The End Of The World As We Know It!

zombie-apocalypse-from-overclockersYou know those apocalyptic movies where the world is near extinction because we are being overrun by Zombies?  They became Zombi-fied from a virus that is circumnavigating the world at an exponential rate.

The movie will go back in time, briefly, to show us the unnoticed, seemingly insignificant, event that first sent monkeybrainthe virus airborne into a lethal chain reaction.  It’s usually something as benign as a pet chimp sneezing into their new owner’s cereal bowl.  The intent is to suggest that it’s something so unforeseeable that it could be happening as we sit in this very theater.

What if we are at the beginning of one of those sequences of events right now?  Could we implode from a cacophony of conflicting nuances, divergent political agendas, contradictory rules, extended punishments, threats, insults, and misunderstandings?

I’m not an alarmist, by nature, but my interest in politics compels me to look for patterns in current events.  As a writer, I translate those observations into common analogies to grasp what is going on.  Make sense?  No?

Well…. in America, our solutions to problems, historically, are comparable to an antiquated idea Punished Boy --- Image by © Roy Morsch/CORBISof child rearing.  If there is a behavior that alarms us, punish the culprit and the problem will go away because no one likes to be punished.

So we castigate, eliminate, or incarcerate everything and everyone that had anything to do with anything or anyone who might have said, done, or listened to anything or anyone that might have misconstrued, misjudged, misappropriated or misbehaved.

What happens in reality, however, is the behavior is simply displaced and moves somewhere else or is transposed into a different, but equally poor, behavior.

We have come to a very precarious place where many people think that banishment, chastisement, punishment, censorship and walls can replace education, understanding, compassion, diplomacy and bridges; silence the protest and we eliminate the problem.  Censor the protester, politician, pundit, satirist, musician, writer, parent, teacher, or student…and the conflict is corrected.

In reality, however, we create a more frightened and more fragile society.  And I’m concerned.  We cannot silence of voices who hold our leaders accountable because they are the narrators of our story.  They are what illuminate the sequence from which we cannot recover.

Can you excuse me for a moment?  My chimpanzee has a cold.

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.

Freddy the Freeloader

There are two things that I hear consistently from people who oppose the liberal position on social spending:  “It’s MY money,” and, “I don’t want my hard earned money being spent on people who want to live off handouts!”

Apparently, they feel that many of the poor are that way because they haven’t been threatened enough to stop being poor.

First of all, it should be understood that our current tax rates are relatively low, especially when you consider our Gross Domestic Product.  Taxes at all levels of government claim around 28 percent of GDP, compared with an average of 36 percent of GDP for the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Next consider the truth about those “freeloaders.”  If you take Medicare and Social Security out of the debate (those are a different arguments) and just focus on the “social services” commonly called “entitlement” programs, you’ll find a very small percentage (between 1 and 2%) abusing the system according to US Dept. of Labor statistics regarding UI programs.

“The myth of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen who defrauds the system lingers even though there’s no proof of it”, said Erin O’Brien, a poverty expert at the University of Massachusetts.  Accurate sources are hard to find, but of the over 95,000 welfare recipients in Philadelphia, for example (a metropolitan area over 4 million with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates), fraud is less than 2% according to the District Attorney’s Office.

In other words the vast majority of people using welfare initiatives are going back into the tax base and contributing; a very small amount of our taxes are being “wasted” on entitlements.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t correct abuse, but in terms of the personal anger I hear at being “robbed”, please reconsider the actual sacrifice you’re making.

Most people (other than Ron Paul supporters) understand the need to pay taxes to some extent. Most people understand the need for a strong military, for roads, hospitals and schools (infrastructure) and that government is the administrator of such things.

Where people come unglued is…all the other stuff.

Yet, I hear people (right and left) complain:  “Where is our money for flood recovery, the hurricane, the tornado?  Why is influenza spreading?  Why were oil platforms faulty? Why was the lunch meat bad at the high school?  Why did the plane go down?  Who’s going to stop the factory from polluting my town?”

