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.

Ethics, Morality, Ducks and Doves

Duck-Dynasty-1-622x414[1]

Because I am fairly vocal, people often ask me to participate in debates at the drop of a hat.  Sometimes, I find myself in an area where I am woefully unqualified or not really prepared, but I often have a gut feeling that provides some indication to feel a certain way, and I’ll weigh in.  Such was the case when the opening of a dove hunting season in Iowa was being debated in a local bar.

I was asked how I felt and my position was, “If you allow for pheasant, duck or quail, why wouldn’t you allow for doves?”

There was a cheer from those who were hunters, but the person who asked the question assumed I would be against it since I am a known “liberal.”  Why wouldn’t my bleeding heart extend to the symbol of love and peace?  They are, after all, awfully cute for rats with wings.

Personally, I am not a hunter, but I don’t chastise those who are and I left the conversation with “I’m fine with it, my arguments center around gun controls and restrictions but not to outlaw game hunting.”

But something kept nagging me.  There are reasons I’m not a hunter, and they are more profound than not wanting to get dirty, or the fact that I look like Barney Fife in waders and camouflage; it is a different kind of person from me who hunts.

My rejection of hunting can be traced back to cartoons from my childhood when I first realized that if Bambi had a mother why wouldn’t Phil the Pheasant or Daffy the Duck?  But…if that is truly my aversion, why do I enjoy Daffy l’orange or Phil under glass?  Am I a hypocrite, and is anyone who rebukes hunting, yet enjoys game, one as well?

Several of my friends and relatives are hunters and, as I said, I don’t reject them for it.  My own grandfather, whom I adored, was an avid hunter and he was as jovial and gentle as they come.  They consume what they kill and so what is my objection?

The differences between ethics and morality are in play here.  Ethics are the codes by which we have, as a society, organized concepts of acceptable behavior; morals define personal character.  Hunting purely to kill for the thrill of the hunt, without consumption, is neither ethical nor moral, in my opinion, and even though there are hunters who would disagree, I am talking about the hunters I respect.  They are on solid ethical ground, but, not necessarily…moral ground.

I’m not, for the record, traipsing into an argument with regard to carnivorous versus vegetarian consumption because I am “morally” fine with eating meat; I believe in the concept of the food chain (I even have an older brother who is a strict vegetarian and shames me every time I eat a hamburger in front of him, and while I respect his point of view, I am considering a steak dinner at Montage tonight).

The argument from the NRA is that hunting has existed since the dawn of humans as a necessity and it is within the Constitutional rights of our free nation to defend ourselves.  Certainly, in Colonial America hunting was necessary to survive, and militias were necessary for defense, but it is also from this historical context that I find my position.

In the early 19th century came the commoditization of food and a transformation of hunting from primary means of survival to primarily recreation.  With refrigeration and rail transportation, food, as an industry, expanded quickly and as grocery stores sprang up in every corner of America, it became more convenient to buy the products of corporate slaughterhouses than it was to hunt for the family dinner.

Hunters have pointed out that the slaughterhouse is still “killing” and a very reasonable argument can be made that a hunter is more humane, but the slaughterhouse, while killing animals, is not killing for the thrill of the hunt, whereas, I contend that is a primary objective of most modern hunters.

My assessment is that the modern hunter primarily hunts for the camaraderie, the seductive grasp of nature, the thrill of marksmanship and an attraction to the focused power of a lethal weapon.  The consumption of their prey, while being another primary objective (and making it ethical), is somewhat of a moral deceit.

Here I may leave some people confused, yet I am crystal clear in my own mind– I don’t judge the hunter as bad or corrupt at all.  What I am saying is that it is a distinction of character that allows a moral ambiguity; different but not better or worse.

My personal code will not allow me to kill a living creature for any degree of sport, plain and simple.

If you can, then I accept that you are different, but it will remain a different person from me who can choose what animal will die in a single moment and to squeeze the trigger, be it a duck, a deer…or a dove…

Twas the day after Christmas and all thru the house…

I’m always a little sad by Christmas afternoon.  The tree will stay up another week, the same with the lights outside, but I have to be honest; rather than serve as low wattage, multi-colored beacons for the hope that Christmas brings, they become reminders that the day has passed and won’t be around again for another year.

