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.

Will the real “smaller, smarter” candidate please stand up?

Karyn Finn is running against Walt Rogers for the Iowa House. A couple of months ago53289b706c207_preview-620 I was asked by Karyn’s campaign manager to have a coffee for her.  Even though Karyn is a Democrat, as I am, I don’t simply say, “Yes, by all means, any Democrat is better than a Republican” and so I did some research first.

Granted, I knew she was running against Walt Rogers, the incumbent Republican, with whom I agree on only one thing- that breathing is necessary- but support should not be blind, and it should not only come from opposing someone else. So I asked around, found some materials and went online.  Soon, I told her campaign that I would be happy to host a coffee.

There was a nice, casual turn out on a sunny Sunday afternoon that would inspire most people to do anything but come to an afternoon coffee for a candidate, and we made the best out of what we had. Karyn arrived with her husband and, although we had actually met before, we had never talked politics.  This was a wonderful opportunity to listen and to ask questions.

She was raring to go and she spelled out her basic platform:

-Ensure quality education for all Iowans from pre-K through higher education.

-Make higher education more affordable.

-Protect UNI from any further cuts.

-Give Iowa businesses priority at state & local contracts.

-Expand job training to put Iowans back to work in high skilled jobs.

Those are broad strokes and not details, but I am particularly drawn to her experience in, and committment to, education. I’m not going to drill down into details about Karyn Finn’s ideas in this blog (that’s her job), instead I suggest that you contact Karyn (Facebook and Twitter) or Google her to learn more.  I can tell you first hand that she is smart, experienced, she’s a fighter, she’s passionate and well educated, but what I want to do is distance her from her opponent.

Walt Rogers personifies the new Republican platform (heavily influenced by the Tea Party) that has emerged over the past 8 years. I know for a fact that Walt is a nice man, a great father and husband, and I trust that his beliefs are from a genuine intention to serve faithfully.  That being said, I also believe that his sincerity has been seduced by ideological fallacies drawn from a conservative agenda being bankrolled by selfish interests.

I “Walt-zed” over to his website to do my research.

Walt Roger’s theme is “Smaller, Smarter Government.” Great slogan.  Who wouldn’t want government that is smarter?  On his website, Rogers lists a series of problems with our current government and follows with his solutions.  Great copy to make his case, except there is a fundamental flaw…almost none of it is true.

Each premise is built on the false perceptions and made up conflicts drawn from the well of Fox News and conservative pundits, fanned by Tea Party propaganda and covered by….Fox News, conservative pundits and Tea Partiers. Rogers gives solutions to problems that don’t exist, at least not in the way that they’re stated.

Here’s what Roger’s website has to say (with my reply after each):

  • A massive federal takeover of health care that is quickly becoming less of a real “law” and more of a lawless hierarchy of privilege where those with connections, money, and power get exemptions and the rest of us get stuck.

MISLEADING. Exemptions were made for businesses to adapt to the change.  1,231 companies applied for and received waivers from the law’s restrictions on annual benefit caps. The law requires plans to gradually raise their benefit limits, and all annual limits will become illegal in 2014.

  • Loss of full-time jobs due to ObamaCare’s employer mandate, leading to increasing levels of part-time employment and unemployment.

MISLEADING. While some larger firms who have to provide insurance for employees come 2015 are cutting back employee hours to part-time to avoid paying for their health coverage, others like WalMart, have moved thousands of workers from part-time to full-time to embrace the law.  Also, many smaller firms will be able to hire more workers due to their ability to provide them with better benefits at cheaper rates.  ObamaCare itself funds the creation of new jobs in healthcare sectors.  Some job loss will be seen in the form of full-time workers losing hours- but job growth will result from new healthcare related jobs.

  • Futile attempts to “stimulate” the economy by spending massive amounts of money borrowed from our grandchildren.

FALSE. In a survey by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, 80 percent of the economists surveyed agreed with the Congressional Budget Office that the unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been without the stimulus law.  The stimulus plan under the current administration was essentially a continuation of the Bush administration policy and until it became a talking point to oppose Obama, Republicans generally accepted stimulus strategies.

  • Complex, unpredictable laws creating an environment hostile to business, leading to even higher unemployment and underemployment rates.

