent to the angry crowd.  The truth is, ACA is essentially working, and with cooperative improvements, it could work even better.  The highest percentage of Americans are now insured than any time in history.  Worries of bankruptcy due to medical costs are fading.

The truth is, the NSA is simply continuing the same out of control agenda outlined since the Patriot Act.

The truth is, a government shutdown, engineered by Republicans, came with a 24 billion dollar price tag, and slowed our growth.

And the truth is, emerging militant caliphates are a result of a fractured balance largely caused by the invasion of Iraq.  Saddam Hussein was a bad man, there is no doubt, but he kept any threat to his authority, even extremists, in check.

The pack mentality of whichever side you’re on, and the behemoth of media that will fan whichever flame brings the best revenue, willcrowd continue to grow.  We’ve created a mythical concept of what Presidents can do and the crowd has done this without reading the rule book.

And we hate the officials who are bound by those rules when they aren’t applied in our favor.  Human nature, it seems, just might be the enemy of reason.

The role of the media (the press) in the design of our Republic was to keep the conversation honest and to report the facts so that we (the people) can make informed, rather than inflamed, opinions.  But, perhaps, there is a glimmer of hope, if we could apply the media to politics the way it still operates in sports—

images_display_imageI watched the replay on television of the game I attended, and lo and behold, when the “flagrant foul” was committed, the play by play announcers said, “That was a good call by the officials to pick up the flag; it was a clean hit.”

They told the truth.

Elephant’s Memory

1406317582000-braleycvatvadI’m watching television and a commercial from a Republican PAC slams Bruce Braley for supporting Democratic initiatives 93% of the time.  It states how Braley even supported Obamacare.  It also insinuates that Braley is a snob, dislikes farmers and doesn’t care about our veterans.

I yell at the TV a lot, and this moment really had my dander up.  “Of COURSE he voted with the Democrats!  He’s a Democrat supporting the reasons he’s a DEMOCRAT!”

And even still it wasn’t lockstep (which was the implication) unlike Republicans who haven’t broken rank in 6 years!  Braley championed the Farm Bill.  He has been a leader for veteran’s benefits.  As for the Grassley dig, I, too, would like to see someone who’s studied law head the Judiciary Committee!

Attack ads, bending reality, however, are not the sole domain of Republicans.  Not at all.  But I yell at the Republican lies most often and I don’t fact check the Democrats with the same enthusiasm.  Just as Republicans yell at the TV when commercials supporting Democrats tear down Republicans.

It’s a matter of perspective.  And it’s why we can’t get past our current loggerheads infighters Washington, or in any of 50 state houses.

I read a conservative blog yesterday about how the Obama Administration has been the most extreme realization in history of “government overreach.”  It cited the Affordable Care Act as the preeminent example.

“Government is now controlling the most fundamental right of individual freedom,” it stated, “our right to care for our very own bodies.”

Actually what the blogger is establishing is their right to NOT care for their own body.  Hypocrisy always illuminates like a sailor’s beacon in my occipital lobe and I yelled lighthouse(again with the yelling!) “Yeah, just like conservatives want to control a woman’s most fundamental right:  the right to determine her own pregnancy!”

But, that was not the double standard that actually gnawed at me at this particular moment.  The one that stuck in my craw and gave me a rash resembling shingles was a casuistry that is shared by both sides.  It is how we program ourselves to believe-in-what-those-we-believe-in-tell-us-about-those-we-don’t-believe-in (how’s that for bastardizing a preposition?).

Take the assertion from above that Obamacare (ACA) is “government overreach.”  Well…25 years ago, Republicans were calling a similar health insurance mandate a proper use of government to serve the people.  15 years before that President Nixon felt the same way.  And about 20 years before that, President Eisenhower asked Congress to fund what he called health “reinsurance.”

Under Eisenhower’s plan, private insurance companies who extended benefits to uninsured Americans would be reimbursed by the federal government.

So…a health insurance mandate didn’t become “government overreach” until it was a Democrat who was doing the reaching.

To gain some perspective (without a liberal bias) let’s say that President George W Bush had decided to act on what the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, had proposed in 1989 (which Romney later tailored) and passed, with a Republican Congress, a health insurance mandate.  What would Democrats have done?

a)  Embraced it as needed health insurance reform.

b)  Rejected it because it didn’t go far enough toward a single payer platform.

c)  b, plus attacked the Act because it commoditized health care to the continued advantage of the insurance industry.

I’m pretty confident the answer would be “c”  because that actually was how they kept it off the table.

