Two Tickets to Paradise

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, I was made aware of a social media site titled:  “I’m an American, why shouldpress_1_for_english_011 I have to ‘Press 1 for English’?”

I’m sure that I was directed toward it to get my dander up, as they knew what I would find, but I could not resist that confirmation and I went there.

Big surprise! (sarcasm) – I read post after post that denigrated former President Obama, Hillary Clinton, immigrants, liberals, and Democrats, while conversely praising Donald Trump, gun proliferation, and anti-immigration laws.

There were several fair criticisms of government, and even links to prevent animal abuse, but over 90% exhibited hatred for any screen-shot-2015-07-11-at-10_52_19-amconcept that even bordered on being progressive:  Immigration reform, the environment, gay rights, public option health insurance, gun purchase regulations, religious diversity, and allowing for refugees.

One post said stated:  “Speak English or get the (expletive) out!”

Another proclaimed:  “This is one nation under God and if you don’t like that get out you(ethnic slur)!!!”

There was a meme with two bullets over an American flag, titled: “Two Tickets to Paradise” with “paradise” written to resemble Arabic.

Another post pointed out that the “KKK was formed by Democrats” and someone piled on:  “Democrats are the real racists in this country.”

This is where I started to talk back to the page.

While there is historical accuracy in terms of the Democratic Party holding on to a founding ignorance, that is not the relevant point in today’s discrepancies.  We must ask, “Why is it that today the KKK, Aryan Nations and other white supremacist organizations now identify as Republicans?

There is no shortcut answer and first we must look at racism, itself.  Racism is the result of adopting, or inheriting, beliefs born from ignorance and fear; it does not hold a political allegiance.

Let’s also get the history straight:  Racist Southern Democrats, who were segregationists, formed the KKK.  They were not “liberals” and they are not part of the Democratic Party today.  In fact, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many Southern Democrats joined Republicans to form the Conservative Coalition.

It was the Republican Party during the Civil War that championed the Abolitionists, but it was not social conservatism that led them to embrace emancipation, rather it was a non-partisan, progressive ideology at the center of their movement.

On the “Press 1…” site there were countless endorsements from Tea Party factions, of NRA sites, and links to conservative blogs and websites.  It was clear where most of the participant’s political ideologies were placed, and they reiterated the spectrum of xenophobia, segregation, and sexual stereotypes.  I am not suggesting that Republicans or all conservatives support such things – not at all – but, I have to ask the question from above:  “Why do those who do, find the right side of the aisle to be where they belong?”

This issue goes deep for me.  I don’t want my children to inherit the country these people are fighting to establish.  I want my children to embrace all cultures and rtheligions.  Not because they saw pictures in a book, but because they went to a friend’s house who is Jewish or Muslim.  Or is from Mexico, Bosnia, Syria or Iran, and they saw how other cultures contribute to a free nation.

So I called a conservative Republican friend for a “lifeline.” I asked him:  “If a growing part of your party shows the stripes of exclusionism, racism or sexism, don’t you have to evaluate why?  Don’t you have an obligation to rid your party of such affiliations?

He replied, thoughtfully: “There are as many extremists on the left, you’re simply more aware of those who disagree with you.  But they are angry at growing government infringing on their rights, spending money and threatening their children’s future with debt.  They have as much right to protest as you and I’ll bet they find your positions as repugnant.”

A well reasoned answer, but my question wasn’t answered.

“This site wasn’t created to discuss government overreach and debt,” I replied. “Where are those posts?”

He countered:  “Look at the extremists who led your party in the 60′s and 70′s, like Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman.  They were more dangerous than anything I see today.”

chicago7I conceded: “They were radicals, but they didn’t lead the Democratic Party!  Democrats didn’t seek their endorsements.   Yet today, the right-wing extreme; those crying for a one-language, one-religion nation with exclusionary civil rights, took the Republican Party to the edge…and won.”

I kept going:  “Tom Hayden (one of those 60′s radicals) ran as a Democrat but he was running for ‘participatory democracy,’ for civil rights and policies centering around peace and social justice.  You need to acknowledge the difference or this discussion can’t get anywhere.”