For me, a divorced father, it is particularly hard to come home after delivering my young sons back to their mother after Christmas dinner.  When I re-enter the house and see the carnage of paper and boxes, strewn every which way, my heart sinks for a moment as I remember the excitement of the children that occupied that very space only an hour earlier.

Even though they got under my skin at one point (seriously, why is it my fault that they lost the power cord?) and I thought to myself, “I can’t WAIT to take you back to your mother!” my true compass always points back to my other-worldly love for them.

My blue funk was compounded when I noticed the stockings, hung by the chimney (with care) and I thought to myself, “No point in leaving those up there.”

So, I took them down, only to realize that stuffed into the bottom of the middle one, belonging to my son Alexander, was a gift card to Target that he never discovered.  In a flash was a mixture of melancholy and mischief.  I missed the excitement he would have shown for a $25 spending spree, but simultaneously I had a devilish idea.  He doesn’t know about this…I could buy razors….and The Bourne Legacy…(Okay!  I’ll give it to him!).

In the past month we have seen the one year remembrances of the tragic loss of Lyric and Elizabeth from Evansdale and the Sandy Hook horror.  I’ve been searching for hope and I’ve welcomed the discussions many of us have had concerning the state of America and where we are heading, and which ways we should.  The climate of sorrow greatly affected my view of the holidays again this year, but as the year draws to a close the purpose which should unite us becomes clear.

I may be sad that my children are not with me right now, but I have my children in my life.  They are happy and safe.  I am lucky and rich beyond measure in that regard.

Lyric and Elizabeth, and the 20 children of Newtown were happy and safe once too, and circumstances that none of them, their parents or their teachers could have foreseen or controlled, robbed them of those precious rights- but therein lies the purpose I have been seeking as 2013 ends and I look for resolutions for 2014.

We can resolve to commemorate ALL of our children, those who have been taken from us and those that we can hold in our arms, by creating new standards of awareness concerning respect and how we, as adults, treat each other.  Think back on the anger that results from politics-  Can we really be surprised that America creates violence when we can’t even disagree on where the public sewer drain should be located without calling each other names?

We don’t want armed guards in schools, we want schools where we don’t need armed guards.

We don’t need more households to buy guns to feel safe, we need to divert violence away from innocent people and diffuse the energies that create it.

Easier said than done, right?  This is not going to be easy; it is hard work, just like marriage, just like our careers, just like raising our children.  But those are things that we are all willing to do to reach a better end.  It is work we seek even when there are heartbreaks, hurdles and hell to deal with.  Having a more rational and reasonable discourse is going to be that kind of work, but we must have it.

There are sources out there with sound statistics and we need to be sharing accurate information about firearms, the good and the bad of them.  If we want to be idealistic we need to start by being realistic.

And there’s good news!  There are people and organizations already in place who want to help.

The NRA isn’t going away, so I ask my friends who stand against them (as I have), to learn more about the National Rifle Association, its past and present and its original purpose.  The NRA has the most extensive instruction programs available for the use and responsibilities that come with guns. http://training.nra.org/nra-gun-safety-rules.aspx

Also, investigate facts about gun violence.  http://www.bradycampaign.org/?q=about-gun-violence

Mental Health America is an organization that deserves our attention and needs our help.  They are working to improve our understanding of, and to alleviate, mental health afflictions.  Go to http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/mission-vision and I think you’ll be impressed.

So…I come back to where I began…I’m sad as I stand in my foyer looking back to where my children played only a few hours ago, but I am full of a new resolve to bring in the New Year with a deliberate mission to make us stronger, wiser, safer and more full of joy.

Happy New Year, Friends!

The Intention of Good Intentions

We, humans (at least the ones in Western Civilization) have a tendency to take a good idea, implement it, then forget its purpose and finally betray its intention.  One of those good ideas was brought forth by the American Disabilities Act of 1990.

ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disabilities and it also ushered in a really thoughtful ordinance to create Handicapped Parking.  These spaces are located closer to entrances of businesses, shopping centers, churches, banks and just about anywhere people park.

handicapped-parkingEvery state differs in their application of this national ordinance, but essentially all follow the guideline of “parking a vehicle carrying a person whose mobility would be otherwise significantly impaired by one or more of age, illness, disability or infirmity.”

But, this is what has happened, as it does with nearly everything we get our hands on:  We expand the parameters, partly from our desire to be inclusive, but also because of our nature to be included, and by doing so we often facilitate abuse.

That is not to say that everyone using a placard who’s mobility isn’t significantly impaired is abusing the system, but it is to say that the system now works to its own detriment as people the ordinance wasn’t intended for, gravitate toward the privilege.  And if we don’t understand and enforce the original parameters that gravitation opens the door to abuse.

We all hate looking for parking, we all hate parking far away, and it is satisfying to find a parking space closer to the door, especially in frigid weather.  “So…” the human impulse to self-serve says to itself, “…if I ‘borrowed’ a handicapped placard, I could park next to the stadium entrance or at the grocery store and chances are slim I’ll get caught because who’s to say I don’t have a disability?”  http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Abuse-of-disabled-placards-free-parking-persists-3684755.php

This essay started after I observed something and shared it on Facebook.  I was walking from the grocery store to my car in a crowded lot and as I walked by a car in a handicapped parking space, a mother and her daughter jogged to the car, carrying bags, and jumped over a puddle toward the doors.

I have a friend in a wheelchair who has voiced his frustration when all the spaces are filled (“I hardly ever see other people in the store who can’t walk,” he notes), and I’ve heard several people share their disgust over clear cases of “Placard Fraud” and so I shook my head at the mother just as she glanced up to see me.  She then pulled her placard off of her rear view mirror and said, “I have a handicapped tag, so there!”

I received her tone to be that of someone who was caught in the act of cheating.  Should someone who can run and jump really be all that surprised if they are questioned in a handicapped parking space?

My Achilles heel is arrogant entitlement from people who think they are above the statutes the rest of us should follow.  She called me a jerk and sped off.  I could offer further evidence of this person’s self-entitlement by pointing out her speed through a crowded parking lot, but maybe she suffers from Heavy Foot Syndrome.

I posted this experience on Facebook, because I like using social media to start a conversation, and quickly received several “Thumb’s Up.”

But soon the tables turned….

“I am appalled by your insensitivity!”

“How can you judge that she didn’t have an affliction you couldn’t see?”

Great people, all of them, but they were incensed by my “insensitivity” and couldn’t believe that I hadn’t considered a possible “invisible” handicap.  Some included me within the spectrum of discrimination against people with disabilities because, in their view, even circumstances that do not include challenged mobility should be entitled to parking convenience.

Or, perhaps, they believe that abuse is insignificant and should be overlooked in order to allow for the latitude.

If that were true, I may have conceded, but it isn’t.  Even when I pointed out that this use of the space could be causing someone in a wheelchair, an elderly person, or someone at risk when walking, to have to park farther away, they did not buckle.  Nor did they when I pointed out that it was the athleticism of the mother and daughter that caught my attention.  Nothing I offered was compelling enough to consider that the intention of handicapped parking was for people who can’t run and jump to their car.

I genuinely understand the cause of their generous and inclusive nature, but I, too, did not move from my premise:  By extending this to everyone who may fall under the umbrella of a helpful ordinance, we lose the original intention and open the door for misuse and fraud; which, in turn, hurts the people the law was designed to help.

There are many kinds of disabilities, some are obvious, some are not, some are physical, some mental, some both or none of the above.  All should be given equal attention from a compassionate society, but no progress is made if we offer the same solutions to different challenges.

Handicapped parking was an effort to shorten the distance from a vehicle to an entrance so that people who cannot walk without pain or without assistance would not have to walk as far.

