Fiscally Full of S#!t

People hate being labeled. Or at least being labelled by others. Every one of us bristles when we are summarized within restricting parameters, especially when those parameters are defined by someone from the “other side.”

Yesterday I was called a “far left liberal.”

I countered, “Far left of what? I just try to be right.” (pun intended)

I prefer to categorize myself, thank you very much.

We often create broader categories to define ourselves and one another, perhaps, as an answer to our aversion to being ideologically pidgeon-holed.

“Left of moderate,” or “Moderate-Right,” are bandied about with regularity, but the most common it seems is “I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative.”

Even the great Chair Whisperer himself, Clint Eastwood, labels himself that way.  Several conservatives that I converse with call themselves “socially liberal” while being “fiscally conservative.”

Basically, what that means, I think, is that they don’t care whether or not gay people get married, but when it comes to finances they are ultra conservative.

When it comes to voting, however, they are conservatives across the board.  Social issues, like gay marriage, civil rights, health care, environmental policies, consumer protection, workers benefits; go out the window at chad-punching time.  When it comes down to choosing ethics or the bottom line, socially-liberal/fiscal-conservatives vote Republican all the way.

Fiscal conservatism means the avoidance of deficit spending and the overall reduction of government spending and national debt, as well as ensuring a balanced budget.  Nothing ignoble about any of that.

Yet…. fiscal conservatives voted twice for George W. Bush who increased deficit spending by reducing revenue while entering two expensive wars.  He spent like a drunken sailor (Clint’s term, not mine), even increasing social spending with ill-fated programs like No Child Left Behind and his Prescription Drug program.  He was the exact opposite of a fiscal conservative.

But…do you know who WAS fiscally conservative?

Bill Clinton, who balanced the budget and created a budget surplus. 

The fiscal conservatives, however, hated him.  “He was a stain on Washington” was the oft quoted refrain.  I thoroughly enjoy revisionists I encounter today who say, “I liked Clinton.  I did well under Clinton.”

You HATED Bill Clinton! Tens and tens of millions of tax payer dollars were spent to topple Clinton!  It was the beginning of hate-media.

Strap in or strap on for this one, but Federal government did not grow under President Obama. In fact, there were less federal workers under Obama than under many past administrations. The “increased spending” under Obama is the result of policies in place regardless of who is President, and discretionary spending, relative to previous presidents, actually rose the slowest under Obama. The truth is that our National Debt and Deficit has less to do with increased spending than with lowered revenues. 35 years of tax cuts, largely for the wealthy, saw to that.

Which begs for us to go back to the beginning of organized, government-led, Trickle Down Economics. Back to President Ronald Reagan who is considered in the history of conservatism to be the Fiscal Messiah.

But, was he?


By reducing overall revenue by 1% yet increasing military spending 40% the United States had to borrow heavily both domestically and abroad.  He raised the national debt from just under $1 trillion to nearly $3 trillion; percentage-wise, the largest increase in history.  The United States went from being a Creditor to a Debtor Nation for the first time.  You could almost say he invented deficit spending.

Yet…the fiscal conservatives loved him and his name is spoken more reverently today than it was even then.

Between the fiscally unsound Reagan and the fiscally responsible Clinton there was George HW Bush.

The conservatives didn’t like him very much and bailed on him when he ran against Clinton.  I don’t think they ever forgave him for going toe to toe with Reagan during the 1980 primaries and coined “Voodoo Economics” to define Reagan’s Trickle Down version of Supply Side theory.  But, GHWB was a true fiscal conservative.  He tried to curb Reagan’s deficits by cutting government spending without raising taxes.  His failure was due to a Democratic Congress that he could not cajole into believing his formula.

This is when I like to start sewing things up by reaching some sort of conclusion.  I have one, but I’m reluctant to share it.  I don’t want to label people with my own restrictive parameters.

Here goes anyway….

Fiscal Conservatism is an honorable, logical, sensible, and viable economic discipline. No resource, including money, is unlimited; we should all weigh priorities before making budgets. Fiscal Conservatives, however, are historically, full of…

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

Allow me to show you a classic example of disingenuous political rhetoric. Known also as “mumbo jumbo” or more precisely as “lying.” It is language cleverly designed to appear as thoughtful, truthful, even generous. In reality, however, it is a dishonest form of communication because often a sinister objective has been disguised as compassionate, and in the best interests of all concerned.

I pause when Rep. Walt Rogers is the subject of my scorn, because he defeated me and my criticisms may appear as sour grapes. And, in fact, if that is the case, then I am guilty of the same manipulative rhetoric that I am illuminating here. But, the simple the truth is, I don’t have that axe to grind. The statements that Rep. Rogers makes are exactly why I ran against him in the first place. His position on the following issue, and a host of others, are anathema to what I feel is the better course for our state.

Rogers defends HSB 93 which would instigate voter verification processes in the state of Iowa. The sub heading of HSB 93 is: “Election Integrity and Modernization.”

