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.

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.