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.

50% of Americans think 50% of Americans are wrong

I had no intention of embarrassing or insulting anyone, but I wanted to make a point.  I asked people who the 15th president was.  The few who answered said, 5356774587_lincwant_xlarge“Lincoln.”

“No biggie” I replied, “but he was the 16th President.  James Buchanan was the 15th.”

I asked them about the ramifications of the Dred Scot decision.  Only 2 of 5 had heard of it.

I asked a different group about the Treaty of Versailles.  No one was sure of it and one person offered that it was a cocktail.

Again, no biggie.  I’m not trying to embarrass anyone and I completely understand that most people are more interested in how their kids are doing at school, where their stock portfolios stand, and how grandma is feeling.  The history and minutia of politics is not as pressing and that’s as it should be; the business of living and raising a family is our priority.

…yet for some reason we think that, collectively, we are foreign policy experts, constitutional scholars and economic theorists.  Why else would we see all of these polls that tell us how many Americans agree with the President’s policy in the Ukraine or how many Americans are in a fit over the federal budget or what their feelings are about the national debt?

I read that “58% of Americans polled believe that foreigners view President Obama as incompetent.”

So?

What relevance is possibly gained from a poll of the perception some Americans have of opinions overseas?

I saw another poll that said “Most Americans now disagree with Obama’s economic policies.”

So?

If I asked the 5 people around me, “What is the difference between the national debt and the deficit?” I’ll bet maybe 1 would know (I asked and 2 knew).  Yet, we think that our majority opinion is equivalent to a school of economics.

Again, this is not about insulting anyone, it is about being realistic.  I have a friend who sent me half a dozen links explaining why President Obama is the worst president in history.  I explained that each one was from a conservative source and that I could produce an equal number with a differing opinion.  In fact, I could find articles for, and against, every policy, every President has ever presided over.

I found it interesting that the same friend predicted that “Obama will go down as the worst President in history” –only 3 months after he took the oath of office.  Nothing the President could have done at that point could have indicated any future results whatsoever.  My friend is smart, but I assure you he isn’t clairvoyant; he simply found the evidence that he wanted to find from sources that he sought for that very evidence.

And we spin our own points of view into “information” that we share as if we are educating one another, and then polls reflect the percentages who have been convinced by the rhetoric.  We all do this to varying degrees, left to right, but the past 6 years have created the most contentious divides in history, and we find ourselves in a political stalemate.

Most Democrats didn’t care for (even hated) the policies of President Bush, but they still came to negotiate at the end of the day.  Some Democrats gave Bush his wars, even his poorly conceived educational plan and prescription drug programs.

Most Republicans loathed President Clinton, but both sides still came to the table because if anything was to get done, they had to.

Since the day President Obama took office, the policy of the Republican Party has been a 100%, lock step, obstructionist agenda to destroy him.  The economy, national security, genuine health care concern, veteran’s benefits, all became irrelevant to their task of convincing the American people that everything he does will be something we cannot afford, even as he reduced deficit spending.

Republicans have successfully bankrolled that message in every medium and polls show us the result.  Maybe it was because of the catastrophic economic collapse during the Bush administration and a foreign policy quagmire that the once reasonable Republican Party became frightened of obscurity.  In a country where the demographic map was not changing in their favor, maybe they saw this as the best hand they had to play in order to regroup.

And when a man became President who unequivocally challenged the status quo their ideology is engineered to protect, maybe that was too much to bear.

The forum for our debates since 2008 became the explosion of the Internet where we no longer use objective journalism to investigate the truth (does objective journalism even exist anymore?), instead we find editorialists and polls to support what we’re looking for based on what we already thought.

But, I’m not sure…let’s see what the polls say.

Was the church on the corner too far?

the-preamble-to-the-united-states-constitution,75366Politics are where we can make a difference in our lives; it’s where we effect change to improve our schools, our roads, our safety and our economy.

Everyone has a position on taxes, commerce, defense, and on a local level, the school board, zoning ordinances and whether the streetlights are working.  We want the potholes to be filled and we are concerned about how many police officers are on patrol and how well equipped the local fire department should be-  Yet, in this midterm-primary election 90% of the registered voters didn’t vote.