Rogers writes in his newsletter:

“Iowans should have confidence in their elections. Measures like voter verification and election modernization give Iowans assurance that our system is fair, clean, and ensures eligible voters aren’t disenfranchised. House Republicans have been working with Secretary of State Paul Pate on changes to Iowa’s election process, including voter verification, that make it easier to vote, harder to cheat, and ensures no one is turned away.”

I’m going to respond to this as a letter to Representative Rogers.

Dear Mr. Rogers,
Let’s cut to the chase. Why is there a legislative act to minimize a “problem” that has been shown to be 10 fraudulent cases out of 1.6 million votes cast in Iowa? That’s a fraud probability of 0.000000625%. You are more likely to be hit by lightning while winning the lottery. You are willing to spend the millions it will require to set up and maintain a system to fix a problem that barely exists, but you can’t budget more money for our school children?

Take a big gulp of Truth Serum so we can hear you say: “This is really about voter suppression because a higher percentage of Democratic voters are the ones who have hurdles toward getting such verification.”

I’ll even give you more information for your serum-induced, revealing regurgitation of truth: Many eligible voters will lack the necessary documents and getting them can be difficult. Even expensive. Many will be older voters who can no longer drive and have long lost other documentation. And polls have shown that many poorer voters are hesitant to give more information that can lead to inquiries that aren’t welcome. You can judge that as harshly as you’d like, but whatever their reason may be, it does not mean they aren’t eligible to vote. Voting is a RIGHT not a privilege.

And since, as a Republican, you are a devout Constitutionalist, I’m sure the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits laws that have a disproportionate impact on minority voters, is relevant to you. The requirement of voter ID’s is most challenging to voters who are more likely to be poor and undereducated, and that is traceable to the effects of discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and housing. And so….that would be un-Constitutional.

Serum has worn off? Okay, go back to the BS-Double-Speak-Mumbo-Jumbo that has become your MO. Bear in mind, I don’t dislike you as a person, in fact, I think you just might believe what you say. But that would mean that you are falling for the BS-Double-Speak-Mumbo-Jumbo you are being told. Either way, Iowans lose.

The Guy You Beat

p.s. HSB93 certainly isn’t smaller government, it’s bigger. And smarter? Only if it’s smart to spend valuable tax dollars fixing a problem which is 0.000000625% of…nevermind, you won’t go off script.

The Mayor of Cedar Falls

I just read the news that Jon Crews has died from cancer. Jon Crews, the mayor’s mayor; the heartbeat of one of America’s finest small towns. Condolences framed by sweet memories and tears will go from house to house today and for many days to come.

I first met Jon Crews in 1971. I was a 14 year old just about to enter high school and I wanted to work on anything political that summer. America was involved in Vietnam, there was civil unrest in the streets and I wanted to be part of the movement that was holding elected officials to the fire.

The national scene was disheartening, but then I heard about this young man running for mayor. I said, “Right on!” Yes, “Right on!” was an acceptable term in those days. Jon Crews was only 24 and would be the youngest mayor in Cedar Falls history; maybe any history anywhere; and I saw him as the future. Jon Crews was part of the movement of young America!

I can’t tell you even one policy point that he was running on, but I showed up on Saturday mornings to hand out flyers and go door to door for this Young Turk. Jon won, as we all know, and went on to win many more times. He served our town for over 30 years. 15 terms, I think.

He won because he was the right person for the job.

He was the right person for the job because he showed up. I’m not saying that to be funny or flippant; showing up is the job. He showed up for every function, fundraiser, event, gathering, meeting, congregation and committee. He showed up because he loved this town and all of us in it.

This town was his life and would become his legacy. The streets, the buildings, the schools, the parks, and the shops that made Cedar Falls a showplace of the American dream. He showed up for the owners, customers, students, seniors and children who called Cedar Falls their home.

He connected townspeople with business people, students with entrepreneurs, and politicians from the city to the state. And we are all better off, much better off, because of his leadership.

I used to tease Jon. I think he liked it, because when I didn’t he’d remind me of the last time when I had. One year when I was announcing the Sturgis Falls parade, he emerged from the convertible holding his wife Ronelle’s purse. I commented to the audience “how fashionable our mayor looks in his Palace Clothiers blazer with a matching man purse.”

He laughed, and every time I saw him since he’d comment on how he forgot his man purse. I enjoyed having fun with him because I truly liked and respected the man.

Before he ran for the second to the last time he had intimated to some that he might retire. Candidates put their hats in the ring, committed to continuing Jon’s vision and stewardship of our community. It turned out, though, that Jon wasn’t quite ready to retire and he ran again. And he won again.

He won because he was, and always will be, “the Mayor of Cedar Falls.”

A Tax on Your House!

Taxes. The ugly step child of our Republic. Both political sides share parenting and are responsible for its well-being, but no one wants to admit that taxes are part of either gene pool. The line between what is the right amount of tax and what is too much is as blurry and contested as the Toledo Strip that divided Ohioans from those nasty wolverines to the north who called themselves Michiganders. Blood is shed over the disagreement.