Now to be fair to my Democratic brothers and sisters, I sincerely believe that we push for alternatives (single payer in this example), while my friends from the Party Formerly Known As Grand Old, feel no such obligation (health care, again being the perfect example) in order to oppose Democrat’s proposals.

The partisan paradigm extends to foreign policy, budgets, debt ceilings, and the national debt.  Not one of those categories has seen a singular, historical consistency from either party.  In fact…you might be surprised which party has raised the debt ceiling and the national debt the most.

Since 1944 the Debt Ceiling has been raised 94 times.  54 of those were by Republican Presidents.

Here’s some fun with numbers:  President Obama has raised the National Debt 52% since taking office.  President George W Bush, 101%.   President Clinton, 32%, President GHW Bush, 54%….and the Great Tax Emancipator Himself, President Reagan, raised the National Debt a whopping 186%.

Each of those Republican presidents didn’t reform or curtail welfare spending either.  Only a Democrat, President Clinton (but, yes, with Republican cooperation) passed TANF that created new limits.

Democrats were not always the Party Against Neoliberal Economics, either.  President ClintonGreenspan oops, in particular, favored the Greenspan inspired “Hands off!  Markets police themselves” approach.  President Clinton continued the de-regulation policies, largely put in place during the Reagan years, that ultimately led to the toxicity that crippled the market in 2007-08.

So, here were are.  Democrats and Republicans have been opposing what we once supported and supporting many ideas that we once opposed.  The deciding factor has been “Who’s in office?  Whatever they’re having- I’ll have none of that!”

gridlockThat is the reason for the gridlock.  Now…for the solution….

Song Sung Blue

images8AEUTZQ8Iowa has gone blue in the past couple of elections but this is essentially a conservative state.  Iowa has a long history of landmark progressivism, but that is actually a result of our Midwestern nature that prefers that we keep our noses out of other people’s business.

“Why not let women vote?” we asked in 1919.

“I don’t want anyone in my bedroom so I’m not peeking into yours” we agreed in 2009 as the Iowa Supreme Court batted down the Defense of Marriage Act.

But, Iowa remains conservative by nature (I’m pretty confident we won’t second guess the 19th Amendment, but the DOM debate still looms large).  I live in a predominately conservative town, and I work in an overwhelmingly conservative company.  All that being said, as a liberal minority, I am not chastised, ridiculed or rejected; I count every socio-political persuasion among my friends.

I do, however, get a pretty clear perspective of modern Republican/conservative thinking; what motivates them and what their priorities are (I am a liberal mole!).  I can make pretty accurate statements drawn from the many (many) debates that I’ve had.

Modern Republicanism has identified 4 areas of militant concern:  1)  Public Education is liberal indoctrination, 2) Mass Media (except for their own mouthpiece, Fox News) has a liberal bias, 3) Government is a vehicle for liberal policy, and 4) Science is liberal voodoo (climate change being their challenge du jour).

No point in arguing with me here, conservative friends (all two of you who read my posts).  Those arguments are consistently consistent in their consistency.  One or more comes up every single debate over policy, ideology, or history.

So we have to ask (tongue planted firmly in cheek), how did liberals become so powerful?

I mean, this is amazing when you think about it.  Schools, television, radio, newspaper, laboratories, all phases of governance; the liberal scourge has devoured.  Leaving good, America-loving, hardworking (note:  Only liberals on welfare choose handouts over work.  Conservative welfare recipients receive social services only because they are coerced by liberals) patriots to toil in a sea of socialism.

How did this come to pass?  There have been great, strong Republican/conservative untitledleaders.  Many came out of Federalism.  The original Republicans were abolitionists.  There was Lincoln!  Teddy Roosevelt!  Eisenhower!  Reagan!  How did they let liberals take over EVERYTHING?

I could continue this sarcastic direction even further, but there is no point (outside of the fact that it’s fun).  The truth is two fold:  1) Liberalism does not control education, media and science, and 2) Liberals gravitate toward education, media and science.

Sound like a contradiction?  It isn’t.  The liberal ideology is based on the acquisition of information. It comes, in fact, from the Age of Enlightenment.  Liberalism was not anuntitled (2) idea born from John Locke or any other single philosopher; it was a movement that sprang from a very human need to know more.  A logical desire to question the status quo to move beyond tradition in order to discover new, and possibly better, ideas.

It is the opposite of conservatism, which is more central to our human character.  We are inclined by nature toward what we already know and to protect that which has led to our survival.  There is Cognitive Dissonance in all of us as we protect our inherited values, while feeling a need to explore.  There is a Conservative/Liberal polarity which has moved us out of caves and into Outer Space; but only at a pace that we can accept.