Last night in Black Hawk County only 8700 people ventured to their polling place, probably a church no more than a few blocks away, to join the collective determination over who should be each party’s candidates to represent them.

The topic that has dominated the national debate over the past 6 years has been about the size of government; its effectiveness (or ineffectiveness), and the reach of vote-yur-futuregovernment into our daily lives.  But when it comes down to determining the representatives who will govern in order to protect or enhance our quality of life, only a fraction of people are motivated enough to take 10 minutes out of their day to exercise the most important aspect of a Constitutional Republic; the voices of citizens.

My dismay does not concern whether people agree with me on which candidates they should choose, but the fact they so many complain about government and so few are interested in the process that can do something about it.  If I ever run for office, I would rather see people come out in record numbers to vote against me than to win because only a fraction of the population even cared (don’t hold me to that, but you get my point…right?).

We’ll see what happens in November when the vote count will be higher, but historically with 213 million Americans qualified to vote only half of them actually do. That’s a lot better than the local percentage but it still leaves me to wonder…who is in charge of a Republic of, for, and by the people, if the people themselves choose not to be?

And then…how is that they complain when things don’t go the way they think they should?angry

Do You Want to Know a Secret…?

Mitt Romney is in Iowa today stumping for Republican candidate Joni Ernst who is running for Tom Harken’s senate seat.  Do you remember Mitt Romney?  He’s the white guy who ran for president two years ago and got white guys to vote for him.  In fact…no one but white guys voted for him.

I want to let you in on a little secret….do you promise not to tell?……closer…….let me whisper in your ear….I don’t hate Mitt Romney.

I don’t.  I think I understand his desire to please and to be swayed by political winds that change quickly and more often than Justin Bieber gets a new tatoo.

I still agree with a majority of my liberal friends who see him as out of touch with the average American, and I believe the life of privilege he inherited justifies, in his mind, an oligarchic view that destroys economic prosperity, but I don’t think he’s without compassion for the Middle Class or the poor.

To understand the personal and political Mitt, you have to go back to his parents.  The Romney name in politics begins with his father, George, but I’ve also been learning about his mother, Lenore, and I have a healthy respect for that political legacy.

And there is a progressive narrative in the Romney story.  George Romney, while running for the Republican nomination for President in 1967, took a bold stand after visiting Vietnam.  He returned to say that his previous support for the war effort was due to “brainwashing” by U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Vietnam and his campaign faltered as a result.  Nixon exploited the word “brainwashing” and Romney was viewed as unstable.

Romney quickly fell from being the front runner and Nixon was elected.  As consolation, Nixon gave Romney a fairly benign post as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, but Romney made the best of it and developed ambitious plans for housing production for the poor, and for open housing to desegregate suburbs.  He was successful, but that success led to an even greater lack of credibility with the right wing and he retired from the political spotlight.

His wife suffered even more.  She was a Republican, like her husband, and a conservative, but she was also progressive in many ways.  When Lenore Romney ran for the Senate she expressed her views against the Vietnam War and in support of women’s involvement in politics and business.  Although she was staunchly against the Women’s Liberation Movement, she moved in contradictory ways and asked, “Why should women have any less say than men about the great decisions facing our nation?”  She added that women “represent a reservoir of public service which has hardly been tapped.”

For these views and a lingering anti Romney sentiment, the party establishment abandoned her.

Both she and her husband dedicated their lives, after agonizing defeats, to public service and charity and distinguished themselves with compassionate work.  Mitt had to absorb this.  He campaigned with his mother and was devastated by her loss and saw both of his parents stand with integrity and demand honesty from party rhetoric and simultaneously saw both of them fall from attacks by ultra-conservatives.

Sound familiar?

The Mitt Romney who was Governor of Massachusetts was a moderate; a conservative Republican, for sure, but progressive in many ways.

As Governor, Romney closed many corporate tax loopholes to the chagrin of Republicans.  While he has always been against same sex marriage, he supported domestic partnership benefits for gays and lesbians, again, contrary to the will of the majority of conservatives in Massachusetts.

As Governor, Romney also supported a women’s right to choose and while critics on either side can argue the motivation for his change to a right to life position, I for one, can allow in my ideological platform for people to change their views.  I don’t agree with Romney’s flip, but I can respect its sincerity.