If a politician wants to get elected they promise to lower taxes and even if the truth demands that taxes are insufficient, any promise to raise them will guarantee defeat. Remember Walter Mondale in 1984? Or George Bush Sr., who promised not to raise them, was elected on that promise, then raised them out of necessity, and then lost his bid for re-election? Above all other issues, taxes are the straightest line between victory and defeat.

So…what are they for? Who benefits? What is necessary? What isn’t? What is the right amount? Are you paying too much? Or…God forbid, too little?

The clearest illustration is probably on a local level and the tax that most directly affects the services we require (or don’t, depending on your status) is Property Tax. Here in Black Hawk County about 18% of a property owner’s taxes goes to the county. 38% goes to public schools, 38% to the city budgets, and 22% is split between Hawkeye Community College and university extensions.

The average property tax in Black Hawk County is $1717 but, to clarify our expenses, let’s round that up to $2000. $360 will go to Black Hawk County, $760 goes to schools, and another $760 to the city.

And what is the county providing that requires $360 from you every year?

-It goes to the county home, Country View, with 150 residents, 25% of whom are severely handicapped and have no means of support from family or personal finances.

-The Health Department budget uses the money to inspect all public food dispensers, nursing homes, schools, and restaurants to protect us from conditions that lead to food poisoning. They manage every school nurse, monitor communicable diseases (and STDs), and engineer the removal of hazards and provide emergency operation plans for any outbreak. The Health Department protects all of us, and particularly our children.

-The Sheriff’s Office is funded. 276 beds are maintained in Black Hawk County jails, where nearly 40% of the occupants have been diagnosed as mentally ill. Substance abuse issues raise that percentage to nearly 70%. The Sheriff’s office patrols the incorporated areas of the county, assists all municipal law enforcement, and maintains training for local and regional law enforcement.

-It goes to Conservation. The county manages over 8000 acres of land, with 5 campgrounds, 2 shooting ranges, our extensive bike trails, and the Hartman Reserve. Our quality of life relies heavily on the conservation of these acres.

-And it goes to Veterans Affairs. Black Hawk County supports nearly 20,000 veterans with transportation, medical support and housing for those who would be homeless.

-Additionally, and most importantly from an economic standpoint, the county maintains the 765 miles of roads that we depend on, with 273 bridges. Half a billion dollars of produce are moved to market, annually, on our roads and over our bridges. That is the life’s blood of our economy.

Add to these services other maintenance, civil services, emergency management, the medical examiner, juvenile court services, social services for the impoverished and mentally ill, the county auditor, solid waste management, district court administration, the county recorder, code enforcement, and emergency 911 services…

Is all that necessary? You can decide that for yourself, but not one thing listed here should be considered an extravagance when compared to what is provided and what the benefit to all of us can be.

Property tax, obviously, is only a piece of the “tax” equation. We also pay state and federal taxes (and of course, regressive taxes like sales tax). But the breakdown is not dissimilar to the county “pie.” On average, Americans pay just over 26% of their total income in taxes, including state, federal, and property. To put that in perspective: a little over a quarter of every dollar.

A quarter of a dollar to pay for our national defense and security, roads and bridges for commerce, educating our children, providing health services, support for the veterans who deserve our help, for senior citizens and disabled Americans, for disaster relief, disease control and research, for our system of justice and the enforcement of law and order in our civilized society.

Is that too much?

Of COURSE, we need to hold government on every level accountable. Of COURSE we should look for redundancies and inefficiencies. Of COURSE, we should adapt, re-organize and reconsider local, state and federal budgets as our needs and safeguards change or evolve. But, MAYBE…we should also consider, every bit as diligently, WHO is paying.

I pay 27%. Poor Americans pay less….and many rich Americans pay an even lower percentage. Much lower. Much, much, lower. So much lower. A yuuuge amount lower.

The point of this article is not to say that we should ignore or be less concerned about our taxes, but it is to suggest that “TAXES” are not the evil menace that should be determining our elections. When we look at what we get, for what we pay; even at what may go to some who others feel are undeserving (or “lazy”), the conversation should, at least, be based in rational evidence rather than emotional hyperbole.

THAT might even be the better way to reduce tax burdens.

One Fish Two Fish…

Americans love numbers.heart  We especially love big numbers because big numbers means there can be no argument against whatever point we are using the big numbers for…because they are so BIG.

Here’s a big one—The National Debt clock at this very moment is $19,856,689,020,596.

It is higher right now as you read this from what it was when I wrote it down.  That is daunting.  No one can say, “What’s 19 trillion when you’re having fun?”

The number is often used to make the point that government cannot spend any more money, nor borrow any more, to spend on things we don’t need.  Things like welfare according to most of those sounding the spending alarm.

But we also love tiny numbers. “1’s” have great impact, primarily when we are talking about percentages.  1% of anything is next to nothing and that can make a very dramatic point.

