Intercourse With Foreign Nations

We need to create a Foreign Policy Constitution.  A document that we hold up to the light to reveal how we should approach every foreign engagement.  We can refer to this document so that America can consistently carry the moral authority expected of this free and powerful nation without compromise.

Am I being facetious?  Not really.  Naïve?  Maybe.  What we have is a vague set of evolving principles that have been subjected to so many diverse and conflicting interests that our authority on the world stage has become a liability.

There are principles, in theory, if not even actual pieces of paper tucked away in State29757841 Department drawers, but they are not necessarily consulted.

The officially stated goal of the foreign policy of the United States, from the Foreign Policy Agenda of the U.S. Department of State, is “to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.”

Could anything be more vague and open to interpretation?  What determines security?  Prosperity?  What are the parameters?  By what measure?  When are we benefitting?  How far do we go?

In addition, the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs states:  “Export controls, including nonproliferation of nuclear technology and nuclear hardware; measures to foster commercial intercourse with foreign nations and to safeguard American business abroad; international commodity agreements; international education; and protection of American citizens abroad…”

Forgive me, but the best, and most ironic, part of that is “intercourse with foreign nations…”

I like the specificity regarding nuclear proliferation, but we are witnessing today that “export controls” has wide latitude.  It doesn’t say “Strangle or obliterate perceived rogue nations that have nuclear potential,” yet that has been added to the debate.

Constitutionalists and modern Federalists will reiterate the foreign policy themes expressed in George Washington’s farewell address.  These thCABEE2DTincluded:  “Observing good faith and justice towards all nations and cultivating peace and harmony with all, excluding both ‘inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others’, and “steering clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”

The primary trend of U.S. foreign policy since the American Revolution has been the shift from non-interventionism to hegemony, becoming the dominate world power during World War II.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s support of the Allies against Germany and Japan resulted in an intense internal debate that initially determined that our policy arsenal_of_democracy_by_gonzoville-d4us61kwas to become the “Arsenal of Democracy”; financing and equipping the Allied armies without sending American combat soldiers.

Roosevelt then defined fundamental freedoms to rally American involvement which he said ought to be enjoyed by people “everywhere in the world.”

These were “freedom of speech and religion, as well as freedom from want and fear.”

From here on a new expansionist American Foreign Policy objective was realized, and trouble has followed a never-ending, exponentially expanding, and impossible set of directives to accomplish.  How, when, where and what will a sovereign, democratic Republic determine how, when, where and what we can accomplish?

We have rules to direct and contain how our forces are deployed, but even these have become lost and vague as sincere objectives become obscuredSep_of_Powers_thumb_1-1 by myriad political and corporate interests.

While the President is Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces, only Congress has authority to declare war.  The United States Secretary of State is our foreign minister and is the primary conductor of state-to-state diplomacy and both the Secretary of State and ambassadors are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.

But those are just the rules.  Rules need to have purpose, vision and clear directives to retain relevance.

This may be the fundamental dysfunction of government, in general, but it is a conflict that we must resolve if we are ever to find balance domestically and abroad.  Just as we refer back to the Constitution of the United States of America, and a Supreme Court was created to interpret the application of its laws, we should have a document as accepted and revered for its timeless wisdom, by which to inform and guide our involvement in an ever changing world.

We should call for a new Continental Congress (I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I do believe that Thomas Jefferson suggested that we hold one every 50 years or so to remain relevant) to draft:  The Constitution of American Foreign Policy.

Such a charter will always be subject to interpretation, just as the breadth of our Constitution is continually challenged, but its essential purpose to outline fundamental laws protecting our freedom is respected around the world.

As we continually face military action in the Middle East, and as we consider loss of life and global impact, we must be clear on what it is we’re doing and why.  Chemical warfare and genocide are unthinkable crimes against humanity, but can we be sure that our policies are preventing any of it from happening?

Have they so far?

The Heritage of ObamaCare

Who knew that the concept of an individual mandate to purchase healthcare was initially proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation?thCAXY929M

During the George HW Bush administration the conservative think tank devised an alternative to the single-payer health care being proposed by Democrats.  It followed the reasoning that was proposed by President Richard Nixon in 1974 (and even that was an extension of what Republican President Eisenhower had considered 20 years earlier) to require employers to buy private health insurance for their employees.  It gave subsidies to those who could not afford insurance.

Nixon argued that this market-based approach would build on the strengths of the private system: “Government has a great role to play, but we must always make sure that our doctors will be working for their patients and not for the federal government.”

142116_Papel-de-Parede-MonokuRo-Boo-Boo_1280x800No one said “boo” that Nixon’s plan was “unconstitutional,” and the irony is that it faced opposition from Democrats who were insisting on single-payer.

15 years later, an individual mandate was championed by Republicans as a free-market approach to health care because, according to the Heritage Foundation, it “resonated with conservative principles”; it promoted individual responsibility and opened up the unique healthcare market to endless profitability.

In 2006, Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, enacted an individual health-insurance mandate (with bipartisan support) and “RomneyCare” was praised. Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said: “Take some good conservative ideas, like private health insurance, and apply them to the need to have everyone insured.”

untitledRomney himself said: “I’m proud of what we’ve done. If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be the model for the nation.”

And then….