The big progressive Kahuna, however, is “RomneyCare,” his near-Universal health care reform for the state.  Romney observed that since people without insurance still received expensive health care, the money spent by the state for such care could be better used to subsidize insurance for the poor.

Sound familiar?

He flipped again as he chastises ObamaCare even though he once said his version of the same plan should be the template for the country.  But I don’t hate Mitt Romney!  I think I understand because his political character is the result of the scars created from his parent’s defeats and they cauterized his clarity.  He carries the betrayal of the Republican establishment toward his parents and he navigates closely to that reality.  You can see his wounds in his guarded platitudes and his willingness to bend his ideas to fit party populism in order to gain favor in the national spotlight.

Mitt Romney is no longer absent from national politics and that is affirmed as his appearance here was greeted by cheers and fond remembrances of his candidacy.  His endorsement of Ernst will likely generate thousands if not millions of campaign dollars.

He is clearly a force to be reckoned with, but at the inevitable crossroads of character and politics he has consistently chosen the path that has been trodden by an intolerant populist movement that allows their fears to author their ideology.

He turned his back on, even betrayed, many of his own principles, and this is where my evaluation of the man begins to drift with regard to his credibility.

But…I still don’t hate him.

 

The Tortoise and the Best Hair

This morning I heard 3 different Republicans say a variation of the same thing:  “We will protect your freedoms by reversing the encroachment of growing government.”

Great line. This has been the talking point that all Republicans across the country have hammered since Sputnik first circled the Earth. And why not?  It resonates and there is a lot of evidence of that “growing government” by which to give the cause credibility.

But, there is a problem.  Big problem.  Do you know which party grows government?  Yes…Democrats.  AND REPUBLICANS!

In fact, I’m being a little soft here so as not to create too much animosity at the start from my Republican friends.  The truth is, Republican leadership has grown government every bit as much, if not more in the past 40 years.

Government surveilance programs have certainly gotten our attention as the most directly frightening evidence of Big Brother Government and current Republicans cite the NSA under President Obama as one of those expansions.  But it is only a continuation of the programs from the previous administration and is an outgrowth of the Patriot Act to “enhance law enforcement investigatory tools,” penned by Republicans and signed into law by President Bush in 2001.

Spending comes up a lot as evidence of government growth.  But, whereas total government spending dropped in 10 out of the 16 quarters during Obama’s first term, it rose in 13 of President Reagan’s first 16 quarters.  George W Bush’s first 16 quarters saw the same 13 quarter rise.average-government-spending

In the interest of fairness I don’t believe that President Obama sought austerity or that Presidents Reagan and Bush were inclined to be bigger spenders. Rather these numbers are reflective of the economies they inherited.  Each president saw a recession in their first term, but Obama’s was by far the worst and it led to severe cutbacks in state and local spending.

However, I am saying that to call President Obama the spender whose government has expanded the most, is erroneous.  It fact, it is an outright lie.

Welfare is always the conservative’s starting point in today’s spending conversation and it should be noted that the only significant welfare reform to ever pass was engineered during the Clinton administration.   Even though this was to the ire of many liberals, it was a Democratic president who signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act which made welfare entitlements require work development and limited time frames under the title “Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.”

How about military spending?  Well, if colonialism is still part of our foreign policy (and it is), then military spending is going to increase.  Certainly a pre-emptive war falls under imperialist expansion.  The cost of two wars over 10 years was been over 1.5 trillion dollars and that is not from policy that’s exclusive to Democrats; it has been a joint effort.  Any way you slice that pie, we have to consider our war strategies and proliferation a shared responsibility.

Gun rights are included in the Republican rhetoric concerning government encroachment, but it has to be confusing to realize that during the Obama administration there were no major new restrictions on guns or gun owners.  President Obama urged states to enforce existing laws, but in many states, gun laws loosened.

Granted the lack of new legislation to expand background checks was because a Republican controlled House stalled any Democratic initiative, but it still has to bethCA87JY01 a head scratcher to remember that it was Ronald Reagan (hands down the best hair in presidential history), that supported the last significant gun control measures in the 1990s:  1993’s Brady Bill and 1994’s Assault Weapons Ban.