FALSE. Unemployment is down regardless of what Walt Rogers wants to print.  The “unpredictable laws” such as Dodd-Frank were designed to prevent predatory lending and unscrupulous tactics that destroyed pensions and savings due to a lack of regulations in the market.  This administration’s biggest effort has been lending.  Since the beginning of the recession, loans to small businesses dropped because banks have been reluctant and President Obama implemented the Small Business Lending Fund.  Many tax breaks have also been given and corporate cash reserves are at all time highs.  Hardly a “hostile” environment.

  • Trying to regulate our children’s education with top-down, one-size-fits-all approaches like “No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core.”

DISINGENOUS. At least Rogers is taking a non-partisan position here as “No Child Left Behind” was a Bush Administration program (and I personally agree that “Common Core” does not address the real educational issues either).  Problems in education, however, will not benefit from Roger’s austerity plans.

  • A runaway, out-of-control EPA working to make sure President Obama’s promise of “skyrocketing energy prices” becomes reality.

MISINFORMED.   The “skyrocket” quote was taken out of context from an answer to what Cap and Trade can do to electricity prices and as a result, reduce consumption.  Obama, when running for President in 2008 outlined his basic energy premise:  “I think that we have been slow to move in a better direction when it comes to energy usage…we’ve been consuming energy as if it’s infinite. We now know that our demand is badly outstripping supply…”  Oil has fluctuated as it has for 10 years, natural gas prices are down and electricity may see an increase but it hasn’t yet.  Even with the sober and sensible warnings that halted the Keystone Pipeline, American oil production is up.

  • Overloading people and businesses with taxes that cost Iowans jobs every day.

NOT TRUE. President Obama hasn’t raised taxes as President Reagan, for example, did 11 times (yes he cut them, as well, but raised them on the middle and lower classes to offset debt).  And despite Republican assertions, Obama has cut spending and the national debt at its fastest rate since World War II.

Iowa, by the way, has created jobs and has an unemployment rate that is half of the national average.

So, Rogers now offers his “Smaller, Smarter” solutions:

1) Dismantling ObamaCare, 2) Unleashing American energy production, 3) Making sure our laws apply equally to all (but not to Gay people, of course), 4) Making education a state, rather than national concern, 5) Defending 2nd Amendment rights, as well as 6) Right to Life protections.

I’ll translate:

1) Allow our nation’s health to once again become commoditized and putting average Americans at risk of bankruptcy, 2) Unnecessarily escalating toxic environmental disaster in order to increase energy profits, 3) Double standards for justice, 4) Decrease funding to public education further crippling inner city schools, 5) Proliferating guns by making access to lethal weapons even easier, and 6) Using religious doctrine, contrary to the 1st Amendment, to increase the scope of government.

This is “Smarter”? How so?

Is this “Smaller”? Yes, if what he means is a smaller capacity to serve Iowans.

Campaign slogans can be shorthand to understanding a candidate’s essential platform. They can also be shorthand to understanding that the wool has been pulled over their eyes.

I support Karyn Finn for the Iowa House. She’s only about 5′ 2″ and so she really is- “Smaller, Smarter government.”

The Color of Fear: One More Commentary on the Lynching of Michael Brown

“Gary Has Issues” is moving into a new direction.  When I come across an editorial that I think is important I am offering my site as a platform.   I have a fairly wide base that includes many conservatives and I welcome a healthy and respectful debate.

staceyI met Stacey Walker last Spring as he was working on Anesa Kajtazovic’s campaign for the House of Representatives.  Stacey stayed at my house during much of that time and I was honored to meet such a bright, engaging and passionate man.  His thoughts here are relevant, powerful. and unedited.            – Gary

 

Ferguson is on fire for a reason. That reason isn’t just because on Saturday, August 9th 2014, an unarmed black man by the name of Michael Brown was gunned down in the streets by someone who swore an oath to protect and serve the public. The reason Ferguson is on fire is because Michael Brown is just one of the latest high profileferguson-riots incidents of this nature, and when taken together, an entire race of people are becoming crudely reacquainted with the idea that their skin color is a liability that carries with it lethal consequences.  And while I don’t endorse any violence or lawlessness on the part of the protesters, I certainly understand it.

The simple truth of the matter is, every time an unarmed black man is killed by the police, and there is no consequence, a very clear message gets communicated to the rest of the country:  the value of black life is negligible.