Barack Obama, running for President in 2008, took the torch for healthcare reform from Senator Ted Kennedy and made it part of his platform, and he was elected partly because of that promise.  Yet it was very clear from the outset that single-payer reform, or anything resembling Universal Healthcare, would never meet the congressional approval needed to pass, and so the newly elected President dusted off the Conservative Handbook and the Affordable Care Act was born.

It was hurried, however, as time was going to run short when the Republican obstructionist agenda started to oppose the idea, and if it didn’t pass with Democrats in control of Congress it probably never would.  I, like many others, was (and remain) critical of it’s implementation because subsidies for the middle class and cost reducing purchases over state lines were not part of the program, but I believed that it could be a “good start” if Congress cooperated.

But, that was not to be as every Republican Senator in 2009 voted to describe the mandate as “unconstitutional. ” Republicans, who had previously supported individual mandates, including Romney, emerged as critics.  Why would they oppose what they once supported, even created?

The answer is simple: Politics.

It had to be sobering for Republican leadership to realize that if a Democrat were successful with giving Americans health coverage, and by opening up the health market that the Republican Party would be in jeopardy. Especially after the economic catastrophe realized by George W Bush’s continuation of what his own father dubbed as “Voodoo Economics1229777.”

As so, the right wing emerged with a bankrolled vengeance and a new message was fed to the masses:  “ObamaCare is unconstitutional and unsustainable.”

It wasn’t a hard spin to sell. Republicans had hammered spending and big government to the point where anything implemented by President Obama became a “cost burden that we cannot afford.”  Never mind that deficit spending was practically pioneered by President Reagan or that it was Bush-era spending and tax cuts for the wealthy while funding two wars that ushered in the deepest recession in nearly 80 years; healthcare reform was going to be labeled “Big Government” and “Socialism.”

Never mind that ACA was a realization of conservative political thinking, it was now Obama’s and the right wing would give no quarter. The only agenda Republicans drew upon with consistent obedience was to destroy a Democratic presidency and they could bank on Americans having a short memory.

I am all in favor of voicing conflicting points of view in the Town Square; it is the way our Republic was intended to serve the best ideas. I believe that the polarity from opposing i1aquote-mcconnell-obama2deologies can lead to those new and better ideas.

I do not believe that there are any flawless realizations of any philosophical or ideological agenda, but when one side of the fence changes their core principles simply to oppose the other, then we are not having the debates that lead us to improved legislation.

Then we are only playing a dishonest political game to gain power.  And that is not good for America’s health.

The Tail Wags the Dog

I had an interesting experience speaking to a first year government class. I began the hour by asking the students this question: “What form of government do we have in America?”

No response.

“I mean is this an oligarchy, a monarchy, a theocracy…?”

Finally, a young man in front, probably no more than 18 and clearly wishing he weren’t in this class (and in front), offered: “A Capitalist Democracy.”

Now, I could play teacher!  “A Capitalist Democracy…interesting….”

Before I could continue a young woman chimed in (the ball was rolling): “We are a Republic!”

“A Republic! “ I repeated (I love when teachers just repeat things so as to appear as if they’re leading students down a path).  We were onto something, however.

“What is a Republic?”

Ooops!  I’d gone too far.  The room was even more silent than it was when empty.  No one wanted to venture down that path.  I’ve learned over the years that to most people, a “Republic” is nothing more than the thing “for which we stand.”

“If I said that a Republic is a Representative Democracy what would I be saying?”

The young woman started wiggling around and was encouraged a little—

“It would mean that we elect representatives to….represent us in government…”

“And…?” I coaxed.

“And…that is why we are…free?”

“Pretty darned close!” I said. “The people elect representatives to create and vote on legislation in the public’s interest.  But, I want to go back to what the young man in front said. He said ‘a Capitalist Democracy.’ Can anyone explain Capitalism?”

The room was now buzzing a little and the young man had more confidence.

He offered: “Capitalism is free enterprise!”

“Yes, indeed!  That is correct.  But is it a form of government?”

No response.  Suddenly another young woman threw her hand in the air—

“No!  It’s an economic system.  The opposite of Socialism.”

“Well…” I corrected, “Socialism is a form of government but it does control certain economic principles. Capitalism, on the other hand, is an economic system based on the private ownership of production and distribution of goods, facilitated by, as that young man pointed out, a free market and motivated by profit.  But…a government of the people must hold itself to ethical principles.”

That landed with a thud.

The class was engaged, and the hour was productive, but the young man’s comment stayed with me. To many people this is the land of freedom to attain capital, above and beyond other notions of unalienable rights. Later that week I was in a conversation with someone that I do business with and this person echoed the thought of the young man who said this is a “Capitalist Democracy.” Only he put it in words I hear more often these days: “This is America where our system rewards hard work and success!”

A mistake is being made if we think of our country as having been founded on principles of an economic system and not a system of ethical governance. The mistake is in thinking that the roots of American independence were planted in a paradigm of financial success; a system that has no moral allegiance and does, indeed, reward the hardest working and the strongest, while those who fail…fail.

Today, there is a disconnect in America between why we were created and where we should be heading.  Although we were created by original Christians escaping religious persecution in England, they, themselves, became exclusionary as different, predominately Christian sects emerged.  Over time the colonies produced Theists, Atheists and Agnostics, as well.

From this theological melting pot, our Founding Fathers had the wisdom and vision to create a great charter; predicated on government that protected religious freedom, freedom of speech and guaranteed a voice and representation to the least powerful among us.  It demanded a system of impartial justice.