The discussion didn’t go any further.

I knew this would happen when I traipsed over to the site, and so I deserved my frustration.  I didn’t get the answer to my question, but there is good news and hope for the conversation.  I spent the evening with my family and friends and we talked about these issues.

And here’s what pleased me the most—-my “lifeline” friend was one of them.

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!”

Our Beloved Plutocracy

I won’t lie.  I like money.  I would like to have more and if I did I could make investments to make even more.  I’d love that.

I like my bank too. They are very nice and I think that if I had more money to put into my bank they would guide me wisely to protect and grow my investments.

What’s more, I’m a Capitalist!  I like the motivation to create. I also like my job and I like my employers.  I have many wealthy friends and I like them too!

You see, I have no problem with the accumulation of wealth or the lifestyle advantages wealth brings.  Many people see the castle on the hill and that is what inspires them to work; that is the capitalist model that we have embraced.

But “Houston (Oakland, Seattle, New York, Chicago, Des Moines, and Detroit) we have a problem…”

Capitalism is not a perfect system. It started in the Middle Ages as Merchant Capitalism, but was never drawn from a plan as a flawless application of trade or the accumulation of capital in a fair and judicious manner.  In fact, justice was never part of the equation. It grew because it worked in terms of motivating growth and creating productivity.

We are, by nature, driven to accumulate, but that can also create shades of greed. We try (most of us) to suppress that part of us, but it is consistently revealed whenever we steal that extra cookie (literally and metaphorically). Capitalism exists today around the world as the principle economic alternative to Communism, and “Globalization” is the realization of the power of capital.

Where does that leave me and my dreams of wealth?  It leaves me with 90% of America.  Stagnant.

The Congressional Budget Office released data that shows that the top 1% earners in America have more than doubled their share of the country’s wealth over the past three decades. That means that they not only increased their personal holdings, but did so at an exponential rate that increased their stake in the entire country by over 250%. In other words a population of about the size of Iowa controls over half the wealth.

“Good for them,” some might say, “that’s how the system works.”

Is it?

The wealthy in America have been winning the public’s heart for decades, yet to hear the conservative side talk, you’d think they were in need of a nationwide yard sale to pay the bills.

During the 50’s, one of our most prosperous periods, the top federal rate was 90%, today it is 36.  Capital Gains under Reagan was as high as 28% and today it is 15%.funraiser-flyer-copy

Has this led to commensurate expansion from the so called “Job Creators”?  Nope.

After the Bush tax reduction in 2002, jobs were consistently lost over the next 8 years.  All that happened is that the upper 10% increased their holdings and the top 1% amassed wealth at the greatest rate in history.  The rest of us suffered a deep recession. Many people were seduced by the myth that when the wealthy have more money they create more jobs, but reality dictates that it is our money that creates jobs. Demand is the catalyst. Our piece of the economic pie dwindled in a shell game of shelters and loopholes that are already tipped in favor of the investment class.

A plutocracy is “rule by wealth” and has no place for a constitutional government of, for, and by the people. Money is power and when we move toward a plutocracy, our great Republic, even capitalism is at risk.  When a small, focused minority can use their great wealth to influence legislators and buy lobbyists the Republic of the People becomes a charade; money buys media, and when the information we receive becomes a bias toward the interests of those who have the most, there is no truth.  Without truth in the marketplace even capitalism becomes a silly puppet in the hands of the elite.

In the words of FDR: “The liberty of a Democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group.”

The only thing that can balance the massive force of wealth is the aggregate voice of the People; the communal power of government. And countering this oligarchic movement is not socialism (for those who will surely make that claim); it is the surest way to sustain capitalism in our democratic society.

We’ve gone down the rabbit-hole already, the question is: Can we get out?

Give the Guy a Chance!

Several times in the past few days people have said to me: “Give the guy a chance.”