That’s why I don’t dislike conservative ideology.  I, personally, am very conservative in many ways.  I like certain traditions in my life because they make me feel safe.  But I worry (deeply) about the contentious divide between conservatism and liberalism that is defining modern political agenda.

Liberal minded people gravitate toward the disciplines of education and information (even entertainment) because those are the professions most closely connected to the pursuit of knowledge. This doesn’t mean that liberals are smarter or more educated and it doesn’t mean there aren’t great conservative teachers, broadcasters and scientists, but there is a different focus of intention.

What needs to be understood is that the pursuit of knowledge does not necessarily contain an agenda.  This is what has derailed modern conservative thinking and has created the extreme view that sees socialism, hedonism, and defeatism in all things considered liberal.  And this is why we are in trouble.

Grave trouble.

Republicans like Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Goldwater, Dole, even Reagan, if they exist at all anymore, are nearly silent.  The Far Right who believe that American ideals are rooted in mono-theism, anti-intellectualism, and jingoism, have pulled even moderate Republicans into the glare of their extremism.  They have beat the drum of fear so loudly for so long now that issues that should be long gone, still rear their irrational heads.

“Obama is a Kenyan.”

“He is fighting for Islam.”

“The economy is worse.”

And I hear this quite often:  “Things have never been this bad.”

Really?

6 years ago, American troops were being sent to fight on two major fronts.  One was a pre-emptive war based on fabricated information from an administration seeking to nation build.

The economy has stabilized and many markers are at all time highs.  Unemployment is below pre recession levels.  The highest percentage of Americans have health care in history.  All of this without even the slightest bi-partisan cooperation.  How “bad” things are is simply the echo of those who cannot, or will not, accept that things have gotten better, and could have gotten a LOT better without their own vindictive, damnation of a President, a party and an ideology focused on reality and not hyperbole.

The Midterm elections could very well fall prey to the real propaganda that has infected imagesVEI2D977our airwaves, and politicians Hell-bent on heightening the neoliberal economics that created the greatest economic divide in history, leading to the Great Recession; De-regulation that minimizes creating production in favor of creating margins; Civil Rights legislation that excludes good Americans from the promise of freedom; Dangerous misunderstandings of common sense restrictions on deadly force; Imperialistic foreign policy that degrades our moral standing-  This could be the direction of our country.

I’ll be gone before this “Great Experiment in Democracy”* has been undone by the perverted values of a Plutocratic America.  I vote to protect my children.  And theirs.

 

 

*John Adams

 

 

Religious Freedom?

Controversy abounds regarding the Human Equal Rights Ordinance in Houston, Texas.Annise-Parker  The mayor, Annise Parker, signed an ordinance that prohibits “discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics.”   Mayor Parker is openly gay and the issue of discrimination against homosexuality is clearly a motivating factor, but discrimination against women and minorities are, of course, included.

Several pro bono lawyers have now sent subpoenas to several pastors in the city, asking them to turn over “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (also known as HERO).  Their concern is whether certain Christian themed sermons comply with the ordinance.

Ted Cruz has called the subpoenas “shameful.”

Before I address that “shame” I believe that the real shame lies in ted_cruz-1024x641the fact that in the 21st century we need to write ordinances to compel people to behave civilly to one another and to recognize that equality extends to us all.

But, given that a large portion of America refuses to recognize such decency toward certain people, behavior ordinances have become part of our legislative directive to be a better society.

That being said, my first reaction to the subpoenas was that they are in violation of the First Amendment.  Within the confines of a church, government must respect the right to share beliefs; no matter how much many of us may disagree with them.  It is the underbelly of Religious Freedom when beliefs separate decency from others, or are even hypocritical, but they do fall under the protection of the First Amendment.

I continued my argument (with myself):  These churches do not have theDowns-1986 right to persecute others within the town square, but like the decree in Skokie years ago that allowed Nazis to march, we cannot legislate thoughts, and ideas, even contemptuous ones.

And then….I considered something.

I considered the fact that I am a heterosexual, white, male in America.  I am not gay.  I am not a woman.  I am not a minority.  I have never gone anywhere, been employed anywhere, or joined any organization where I felt that I might be discriminated against, ridiculed, or paid less, or given fewer opportunities because of any of my natural characteristics.

To clarify the direction my thoughts were going I considered a different scenario…..

What if…someone started a new church based on old dogma?