I guess we’re going to have to talk about repressive taxes, too.  It is difficult to talk any Republican into taking President Reagan down from the Mount Rushmore of Tax Cutters, but he actually raised taxes 11 times.  While overall tax percentages came down, it was mostly from the top, while allowing fewer tax breaks at the bottom, just like George W Bush immitated 20 years later.  And every time that is done a recession follows the temporary economic growth…so, maybe. ..oh, never mind!

I read a post on a conservative website that included “religion” as a right being suppressed by liberals.  Apparently, to some people, the recognition of all religious freedom (also known as upholding the First Amendment) is an encroachment on Christianity.

Is government being too expansive when it stops a rancher, who refuses to pay taxes on the public land that he uses, from letting his cattle graze that land?  Some conservative pundits are being dismissive by pretending that it’s a liberal cause to save a desert tortoise (a cause which annoys the crap out of 503_1a28751_tortoisepeople who don’t value life other than their own), but that is just this reality’s B-story.

Public lands are a big deal out West as almost everyone depends on them. They are used for recreational activities like hiking, fishing, hunting and skiing and they are critical to people’s livelihood for timber, drilling oil, mining coal and for cattle.

It was President Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican, but also a great progressive) who signed The Antiquities Act which gave the President the sole authority to restrict the use of Public Land in the interests of preservation.

It aggravates law abiding, tax paying, environment and public rights respecting citizens, like me, that I pay to use and protect those resources while a self-centered, anti-government, fair-weather libertarian thinks his personal freedom dictates that he doesn’t have to and can do as he pleases.  http://www.latimes.com/opinion/topoftheticket/la-na-tt-cliven-bundys-militiamen-20140421,0,1467054.story?track=rss#axzz2zuvAdWob

And then, of course, there’s Health Care Reform.  While government involvement in the health market undeniably broadens the scope of government, there is something paradoxical about feeling infringed upon for losing our “right” to jeopardize our health or to carry insurance policies that were so useless that they were not actually insurance.

All of the issues I’ve raised here will be (and should be) debated and many of us will fall on different sides of those debates.  The point is that platitudes being used about “spending” and “government encroachment” and “losing our liberties” are confounding and distracting the public from the truth.  There are more complex and revealing realities with shared responsibilities for any result of government.  But, when candidates convince voters that their side is innocent of the very things they accuse the other of doing, and when they are elected on that premise only to betray their promise, the electorate loses.

There’s nothing wrong with concern of government overreach and encroachment.  We should all be aware of our personal liberties.  What is wrong is disingenuous rhetoric.  What is wrong is lying.

Both sides are guilty of that one, but…I’m being soft again…only one side has made it their continuing platform.

I’m With Stupid

My ex-wife thinks I’m stupid.  Okay, that, in and of itself, is not unusual; lots of people think I’m stupid.  And when we’re talking about the perceptions of ex-spouses, I’m sure the incidence of perceived stupidity is high, but my problem is that my ex is pretty smart and so when she calls me “stupid” I have reason to pause.

Pause.

300px-Stuart_SmalleyOkay, I’m not stoo-pid (“…and I’m good enough and doggonit, people like me!”).  What I am is a person who is unable to wrap his mind around insurance (and assembling shelves from IKEA).

4405_explodedDiagramReally smart people can read schematic diagrams with ease or hear presentations from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield guy and discern what plans make the most sense.

I, on the other hand, am confused as soon as I read:  “The party of the first part coveted to convey its entire interest in the subject real property to the party of the second part.”

And that’s not even a legal brief; those are the instructions for the nightstand I bought.

Where I really get confused, and where my ex-wife thinks I am several tickets shy of a packed house, is when it comes to understanding insurance.

Our youngest son was born with some problems in both of his ears.  He can hear, but does not have the full spectrum of response in either ear.  We are way past “tubes” and this is a case of some inner ear apparatus never having fully developed.  He has had two operations where cartilage has been grafted from one area into another to close gaps, but so far, nothing has been 100% successful and so he is going in for another.

Without going into unnecessary details, I simply do not understand what is covered, to what degree, how deductibles are met, what medications my insurance covers, and why I pay so much in premiums to have so little covered.

My ex is a dentist gh1and perhaps there was a medical coding and billing class included in the curriculum and so this is second nature to her; the problem comes in explaining all of it to Gabby Hayes and for Gabby to ask questions that don’t annoy her.