There is another aspect to this, as well, and it reverberates at the core of this “controversy.”  That is the fact that it is undeniable that people abuse the handicapped disabled-parking-abuseparking ordinance.  Criticism of those taking advantage of convenient parking by using the placard of someone who legitimately possesses one, does not diminish the struggle of those with challenges that are not evidenced by wheelchairs or with canes.  Rather it supports appropriate actions so that the intentions of one provision don’t compromise another.

The arrogance of selfishness when people think that rules only apply to others, galls me, and I will take the these lumps for the times when I may be wrong.  What I will not be is passive and look away from abuse just to avoid the conflict.  That has far more sinister consequences.

I Wish You Well

Sometimes it is easy to write these posts.  In fact, I usually find it fairly simple because I write about political issues where I already have some knowledge and a feeling about my position and the words come out rather quickly.  When matters are of a more personal nature, it is more difficult.

Partly because there is a tendency to question the motive behind personal narratives, and the balance between being useful to a reader and self- flagellation is always present. My hope with anything that I write is to engage someone to either activate their thinking on a particular subject or to find information that can benefit their own journey one way or another. When I step away from politics and write about my family and my children, it is with that in mind, as well.

This essay is about being divorced.

I know many divorced people.   Men and women.  Most of them with children.  We share the stories of our struggles with regard to visitations, child support and attitudes in order tocalvin_arguing calibrate our own perspectives and to give support to another who is experiencing the inevitable frustrations of shared custody.

At stake is always respect, dignity, fairness and agreement.  Yet, the reasons each of us got divorced in the first place was a lack of respect, dignity, fairness and agreement.  And so the same issues exist, now we just don’t have to see each other every day to be in constant conflict.  We rely on legal counsel, documents, decrees and judgments to mediate when loggerheads are reached, but even those prove to be useless at those times when….respect, dignity, fairness and agreement are in question.

Very few divorced people that I know speak highly of their ex spouse.  I do know of a couple of ex-couples who claim to be better friends now, but the lion share (by a long shot) are not on such terms.  Most will give an exasperated grunt when they finish a conversation with an ex that is otherwise only heard in bullfighting rings (from the bull).

“My ex husband is an imbecile”

“Listen to what my ex wife just did…”

“My ex doesn’t even care about (fill in: kids, bills, making payments, etc)”

Justice was never part of the cosmic agreement between human beings and it doesn’t matter which side of the ex-spouse argument defines your situation, every bit of negativity that you foster toward the person on the other end of the phone, text message or parking lot, lands in a puddle of sludge.

“There is no comeuppance,” one friend reminded me.  “No one ever walks away feeling that they could have been more thoughtful.”

I have bouts with anger/frustration/disappointment with my child custody arrangement and I’ve found myself at odds with my better nature at various times. Every time a new “situation” develops where I feel persecuted by the same dysfunctions that engineered the end of a marriage, the cumulative weight of every previous frustration and lack of respect, dignity, fairness and agreement, comes to bear.  I’m writing today because there’s hope.  For me, and for you, if any of this is familiar territory.

Life has an uncanny way of putting answers in front of us when we need them. Or maybe they are always there and we see them when we’re ready, but I attended a lecture about the release of stress and reprogramming our minds to recognize joy and love before fear. It was by Dr. Amit Sood of the Mayo Clinic.

He offered 3 steps to begin the process.

-Today I am taking two minutes to think of 5 people that I treasure (that’s an easy one).

-Every stranger I see, I will acknowledge with my eyes by thinking (not verbally) “I wish you well.”

-And any loved one that I talk to or should see today I will treat as if I haven’t seen them in a long time.

Three easy steps toward flushing away the negativity that only eats at one’s own tranquility.  I will do this every day. This exercise is designed to program the Focus Mode and the Default Mode that navigate our brains. I did it and you know what? I felt the purging of negative feelings. More than that, I felt from this brief meditation the influx of positive feelings.

Maybe this seems too simple a solution for complex, deep, emotional issues and conflicts that have spanned years. And maybe the next time the peace is broken by one of those Acts of Obstinacy that is unique to the world of Divorce-Custody I will be back to burning effigies and making incantations…but what I do know for sure is this-  No one suffers but me when I’m unhappy.

Peace and love, my friends.  And even if you’re not my friend, “I wish you well.”