There was a column in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that was, more or less, a rebuttal of my column in the paper the previous week.  I had written (as I have here, there and everywhere) about how a “compassionate, just, and civilized society offers assistance to those who have fallen through the cracks.”  I wrote in defense of welfare spending, and the columnist centered his case on a report that roughly 47 million Americans are receiving food stamps.screen-shot-2011-12-13-at-23-10-08

He then whittled the math to illustrate how gigantic a number that is by pointing out that to equal it, every Iowan would have to take on 16 boarders.

The columnist was impressing upon us that we cannot, as a nation, afford to pay that kind of money.

Well….here’s where little numbers come in.  Food stamps are1% of the federal budget.  Personally, if I only get a 1% return or loss on something, I don’t think I even bother to write it down.

The problem with the use of numbers, large or small, is that they can actually take us farther from the truth, because they are so easy to manipulate.  Recently I saw a blog post that said that 44% of working age Americans aren’t working and most “don’t want to.”  That assumption is already insulting and ridiculous even before we consider that the percentage was arrived at by including young people from the age of 16 to 22.

I guess I was one of those lazy Americans once because I spent those years in school.

Big numbers scare us, little numbers give us pause, but numbers, on the whole, are just ways to fill in blanks.  We need to know how many seats are left on the airplane so we can know how many more tickets can be sold, but the plane will still take off whether it’s full or not.

The National Debt is much the same.

The big debt number is flaunted to scare people into believing that government programs must be cut, and if those programs are cut, taxes will go down and we will have more money to spend.  That’s not entirely illogical, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Many services our taxes pay for keep what we would pay out of our own pockets down.  Things like federal research in science and medicine, transportation infrastructure, and security, just to name a few.

What aggravates many people are welfare programs, but those critics do not seem interested in the number of people who have been helped by programs to become, or return to being, productive.  They are obsessed with the scammers, which evidence shows is a relatively small percentage.  Yet they do not seem concerned with 100 billion dollars annually in corporate welfare that only serves to line already well-to-do pockets.  That really takes a bite out of our paychecks.

But the frustrating double-standard is not the sycophantic admiration many Americans have for those who are the most successful, it is that at one time or another 96% of all us have used some sort of federal assistance (I have needed unemployment on a couple of occassions).  Perhaps we should be careful when chastising social spending.

federal budget as family budgetThe National Debt frightens people because they have been told that the Federal Budget is no different from their Household Budget.  That is logical to many people, however, it is one of the biggest misconceptions in the budget/deficit argument.

They aren’t the same.  At all.

The most obvious difference is that a household will borrow money (from a lender against future income) to purchase something that they don’t have enough money for today; a house, a car, etc.  In contrast, the federal government, since it is the sole issuer of our currency, is never without money.  Iprinting-moneyn reality when government spends in excess of tax receipts, it prints more money.

As much as I’d like to print my own money to pay bills, my household is not afforded that luxury.  At least that’s what the Secret Service has told me.

Printing money can cause inflation, but only when measured against stationary production.  A real world economic model indicates that more liquidity in the system will cause production to rise and offset inflationary trends.  ( )

Furthermore, a household has a finite period of existence, and therefore, the debt is real, while our government, in theory, goes on in perpetuity.  So long as the US dollar remains the world’s primary currency and so long as we are the biggest consumer, there is no time limit for paying back our debt.

What is relevant is the interest that we pay on debt, but even that concern has been exaggerated.  Where it stands today, around one and a half percent of the GNP, is manageable.  To illustrate, suppose we issue $4 trillion in 30-year bonds at 2.75 percent interest.  The economy continues to recover and the interest rate is up around 6.0 percent in a few years.  The federal government would be able to buy back the $4 trillion in bonds it had issued for roughly $2 trillion, immediately eliminating $2 trillion of its debt.

The same is true with that food stamp number.  Sure 47,000,000 is a big number but any rational perspective will conclude, whether you agree or disagree with stimulus spending, bailouts, extending unemployment benefits, or tax cuts from either the Bush or Obama Administrations, that more people were going to qualify for assistance following an unprecedented recession.

Okay, I’m tossing around big and little numbers, too.  My goal is to show how panic, fanned by daunting numbers, is clouding the issues, stagnating progress, and challenging compassion.

I stand by my moral premise:  A compassionate and civilized society provides a safety net to everyone, as best as it can. 

The numbers, big or small, will support whatever it is you want to believe, and so it comes down to this:  What do you believe a great nation provides?

Do you believe that a great, powerful and wealthy nation should not set aside 1% of 3.5 trillion dollars to provide food for people who are making 0 to $15,000 a year?*

il_fullxfull_154307375And what is the alternative?  Better wages?  Better education?  More motivational posters?

I’m listening…






*This is per person and households will have higher combined incomes and receive more assistance due to more family members.  Each state has its own guidelines and my numbers are averages.

Good reading:

A Rosa by any other name

The immigration debate rages on.  I was sent a post attributed to Ben Stein who found it paradoxical that our government would require people to carry proof of insurance, but not proof of citizenship.  That circulated through the conservative blogosphere because it seemed like a slam dunk double standard.