This is not a post about the high costs of medicine or an indictment of health insurance companies (or my ex-wife); this is a post about how important matters have become so complicated that it takes a doctorate to understand them.

“If insurance is the only way to offset astronomical health costs,” (again, to myself), “is it fair that we need an industry in between the insurance companies and our best interests to interpret and define what is out there?”

The answer is probably “yes,” but that doesn’t solve the fundamental life issue I am trying to explore here:  How did we let things get so complex?

I usually begin writing with a thought already in my head and this windup has been somewhat rhetorical.  I do have a meta-physical idea as to why our lives have gotten so complex.

fear02It is because of….our FEARS.

The fear that we will be killed.  Or hurt.  Fear that we will lose, be lied to, forget, taken advantage of, exploited, cheated, cajoled, left out, left in, left to die, left to live, given less, too much, starved or drowned.

We are afraid and so we create provisions, instructions, diagrams, briefs, and orders to clarify, explain, disclose, divulge, divest and disclaim, everything and anything that could confuse, confound or confute in order to placate and protect our interests, needs, investments, wants and….fears.

Fear is a vital, emotional response to perceived danger, and it’s important.  If we didn’tfear-brain feel fear, we couldn’t protect ourselves from threats.  It is as primal and integrated into our being as anything can be, including hunger, thirst or our need to be loved.

Fear may occur in response to anything perceived as a risk to health or life, status, security, or even wealth and anything held valuable.

For this reason society (particularly an advanced industrial one) creates a matrix of systems designed around assuaging our fears.  So tax codes and insurance programs have become complex to navigate around lawsuits, counter suits, and claims so that we (we, meaning you, me, government and insurance companies) have the least amount of exposure to myriad vulnerabilities.

But, this is where I get scared because with increased complexity comes increased confusion and consequences.

Just the other day I read a post from a friend who did his own taxes (God forbid) and made a small $60 mistake.  The IRS has descended on him with threats of withholding income and property liens.

I guess he should have called H&R Block.

Another friend recently called his attorney and is in the middle of translating legalese to understand insurance-ese because in the fine print of his health insurance agreement his condition required another opinion that he never got.

Apparently, the profuse bleeding led him to make a hasty decision.

And I got an earful when I asked my ex-wife if she was using my insurance to get medication for our son because it was my understanding that the plan I chose had a co-pay that would only be $2 instead of $75.  Apparently that is only for generics in a 3 tier prescription drug program that I didn’t understand.

But, I am kind of stupid that way.

Mr. Kroeger Goes To Des Moines

Mr_ Smith Goes to WashingtonRecently, I joined a group that was invited to the State Capitol to petition legislators during the 85th Iowa General Assembly, and I must admit to being a bit awestruck.  Even as a salty old wonk that has followed, written and lectured about government and civic duty for decades, I felt like a grade-schooler on a field trip; I was amazed at the majesty of it all.

20140401_140344That being said….there was a strange brew of optimism along with frustration as we talked to lawmakers about our initiative; I was simultaneously emboldened by the process and….a little aggravated.

Let me start by telling you about the initiative.

A Not-For-Profit foundation called “Sing Me to Heaven” presented themselves to my Rotary Club in January and we were uniquely moved by their mission.  That mission is to provide low income families who have lost a child with financial assistance toward funeral costs.

“Sing Me to Heaven” was created in 2011 after Jennifer Mehlert, a young mother, lost her daughter Natalie and suffered the reality of financial burden during her overwhelming grief.  Along with her own mother, Diane McIntosh, they committed themselves, in Natalie’s memory, to help other parents, usually young, who have no insurance or financial security, with up to $2000 toward funeral costs.  The intention and hope is to alleviate some of the pain and burden the grieving family suffers. (www.singmetoheaven.org )

The bill asks for a one-time grant of $100,000 to set up an infrastructure and also to promote the organization so that it can self-fund into perpetuity.

While there are counties and funeral homes that provide assistance to bury children, there are still hundreds of families annually, in Iowa alone, who do not receive help, and SMTH is the only organization in the country attempting to bridge that gap.