Nothing in this Charter said, “And we shall be a nation founded by the free market; where justice is governed by margin of profit; and where access to freedom, its benefits and resources is determined by financial success.”

That may sound a little extreme, yet that is how half of America is defining our greatness and what we should be inspired to return to.  They view American freedom as an unbridled Free Market, where profit is a moral directive and success is measured by accumulation, rather than the protection of liberty and justice.

The America I am proud of is a nation that endures the complexities of her fight for Freedom and Tolerance; that has risen from conflict to champion human rights; a nation that has proven its sovereignty with its realization of individual freedom and has the capacity to shine as a beacon of justice around the world.

To my students, my friends and foes- Capitalism is the natural and fitting economic model for a free nation, but let’s not let the tail wag the dog.  While merchant capitalism gleamed across the American coastline well before our thirst for freedom was realized, that economic principle was welcomed by the theory of governance that emerged from a nation longing to be free…not the other way around.

Power to the People (Right On!)

The ascension of a corporate-welfare bleeding, amoral, overrated host of a reality show to the Presidency of the United States was not the result of a populist movement alone, but was supported by a reaction to that populist movement. How else can we explain the contradiction that saw voters, terrified of oligarchic takeover of government, elect a billionaire, and subsequently his billionaire cronies, to lead the country?

Doesn’t make one iota of sense does it?

Not on a rational level, but it does on a grassroots level. There has been a movement in America that has been building under our fertile plains and amber waves of grain for decades. It is a truer popular movement, not of a political doctrine, but of simplicity. Born from the fear of the complicated encroachments of taxes and regulations, it yearns for simplification so that government can be understood, and ultimately controlled.

Donald Trump is, without question, the apex of the oligarchic shift that rooted during the Reagan years and grew in the modern world of market-access to exponentially increase wealth from investment, but that trend didn’t elect Donald Trump, it simply coronated him. The popular movement toward simplification elected Donald Trump, but not for any reason other than the fact that he represents a “do-over.” A complete Etch-a-Sketch shakedown that requires us to start over, from the beginning, with simple lines.

Sit down for this my liberal, progressive and Democratic friends- but I can live with that. At least I can for 4 years. Donald Trump will fall on the sword of his inconsistencies, lack of genuine ideology, his proclivity for the weaker side of decency, and, quite frankly, his lack of interest in the process and policies that have shaped America. This was a merger in his world; an acquisition; a business move that was both brilliant and resilient. He already has what he came for: He won. Game over.

Where actual governance is concerned, he’ll wait this out, putting in bankers hours, and hand over the reins to Mike Pence.

And THAT is what does concern me. Pence is part of another genuine, grassroots, populist movement; the extreme-right revolution (that will embrace any Republican, even Donald Trump) that wants to see America return to policies and principles that we have long since left behind. The establishment of theocratic governance that would narrow civil rights; a status-quo driven society that looks fondly back on the “good old days.” Those good old days when Jim Crow laws permeated pockets of America, when factories poured refuse into our rivers and skies, and when women knew their place.

Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan reached into the psyche of those Americans who, like Mike Pence, believe that the reversal of progress IS the road to progress; the same conundrum that allowed them to put money in power to control money in power.

It is here, at the grassroots level, where this lives, and breathes, and thrives. Here at the state level, in Iowa, there is a celebration of those contradictions. Republican legislators who claim the mantle of religious, moral principles, are just fine with the fact that their new president is anything but morally or ethically motivated. They are in control now, and that is all that matters. Winning is everything. And those contradictions will author their policy.

Walt Rogers (who, by election day, defeated me resoundingly), who has fought against appropriate education funding that would match rising costs, and supports school vouchers that will ultimately decrease public school viability even more, has been named Chairman of the House Education Committee. A laughable irony if it weren’t so….dangerously ironic.

This is where the battle for the character of America will be fought. Washington gets the press, but it will be in Des Moines, Madison, Springfield and Sacramento, where the people do their bidding. Evidenced just like the fallacy of Trickle-Down economics: ideas, like money, move UP the ladder, not down.

And so, my liberal, progressive and Democratic friends- this is where we must plant our feet and deliver our message. So that in 2 years, 4 years, 6 years and beyond, we are the movement that resonates. And we must listen to and embrace the message that is coming from good, hard working and patriotic Americans: Simplify.

Simplification does not mean compromise; we will still champion working families, the middle class, labor, education, the environment, living wages and safe conditions, and economic prosperity. We can choose, here and now, to learn the lesson that slapped us across the face: Politicians are elected by people, not policies.

“Stand By Your Manor”

With Republicans taking the majority in both the Iowa Senate and House there are going to be several Republican-based initiatives that have been waiting (im)patiently in the wings for several years, that will become front and center as the legislature reconvenes.

One such issue is going to be Castle Doctrine.

Castle Doctrine has been around for several years, but became scrutinized as a result of the Trayvon Martin murder in Florida in February of 2012. It is the position that a person’s abode (their “castle” or, in some states, any place legally occupied, such as a car or work envirnoment) is a place in which the person is entitled to certain protections and immunities and may attack an intruder without becoming liable to prosecution.

“Stand Your Ground” law is a term that we probably hear more often, and it is a broader realization of that concept and states that a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first.

Florida is a Stand Your Ground state and from the Martin shooting to the shooting of Jordan Davis over loud music at a gas station in Jacksonville, and to a retired police chief in a Florida movie theater, who claimed self-defense after shooting a man who was armed with popcorn, “Stand Your Ground” laws are being invoked.