Neo-cons and Libertarians will argue that the most effective way to handle these issues is to put more trust in the private sector, but that is painfully idealistic and shortsighted.  The private sector will spend where they wish and they won’t where they don’t.  Better off neighborhoods would be maintained and receive services while poor ones would suffer, spreading the scope of poverty like pestilence.

I’ve also heard many times, “If I kept my money, I would be more generous to those charities that do the work that needs to be done.”

Are you sure?  Studies show that generosity doesn’t increase with wealth.  A study in the New York Times ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22FOB-wwln-t.html?_r=1 ) reveals that wealthy people give a smaller percentage than the poor to charity.  And who in this private sector driven world will decide who gets what?  I can promise you that we’ll see the sick Gerber babies get plenty of help, but what about the babies of crack addicted mothers?  Who distributes the contributions so that help is generous and fair?  (See my article “The Shadow of Our Burden” http://www.garyhasissues.com/?p=4572 for more details).

“It’s MY money!”

Is it?  We get compensation for providing a product or a service; that’s the capitalist model.  Currency only realizes it’s value when we put it back into the system.  But who really owns money?  I owe everything I make to someone or another so when exactly is it mine?  When I do get ahead, I invest it so that someone else can capitalize on it.  The bank uses what I put in it and I’m pretty sure that when it’s lent elsewhere, someone else is laying claim to MY money.

If “capitalism” is our home, then money is the log on the fire to keep our house warm; and if we want to keep the fire burning we have to keep putting logs into the flame. I’m being a bit pedestrian here, but I always snicker a little when I hear “It’s MY money.”

“I EARNED my money!”

Maybe.  For sure, if you’re a coal miner.  I’ll never forget what my father told me when I made a pretty good check at Saturday Night Live.   I made more in one year than he did in 4 and he put his arm around me and said, “I’m happy for you, son. You made that much money.  But don’t ever tell me that you EARNED that much.”

He didn’t have to explain, I got his point very clearly.

Those of us who are employed, healthy, and are surrounded by friends and family, should fall to our knees (in my humble opinion) and thank God (or to whomever you pray) that we live in a free society, have opportunity, pay relatively low taxes, have a system of government predicated on freedom of speech (and tolerance) and have the services and protections that we have to pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness.

And when the government we elect shows compassion and offers sustenance to those who have fallen through the cracks, that is the realization of the promise of freedom….and it might cost you a penny or two out of every dollar you earn

Sounds like a fair bargain to me.

“To Blog or Not to Blog”

Sometimes I wonder if I post too much.  Occasionally, I will apologize for sending my links around because I don’t want my views to become a pain to my friends, although I have no qualms about being forward with those who generally oppose my ideas.

I don’t mean to be belligerent, but “life” for a post sort of begins with discord and debate; but I don’t want to become a broken record to those who generally favor my views and become tuned out as noise.

I’ve noticed, however, that Gary Has Issues has been growing in readership and that compels me to keep going.  There is a back-end analytics page with Word Press that shows me where readers are coming from and how many.  Don’t fear 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Amendment enthusiasts- there is no analytic tool that shows an email address, town or even state where a reader comes from, only the country and how many times a country “clicked” the link.

This tool shows me that I consistently draw numbers from the United States, but also new readers (non-spam) from Ireland, England, Germany, Russia, Australia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, and just today- New Zealand (Welcome Kiwi friends- I hope you don’t go bush if you get knackered when I rack off)!

My point is that I believe debate and the airing of views is vital to the survival of a Republic.  However, I must confess to a prejudicial judgment that I find myself making fairly often.  When someone tells me, “I don’t watch the news anymore, it’s too depressing,” or says, “Politicians are all crooks and so I don’t care anymore!” I conclude that they are masking apathy and justifying it with an artificial plea for integrity.

Kind of harsh, I know.  But I think I’m right.  Everything we do or have (with the exception of love), from where our kids go to school to the roads we drive to work, to the taxes we pay, the potholes that are filled or the location of the sewer drains, the safety of our neighborhoods and our nation and the information we receive online, on television, radio and in print, are all part of the political matrix that surrounds us.