What if it were a fundamentalist Christian church adhering to strict Old Testament doctrine?  The parishioners are called “Leviticans” and as Leviticans believe that to truly exemplify Christian values that we must consider 10710665_10154618066935058_2126745376983170345_nwomen to be the property of men.

They believe that “Women are not entitled to the full privileges of citizenship,” and thereby should not vote and in many public instances are to be segregated from men.  They do not belong in the workplace, their ideas are folly, and as “property” can actually be dispensed with if they cause a man displeasure.

Sound ridiculous?  It isn’t if you read the Old Testament.

The point here is to illustrate how religious beliefs can persecute.  To bring my hypothetical to its conclusion, let’s say that a woman becomes mayor of a major city where this church has grown, and the “Gospel” of subjugating the rights of women is spreading; businesses and social organizations are limiting opportunities for women.

This mayor then issues an ordinance that forbids any civic institution from such discrimination.  Where does Ted Cruz fall, along with the others who today are crying, “Where’s our religious freedom?” ?

My conclusion is this:  Religious values can discriminate against gay people and that discrimination requires bold initiatives to fight.

thCAS68N7WHarper Lee adapted a Native American proverb in “To Kill a Mockingbird”:  “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Welfare Does Not Perpetuate Poverty (Nor Will It End Poverty)

An issue which consistently divides along party lines is social spending.  The position I hear the most from the right side of the aisle is that welfare creates a system of perpetual poverty and that a high percentage of people using welfare are exploiting the system.

The argument they follow is that welfare should be abolished or greatly reduced and that is often married to a belief that the hard earned money of working Americans is being wasted on lazy people.  The solution, they say, is that money would be better spent by putting more in the hands of the wealthiest among us who will then create jobs.

I saw a letter in USA Today where a family counselor in Texas noted that a family he counsels contains “4 generations of welfare.” His conclusion was, once again, that welfare perpetuates the need for welfare.

I am reminded of a quote from Mark Twain: “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it-and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again — and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”

When the deduction is made that poverty is passed on generation to generation because of a system of sustenance to provide for those afflicted with it, the truth is being missed.  Welfare was never intended to eliminate poverty; it cannot. It is a system created by a civilized society that understands that we must create a net for those who have fallen through the cracks.

That safety net is not what perpetuates poverty. Poverty is perpetuated by unemployment and flat wages – POVERTY is what creates poverty.

A child born into poverty may grow up seeing only struggle and that can become the template for their own survival patterns. Their educational opportunities may suffer. Perhaps, the value of education is not realized in ways that many of us can take for granted.

They might be growing up in a neighborhood where their role models have succumbed to crime. Success is measured by different standards when you are outside the system.

Someday they may have a family of their own and the legacy of poverty can continue…

What we try to do with social programs, and what can happen (and does) is create resources for hope, so that someone might break that cycle.  Someone who found the right school, or a special teacher, or was shown the right opportunity to inspire a break.

That happens only when we cast a safety net that will help to sustain their lives.  We don’t know who they are and so the net has to be wide.  That is the welfare model.

Poverty doesn’t replicate because a social program or service brought some sustenance to the table.  For the record, families that have someone receiving some form of welfare do not produce an inclination by others in the family to work less.

Programs to offer assistance will not end the cycle created by the realities of poverty but they can give many what they need to survive so that they can find their way to opportunity.

In my view there are 3 immutable reasons to improve and continue welfare programs:

1) They keep children from starving, 2) They can bridge the gap between unemployment and employment, and 3) It’s the right thing for a compassionate and civilized society to do.

Our dilemma should not be whether to continue welfare programs, but rather, how do we spend our tax dollars in other places, as well, to reduce the poverty rate and to grow our economy.

On the right is the belief that we should give more to those who own the stores and factories so that they will create more jobs.  A superficial glance at the issue makes that seem logical, but any depth of analysis reveals that’s like giving Gatorade to the team owner when the players are thirsty.  Businesses don’t expand when owners have more money in their hands; they expand when there is demand for their product.

When the consumer class has disposable income they spend it and that’s when the economy grows.

It’s Tricke UP, not Trickle Down.

America has the resources to sustain welfare and to create job programs.  We have the solvency to enrich education.  We can also give tax breaks and incentives to businesses because that will stimulate hiring and keep businesses from closing, but there’s no reason to reduce teacher’s salaries and not to modernize schools, as well.  We can afford the infrastructure building and rebuilding that creates jobs.

Education and Jobs. That is the equation to reduce poverty and to grow our economy, and the arguments we’re having about spending should be centered there…and not around welfare.