From a personal perspective, not only do I feel that this is a worthy cause to support but I believe that it is an opportunity for the State of Iowa to affirm its place in the nation as a compassionate state that believes in the quality of life.  By assuring that no family in Iowa, who has suffered life’s most unimaginable loss, will be denied the proper burial of their child, our state can be proud as the First in the Nation to do so.

So….back to the Capitol.

For those who don’t know, citizens, ordinary folks like you and me, can wait outside of the House of Representatives and petition lawmakers.  There is a note that you fill out stating your purpose (in our case a bill has been filed by Representative Bob Kressig) and who you would like to talk to, that is given to the Doorman.  The Doorman 20140401_120821delivers it to a Page who, in turn, presents it to a representative inside.

The representative may not be present or they may have other pressing matters, but more often than not, they will come out of the chamber to speak to you.

A conversation ensues where we first present the details of our bill and respond to their questions.  But, the ultimate purpose is to get their support so that it is, at least, offered to go to a committee for discussion.  Obviously, the more representatives who support your cause, the more likely it will be put into the Session agenda.

I should preface, that Rep. Kressig also called a Press Conference where news agencies that cover Des Moines are invited to hear about the case we’re going to lobby.  As a marketer, I certainly understand the strategy; the more buzz, the more attention, the more likely we are to be taken seriously.

Now the good news….

Every representative we talked to (around 10), whether a Democrat or a Republican (and at least one who aligns with the Tea Party) was engaged and respectful.  I’m not going to mention names because I have no intention here of holding anyone to the fire (I have mentioned Bob Kressig, however, because he has been a champion for this bill) but I was sincerely impressed by their genuine desire to do good work for the people of Iowa.  I don’t believe that one single person resides in that chamber to collect a (very) meager paycheck or who is not there to serve to the best of their ability.

The fact that people can come to the Capitol to petition or redress their government, to20140401_130912-1 ears that will listen, reminded me of the fundamental concept of our representative democracy.  The Capitol Building is filled with concerned citizens, activist groups, students and legislators who are trying to make a positive difference in our lives.

I have always said that the most elemental obligation of every citizen is to cast informed votes, but my eyes were opened to something every bit as crucial:  the activity of a government of, for and by the People.

Most of us can do far more than argue on Facebook and in bars; we can stand in the hallways of government to make our voices heard.

Now the bad news….

While every representative was, indeed, thoughtful and engaged, they nevertheless followed their party-line rhetoric.  To the “D’s” this was a can-do initiative, but to the “R’s” that we need there was a wall of “I don’t think we have the money” or “We’ll look at this next year.”

More frustrating were the political procedures that even the representatives themselves admitted created processes of confusion.

“I think this is a Policy Bill and you need to take it to the Senate.”

“This falls under Human Health and Services and you need to go there first.”

“This is an Appropriations Committee bill and we have our budget set.”

“I don’t think we need a committee discussion on this.”

“If we were to put this into our budget what do we say to the myriad other requests that we’ll deny?”

Representative Kressig is not deterred or surprised by any of this.  He knows how, what, where and to whom, we have to maneuver, but it was impossible not to feel, even with the accessibility to the Legislature, that the machinery of politics can leave us out in the cold when their hands are tied by political favors, allegiances and more popular priorities.

But, there’s good news again….

The press we’ve received, letters to the editor to papers all over the state, has made us a real story.  Other citizens are seeing the value of compassion that Iowa can afford and that it distinguishes our commitment to the Quality of Life.  And some legislators are coming forward to acknowledge this opportunity to show their constituents that government is not always at odds with itself, and can serve the public good.  (https://news.google.com/news/i/story?ncl=dw0OwKu09TyLR9MTTbAnap6hzugaM&q=sing+me+to+heaven&lr=English&hl=en)

The lesson from this story?

Politics are cold, but people are not.  When people believe in something, whether as politicians or voters, we can make progress.  Budgets, appropriations, committees, alliances, debts and the press are all part of the process, but it is the passion of our beliefs that propel us into action and can lead us toward effective change.

 

“Bring your brooms!”

I saw a commercial for Marty Huggins….I’m sorry!  I meant Mark Jacobs, a Republican running for the senate seat about to be vacated by Tom Harken.  In it he makes his case by saying that he’s been a businessman who has had to “make payroll” and has “balanced budgets.”