For this reason, I will have the obligatory talk with my future sons and daughters where I give them pro-tips about how to act around the cops. I will try to let them know that their life indeed does have value but some people might not see it that way. Every black man I know has received this talk by someone who loves them. Naturally, as a parent, it will be my job to let my kids know, that although all men are created equal, and endowed with certain inalienable rights, they will need to be extra careful around the  police, even more so than their friends who have less melanin in their skin.

You see, in America, for so many reasons and for far too long, Black skin on a man has come to be seen as dangerous. And as the incredibly astute Brent Staples pointed out many years ago, this perception is what leads police officers to make those split-second decisions to pull the trigger and end a life. In dicey situations, when the target is Black and thereby considered scary or dangerous, it seems like many in law enforcement subscribe to the policy of shoot first, ask questions later. Fear and weapons is a very bitter cocktail, as such Staples goes on to warn that where fear and weapons meet – and they often do in urban America – there is always the possibility of death. The hard truth is, if our society teaches us to fear black people and perceive them as a threat to life and limb, then that society is wrong and needs to work on correcting itself.

Why doesn’t America weep for my people? Because Black skin evokes fear and signals danger, because African Americans are grossly underrepresented on police forces around the country, because most of the people being gunned down don’t have  a 401k or preferred stock in their company, because Fox News is quick to point out the lawlessness that ensues after a gun-related tragedy instead of facilitating a meaningful conversation on the relationship between law enforcement and Black America, because for far too long the consequences, if any, for those who do the killing have been minimal, because Black people have come to accept these killings as a part of life and they hope that the conversations they have with their kids about mitigating this danger actually sinks in, and because this sort of thing happens so often that the shock value is waning and we as a people are becoming desensitized.

I don’t have many encounters with the police anymore. I no longer live in an area that requires their strong presence. I wear button-downs and nice slacks to work every day, so I don’t really fit the bill of many of these young men that are being killed by cops. But none of that really matters. A life is a life, whether that life is Ivy League trained, or a recipient of welfare. Yet and still, I am a Black man and I understand that even if I’m whistling Vivaldi in my pressed shirt walking home from the Englert Theater, that I am bound by an entirely different set of rules should I encounter a police officer. The game is different for me, and the odds of me getting hauled away in a body bag because I reached for my wallet too quickly are higher than the norm.

I was compelled to write my thoughts for several reasons. No doubt, I’m completely saddened by this tragedy, as are many others around the country. But I’m also writing because I’m tired of feeling as if I belong to a race of people who could end up on the endangered species list because we’re being hunted in the streets.

For every Michael Brown, there are countless others like him, whose deaths rarely command national media attention. I do not begrudge the media for being selective in which cases to publicize, nor do I begrudge the American people for their consumption of such media. However, I do take issue when justice is not served. When after all of the marches and speeches, we have no tangible signs of progress. If I am to feel as if my life has just as much value as anyone else, then I’d like to see meaningful action taken to curb the disproportionate violence against African Americans being perpetrated by law enforcement.

We should be reviewing the use of lethal force protocol for law enforcement officials around the country. We should investigate every instance of an unarmed death at the hands of the police. We should see the police officers punished when they cross the line. We should see families compensated for their loss. We should have more national conversations on race relations. We should see police departments doing more to understand the cultural dynamics of the communities they’re paid by tax dollars to protect and serve. All of these things and more represent only the beginning of what needs to happen.

Until we begin to walk down the path of correcting this ill in our society, these tragedies will continue to hurt us deeply, particularly because they are eerily reminiscent of a time where it really was socially acceptable for police officers to kill black folks. It hurts so deeply because we’re telling the world that we’re okay with lynching black boys in our streets so long as we can perceive them to be dangerous. We’re lynching these young men with bullets from a government issued gun with no sense of justice in sight.

Michael Brown’s mother will never hug her son again. He was assassinated. Six bullets, center mass.

Why won’t America weep for my people? Because right now, she is busy lynching them.

Weiners and Boehners

Why is it even news when a public figure lies?

We are lied to when verbs are manipulated to minimize the meaning of an indiscretion.

We are lied BoehnerJohnCrying1to by politicians who flip-flop positions in order to score higher with populism’s moving target.

We share trust issues with wives of candidates, who were lied to about previous lies.

anthony-weiner-twitter-lewd-photo-shirtless-picture-sexting-rep-congressman-democrat-new-york-new-cats-scandal-affair-womenSo why are we surprised when we are lied to by baseball players, golfers, linebackers, actors, and Tour De France winners?