These events shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; this is exactly what happens in a society where people carry guns into the town square and have at their disposal a defense that could exonerate them from any wrongdoing. When the fundamental principle of any civilized society, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” becomes vague, the circumstances that challenge it will widen.  Or as comedian Louis CK put it:  “The law against murder is the number one thing preventing murder.”

The problems with these initiatives are not their purpose to protect our domicile, our family or our person, positions we all share, but in the language that accompanies them:  “without becoming liable to prosecution.”

This is a sharp turn that compromises the foundational principles of liberty and justice.  In fact, it is the degeneration of justice.  Castle Doctrine implies that if a person has to consider their legal grounds that they will not act appropriately to protect themselves, so by eliminating that concern, they will.   But by making such an action immune to prosecution it also means that justice becomes less relevant than what a sane society should demand from its judicial charters.

Castle Doctrine is reactionary and symptomatic of the greater illness permeating modern society:  The sickness of fear and suspicion.

It is what we saw in Arizona with profiling laws that allow for legal citizens to be apprehended on the fear that they might be illegal.  It is witnessed by American imperialism due to the fear of enemies overseas; it is the creation of the Patriot Act that compromises our personal freedoms in the name of intelligence gathering due to fear of losing our freedoms!

In Florida alone, the law has resulted in self-defense claims tripling and all but one killed has been unarmed.

Critics argue that the law makes it very difficult to prosecute cases against people who shoot and then claim self-defense because they felt threatened, and in most cases, the only other witness is the victim who was killed.

thCADVHF9FMiami police chief John F. Timoney called the law “unnecessary and dangerous.” He stated further: “Whether its trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn’t want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you’re encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn’t be used.”

At a National District Attorneys Association symposium concerns were voiced that “Stand Your Ground” laws could increase crime as criminals could use the law as a defense for their crimes.  They questioned safety when more people are carrying guns, and they concluded that people would not feel safe if they felt that anyone could use deadly force in a conflict.  The report also noticed that the misinterpretation of clues could result in use of deadly force when there was, in fact, no danger.

People are saying, “I have the right to protect my home, my family and myself!” and I do not disagree. The question becomes how while maintaining impartial justice in a civilized society.  We have a long history in America of creating shorthand solutions to longhand problems and that’s what Castle Doctrine follows.   A law that exonerates a shooter because they make what appears to be a fair claim of self-defense is reckless and ultimately un-constitutional.

Put the 2nd Amendment blank check aside for a moment and let’s focus on solutions to save lives and reduce crime.  These laws, designed to give gun owners justifiable reasons to use their guns, do not reduce crime or create greater security around us.  They are instead reckless, irresponsible, and frankly, uncivilized.

They are the result of fear and suspicion and are the antithesis of what true protection requires:  Sanity and justice.

Run, Block, Pass, and Catch

Mark Twain famously observed: “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it-and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again — and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”

If Democrats are to engineer a way back into being a relevant presence in state houses, Congress and the White House, they (we) must look at the election of 2016 and ask hard, tough and critical questions that lead to hard, tough and critical analysis of “what went wrong.”

It has become an almost by rote analysis-confession for Democrats to bemoan that160607070235-hillary-clinton-june-6-super-169 Hillary didn’t inspire voters, she isn’t trustworthy, she didn’t speak to white, working class Americans, and that she and the DNC led the charge to rig the process and by doing so disenfranchised the already disenfranchised voter.

But, if that is true; if that is the correct “what-we-must-change-and-do-differently-next-time” lesson….then how do we explain the fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first female, major party, nominee, received more votes than any white male, running for president, in history? Including, of course, the man who went on to defeat her, who received 2.8 million fewer votes.

2.8 million votes are not insignificant. If our system wasn’t predicated on an Electoral College (it is, Trump won, and that is not being contested here…even though there is some chilling evidence of vote counting fraud…), Clinton would have been considered the winner, overwhelmingly, and we wouldn’t be talking about trust, her expediency, or her un-likeability.

584df1071800001d00e4212bWe would, instead, be talking about her 68% approval rating before she entered the race, about her unequaled experience and qualifications, and the glass ceiling that was broken.  And the pride of having elected the first woman to the highest office in the land.

So, which reality will determine our lesson? The one that justifies what we now must accept, or the one that is revealed by what actually happened?

If we choose the former, which is hard to resist because our national narrative likes to move quickly and does not like to alter its organic course with meddling “facts,” then we run the risk that we will wash, rinse, and repeat this political destiny.

If we choose the latter, however, then we have to dig even deeper into our political psyche, and ask: “How did we let this happen?  What is our systemic flaw?”

An argument is easy to make that for 18 of the past 26 years, a Democrat has been in the White House, and we could conclude that we aren’t losing.  And it doesn’t take more 958107-al-gorethan a simple Google search to discover that even Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 (by half of 1%).  So, if our conclusion is that Democrats aren’t resonating with voters, then we are clearly missing something.

The truth is that Democrats are resonating, they just aren’t winning. Not where they need to.

Democrats have lost, over the past 8 years, over 900 seats in state houses. In Washington, Republicans hold the majority in both Houses and now sit in the White House (or will at least occasionally visit from New York).  Am I contradicting myself by saying that Democrats are resonating, but losing?

I don’t think so.