Faux Quo

I’m a little skeptical by nature. GE DIGITAL CAMERA Whenever someone’s argument seems too perfect, filled with too perfect evidence with too perfect quotes, I tend to become perfectly suspicious.

If I am in their presence in a face to face discussion, I will politely smile and say, “Well, that does seem rather compelling” and slowly back away.  I don’t want to continue a discussion that could quite possibly be built on a foundation of fake facts.

When I find a spare half hour I go to my computer and do a little research.  I’ll put the information they shared into a search engine to find the original source and then dig deeper into that source.  I’ll check quotes, weigh the facts with other sources, use some sites like FactCheck.org and I’ll Google variations.  More often than not, my suspicions prove to have been valid.

One of the most common misappropriations in our modern age of internet information is the use of great, historical figures to support positions by using their legendary quotes.

The two that stand at the top of the Pyramid of Political Wisdom are George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  It seems that their street cred abraham_lincoln_gangstersuperceeds all others and is of such indisputable relevance that anything they are quoted as having said is Political Gospel and can validate any ideological position.

Let me be clear right off the bat, this manipulative use of quotes is not the sole domain of either side of the aisle; both right and left politicos and pundits look to websites that share their views and pull down from a menu of Founding Father (plus Lincoln) short order specials.

A left leaning website that was looking to rally support for labor used this classic Lincoln quote:  “All that loves labor serves the nation.  All that harms labor is treason to America.”

Perfect!  Except that Lincoln never said it.

Here’s a Lincoln quote that I’ve used myself: “If this nation is to be destroyed, it will be destroyed from within; if it is not destroyed from within, it will live for all time to come.”

That one works for the right, the left and for Libertarians.  It is a call for balance, civility, and justice.  Except, that Lincoln never said that either.  Research by Paul F. Boller who wrote, “They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions,” and historian Matthew Pinkser, supports that many famous Lincoln quotes, even ones used by historians, do not exist in any of his writings, letters, speeches or in his official biography, but were simply drawn from the winds of rhetoric and repeated so often that they became truth.

Lincoln, however, may no longer be the champion of Faux Quotes.  Lately, it seems, cool-presidents-10George Washington has replaced the Great Emancipator as the noblest voice of true American ideals.  In this case, the Right, in particular, seems to feel a need to have the preeminent founding father on their side, in order to make their case that America was a Christian nation from its inception.

Today on Facebook I saw this Washington chestnut: “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.”

I don’t have a problem with that quote, per se, but I happened to know that it wasn’t quite right.  I’m a history buff and I had a recollection of reading Washington’s Farewell Address long ago (but long after the actual address!).  What he actually said was, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.”

There is a difference.  Washington was speaking of the dispositions that he saw as crucial if one is to be successful in politics and what is required, in his view, for politics, in general, to serve the people.  Where the quote gets bent is in the interpretation of “religion.”  Religion to Washington (and many of our founders) was a rational moral discipline, a humble piety and respect for Providence.  Washington was a registered member at a number of churches, but did not attend regularly and his writings rarely elaborated on his specific religious beliefs.

My point here is not to diminish his Christian influences or respect, but to clarify what “religion” meant in the late 18th century.  It was an understanding of and respect for morality that was held accountable by a Higher Power; not specifically Christian, or even necessarily church, related.

The Washington myth continues, however, and the most famous of all Washington quotes, with regard to Christianity, is:  “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”

That, he simply did not say.

What he said (wrote, actually) was this:  “It is impossible to reason without arriving at a Supreme Being. Religion is as necessary to reason, as reason is to religion. The one cannot exist without the other. A reasoning being would lose his reason, in attempting to account for the great phenomena of nature, had he not a Supreme Being to refer to.”

A testimonial in support of religion and it embraces non-Christian doctrines, as well.  No reason to change a word of it, except fundamentalists feel that by making Washington a Christian-specific sage they can further an expansionist agenda of religious exclusion.

