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.

 

 

 

 

My Confession

confessionI…am…a…hetero…sexual.

There!  I said it!  You can’t imagine the relief.  I didn’t choose to be this way, I just AM.  Some fateful decision was made before I was born, not by me, but by whatever forces that conspired to create me, to make me straight.

And somehow that choice is made for me every day because without any conscious decisions of my own I continue on this path of attraction to…girls.

Believe me!  I have showered around men and they just don’t do anything for me.

Recently, I wrote a column in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier (http://wcfcourier.com/news/opinion/columnists/in-a-republic-the-majority-doesn-t-rule/article_2cce4f4f-548b-58b6-a916-94c78cc42f86.html) where I mentioned my disgust for the proposed legislation in Arizona to allow businesses to discriminate against gay people if their religious principles so dictated.  I have written many times, here and in the paper, about gay rights, the unconstitutional movements to restrict gay marriage, and in this particular Courier column concerning the definition of a Republic, I wrote of the duty of our representative democracy to defend their rights.

I wasn’t surprised that there would be discord from some people regarding my words, but one particular Letter to the Editor stood out:

“Gary Kroeger’s comments in Sunday’s Courier are typical of the left-wing portion of society.  So, let us ponder the following questions:  Are all women born women?  Are all blacks born black?  If you have a sex change operation, does it change your DNA? The answer is NO!  None of us had a choice as to where, when, sex, physical attributes or race when we were born.  But moral values are something we decide every day!  Being gay/lesbian is a matter of choice…..Is being forced to do business with people that want to be gays/lesbians a moral question or not?” -Dennis Buseman

(For the sake of venting, I’m going to address Mr. Buseman in the first person)

I’m not going to pull any punches here, Dennis.  I don’t have a full thimble of respect for your reasoning.  In fact, it is classic ill-logic.

Just as I didn’t choose my sexual orientation, how is it that gay people get to choose?Never mind asking why anyone would choose an orientation that leads to persecution or a life that many people want to deny basic human and civil rights to, like loving, monogamous matrimony.  Ask this:  Why are gay people wired to make choices about what attracts them physically (and emotionally) and we are not?

Maybe….they didn’t make a choice either, and they are as they were intended to be.

Dennis, I know that you believe that your religious freedom gives you the right to make moral judgments about people who are different from you or who don’t believe as you do, but Dennis, this is where you have really lost your way.  And it isn’t just you, there are millions of people just like you, trying desperately to force their will on everyone else.  But the “free exercise of religion” granted in the First Amendment does not imply that you have the right to deny others their rights.

People like you, Dennis, always seem to miss the Founding Father’s prefatory clauses and just before “free exercise” they wrote that the Constitution “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion.”  That means that even Christianity, the predominant religion in America then, and now, cannot determine our laws according to adherence to its doctrine.

That’s what freedom really means.

Or deep down inside, Dennis….is there a “bad” boy that wants to be heard?

We’re here for you over on the “left-wing portion” when you’re ready to come clean.

Nut Neutrality

net-neutrality-e1292943634345How many of you are aware of an issue that’s been called “Net Neutrality”?  If you aren’t already, it will be coming to your town soon—WHOA!- It’s already there!

Quickly explained, “neutrality” is what has governed the Internet and that means basically–nothing.  Internet content, and accessibility to it, has been on a neutral plane with no guardian at the gate determining what goes through and what doesn’t.  Neutrality is what built the internet into the global, free speech communication system that we have.

Network providers like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, however, want to control the content and accessibility to it.

They would scale platforms with varying fees and become the “guardians” determining what information goes through and the connectivity to it.  By controlling the quality of content they will have the ability to reduce competition, thereby creating a huge profit opportunity.

The neutrality that has been the platform for free speech on the Internet began to change about a month ago as Verizon won an appeals court challenge to U.S. equal treatment rules for the Internet.  The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington sent the rules governing what’s known as “net neutrality” back to the Federal Communications Commission, saying the agency overreached in barring broadband providers from slowing or blocking selected Web traffic.

The FCC rules required high-speed Internet providers that use fiber- optic or other cable to treat all traffic equally and disclose their network practices. The challenge to this rule could leave companies such as Netflix and Amazon facing higher charges for the fastest service.