What I see, first off, is an antiquated electoral system. The Electoral College was created to satisfy the smaller states at the Constitutional Convention so that each state would have the same number of electoral votes as they have representatives in Congress.  No state could, therefore, have less than 3. But, when the Constitution was written, America was 95% rural and today over 80% of the population is not.  Yet that near-complete reversal of our demographic has not produced any reform since the 12th Amendment in 1803.

Beyond that logical reform, which will not happen in 4 years, and perhaps not for another 20, I see a strategic malfunction that has failed to recognize contract%20with%20americax-largethese demographic shifts, and failed to employ a grassroots system to administer them.

When Bill Clinton became the Formidable Force of Washington, Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, formed a grassroots plan to funnel money and support into state races and they masterminded a populist platform that would never lose its base.  Essentially lifting the content from Ronald Reagan’s 1985 Inaugural Address, the Contract With America, encapsulated modern conservatism, and they’ve never wavered.  Once state power was established, gerrymandering would solidify a winning strategy.

So, the question I ask my fellow Dems is: “How did we let this happen?”

Did we put all of our eggs into the White House basket?


Have we failed to understand the importance of the matrix of governorships and state legislatures to carry the water of our message?


Did we tack our sail to a gentle breeze and ignore the wave from a populist tsunami?


I firmly believe that Democrats are the agents of change, but when we ignore the outcry for change, in order to favor the way things are, we capsize.

And we did.

My conclusion here will be much shorter than the windup.  As Democrats we tend to complicate things which may be much simpler than we think (they understand that on the “other side”).  The simple concept (although difficult to admit, let alone, administer) is to take that hard, tough and critical look and acknowledge that this didn’t happen out of nowhere; it has been happening for decades.

We need to take a page out of the Republican Playbook and organize and prioritize at the grassroots level.  That means to focus locally and then fan out, rather than our modern modus operandi which is to go big and work down.  Our message wasn’t the problem; we are the party of the people, of the working family, the middle class, labor, public education, and social justice – but we need to change our delivery so that voters recognize our message as their own.

Our party must embrace, promote and support primary elections and the choices they present, on every level, to allow for a healthy discourse and to draw our strongest candidates from the well of diversity.

We need to improve the lines of communication between central committees and state party leaders; to create system-shortcuts so that our rank and file are telling party officials what they are hearing, rather than the other way around.

Networks with our student organizations need to be prioritized and supported.

We took our eye off the ball because we saw ourselves already at thefootball-101 goal line and we dropped the pass.  Republicans intercepted the ball and are heading toward their goal.  They executed a better plan on the field.  We need to get back to basics on offense.  In football that’s to run, block, pass, and catch.

In politics….well, I think that just might be to run, block, pass and catch, as well.

It’s Not the Size of the Boat, it’s the Motion of the Ocean

We hear more and more debate about the size of federal government and what powers have been drained from the states in contrast. The argument from Republicans and Libertarians, in particular, is that the powers of the federal government have expanded beyond its constitutionally outlined parameters and that state governmental authority has been diminished.

Their argument is that we need to reverse this trend and restrict federal jurisdiction while enhancing state and local focus.

I am not going to argue with that statement.  I do believe that we have allowed for too lenient a definition of federal powers and have diminished the scope of localized governments. While making that statement, however, I am also adding that this trend has been a consequence of our history and our own human nature.

In order to better define (and control) government responsibilities, we need to look at the historical context and at the characteristics that have brought us here.

foundingfathersAt the beginning of our nation being an “American” was a vague concept and although there was clearly a spirit of nationalism, having defeated the British for our independence, it was less significant a proclamation to be an “American” citizen of the newly formed United States, than it was to be a “Virginian” or a “Pennsylvanian” for example.

Patriotism was more associated with the colonies of farmers who framed regions with state borders served by local, communal interests than centralized government.  In fact, it was inconceivable in our infancy that a strong, centralized government would ever be necessary beyond the formation of a national army to defend alongside the local and state militias.  This began to change when soldier-farmers returned home from the war for independence and many of them found their farms gone from unpaid taxes levied by the state to pay war debt.

Soon, citizen-revolts began within our still vulnerable country and the Constitution was written.  Our Founders realized that a central government must be strong enough to maintain a balance of power between states and could not function if it relied solely on the states for revenue.  Congress was, therefore, given the power to collect “taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.”

Then, only 30 years after the establishment of our sovereignty, came the War of 1812…

War has a way of shaping our understanding of ourselves and the United States declared war as a result of long simmering disputes with Great Britain, specifically the impressments of American soldiers by the British.  The War of 1812 established once and for all the independence of the United States, and saw the emergence of strong nationalism. The British burned Washington to the ground and alongside the rebuilding of our capital city grew our national pride. Now we were a nation, not fighting for our creation, but defending our sovereignty. The strength of the national army, unified patriotism, and common purpose among the citizens of every state became relevant.

It was the Civil War that cemented into our collective psyche the value of having a strong Union beyond the individual sovereignty of states.  Less than a century old, the United States faced its greatest crisis; a crisis that was spawned from the very concept of individual states rights.

The brutal, post-war reality of Americans having fought Americans, and the resolve to preserve the Union, began to erase state allegiances as our principle identity and we became Americans first.  We emerged with a concept of strong federal government.

The Civil War marked the greatest transition in American national identity and the ratification the 14th and 15th amendments that followed settled the basic question of citizenship.  Under these amendments, it was now clear that anyone born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction was a citizen, regardless of ethnicity or social status (sadly, and inexcusably, Native Americans were not included); we now had a portrait of an “American.”