Perhaps due to some collective insecurity, because we know how flawed we are individually, we participate in stories of transcendent greatness that belie the vulnerable nature of being human. We create myths around sports figures, political leaders, and even performers, that elevate them to stories of Divine Intervention and our expectations are for these players to transcend what we fear most; our mortality.

This storyline leaves no room for anything that debunks that myth.  Like the truth.

These “heroes” can hit baseballs farther and ride bicycles faster. They move us with celestially inspired words so that we can rise to defeat evil enemies, or they earn our adoration for how they survived the desert as they journeyed toward fame.

And here’s the irony- we don’t even believe the stories we create.  Who didn’t think that Lance Armstrong was lying about PED’s all along?  Who really thought that Barry Bonds had no idea that he was given steroids?  Is anyone going to put a real money wager on Roger Clemons s-ALEX-RODRIGUEZ-STEROIDS-PRESS-CONFERENCE-largetelling the truth…or A-Rod?

Were we really surprised to find out that they were using what was available to them to win?

I’m not excusing the lies stemming from weak moral values or crippled character, but if we, as a society, believe the axiom that winning is everything and that the popularity from those winning achievements is the measure of success, then can we be surprised when we discover that our winners did whatever it took, and hid whatever they had to, to reach that plateau?

Do we secretly want them to lie when they’re accused of taking mortal steps?

From a more Earthly perspective, if your paycheck is determined by how many tackles you make, wouldn’t it seem logical to become as big and strong as you can, and as quickly as possible?  Where is the surprise if steroids are used to accelerate that pathway to the success we expect from them?

If your endorsements increase every time you win a race, and everyone around you is using performance enhancers to beat you, doesn’t it sort of make sense to improve yourself the same way?

Problems arise when we use our myth and not reality to determine the rules we play by.  It will be inevitable that there will be contradictions between fiction and non-fiction in our storyline, and the truth is, the “offenders” are only doing what we asked of them. Except that we added a provision –don’t get caught- so that we can keep our phony moral judgments.

Our craving for the drama that distracts us from reality has also created a media machine to propagate those fantasies and it grows as it exposes the layers that make us human. Like the “Borg” from Star Trek, it gains power by absorbing the energy of what stands in its way and mechanizing its humanity.

Whether we watch the news and read the tabloids, or not, we are still affected by its influence.  This Mass Media Behemoth determines our ethical (even political) directives and it does so by elevating or demonizing whatever or whomever gets the most attention, the fastest.

Ethics are what guide a society toward civility, but the dilemma we now face is that the elevate-300x226ethical decisions being made by our creation are fake. They are as false as a magician elevating above the sidewalk; they are an illusion to give us a sense of living in a world that suits our mythology but diverts us from the reality that life might be too…human.

We end this perpetuating paradigm of moral paralysis by gazing at our own reflections and determining to judge others only as we would wished to be judged ourselves.  “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

In the meanwhile, all we ask is that you don’t let us know that you’re lying or cheating.  If we find out that you’re doing what we already know you’re doing – we’ll bring you DOWN!

I call this meeting to order!

It’s not uncommon to get a response from one of my posts that starts out benign to lull me in:  “Gary, I agree with a lot of what you say…”

My guard goes down as I enjoy being agreed with, but then they will edge toward a counterpoint:  “…but, Gary…”

I lean in (even when I’m reading) to capture what it is that I am wrong about, but very quickly the screw with turn.  “…you damn liberals want to put everyone on welfare!”

I really do enjoy debate and I rarely draw first blood, and while my blog may incite opposition, I am careful to use evidence and first hand observations to illustrate my positions.

I am guilty of the occasional joke but I can laugh at jokes about liberals and Democrats, too; what I don’t like are generalizing indictments of progressive agenda (“lazy, liberals hate America”).

Dear Conservative and/or Republican Friends, I have never had a conversation with a liberal or attended a meeting of Democrats where we’ve discussed any agenda to make America a socialist state or to put everyone on welfare.

There is no Wussify America Committee and we don’t have classes where we “Learn to Mambo While Bowing to Foreign Dignitaries.”

My detractors must imagine that our meetings go something like this:

“This meeting of the Black Hawk County Democrats and Young Socialists is called to order!  Please read the minutes from last week.”