It is inconceivable to me that any conscious human being, who has access to news and the ability to participate, would not choose to be involved.  That doesn’t mean by a cosmic mile that everyone should be as active or vocal as I, and others, choose to be, or even close, but awareness of our socio-political reality is as necessary to survival as the air we breathe.

It’s a paradox, to be sure.  Our individual liberty gives us the right to not participate.  We don’t have to vote.  Freedom of Speech also means the freedom not to speak.  Protection of our privacy includes the protection of our thoughts.  We have the right to replace “caring” with the confusion that can lead to disengagement.

Most people are, and should be, more concerned about their son’s grades, who’s coming to the barbeque, and whether they’ll get a raise.  Or…whether they’ll get a job, or if Grandpa will make it to morning, or if there will be enough food on the table tonight.

I’m not being flippant; our concerns over the matters which constitute our lives are the priorities we should choose, but participation in politics is essential to our freedom.  We can give it at least as much attention as we do to a traffic light to determine when to cross.

Our Founding Fathers wrote a charter to define a representative Democracy in order to secure liberty and justice without prejudice.  The blood that gives life to the body of this Republic is an informed electorate.  In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Whenever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.”

The reverse implication of Jefferson’s wisdom is equally persuasive, however; if people are not well informed, they cannot be trusted.  Being informed demands political awareness and that is the only thing that stands in the way of tyranny.

So…if we care about freedom; the freedom that allows us to debate and participate to whatever degree we choose…we must care about politics.  It’s the only game in town.

Now…who’s coming to the barbeque…?

I Love the Way You Lie

On Monday’s I take my sons to school and along Interstate 380, between Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, I’ve noticed for the past several years a homemade billboard which changes with some regularity.

Immediately after Obama was elected the sign read “O-Bummer.”

During the Iowa Caucus it read “Restore Sanity- Vote Santorum.”  Apparently, the common “san” was enough for the sign maker to equate Santorum with the concept of sanity and think it was poetic wisdom.  Of course, that’s as catchy and relevant as “Quit Stallin’- Vote Stalin!” but I digress…

I passed the sign today and it said “17 Trillion.”  Obviously, that is meant to say “The national debt has increased to 17 trillion dollars” and I’m sure the editorial point behind it is to say, once again, “O-Bummer.”

Never mind that the debt was created over decades and was exacerbated the most by two wars, tax cuts, Bush’s Medicare prescription drug benefits and dangerously low production due to a giant recession which began before Obama took office.

In the interest of fairness we have to include Obama stimulus spending (although that could be catalogued under the cost of a recession), and Obama did introduce costly new regulations and Medicaid entitlements, which increased the debt by over a trillion dollars.  The looming issue, however, is something else.

We can talk, squabble and point fingers as to where the massive debt came from until the Day of Reckoning (or when the Vikings win the Super Bowl, whichever comes first) or we can get serious and talk about our REAL problems.

One obstacle to solutions is the fact that we tend to believe what we read. When we read something over and over, hear about it every day, and from people who present themselves with credibility, eventually it starts to sound like the truth.

Such is the case with the great Debt/Deficit/Budget/Fiscal Cliff debate. We hear so often that it is the debt that is destroying our economy and the evil of deficit spending that almost no one questions that premise anymore.

The Des Moines Register ran an op-ed which compared our household budgets to government spending. It’s a concept that’s easy to understand: “The federal government is exactly like such a family.  And its options are exactly the same” read the second paragraph. We’ve heard this often enough and it resonates; “just like my household budget where I have to bring in at least as much as I spend, the government should operate the same way.”

Except that the Federal Government and our households are absolutely nothing alike.

As economist William Mitchell wrote (Bilbo.economicoutlook.net) “But the government is not a big household. It can consistently spend more than its revenue because it creates the currency….governments can purchase whatever they like whenever there are goods and services for sale in the currency they issue.”

I understand the basis of Keynsian economics and it was of interest to me when I ran across this article by Mitchell, critical of Obama’s economic assessment, titled “Beyond Austerity” where he gives a historical perspective to our evolution in and out of free market regulations.