They are annoyed that I jumped out of the box to criticize President Trump only one day after his inauguration. They have pointed out that I am usually more open-minded, and that I did, in fact, say that I would wait and watch before making judgments.

And I didn’t. Nope. When huge crowds gathered around the world to stand up for women’s rights because they felt diminished and threatened by the sexist, objectifying comments of an admitted “celebrity” predator, who became President of the United States of America, I felt the obligation to join the discordant chorus.

Within a day President Trump had begun sweeping his broom across long treasured American ideals with policy that will see the EPA frozen and the regulations that preserved our land and protected our air removed. With policy to defund the NEA and NEH and the artistic culture that defined our creativity and once led the world will be left behind. With policy to end women’s preeminent health provider and to marginalize health care and public education by placing them among market forces and away from the nobility of compassion and wisdom.

By Monday, the President had reiterated his plan for the escalation of the Military Industrial Complex forewarned by President Eisenhower to be what “we must guard against” as “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power.” And with the re-introduction of torture in our war chest that will slap America’s promise of justice and human rights across the face.

By Monday afternoon President Trump also reminded us of his tax plan that will increase the tax burden of those who can least afford it and allow the top earners to increase their holdings (1% of America already controls 40% of the wealth).

By Tuesday, collective bargaining rights had been threatened and by Wednesday voter fraud “in the millions” had been declared without a shred of evidence to support the claim. Voter suppression, here we come.

And he just got started.

“Give the guy a chance.”

Was Obama given a chance? I recall hearing that it was one day after Obama was sworn in that leading Republicans met in a Washington bar to plot his undoing. A month later Senator Mitch McConnell galvanized the vow that Republicans will obstruct every single initiative the new President proposes.

I told one friend who is critical-of-my-criticism that I am afraid of the sweeping changes that have already taken place. She said: “Well, he can’t make things any worse than they already are.” That is a statement that I’ve heard a lot over the past few years. In fact, Donald Trump won on the drum beat of how bad America has become and the need for a complete reversal of fortune.

But, are things worse?

This is a sensitive direction to pursue because many people have not recovered from what in 2008 was the worst recession in 79 years, but that particular person bought a beautiful new house a couple of years ago. The auto industry (which is an economic barometer) had a record year in 2015. Stocks rebounded since their complete collapse over 8 years ago.

Is it terrorism she (and 62 million voters) believe is worse than ever? It is a tremendous concern to me (and 64 million other voters), as well, but wasn’t 9/11 the most catastrophic act of terrorism ever on American soil? That was in 2001.

In 2008 our economy was in a tailspin. Unemployment rose to nearly 10% (today it is at 5%). Many people I know took pay cuts during the recession. Today they have recovered.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of the Affordable Care Act (and I accept that it can be criticized), 20 million people who were previously uninsured are now covered. Debate it if you want, but it was an honest attempt to improve lives.

So…how bad is it compared to where we were 8 years ago?

And now those trends that have seen America rebound from the lows that began the 21st century, are not only in jeopardy, they will be reversed.

“Give the guy a chance”

Our system is not based on a “guy” it is based on people and all of the voices that rise within that body as the ultimate check and balance against corruption and tyranny. My voice will be one of them. Not because I want to see Donald Trump fail (I don’t), but because I want America to succeed.

I would like to finish with this: My friends who have asked me to give President Trump a chance, want the same thing; for America to succeed. I may be a thorn at times, we may infuriate each other and go to our separate corners or we may simply “agree to disagree.” But this process “with the right to peaceably assemble” and “petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances” is what keeps us strong, and it is how America will survive, regardless of who is in government. But that was put into our preeminent Amendment for a reason, and that reason was not simply to be read and admired, but to be exercised.

And we will.

The Price of Freedom

There are several signs around town that read: “Freedom isn’t free.”  Often that is followed by: “Thank a Veteran.”

Template1I agree wholeheartedly with that entire statement, but when I use the phrase I might be using it in a slightly different context.  Service men and women are part of the equation to keep America free, but, as important is an informed electorate and how we understand our constitutional charter.