A closer look shows that it doesnt hold water.

It is pretty commonplace, especially in today’s political arguments, to use two different concepts, but to combine their vague similarity to drive a point.  In this case, the point is that (Obama) government mandates have double standards.  But, Stein (allegedly) draws his clever juxtaposition from two concepts with vastly different purposes.

Compulsory insurance became a reality soon after America realized that drivers are prone to accidents.  As early as 1925 some states adopted compulsory insurance laws and by the 1970’s every state had complied.  The reasons are myriad and logical:

There is a risk of nonpayment in car accidents. Personal financial responsibility laws are inadequate to remedy the risk of nonpaying, at- fender-benderfault, drivers and the best way to ensure that at-fault drivers will pay for damage they cause is to require insurance before registration, and to penalize drivers if they fail to meet this requirement.

What it was not was a tyrannical conspiracy by government to control its citizenry.

So, this brings us to Proof of Citizenship.  If we carry the implied logic from the comment above a step further, Stein is saying, if we are to be consistent, that ALL citizens should be required to carry papers.

But, that’s not going to fly, is it?  Not in a free country.  Tell a farmer in Nebraska or a machinist in Michigan that he has to have his citizenship papers with him at allPeople-Standing-Up-to-the-Police times.  It wouldn’t take more than a Cliven Bundy minute before “real” citizens would revolt crying, “Fascism!”  And they’d be correct.

We are not a police state.  Our freedom extends to every citizen and that means that we are not required to carry our Citizenship Papers in order to pass freely.

Or…was Stein’s insinuation that only “suspect” citizens should have to carry papers?  What does that America look like?  Caucasians of European ancestry need not worry, but…if you’re a little too brown you best carry your papers?

Perhaps, we should add a clause to the 14th amendment, which defines citizenship, that also defines the physical characteristics of “true” Americans.

Absurd?  You bet, but that’s where this goes if you dig into the comment.

Perhaps, what those opposed to immigration reform are saying is that “if you are a LEGAL immigrant you shall, upon your acceptance, be required to carry your papers to prove your status.”

Well…that’s just as absurd.

Let’s say I was a legal German immigrant, living and working in America, raising my family, voting and paying my taxes.  Why should I have to carry papers while my neighbor from South Dakota does not?  Isn’t a citizen a citizen?  How can this be a nation founded on an unbiased ideal of freedom if some “citizens” have more freedom than others.

Again, it simply wouldn’t fly.

So, we are faced with:  “What’s the solution to the immigration problem?”

First of all, the question being asked is not asking for the correct solution because the problem being addressed is not the problem that needs to be solved.

Say wha-aat???

The immigration “PROBLEM” isn’t what we’re being told. Illegal immigrants are not taking our jobs and they are not exhausting our health services and welfare. The Associated Press reported that there were worker shortages in Alabama and Georgia after strict immigration laws and mandatory deportation were implemented in those states.  It turns out that “non-immigrants” didn’t like the grueling work of picking crops, and farmers stuck in a agricultural system struggled to find replacements.

When undocumented workers fled, farmers lost around 40% of their workers and $140 million worth of blueberries, melons, onions, and other crops due to labor shortages.

Also, life isn’t free.  For anybody. Even illegal immigrants are consumers, and if they’re not paying compulsory income taxes already, they are certainly paying regressive taxes.  They are not the burden on our country that many want us to believe.

Here’s a surprising statistic:  Illegal workers contribute 1% more to the US economy than the burden of their cost.

Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, stated before the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security:

“There is little doubt that unauthorized (illegal) immigration has made a significant contribution to the growth of our economy.  Between 2000 and 2007, for example, it accounted for more than a sixth of the increase in our total civilian labor force….Unauthorized immigrants serve as a flexible component of our workforce, often a safety valve when demand is pressing and among the first to be discharged when the economy falters.”

immigrantsMost immigrants did not come here to feed off of our welfare, to rob banks, or to inflict disease upon us (as recent conservative posts have implied) they came here to create a better life for their families (“Bring us your tired, your poor”….remember that invitation?).

They came here to work and to provide, and they would prefer to contribute.

So, the PROBLEM….

The problem is that immigration cannot be an open door; there is not an unlimited resource that is called America and so we must have immigration laws.  Breaking the law is breaking the law and there have to be consequences and usually that will beborder-fence deportation.

But the SOLUTION is to strengthen our borders; not with multi-billion dollar walls, but to put more officers on those borders, with more equipment.

We also need to examine our immigration laws.  Immigration processes should be amended to allow for better “legal” immigration.  Present immigration requirements are endless and virtually impossible.  There is no “waiting line” but rather processes of endless bureaucratic red tape.