“Um…the Nanny State Committee reported that, unfortunately, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs seem to be working, and with unemployment numbers coming down, we are losing the battle to keep people on the dole!”

“That’s bad news, people!  We’ve got to buck up!  Has anyone thought to raid Best Buy?  If we can deliver more flat screen tv’s to the poor -they won’t look for work!  Let’s get it done!”

“Also, the Young Socialists gave a 3 minute presentation on fire safety and neighborhood watch programs and then we watched a short film about foreign policy called, “Wave the White Flag.”  Bob Johnson made a motion to include black, yellow and red on our white flags to be more inclusive.  It passed unanimously.”

(Applause, applause)

Meanwhile…on the other side of town at the Republican Headquarters, the meeting has also been called to order…

“Let us recite the pledge….I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the Majority for which it stands, one nation, under Reagan, with liberty and justice for all who are just like us.”

“Has the Plutocracy Committee prepared their report?”

“We have, sir. The transfer of wealth is almost complete.  Its taken 30 years but the wealthiest Americans—“

“Praise them!” cries a woman in back.

“Yes, praise them!  The wealthiest Americans have increased their holdings by nearly 250 percent!”

“Praise them!”

“Yes….of course…praise them!  Koch is risen!  We now have 10% controlling 90% of the wealth.  The Middle Class is nearly obsolete and the poor….”

(The room stifles laughter)

“…well, the poor continue to get—“

“POORER!” the crowd chants in unison.

“And finally, a big ‘thank you’ to the food and decorations committee who bought this evenings meal with their own food stamps. Thank you, Barbara!”

(Applause, applause)

Okay…perhaps a little too much coffee this morning, but I do have a point. These generalizations are ludicrous. I can cite Corporate Welfare of over 100 billion dollars a year to counter anti-entitlement arguments.  We can argue about Social Security, the New Deal, who freed the slaves, and what Biden really whispered to Boehner until the tanned cows come home, and never get anywhere.

We can fight with numbers until we are blue (or red) in the face, however- there is such a thing as truth and there are such things as facts.  There are things like respect, humanity, compassion, and there is a capacity to judge right from wrong stored in some primal cavity in our brains.  It is stimulated by information.

And the more information we seek from credible sources, the better informed we become to make better decisions that can lead to better changes…and in the meanwhile we can have better arguments and make fewer generalizations.

See you at the next meeting,

Gary

The Wrath of God

Whenever there is a natural disaster it seems that a political evangelical will make a statement to confirm God’s wrath and it prompts me to look more critically at their cause.

Evangelicals are a strong political force within the conservative movement and while I have no problem with the expression of deep faith, I am always a little confused by the contradiction between their pageantry and Matthew 6:1:  “Take heed that ye give not your alms before men, to be seen of them.”

Where religion is concerned I seek humility and my world view is non-exclusionary, allowing for all religious and non-religious people to “follow their bliss.”

That phrase was coined by the late mythologist, Joseph Campbell, who believed that all world religions contain the same fundamental, transcendent truths.  My problem with modern evangelicals is the fact that they’re so…evangelical, and aggressive righteousness leaves no room for “inclusion.”

The original movement in the 17th century rose from Lutheranism to de-emphasize ritual and ceremony in the Church and to instead focus on pietism.  They were, in fact, non-conformists.

Today, however, “evangelicalism” has come to mean strict social conservatism, devout adherence to Scripture and a clear establishment of Christian doctrine in politics.  That zealotry leads some to anti-scientific theory and conformity that can compromise solutions to real world problems.

That, in my opinion, is dangerous.

A poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service, questioned respondents about God and natural disasters, and it revealed that 60% of the evangelicals polled (more than any other group), believe that natural disasters are signs from God.

Other denominations hovered around 30 to 40% but that is still a staggering number of people who feel that solutions, even the ones within our human grasp, may be as simple, and as exclusionary, as piety.

Right after the Newtown massacre former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee came onto Fox News and opined, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.”

A columnist wrote in a Texas paper that “their deaths could be attributed to God’s displeasure with our culture’s moral collapse.”

Years ago I had dismissed Pat Robertson after he blurted out that “the earthquake in Haiti was a result of a Haitian pact with the devil” but, a new email is circulating with hundreds of names attached which states that such natural disasters are “because we are becoming a Godless nation.”

Doesn’t that concept betray the very nature of God?  I have children and when they ignore me (which is most of the time), I hardly wish for them to perish in a flood.