Before I give the impression that Mitchell takes the neo-liberal economic view, I must point out that he vehemently opposes the neo-liberal market philosophy. To further assuage confusion, let me point out the “neo-liberal” economic philosophy is not left wing economics; neo-liberalism stresses the efficiency of private enterprise and relatively open markets, and seeks to maximize the role of the private sector in determining political and economic priorities; in other words, it is the right wing point of view. Mitchell’s criticism of Obama is that he buys into it too often.

“Governments are being pressured to cut deficits despite strong evidence that public stimulus has been the major source of economic growth during the crisis and that private spending remains subdued” (from Beyond Austerity, The Nation Apr 4,2011). “Public deficits do not cause inflation, nor do they impose crippling debt burdens on our children and grandchildren. Deficits do not cause interest rates to rise, choking private spending…”

The Great Depression demonstrated the fallibility of a capitalist market; that it is unstable and susceptible to long periods of unemployment unless there is government intervention. The Hoover economic doctrine is literally what the neo-liberal economists (the entire Right Wing today) are trying to sell to us; that a balanced budget is the solution to market collapse.

Fortunately for them, Americans are short on memory (or didn’t pay much attention in history class) because it was WWII, as our government used deficit spending to fund the war effort, that led to full employment. A leisurely stroll through post industrial American history shows us that it was deficit spending, when supplementing private demand that led to creating jobs.

Many people are not aware of the fact that it was Richard Nixon in 1971 who abandoned the Gold Standard where the government could spend only insofar as taxes were raised or money was borrowed from the private sector.  After 1971, however, our monetary system became one that issued its own currency and was not convertible (into a commensurate gold supply) into anything of value but could now be floated and freely traded in foreign markets. As a result, we no longer have to “fund” spending and the liquidity in our system is not limited.

Our government now issues debt to match deficits, not because it is financially sound, but because of pressure from conservatives harkening back to the gold standard era with what has become a politically motivated agenda. By demonizing spending, i.e. entitlements, social programs and federal regulations, it is an easy sell to the public to cut spending, lower taxes and ultimately increase margins.

It is, in short, a shell game, and we, the public, are the skyward gazing tourists on the streets of New York losing our own money to the con.

As Michael Moore (Ooops! I just lost all credibility with my political opposition) once said, “America is not broke. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred in the greatest heist in history from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.”

Moore is dead on target.  We keep hearing about our “unsustainable debt” and the number is staggering; it is unsustainable, but the solution is not a straight line to sequestration, rather, we must look at the reason our economy became unstable.  Our primary issue is not unsustainable debt, it is Unsustainable Wealth.  We allowed 30 years of deregulation and tax loopholes to siphon too much money toward the top until the well was dry.

But don’t take my word for it, just look at history.  Look at the economic hills and valleys from post industrial America, through the Great Depression, thru Eisenhower’s tax rates, to Nixon’s redesign of the monetary system, on thru Reaganomics, Clinton budgets, Bush spending and Obama Stimulus.  Hold that policy time line up against the historical graph of employment, and productivity and you’ll see for yourself where we’ve been led astray. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_history_of_the_United_States

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_debt_by_U.S._presidential_terms#Changes_in_debt_by_political_affiliation

Debts and deficits are relevant, but not in the way that Republicans are parading in front of us as their leverage to continue neoliberal economic policy.  The debt “crisis” is a political manuveur to implement policy to keep taxes lower for the wealthy by reducing spending on programs that can help Americans who are not.  The debt is not the balance for the fulcrum that creates jobs and increases production.

I was on the bandwagon of the vocal left wing that called Bush/Cheney out for creating most of this debt 10 years ago, spending like drunken sailors while raping and pillaging progressive taxes and needed regulations, to pander to their cronies.  And when Cheney said, “The debt doesn’t matter” I was among the first to call him a self-serving liar. But you know what? It appears that was the one time he wasn’t full of shit.

While I maintain that it was the Bush/Cheney version of neo-liberalism that created this economic crisis through a continued cacophony of deregulation, spending and tax breaks for those who didn’t need them, with a perversion of Mixed Market Capitalism, they didn’t always lie.