Academics have long questioned when, precisely, federal government started growing, but can cite that before WWI federal government spending consumed less than 5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.  While Roosevelt’s New Deal is often viewed as the beginning of Big Government, it was really only the continuation of what was a growing trend that started in earnest right after WWI.  The steadiest growth of government can be traced to the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Polls have almost always shown that women, as a group, vote differently than men, and a gender gap issue is that of smaller government and lower taxes versus the expansion or creation of government programs to improve society.

Women have been more supportive of Medicare, Social Security and educational expenditures.  Also, given the fact that a woman’s average income has been historically lower and less likely to vary over time, there is incentive to prefer more progressive taxes.

That is certainly not an indictment of women for increased spending, and it is not a sweeping generalization of women’s desires, or men’s for that matter; the intent is to show the inevitability of expansion in the natural evolution and realization of equality.

As our understanding of liberty and inclusion grows, so will the interests of Americans, and the safeguards we must provide.

There are several discussions that we should be having before this debate about the size of government and what expenditures can or cannot be cut.  We should be talking about production and the creation of jobs.  We should be asking corporate America why they are not re-investing with expansion commensurate to profits and cash reserves which are, for many, at all time highs.

We should be looking at welfare programs and adjusting them to critical but fair standards of compliance, but we should also be talking about the Americans that welfare and educational programs enabled to return to work.

And there is an important matter of a more philosophical nature for all of us to consider:  Government is what we made it. It exists in whatever size it exists because of what we have demanded from those we elected to protect our interests.

Government has evolved alongside the progression and realization of the ideals of freedom and representative democracy.  Yet it also must be managed and contained to operate efficiently with only growth that benefits our Republic.  When we consider what part of government is overreach and where it may be deficient, we must first look to it’s largest branch:  The 315 million people federal government represents.

Our part as citizens is to participate in the process that are part and parcel with maintaining this representative system.  That is the call to action.  The necessary conversations do not start in Washington but, rather, in our kitchens and at our neighbor’s barbeque.  Are we educating ourselves beyond our biases?  Are we offering the service that is demanded from us, individually, in order for a free society to survive?  Are we giving back?

When we examine ourselves, then, and only then, will we begin to find better leadership to control the reins of power that often corrupt and misguide our politics.

Let us be reminded of a great pledge offered over 50 years ago from a Democrat who embraced a tenet of a once Republican ideal:  Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

That was not a call from President Kennedy to diminish government, it was a call for participation in government, with compassion and personal responsibility, from those of us who are capable, so that better government can prevail for us all.


Some interesting reading:

All This Aggravation

aaa8012c655f26442e0cb2df4e579afeLife has a way with endless random collisions to occassionally produce a juxtaposition that is so uncanny it seems cosmically intended.  At the very least, it arrests our attention and we draw relevant conclusions from the coincidence.

While reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and contemplating his List of Virtues, I found myself most interested in “Industry” and “Silence.”  Franklin urged that we “Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions” and that we “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”

In an instant I distilled his call for meaningful action into rock lyrics as I thought of the Elvis Presley song “A Little Less Conversation (a little more action, please).”  It occured to me that, in many ways, we don’t change that much; the same axioms apply today that inspired us over 200 years ago, we just alter the words a little.

This is where the Life/Collision/Cosmic-thing happened.  A few minutes later I got into my car, turned on the radio, and what do you suppose was playing?

“A little less conversation, a little more action, please…all this aggravation ain’t satisfactionin’ me…”

Thank you, King of Rock and Roll.  And that got me to thinking about another king…

240 years ago we paid taxes to King George withoutKing_George_III representation and that sparked a revolution; forging our sovereignty from the Foundry of Freedom.  Inspired men and women faced the proposition of maintaining the status quo or execution for treason; risking uncharted waters to create a new nation as their consolation.

This created some hostile discourse among our forebears.  I’m a junkie for American history and I am as seduced as anyone by the noble highlights of that history, but I always find myself surprised by familiar realities illustrated by those writing in their time.  The trials and tribulations of today’s political rhetoric often echo realities from the time of our founding.

Look at this passage from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography:

51LkYniqFhL“In the conduct of my newspaper (Poor Richard’s Almanac) I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country.”

Say what?

Franklin wrote of the growing animosity and “false accusations” toward each other, government and “our best national allies.”  Macaroni_2_web It turns out our founding heroes weren’t just colonial-philosophers dressed in tights with ruffled shirts and powdered wigs, pontificating on the virtues of being learn-ed and penny-wise, they, too, argued in the town square with growing malice.

The difference between the discourse of 200 years ago and today seems to be defined only by modern myriad sources to voice the same “scurrilous reflections.”

Modern media (television, radio, print, the internet) has, without question, amped up the volume of our differences, and has turned information (and disinformation) that once took days, even months to spread, into milliseconds.  But, the hostility of the rhetoric is, perhaps, unchanged.

A glance into history can allow us to pause, take a breath, and dismiss a lot of the noise (and fake news) that assaults us.  We can be optimistic about the future if we hold ourselves, and our sources of information, accountible.  As Elvis pleaded in more recent history:  “All this aggravation ain’t satisfactionin’ me.”