Then I thought…..

What if…this fundamentalist Christian notion is all wrong?  I mean, what if, in fact, it is exactly wrong?

What if God is angry at many of the Christians inside His church?

What if God is angered by those who recited the Gospel yet went to work and pillaged the credit of the less fortunate and plundered the investments of his hard working flock?

What if He is appalled at trusted servants who would first choose to protect themselves before innocent children?

Maybe God is angry at those who want to repeal health care reform that can help over 30 million of His children to have more security in their lives.

Maybe God is less insulted by those who would remove prayer in schools, than He is by those who cannot separate religion from the laws of humankind.

Maybe…maybe, God gets upset with those who would deny civil rights to others who wish to show their love and devotion through marriage.

Maybe God is fed up with those who manipulate His divinity into messages of smite and exclusion.

Or what if…God is the measure of our compassion for others and His word represents the responsibility we have to care for one another and for this planet?

What if…natural disasters are just that, natural, and solutions to the problems we face depend on how we accept each other, as we are, and not whether or not we share the same piety?

 

The Nature of Debate

I am conflicted.  Last night I became aware of something that I hadn’t really thought of before.  There are people who don’t participate in my political posts but still read them.  That may seem obvious, but as I write something, post it, and a debate, which sometimes becomes heated, ensues, I am only thinking about the people who are participating.

A friend, who is a Republican, and never participates, wrote to me directly and was very blunt. “I’m tired of being made to look stupid simply because I’m a Republican.”

I was embarrassed.  I wrote back, “I don’t think Republicans are stupid and I certainly respect you!”

But I looked back on some threads and it wasn’t hard to find many comments that were9780974537603_p0_v1_s260x420 offensive from all sides of the debate.  Some liberal participants had, in fact, stated that “Republicans don’t care about others, only themselves” or said that they are “racist, blind and ignorant.”

I can assure everyone that I know as many Republicans who care as much as anyone about others, about this country, and who are generous and informed.

I can report to everyone that as I do fundraisers for various charities that there are as many, if not more, Republicans in the house reaching into their wallets.  And as the majority of business owners I know are Republican, I can tell you that I see them sponsoring community events, softball leagues and charities all over town.

But this is where I am conflicted….

It is not possible to have these ideological differences and not put on gloves to some extent.  It is also very clear how hostilities begin.  The way we think is part of who we are and when that is challenged it is not difficult to feel insulted.

My intention when I started blogging a few years ago was to have reasonable and informed debates and to keep the bitterness at a low flame.  I wanted solutions to Michele-Bachmann-corn-dogproblems, not body slam victories.

I have betrayed my own premise several times when I’ve posted embarrassing pictures of Rick Santorum or Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin….or George Bush…Limbaugh…Cruz… and while I am not retracting my distaste for their positions and how they manifest them, nothing is gained by insulting them.

But, I have questions to be addressed before my conflicted state can be resolved. Debate them.  Offer counter evidence.  Dismiss them, if you wish, but I’d like to understand some of the differences that have been separating liberals from conservatives.

– I don’t understand why conservatives will call me “brainwashed” because I have this idea that caring aggressively about both our essential and aesthetic environment is a very important matter.

-Or “socialist” because I want to see every American and every child better cared for with better access to health care.

– I do not understand why many conservatives cannot separate their Christian faith from constitutional justice and why they do not recognize that ALL Americans share the same civil rights.

-I do not understand why Republicans disallow any connection between our current foreign policy quagmire in the Middle East with policies initiated 11 years ago.

– I do not understand the logic from Republicans who believe that the solution to ourGreat-Depression-Chart current economic challenge is to use the same economic principles that created our economic crisis.

Why is it a silly leftwing position to imagine that history (the Great Depression and Keynsian Theory) has lessons regarding spending, taxation, entitlements, and free market regulation?

What is even more puzzling to me is that many of those concepts were once embraced by the Right.  Nixon brought us the EPA.  Republicans during his term introduced healthcare reform very similar ObamaCare.  Eisenhower supported collective bargaining and progressive taxation.  It was actually a Democrat (Kennedy) who brought the high end of the tax rate down, but created less tax burden at the bottom.

Our differences are not a question of stupidity or lack of caring for others, they are defined by matters of truth, and I want to understand this disconnect without being called “pathetic” or a “weak minded liberal.”

The nature of our debates can improve.