That is the criteria that many Americans feel is needed the most in Washington.

Jacobs ends his spot by throwing a calculator into his box of things he’s bringing with him.  Cute.

I was reminded (actually, I’ve never forgotten) that this was the same rhetoric used in the 2010 elections by the likes of Romney, Trump, and well, just about every single Republican running for anything:  “Government is a business and I can run it!”

It makes sense to a lot people that during tough economic times we need ledger balance leaders from the business world.

(Curiously, many of the people who believe that, are up to their ears in debt, but it has been my experience that very few people actually live the way they say the rest of us should)

This idea could very well decide the Midterm elections and the course of America and it is wrong….dead wrong.

To start this off with a bang, does everyone know the history of businessmen as presidents?  There have been two:  Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush.

How’d they work out?

An economic disconnect was inevitable because our businessman-presidents failed to recognize a simple reality:  The Federal Government is not a business- it is a government.

Two very different definitions, objectives and responsibilities.  Nowhere in our Constitution is it outlined or stated that the form of government being created therein is to be run like a business. Nowhere in the Separation of Powers and the Branches of Government does it resemble the paradigm of a business. Nor does the purpose of a business share the responsibilities of representation.

“But Gary, government should be run like a business, that would be a good thing!” is the oppositional statement that I just made up so that I could address this argument.

The demand on a business is that it produces a profit; that is how it sustains, grows and gives the shareholders their dividends. There is no guarantee that it will be a successful business and fulfill that end into perpetuity, and so the responsibility for leadership falls on its CEO and the Board of Directors.  They alone make the decisions to realize that goal, but usually leverage their personal risk onto the business itself.

If you were to compare this paradigm to a form of government, it would more closely resemble a Dictatorship; the decisions are made at the top and implemented down the chain of command.  Employees (citizens) comply with the rules or lose their jobs.

A representative democracy (a Republic) is the form of government outlined by our Constitution where the fundamental objective is to “represent” its constituency, according to that charter, fairly and evenly.  Where the poorest, least powerful voices among us are represented as fully as anyone else.

The authority, therefore, rests in the body of the people, as a whole, and the leadership pyramid is turned upside down.

What has happened, causing a serious government dysfunction, is that the “people” in this great republican experiment have been marginalizing their own voice by allowing special interests, controlled by wealth, to invade policy.  Wealth, by its very nature, compromises equality and inevitably leads toward a plutocracy, which is anything but representative democracy.  Wealth, in and of itself, is not corrupt (and most of us share a desire to accumulate it), but it is also does not carry a moral directive, and when it overwhelms a system predicated on equality, justice can be corrupted.

The business model for government is the wrong vessel to correct the course of our societal and economic health. In fact, it is what we have been evolving toward for decades following neoliberal economic policy since the 1970’s and is the fundamental transformation that has weakened the consumer class.  It came to fruition under President Reagan’s “trickle down” policies and was harvested by the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

Consider that those at the top of the economic pyramid have increased their holdings by 250% over the past 30 years.  The top 1% controls nearly half of America’s wealth and the top 10% controls 90%.  That is the business-model and it led us into a deep recession because the engine of capitalism, the Middle Class, has been squeezed into near non-existence.

If we want to correct our course and establish sustained prosperity by strengthing the consumer that spends the money that, in turn, grows the economy, the last thing we want to do is make America more of a “business” and less of a Republic.

Our trend toward appeasing the rich almost suggests a collective memory of the conservative allegiance to King George, leaving many people more comfortable with the thought of a Ruling Class.  Yet, we are still a free, democratic, republican government and we, collectively, hold the power over ourselves.  We cannot effectively exercise that power, however, until we agree on certain principles.

But, there’s good news– those principles are already written down, ratified and sworn to be upheld; they exist in our great charter; the Constitution.

Businesses employ us, create opportunity and fuel spending; there is nothing inherently wrong with the business model, but it isn’t a model for fair and impartial governance.  Only if we elect legislators who understand and support the constitutional tenets that protect freedom of religion, speech, inalienable rights, and egalitarian justice with equal representation, can we begin to create better “government.”

A business has little interest in, or need for, such ideas, unless they increase margins and profit for shareholders….like the Motch brothers.