What we can do together is have a little less conversation embedded with “falsea_little_less_conversation___by_doochum-d4rqkbv accusations” to divide us, and use a little more action to connect us with our common goals. Let’s put some music behind Franklin:  “Lose no time; be always employed in something useful…Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”

(Try curling your lip, and moving your hip, when you sing it)


The Needle and the Damage Done

Rick Perry is in the news again.  It is likely that President-elect Donald Trump will name the former Texas governor as his Secretary of Energy.  There is a peculiar irony here since it was Perry’s inability to remember the name of the Department of Energy in a televised debate that sank his own presidential bid.

It is also a peculiar irony that Trump would select Perry to head a department that Perry said he would eliminate if elected President, but this is the election of 2016can anything be a considered a surprising irony anymore?  After all, a billionaire has been elected President by people who fear the oligarchic takeover of their government.

This post is not an indictment of the latter contradiction, however, it is a personal indictment of the former Texas governor, himself.  I simply do not like this man’s politics and I do not like to see his Longhorn grin anywhere near our government.

Never mind that Texas topped the nation during his term in the number of citizens without health insurance and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality ranked the state’s care level the lowest in the nation.

Never mind his Good Old Boy “I didn’t name it ‘N—erhead’” arrogance concerning the name of his favorite hunting lodge, and never mind his appropriation of 25 million dollars from the pockets of Texas taxpayers to renovate his governor’s mansion, while at the same time cutting education funding and Medicaid benefits.

The biggest Texas-style reason I don’t like Rick Perry is that he is unmoved by reason and his unwillingness to think objectively about anything that contradicts cliché macho justice.  I’m talking about the fact that he let a man, who was likely innocent, die on Death Row.

For those of you who don’t know, a man named Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murdering his three young children by arson at their home in Corsicana, Texas in 1991.  Local forensics concluded that it was arson based on flammable materials found and the pattern of the fire.  Prosecutors maintained that Willingham’s posters of Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin indicated that he fit the profile of a sociopath.  Willingham was executed in 2004.

An appeal investigation after his conviction, however, proved conclusively by veteran arson investigators and superior forensics that every single point of conclusion previously made was false; that the fire was consistent with an accidental ignition from faulty wiring and that the pattern of the fire did not indicate intentional ignition.

They also concluded that the flammable liquid was clearly from the outdoor grill on the front porch and even physical evidence on Willingham and testimony led to a determination of innocence.

When presented with the new forensic evidence, Governor Perry, who had the authority to stay the execution and to grant a new trial, refused, saying the jury has spoken and that even Willingham’s wife thinks he’s guilty.

His wife, for the record, had changed her previous position which praised Willingham as a loving, doting father who never could have done such a thing, to an accusation of guilt after they had a contentious argument during a visitation.

As Willingham was about to be strapped to the gurney to receive the lethal injection, he saw his wife in the gallery and said, “I hope you rot in Hell, bitch.”  Not exactly poetic, but if one is about to be executed for a crime they didn’t commit and a person who shares responsibility for that injustice is looking on…well, who among us can be sure that we’d be any more…kind?  (I may have said worse when my ex-wife took the furniture)

After the execution, Perry was confronted by press who asked why he didn’t consider the new, convincing, evidence that the previous trial had drawn incorrect conclusions.  Perry responded by saying, “Did you hear what he said to his wife before he died?  He yelled cuss words at his WIFE!  This was a BAD man!”

For Rick Perry, evidence that was more than just a suggestion of possible innocence, but was highly potent, was not enough to stay an execution, nor was it compelling enough to consider justice to possibly save a man’s life.  It was enough for Rick Perry that Willingham used foul language toward his wife to justify his death at the hands of the State.

That isn’t an anomaly in the life of Rick Perry; this stands as an example of how he considers justice and weighs decisions; shoot from the hip and maintain your tough guy status.  Can a person like that be responsible for anyone who falls into troubled circumstances?  How could this man have become governor of the great state of Texas?  How could anyone have even considered this man for the highest office in the land?  How can he now become the Secretary of Energy of the United States of America?

It’s worth noting that more than half of the Energy Department’s budget is devoted to managing national security through the military application of nuclear science and running our programs on nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism.  For the record, the two men who served as President Obama’s energy secretaries were physicists, one with a Nobel Prize.  Perry holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&M; a perfectly respectable degree, but conspicuously contrary to managing forms of energy, the different trophic levels in ecological systems, and nuclear platforms.

There is nothing new about this kind of irrational extremism, what is new is that it has emerged from the shadows of a truthful center and taken a populist revolution toward the brink of insanity.  But, we are the ones who will be responsible for our own death sentence if we allow a jury of extremists to control policy in Washington.

And as the body politic is strapped to a gurney and the needle enters our arm, Rick Perry will be standing smugly in the gallery while the light of liberty fades from our eyes…

…and then he’s off to “N—erhead” for a weekend of family fun!

A Christmas Story

The Prologue

I’m going to step into an area that could be dangerous.  Dangerous because I sincerely care about people’s feelings and because of my personal directive to forward equality in all dominions of thought and practice; dangerous because the topic is the most personal, yet debated and misunderstood of all socio-political realms.

The topic is Gender Identification.  The national debate has swirled as long as I can remember, and even though there have been victories that signal acceptance of people who do not identify with their birth gender, waves of backlash continue to ebb and flow.  With a new conservative sweep across America and a louder call for “religious liberty” that often leads to their persecution, I am concerned.