FCC_disc_logo_blueFor the record, the mission of the FCC is to “make communication services available…to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, etc.”  As the technologies of radio and television expanded, the corporate interests of “Networks” monopolized airtime to diminished affiliate programming (compromising the free market and free speech) and the FCC was created.

Ironically, the loudest opposition to Net Neutrality comes from those “Constitutional Purists” who call themselves “The Tea Party” who claim to stand for individual liberty as their preeminent ideal.  The head of one tea party organization says she is concerned that the policy (net neutrality) would increase government regulation and power, calling net neutrality one of many “assaults on individual liberties.”

In a letter to the FCC, the Tea Party group wrote: “Despite universal acknowledgement that Americans enjoy a free, open, and vibrant internet, the FCC is relentlessly pursuing a massive regulatory regime that would stifle broadband expansion, create congestion, slow internet speeds, jeopardize job retention and growth, and lead to higher prices for consumers.”

Chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation Jamie Radtke contends that the Tea Party has been increasingly concerned with the issue of net neutrality. “It’s starting to get onto the radar now,” she said. “I think the clearest thing is it’s an affront to free speech and free markets.”

net_neutralitySo, in other words….the position of the Tea Party is that by allowing communication corporations to determine and regulate what goes over the internet and to charge fees for tiered programs to access it; that is a better realization of free speech than it would be to keep them out and allow the system to operate without such restrictions.

That’s nuts, isn’t it?

But, in reality their voices are being bankrolled by people like Dick Armey and the corporate interests that want to control our content.  So, I guess it does make sense now, doesn’t it?

Do the architects of this opposition believe that a corporate takeover of an information system is the Free Market at work?!

Well…their money does.

Government is the line of protection between us (the People) and the interest of big business to increase profits at our peril.  Those profits, by the way, come out of our pockets.  This corporate-pandering “Armey” of zealots are using their agenda as a defense of “freedom” and a warning of “the encroachment of government” and then disseminating that message to the rank and file who wear tricorn hats, holding muskets from Walmart’s toy department, in Bank of America parking lots.Tea-Partyrally-June-19-2013-IRS

The most basic political issues come to bear here:  What is the role of government?  When does it protect us and when can our freedoms be diminished?  Who and what will best defend the interests of the People?  What are the interests of the information providers (the essential free press) and who controls the messages we receive?

It is with this knowledge that we form our opinions and those opinions are what shape and protect our freedom.

I will close with a statement a friend of mine (Paul Barrosse) wrote last year in his own blog:  “Our representative government is what stands between us and the rapacious depredations of a corporate oligarchy that’s been amassing money and power at a clip not seen since the Gilded Age of the Robber Barons. Our common fight isn’t against Big Government, which protects our water, food and air — and provides a host of other services and protections that individual Americans cannot provide on their own. Rather, we must be vigilant about the rise of corporate personhood and power.”

Well said, sir, well said.

Petition to protect net neutrality http://www.brucebraley.com/landing/w140214/?subsource=CK-BR-NN-A02-FB-FBLP.D-FKW-CUS-CT1-BO-30p-T01.P01.C03

 

 

My American Hero

In August of 2011 my family met in the Rockies to spread my Dad’s ashes in the mountains that he loved.  He had passed away 10 years earlier but it took that long for my brothers and our mother to coordinate schedules with our own children, work, and all that comes with adult lives.  And, truth be told, I think that mom liked having Dad close by. Finally, though, we found a week in late Summer.

The service was casual, but very meaningful as tears, bottled up for a decade, flowed from each of us.  My father was an extraordinary man who chose a fairly ordinary life, and except for too few years living it, it was exactly the life he had hoped for.

His greatness is a legacy of justice, open-minded thinking and tolerance that he imprinted on his sons and I encourage you to spend the next few minutes reading about him.  A great American will be revealed.

Glenn Kroeger passed away from congestive heart failure just before the Spring of 2001.  He was a lifelong smoker whose system had collapsed, like dominoes, with one ailment leading to another.  Phlebitis, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer conspired to take out his heart.

He was too young at 72 and there have been so many times in the past decade when I’ve yearned for his wisdom, but he had also lived a full life and had given his family so much.

Standing just shy of 6 feet, he was a curly, black-haired, olive-skinned, second generation German with hairy forearms.  The kind of arms that fathers have who get immediate respect from children.