A new sporting goods store opened in my town and in front of the store are beautiful, brass sculptures of Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson.  Beside each figure is a brassalinc document with individual quotes.  There is at least one false quote on each of those documents.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you feel that your ideology, whether political, social or religious, needs the support of these legendarily wise, credible and patriotic figures, and you are compelled to make up perfect words to put in their mouths to show that support….then you may need to reconsider your original premise.

And if you find a perfect quote on a website…do a little research before you post it.

In the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Except that he didn’t actually say that.

Rome is burning!

k7863536I’m confused….What are we trying to accomplish?

Does either side of the political fence think that total annihilation of the other side is plausible?  Is that the goal?  If it isn’t then why aren’t we working together or even listening to each other?  Why are the arguments so extreme?

Does anyone really think either party is going to lie down and confess, “You guys were right!  We need to shut up, step aside and let you take over!”?

I’ll admit that I did not like the Bush Administration and I was vocal as I opposed the invasion of Iraq and I was baffled by reducing revenue while engaging in two wars.

I bristled as money was siphoned from the bottom toward the top due to continuing market de-regulation allowing toxic derivatives. 

I scoffed at the poorly conceived and underfunded “No Child Left Behind,” as well as falsifying costs of the Prescription Drug Program.

I was miffed when President Bush shunned counsel from his own economic advisors, and angry at Dick Cheney’s self-serving involvement in creating Halliburton loopholes.

I was ashamed of the administration’s jingoistic foreign policy that alienated allies and I was incensed by the Patriot Act which gave government virtually unlimited powers of surveillance over its citizens without judicial oversight!

In short, I wanted George W Bush and his neo-cons, the post-Reagan Republicans on the right to go away.  I wanted an election sweep where the left took over.

I was naïve.

The lines of division are now so wide that bi-partisan cooperation has been as improbable as Justin Bieber becoming an advisor to the Princeton Review.

Here’s my conundrum:  When I offer an olive branch by acknowledgingwafer-thin-mint-monty-python-i10 accomplishments of Republicans, or even when I am critical of Democrats, I don’t get even “one thin wafer” of appeasement from my friends on the right.

Instead, they reveal a grave double-standard as they chastise me for supporting our President while they condemn him for some of the very things they once embraced.  Or, at least things they once cared far less about.

Things like the Patriot Act, Deficit Spending, Debt Ceilings or the Debt, for that matter.

Obama essentially continued the same economic recovery plan set into motion by Bush with Stimulus Spending and Bailout Loans to Detroit and Wall Street.  Very little was done to actually “regulate” the markets that had just betrayed us.  Obama did not immediately de-escalate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, either.  He didn’t change counter-terrorism policies and he continued the Patriot Act.  In fact (olive branch coming) if President Obama’s stimulus package and loans to Detroit and financial institutions were instrumental in the recession’s reversal trends, we have to share that credit with President Bush, as well.

Yet, the Republicans hate President Obama and when I point out the inconsistencies in their arguments, their reply is consistent:  “Excuses!  When are you going to stop blaming Bush?”

Well….history is what it is, but this isn’t really about placing blame.  It’s about trying to figure out what it is that they believe on the right.  Unless it is to assume all Muslims might be terrorists, that Mexicans are primarily criminals, that gay marriage will destroy civilization, and that a zygote should have a checking account.

If the Republican “offense” is that Democrats are making excuses and still blaming Bush for what is wrong, then why can’t they acknowledge what is right?

And I have to ask…”Excuses for what exactly?”

Look at the stock market, corporate cash reserves, hiring, and the housing market.  More Americans have health security.  Look at real budget numbers that show deficit spending was coming down even before draconian, Republican demanded, austerity measures.

Those words will fire up the Republicans who read my columns as they insist that America has only fallen deeper into every political hole for the past 7 years.

I am not suggesting that it’s time for anyone to take a victory lap; we still have deep, dark issues surrounding civil liberties, immigration, un-employment, foreign policies, and Constitutional protections.  But, unless we can find common purpose; unless we can define mutual principles to guide America, we will condemn ourselves to continue this unhealthy and destructive journey toward an eventual implosion.

Rome-burningThe Roman Empire lasted 400 years, and it crumbled from the inside out, before it fell.