There is a price to the freedom we embrace and defend.  Freedom is vulnerable and its realization can lead to consequences that are unfavorable even to a majority, but we have to accept some of those risks in order to maintain the integrity of that freedom.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t vigorously try and correct flaws, but we must do it judiciously, compassionately and legally.

germanOnce we begin to allow our fears to confine the reach of freedom and justice, we minimize what it means to be free, and then we really will be on a path toward a different kind of America.

“Put your bodies upon the gears…”

There sure is a lot of talk lately about that venerable old document we call the “Constitution.”  There’s a lot of disagreement over how it is to be interpreted, and the intentions of the original Framers regarding language, but one thing everyone seems to 0105-wires-constitution_full_600agree on:  No one is getting it right…except for ourselves, of course, whenever we want to use it to enforce our views.

Our Constitution is the supreme law of the United States and defines the rules and separation of powers by which the three branches of federal government will operate.  It is the charter that outlines how our government is to work.

Within the Constitution is Article 5 which defines the Amendment Clause; the process by which the Constitution can be changed.  The first 10 Amendments are known as the Bill of Rights, however, 17 more have been added since.  This was created because the bill of rightsFramers, collectively visionary, knew that the world and their young country would change.

Thomas Jefferson was even more bold and wrote that every generation of citizens should analyze the constitution of their government to determine whether it truly serves the public`s needs.  And he used this image to clarify his assertion: “Because as we grow older, as a republic, you cannot expect a man to wear a boy’s jacket.”

The Founding Fathers realized they could not foretell the evolution of American values, inventions and ethics and they knew that their charter, if it is to remain relevant, would have to have a process by which to reflect societal change and growth.

The 19th Amendment is one of the clearest realizations of that necessary Constitutional function.

thCAPCD7LOThe 2nd Amendment is the only amendment that states a purpose and that is to protect the security of a free state.  But the meaning and relevance of a “well-regulated militia” will forever be questioned, leaving the 2nd Amendment like a middle child; a little too social and a little too vague.

The one that I want to talk about here is their oldest sibling:

The 1st Amendment.

This addendum is the one that holds the most latitude and relevance in understanding our Constitution.   The First Amendment prohibits the making of any “law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Framers quickly realized after constructing the parameters for representative government that the principles by which it would govern would have to be as resolute.  Opposition to the ratification of the original Constitution was due to a concern for the lack of guarantees regarding civil liberties and the First Amendment, thereby, established fundamental rules to protect individual freedom.

It made clear that we must be free to worship (or not to worship) as we please, that the state cannot restrict the elocution of the mind to express ideas (including a free press), and finally, it sets the stage for a redress of grievances so as to secure the power of the people within that government.

Religious freedom is the tenet that is most often discussed these days, but it is Freedom of Speech that stands at the center of our agreements and our thCAWY8G6Dmisunderstandings.  What does it mean specifically?

It was recognized as a “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” when that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, meaning that (according the UN’s Article 19) the right to speak one’s mind is an unalienable right of all people.

There is a gray area, though.  “Libel, slander, obscenity, sedition (inciting ethnic hatred, for example), copyright violation, and revealing classified information” are not included, leaving us with a vulnerable understanding.  Who is free to say what and to whom?  Who owns an idea?  What is the line that libel or slander must cross to impose upon another?  What is obscene and who determines it? Are we free to hate?  Can we assemble others to join, and how far can we go to further that cause?

When the American Nazi Party petitioned Skokie to stage a march was that an exercise of free speech or sedition?Downs-1986

Unfortunately, objective clarity will never exist, but what we can do is investigate why freedom of expression must be upheld.  One of the greatest examples of Free Speech consciousness began in 1964 at the University of California’s Berkeley Campus.

The seeds were planted back in 1958 when Berkeley students formed SLATE as a political party to support Civil Rights, also creating a climate of awareness regarding student’s rights, and when the Berkeley establishment declared in 1964 that strict rules prohibiting advocacy of political causes or candidates would be enforced, the campus erupted.

thCAL5ZXODA young man named Mario Savio was part of a crowd that had gathered as a former student named Jack Weinberg was arrested for manning a table for the Congress of Racial Equality outside Sproul Hall. The University police had just put him in a police car when Savio emerged from the crowd and yelled, “Sit down!” so that the car would be blocked.

Savio then climbed on top of the police car to give the most inspiring speech in the history of the Free Speech Movement; the last 85 words became legendary:

“…There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part!  You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!  And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

Savio capsulized the essence of our cornerstone Amendment, from free speech to a redress of grievances:  “And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

The People have the power, but only if they exercise that power.  That’s why we must have the authority to speak our minds, why we must covet our individual liberties and challenge the forces that try to contain them.  It also means that people who offend us, people who harbor hatred and ignorance, also have that authority, but as Savio eloquently expressed, absolute freedom is what can moderate the will of the machine.

The machine can become tyranny and the freedom to express ourselves and to stand up for our rights is the only force with the aggregate strength to overcome it.

FreeSpeech 3A few years ago I made a pilgrimage to Berkeley with a friend so that we could see Sather gate and Sproul Hall where the Freedom of Speech Movement began.  I stood in awe as I imagined the passion and conviction of Mario Savio and others who created a movement that clearly reverberates to this day.