He grew up during the Great Depression in abject poverty, enlisted in20160123_124654-1 (2) the Army to join his older brothers (was honorably discharged when they discovered he wasnt yet 18), put himself through college to receive an engineering degree and carved out the American dream.

I grew up admiring his mind, but could barely endure his pedestrian-existentialist philosophies.  He’d say, “Stop flicking that light switch!  Every time you do is one less time it will be turned on and off in its life.”

“But…if I flick it again,” I would ask, “…won’t that be one more time it’s flicked in its life?”

That’s how he saw things; limited and finite resources that must be conserved.

He died right after George W. Bush was elected, but before 9/11.  I’ve always thought that was a strange blessing because the horror of that day and all that has followed would have been a mortal wound.  Just before he died he said to me, regarding the new President, “He is not the result of Americans’ concern, but the result of their apathy toward leadership.”

Before anyone dismisses him as a left winger who simply opposed any victory of the right, let me offer some perspective.  My father was a conservative man by nature and found his politics evolving after the death of FDR to the platform on which the Republican Party stood in the 50’s:  Fiscal conservatism, military restraint, but a responsible role around the world.

He hated being categorized but he called himself “an Eisenhower Republican.”

His conservatism was not so much a political ideology, however, as simply who he was. He never carried even a dollar in credit card debt, never had a parking ticket, and always lived within his means. That meant that I had a secure childhood, but I was never going to be the kid with the newest bike or anything that I hadn’t “earned.”

He once said, “I will never reward you for doing what you’re supposed to do, and you’re supposed to be a good person, you’re supposed to work hard, and you’re supposed to do well in school.”

My allowance sucked.

My father’s political perspective was jolted again after Kennedy was assassinated.  The topics discussed at dinner were about this new anger and mistrust in politics, a demagoguery emerging from social conflicts, and Vietnam. family-around-tv

It was during this time, as civil rights issues moved front and center, that my father drifted away from the Republicans.

He saw the new Republicans becoming entrenched in a platform based on fears; a fear of defining or extending civil rights or anything that did not support the status quo.  He saw conservatism falling into policies that supported those fears and moving away from what he embraced above all other issues, egalitarianism; the belief that we are all, indeed, created equal and deserving of equal rights and respect.

In the mid 60’s he became a reluctant Democrat.

He bristled, however, if anyone lumped him into the “bleeding heart liberal” category.  His human rights ideas aligned more closely with the new liberals, but he thought that they were just as dangerous when extreme.  He hated spending a dime on anything that he didn’t think was absolutely necessary.

Over the years that followed, my father was deeply troubled by President Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War, and while he recognized President Nixon’s intelligence, and even saw him as a moderate, he was repulsed by his personality.  After Watergate, he was thoroughly disgusted with the Washington establishment and he voted for Shirley Chisholm.

My father, once a Republican, always conservative, voted for an African-American woman for President in 1972.                                 _______________________________

In 1993 my parents came to visit me in Los Angeles.  Before they left Iowa I had mentioned to them that Sylvester Stallone had just negotiated 20 million dollars for a single movie.  I think I told them that to bolster their own hopes for me after so many ups and downs in my career.

My parents got lost in downtown LA before finding their way to my West Hollywood apartment and in their journey they had accidentally “toured” east LA and west of downtown.  They witnessed poverty and homeless people under bridges and on the off ramps in a way they hadn’t before.

My father got out of the car wearing his signature pork pie hat and came straight up to me with a strange look on his face.  Before even saying “hello” he said, “In a country where one man can make 20 million dollars for a few weeks work -there is absolutely no excuse that anyone should starve!  It’s inexcusable!  Inexcusable!”

That was as angry as I’d ever seen him.

Finally, allow me to share a story that will reveal his character, and what I attempt in my life to emulate.

The first time my parents visited me in LA was in the mid 80’s when AIDS has just entered the public consciousness. It didn’t even have its acronyms yet (AIDS, HIV) and was being called the “gay cancer.”  The values of both of my parents were solid and their sense of responsibility and fairness, resolute, but like many Americans they had a narrow view of homosexuality.

One evening at dinner we got into a discussion about the “gay disease.”  Although my parents certainly didn’t feel that any disease was “deserved,” they saw it as a consequence of behavior that should be corrected.  I proceeded to tell them about people that I knew in Chicago, New York and LA; people who were good, honest, hardworking, generous and gay.