At the core of this discussion will always be the differences between men and women that trigger our identification.  Most scientific studies will show that our brains are essentially the same, even though books, essays, lectures, films and many other sources have long contended that they are biologically different.  Many sociologists, however, suggest that the differences are taught from birth when boys are assigned to how-to-make-a-tutu-trying-it-onblue and girls to pink, and that we (even unconsciously) program them to be different.

Little boys who may have tried on their sister’s tutu have been scorned (even if passively), and little girls who play in the mud are called “Tomboys.”  Even if that seems harmless, it is still a deliberate classification that is embedded in their psyche.img_0335

At the same time, the physiological differences cannot be denied as a woman’s womb may create life and a man is hardwired to his own steroid hormone.  Wouldn’t these differences also preclude different inclinations toward hunting and gathering; or aggression and nurturing?  We are different sizes and densities; couldn’t that influence us toward different sensibilities and sensitivities?

I know many gay men and women, people who identify as gender-fluid, and several people who are transgender.  Some have had surgery and some grapple with that determination.  I’ve known adults who lived straight lives for years then came out as gay, and I’ve known gay people who knew as soon as they could talk.  My point being that there are many gradations of sexuality and no single, linear, definition will un-complicate a society where these identifications are considered “different.”

But not one person I know who identifies differently within a society populated by a majority of heterosexuals, has done so for any reason other than to be true to themselves; to be who they really are.  For that reason alone the “difference” debate transforms into one of civil rights and I join those who will fight until all people can live freely within their right to be themselves.

The Story

When my eldest son, Chris, was only 3, his mother and I took him to a restaurant in LA that was owned by a friend that I’d known as a man for years.  Seth (as I will call him here), became Cynthia (as I’ll call her here).  I knew Seth as a classically handsome, sturdy, dark, curly-haired Italian man, and he owned a restaurant that I loved and frequented years earlier.  I had lost touch with Seth after moving away, but in 2003 I had returned to the area and was told that Seth is now Cynthia, and still had the restaurant.  I couldn’t wait to see her because we shared a lot in our past and I wanted to know that she was happy.

We went to the restaurant and I told our server that I was an old friend and if she was around, we’d love for her to come to the table.  Within minutes Cynthia emerged from her office and bee-lined to the table.  She wore a long, floral dress, her hair was long and curly, and her movement was decidedly feminine in what may be called a stereotypical, but nevertheless understood, foot ahead of foot, hip-swaying gait.  But her face, although now devoid of any hair, was the same person I knew as Seth.

Not a millisecond of hesitation stood between either one of us and we fell into the warmest embrace.  Clearly, things were “different” but we knew each other well.  She spoke first: “Gary!  Oh my God!  How are you? Is this your family?”

Her voice lilted in the same way as her new way of walking indicated her change, but it was also with tones that belonged to Seth.  In other words, Cynthia vacillated, whether intentionally or not, between shades of her present and former self.

I’m a marginally funny guy and I am committed to bridging the moments between awkwardness and reality, and I responded with:  “So…I see you’ve changed the menu, anything else different in your life?”

Her laugh was surprisingly deep and at that moment we both noticed my son, Chris, looking at her with a deeply puzzled look.  She knew, we all knew, what was on his mind, but before we could gather another thought, Chris blurted out:  “Are you a boy or a girl?”shocked-smiley-face


I wanted to crawl under the table.  Chris’ mother immediately began to occupy him so that the subject could change- quickly– but, Cynthia smiled ear to ear.  In fact, her eyes lit up. I even felt a maternal warmth extending from her person reaching out to embrace the innocent little boy.  She whispered to me:  “What do I say?”

A wave of wisdom came over me and I said, “Say whatever you feel is right.  Your privacy is your business and you don’t have to say anything.  We just don’t lie to Chris.  He doesn’t get an answer to every question, but when we do answer him- it is always the truth.  The truth is that you are a woman.”

Cynthia looked at Chris and kneeled beside him.  She said, “I was born as a boy.   But, deep down inside I always knew that I was really a girl, and when I got older, I decided I wanted to live the rest of my life as I really am.  And now I’m a woman.”

Chris, with a gentle look on his face that20160513_064020 couldn’t contain even a wisp of judgment if he’d tried, looked at Cynthia, cocked his head, and asked:  “Do you still like trucks?”

The table, with Cynthia, erupted in the kind of laughter that defines the best moments in life because it affirms the spirit of love and compassion.  We left after our lunch, and Cynthia and I made a promise to stay in touch.  Sadly, the end of this story will break even the hardest heart, as Cynthia died on Christmas soon after our visit.  She died of infection resulting from her surgery.

But her presence remains strong in my life, my son’s, and I’m sure my ex-wife’s and many others.  Our encounter was a treasure trove of life; a person wanting to be free, the embrace of friendship, a child’s innocence yearning for understanding, and the purity of kindness when we do not judge.  And even though my personal conviction to stand up for the rights of all people was already resolute, Cynthia was the transitional moment in my life that enlightened me toward unconditional acceptance.

The Epilogue

This essay began as a discussion of gender identification and the political ramifications of a segment of our society that doesn’t accept such differences, but I knew all along that it was heading to this story.  It’s a Christmas Story.  It was meant as a celebration of someone who lived, and died, because they believed that being truthful to oneself is the beginning of all understanding.

It sits on this page to remind, or perhaps even to enlighten, those who haven’t understood nature’s contradictions, and that our greatest purpose in life is to love and support others on this journey while embracing our differences.