And what struck me is that it hasn’t changed.  The trees have grown, but, the student’s tables with causes and speakers, inviting passersby to join clubs and rallies to support equal rights, environmental issues and First Amendment freedoms, still line the path…

We are strong, America, but we are corroding the principle of freedom by limiting its relevance in a political dogfight to define it according to our specific agendas.  We will remain strong only if we respect the freedom our Constitution protects, not simply by stating our entitlement to it, but by recognizing the challenges that come with it.

Back to the Future

Planned-Parenthood-Logo-SquareLast year marked the 100th anniversary of the creation of Planned Parenthood which has become America’s preeminent provider of reproductive health care for women and for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies.

19 years later in 1935 American retirees first became protected by Social Security, reducing poverty among senior citizens from nearly 50% to 10%, making it one of the most successful programs in history.

JFK1962-620x490In 1963 President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act to improve and protect fair wages for women. In 1964 his Equal Rights Act was passed posthumously under President Johnson.

One year later Congress enacted Medicare to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older.

In 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency was created under President Nixon andEPA_logo the clean water act to restore and protect the nation’s water supply was strengthened.

Union membership was nearing 40%, the middle class was strong, and wage earners were upwardly mobile.

Could any of us imagine that today we would be fighting for the very existence of every one of these things?  Programs designed to protect and improve our lives?

We are because an extreme movement has coaxed the Republican Party toward their extreme narrative for America.  What was once considered our moderate center is now viewed as far left.  Our actual left, which once led the charge for social justice in the most formative moments of American history, is now dismissed as far left and too idealistic.

But, idealistic is what we must be.  Idealism is what will stop the decades long drift away from the promise of the Preamble to the Constitution: “ establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…”

Realism has replaced idealism as our modern operating system and while we must be realistic in order to achieve our goals-  our goals must still be forged from idealism.   That is how we will achieve great things.  Things like genuine civil rights, access to medicine for all Americans, affordable education, sane, moral and effective foreign policy, and curbing the dangerous course of a changing climate.

Edward Kennedy said it best when he eulogized his brother, Robert, by quoting George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and ask why….I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

That is the essence of the modern Democratic Party.  But no party can make an exclusive claim on great ideas.  Dreams and ideas are not partisan; they belong to our collective consciousness to improve lives.  This is not a time to compromise our ideals of liberty, justice and tranquility – this is the moment we must seize to inspire America back to the idealism that once moved us forward.

No Country For Old Liberals!

Ok. Let’s rid the country of liberals. I read a conservative post that said that “liberalism is a disease.” Others chimed in and made it clear that liberals are “destroying America” that they are “stupid” and “don’t live in reality.”

So. Let’s deport them. That seems like an up and running directive these days for “undesirables.” Let’s get rid of all of the liberals. I know that I am sealing my own fate as the scarlet “L” emblazoned across my chest will surely reveal me, but I am willing to accept this exile. If we are, in fact, sick, stupid and diseased, I don’t want to be part of what is bringing down America. I love this country that much.

Let’s not worry at the moment about where the liberals will be sent, they (we) might be lost without government handouts, but there’s enough Hollywood money to buy half of Australia since that continent has been designated a terrorist waystation. Suffice to say that America will be populated entirely by the conservatives who, after all, have always been the true Patriots. I mean, unless, of course, you are considering the original conservatives who wanted to reconcile with King George, but I digress…

Who’s left? What does the landscape of America look like now? Let’s not even consider the bad haircuts and baseball caps as fashion accessories, let’s just consider who is still on American soil.

Not too many actors will be left. Well, Chuck Norris and Steven Baldwin, I suppose. The literary community is at least cut in half. There certainly won’t be many dancers. And singers? Trace Adkins, I’m sure, but even in country music, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and the Dixie Chicks will be headlining in the Outback.

3 Doors Down is around performing their one good song. And, oh, yeah- Kid Rock and Ted Nugent (has anyone ever seen them in the same room at the same time? Just asking)

Comedy is looking a little thin, too. Outside of Dennis Miller, there’s…..give me a moment.

Artists? Painters? Television show hosts who are actually entertaining? Not many.

Chuck Woolery is still in America, but didn’t he retire already?

At least we got rid of SNL! There’s a coup! No more Trump satires. Now the actual Trump can be the sole satirist of Donald Trump. And THAT (all kidding aside) is at the very least- entertaining.

I would imagine that “mainstream” media has been exiled. I don’t think they wanted to leave, but with no one left who will watch them, they’ll have little choice. For some reason, people who are drawn to the discipline of fact gathering have gone wonky-liberal.

Without much film or television content, movie theaters simply run Dinish D’Souza films and television is 24/7 Fox News. But wasn’t television already 24/7 Fox News? Maybe that isn’t too much of a jump for the New America.