I told them the story of one of those friends who was full of humor, talent and love who had just died the most painful and humiliating death.

I told them about the hundreds of gay men and women that I’ve known, all of whom are as they were born to be; I told them about people, who happened to be gay, who were just living their lives but were now dying from, or terrified of, an unknown and gruesome disease.

I told them that even though their son is straight, this disease affects, challenges and scares him directly.  And those people suffering are his friends.

My father quietly nodded his head.  My mother looked at him with what looked like a telepathic smile.  I never had to say another word.  From that moment on, Gay Rights became woven into the quilt of their convictions.  They marched for, voted for, wrote letters to the editor for- Gay Rights; Civil Rights; HUMAN rights. It’s all one and the same.

These moments are the ones that have shaped my own ideologies and give me the resolve I need to keep the discussion moving, even when the frustrations of disagreement make solutions seem impossible.  My father lives in every breath I take and I will always be a soldier in his egalitarian fight.

Thanks for reading this.  My father deserved the attention.

When in the Course of Human Events…


I make no secret of the fact that one day I would like to run for public office.  It’s been on my mind for a few years.  Last year I wrote down some of my positions to create a chart by which to navigate the inevitably dangerous waters of conflict, should that day ever come.  These are not specific policies on issues, but broadstrokes to serve as an ideological guide.

Economics
The collapse of 2008 was the result of legislation from neoliberal economic theory (not to be confused with social liberalism) and those policies have controlled the argument for over 30 years.  It favors the well-to-do by creating tax loopholes along with too much de-regulation, and that allowed for toxic assets in a volatile subprime market.

I support regulations to monitor ( and make transparent) the massive, risky bets with borrowed money (an unscrupulous practice of AIG, for example) that brought down the financial system. I also support “No more tax payer funded bailouts” of financial institutions.

I recognize that Small Business needs to be incentivized and supported (tax breaks). I’ve been an employer myself and too often the regulations designed to reign in corporate malfeasance have choked Main Street and we need to separate the two.

The Middle Class has been squeezed to near non-existence and yet they are the fuel of our Capitalist/Mixed Market system.  I will always lend my voice to their needs first.  While I support and contribute to Corporate America because it is the engine of that system, my active concerns are not about those who are already well off.  Rather, I am concerned about the Working Class and ensuring them the best wages and working environments possible, as well as the necessary support they require if they’ve fallen on hard times.

Education
Education is part of the critical infrastructure for which government is responsible, and should be, in fact, the brightest patch on the American quilt if our future is to be strong and prosperous.

I support the Public School System and while school vouchers might seem a like a solution to rescue poor students from failing schools, vouchers threaten our free educational system as well as the constitutional principle of separation of church and state as taxes would be funneled to parochial schools.

We must prioritize higher teacher salaries, better facilities and educational funding programs.  Everyone, regardless of party, says they support education, but when push comes to shove, educational initiatives move down the priority ladder.  We need to consistently move it into the highest priority when we create our budgets.

We can hold schools and teachers accountable for results, but only if we have given them the best tools and viable incentives by which to teach.

Civil Rights

images We cannot rightfully claim to be the “land of the free” if we do not look critically at our justice system and assess when there is racism in its application.  Eric Garner and Michael Brown are only the most recently debated examples concerning systemic racism that has existed from our inception and continues to the present day.  While we can see progress toward racial equality, we cannot fully experience the celebration of our constitutional promise of freedom until the complete excision of racism from the body politic.

The oppressive specter of discrimination weighs so heavily on those who are outside circles drawn by prejudice, that policy must be considered, along with vigilant examination of justice, to counter where oppression does still exist; until such a time when the evolution of inclusion transcends intolerance.

Gay Rights

 I believe that to recognize the civil rights of all citizens regardless of race, creed, gender, color or sexual orientation is the advancement of civilization and not a symptom of moral decay. I support Human Rights to the fullest degree and that extends to the rights of Gay Americans to fully participate in the civil rights we are all guaranteed.

I support the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court to allow gay marriage. They ruled that the Constitution cannot alienate any group of its citizens from that right and that includes those who are gay.  That was a correct constitutional decision regardless of anyone’s personal or religious view of homosexuality.