Entertainment, journalism and art are just by-products of liberalism, however. What about the sinister foundation of liberal ideology? The scaly underbelly of progressivism that preaches peace, diplomacy, diversity and compassion. What about the politicians, social workers, scientists and teachers who have been shipped out so that the new home-schooled America can focus on the work those self-anointed “intellectuals” dismissed or dismantled?

It will mean no more tree-hugging, climate-whining, science-insisting, liberals to impede oil-consuming, education-draining, military-spending conservatives who will make America GREAT! No more work weeks limited to 40 hours or paid vacations to slow results. No labor laws, maternity leave, Social Security and pensions to siphon profits. No more Disease Control, Food and Drug, Aviation, Environmental and all those other tax consuming, “protection” agencies.

The new Conservative America is free to prosper without us!

Ok. I’m done for now. I’ve heard there’s a show tonight at Ayers Rock. In fact, it’s called “Rock Ayers” and it features: Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Pearl Jam, Beyonce, James Taylor, John Legend, and Neil Young….

That’s the warm up set for Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and the Dixie Chicks. With Jon Stewart as the emcee, “a splendid time is guaranteed for all!”

I know you are but what am I?

Donald Trump is often called a “bully.” There is a sound reason for that:  He is.

Not of physical strength, but often the most formidable ones are the ones who rely on neither muscle or even wit, but dismantle logic.  It’s a ploy where you win every time because there is no requirement in the fight beyond the rhetorical dismissal of your opponent.

“I’m rubber and you’re glue; what you say bounces off me and sticks to you!”

The Trump phenomenon is consistent with modern populism and so it comes as no surprise that his technique would attract followers. I’ve been observing this in my own experience for several years.

When I argue with what I perceive as obstinate viewpoints it can feel as if a large, gray mass of volcanic rock is growing in my sensory cortex .  It is the exasperation I remember as auntitled child on the playground when someone stuck their tongue out and whined, “I know you are but what am I?”

It can be like trying to get directions in a foreign country where no one shares a common language, and, in fact, one of us is mute and the other is blind.

But, I’ve noticed something about conservative debaters (including Trump).  Even when the argument degenerates into condescension, insults, or goes completely off point, they are always willing to keep the debate going.  They’ll gladly jump in at the next opportunity, too.  In fact, I’ve never heard one of them say: “Go away!  I can’t deal with you anymore!”

Not so true with liberals.  I’ve even been banished myself by other liberals in those times when we don’t see eye to eye on an issue.

Why is this?  Or is this even true?  I asked some liberal friends and, coincidentally, they couldn’t agree.  One was immediately defensive:  “Conservatives are much worse!”

Another acquiesced:  “Yeah, that kind of seems true.”

Another clarified:  “It’s pointless to argue with most conservatives because they’re not interested in the truth, but when you argue with a liberal, well, we don’t like that.  We kind of expect you to agree.”

I offered a conciliatory observation to placate the liberals who were now angry that I would suggest that we were less tolerant during disagreements: “In my experience,  it is the conservative in an argument that is quicker to a personal attack.”

(I posted on this a while back after a rather contentious debate:

I went a little deeper and found a study from 2008 in the journal “Nature Neuroscience.” It concerned research that found that these differences in thinking may be traceable to brain differences.

A New York University neuroscientist conducted an Man-with-electrodes-on-hi-007experiment on participants who ranked themselves on a scale ranging from Very Liberal to Very Conservative.

With sensors attached to their skulls, they played a computer game requiring them to press a button as fast as they could when a certain shape flashed on their screen.  When a different shape randomly appeared, however, they were not supposed to hit the button.

Most made mistakes and hit their button when they weren’t supposed to, but, with each mistake, the researchers recorded a pulse coming from a region of the brain that signals the presence of conflicting information as if their brains were saying: “Oops—I meant to do one thing, but I did another.”

Results showed that the more liberal a participant claimed to be, the greater the “Oops” brain signal and the fewer the number of mistakes made.  The researchers concludedbrain that the “liberal’s brains were more sensitive to how accurate their ongoing responses were, and were more likely to adapt to changing demands.

Conservative brains, on the other hand, might be better equipped for tasks that require a more fixed response style.”

How would this apply to the Liberal Dismissal Syndrome that I’ve personally encountered?

Here’s my take:  Liberals don’t like to be wrong.  They may adapt more quickly to changing circumstances, leading to fewer mistakes, but that also leads to intolerance for what they perceive as mistakes, and leaves them with a lesser capacity for a pit fight.

To conservatives, being correct isn’t as relevant as it is to outlast the conflict; confrontation is simply a byproduct.

I could be wrong (although I don’t like to be), but I believe that from some reflection on how we argue, we might draw some personal conclusions that could bring both sides closer together.

11993823-largeIt won’t dismantle the Trump bandwagon, and hugs may remain rare, but perhaps an understanding of our different ways of thinking could lead us toward a more civil discourse within our electorate.

Or at least begin to understand our own shortcomings so that bullies don’t bring out the worst in us.

“Oops! I wasn’t supposed to hit that button!”