We may all believe and live as we choose, but we cannot allow a personal belief system to become the doctrine of constitutional justice. You can preach and live by your moral doctrines, but that is a compass of your own choosing and not a place for government to dictate, except to guarantee the protection of that freedom.

Religious Freedom
The Constitution is not a moralizing document and government is not the administrator of religious moral doctrine. The rights of non-believers to appreciate the freedom protected by our Constitution are as great as those who believe that our morality is founded on Christian principles. The freedom protected by the 1st Amendment is not the private domain of only those who believe a certain way.

With this realization of freedom in mind, I support a Woman’s Right to Choose.  While abortion is a terrible thing, it can be necessary, such as in the case of rape or when a mother’s life is at risk.  A woman, not government, must have control of reproductive rights.  No one is “pro-abortion,” and no one, thinking rationally, supports the idea of abortion as birth control, but the decision of reproduction must be left to a woman with the counsel of her doctors and others she trusts (family, clergy).

Immigration
The Arizona immigration law of 2010 was a dangerous precedent that can lead to unlawful enforcement, civil rights infringement, illegal profiling and reinforce trends toward racism.  Illegal immigration is illegal, but our focus should be on strengthening our borders and re-evaluating immigration as a whole.

Having been a small businessman in California I know firsthand that most illegal immigrants are not here to break the law but are here to work so that they can provide for their families. The action they have taken has broken the law but before we judge them as criminals we should consider that they are also courageously trying to create a better life at great risk.  There is a difference between a criminal and someone who has broken the law and our immigration policies and enforcement must reflect that distinction.

Immigrants must follow, and we must enforce, legal standards to become Americans but we have created a system by which illegal immigration is often more viable; we have created jobs that many businesses have knowingly hired illegal immigrants to occupy and so culpability for the problem is shared.

Except for Native Americans we are all descendants of immigrants and we need to include wisdom and compassion in our application of justice.

Health Care

doctor-and-patient-cartoon  I support the Affordable Care Act insofar as being a good start.   I believe that with more cooperative leadership, willing to admit that similar concepts have been proposed for decades by both sides of the political fence, that it can improve.  I would like to discuss tax credits for families that don’t qualify for subsidies, and allowing plans to compete over state lines.

Along with education, I believe that the health of Americans falls under our infrastructure; it is the evolved realization of “General Welfare” as set forth by our Founding Fathers.  How can we be anything but proud as a nation if we are able to give all Americans access to medicine?

Unions (Collective Bargaining)
In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice . . . Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers, and . . . a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society.”

I am a card carrying union man and I vigorously support Unions and Collective Bargaining to protect the best interests and prosperity of the American worker.  Unions need to be held as accountable as we demand of management, but they continue to serve a necessary purpose in a free society and help to maintain economic stability.

Climate Change
I believe that we have reached a critical juncture that will compromise, even destroy, the quality of life for future generations and we must embrace Green Initiatives, Renewable Energy and Bio-fuels with urgency. Climate Change is real and environmental protection is necessary in more stringent ways.

If future science proves me (and over 80% of all Climatologists) wrong, I will gladly submit to a reprimand, but a clean energy future, non-dependence on foreign resources, is the correct direction for America, no matter where a person stands on the issue of greenhouse gasses today.

Gun Control
This is not really a 2nd Amendment issue; rather it is an argument of common sense.  We can debate the intention of the Framer’s with regard to a citizen’s right to bear arms, but I posit that it has to be considered in the context of its time.  I do not take a position that civilians should not realize their 2nd Amendment rights today, but with the advancement of weaponry and the evolution of how our sovereignty is protected, guidelines are necessary, as they are with any exercise of freedom.

Anyone who is not proficient in the use of firearms or who has a criminal history must be denied access to deadly force as realistically as society can enforce such control.

The Role of Government and Welfare
I believe in good governance; organized and effective. When in the hands of informed and responsible legislators, chosen by an electorate that shares the same responsibility, it becomes the impartial equalizer to ensure that all Americans have access to our resources and benefits.

While everyone will experience success, affluence or struggle in different ways and to different degrees, the goal of our constitutional Republic should be to create an America where every citizen can participate and pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness to the best of their ability.

We should be judged, and judge ourselves, not by the affluence we produce and enjoy, but by the actions of our nation, and our willingness as individuals, to help those in need.