There is no freedom in America without our system of laws and justice, and without our charter to form representative government and to clarify our unalienable rights.  Freedom is realized only by our collective willingness to live by that charter.

Freedom isn’t free and it isn’t necessarily safe.  We can choose freedom or we can choose security, but we cannot necessarily have both.  The laws which protect our freedoms can also leave us vulnerable.

The 4th Amendment to our Constitution provides us with freedom from illegal searches and seizures by law enforcement officers.  “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

The 14th Amendment contains the “Due Process Clause” prohibiting state and local governments from depriving persons of life, liberty, or property without certain steps being taken to ensure fairness.  The amendment’s “Equal Protection Clause” requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction.

Even the seemingly irrelevant 3rd Amendment, preventing the government from quartering soldiers in civilian’s homes, is part of our Framer’s intent to secure individual rights and freedoms from government overreach, even in the pursuit of security.

With freedom come risks and our efforts to reduce those risks, can limit our freedom.  Which brings up several topics:  Wiretapping, Immigration, and Waterboarding.

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) as part of the “War on Terror,” was authorized under the Bush administration to monitor, without warrants, phone calls, internet activity, text messages, and any communication involving any party that was deemed suspicious by the NSA.

This program, referred to as the “terrorist surveillancethCAYS3432 program” was condoned by the administration, as well as many in the private sector, as a necessary program to combat terrorism in the wake of 9/11.

Enough public pressure did cause the Bush administration to cease the warrantless wiretapping program in January 2007, but forms of it, under new guidelines, continue today.  In April of 2009 officials from the Department of Justice acknowledged that the NSA had engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications.

At what point do we draw the line?  Security can be expanded to mean anything and so what does our right to privacy mean?

American citizens should not have to worry about their phones being tapped or their emails being read by government agencies, even in the name of security- THAT is the price of freedom.

The Arizona Immigration Law requires all aliens (legal) over the age of 14 who remain in the United States for longer than 30 days to register with the U.S. government, and to have registration documents in their possession at all times.  Additionally, state law enforcement requires proof of immigration status when there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is an illegal immigrant.nationalidpapersplease

But, we are not a fascist country and no American citizen should be required to carry Citizenship Papers to pass within our own borders- even in the name of finding illegal immigrants- THAT is the price of freedom.

America’s revolution was ignited by respect for life, liberty, human rights and impartial justice. That realization cannot allow for torture, even in the name of intelligence gathering. “Waterboarding” is the sensation of drowning and causes extreme pain, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage, and evenwaterboard death.
When we condone such a thing by justifying its effectiveness to gather information from extra-judicial prisoners, we lower ourselves to the most barbaric order of civilization; we betray the fundamental human rights that we stand for and compromise the freedom that we claim to uphold.

If America is to be, as President Reagan once imagined, “The Shining City on the Hill,” then we cannot allow for the invasion of our privacy, the profiling of our citizens, and the sanctioning of torture.  Not if we wish to uphold the principles of unalienable rights that we treasure–  THAT is the price of freedom!

Benjamin_Franklin_PortraitPeople willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”    – Benjamin Franklin

Tom or Ted? You Decide

What does it mean to be free in America? I believe it means that in the United States of America, no citizen will be denied services, opportunities, benefits, goods, transactions, acquisitions, access or mobility on the basis of their race, creed (religion), color, gender, or sexual orientation. In fact, if there were distinctions to determine the extent of such rights, based on any physical or spiritual difference, then “American Freedom” would become meaningless.

This is not a state to state issue, either. There cannot be one definition for the qualifications of civil rights in one state that differs from another. American citizens can pass freely with a full complement of rights and expect the full protection of federal law. How could that be argued?

Yet it is. It is in legislation that is being re-introduced by Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. And with a supportive Republican Congress and the blessings of President Trump, the First Amendment Defense Act could pass.

The First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) may very well be the most frightening oxymoron of all time. Its “defense” of the First Amendment quite literally offends the First Amendment. Specifically, FADA would prohibit the federal government from taking “discriminatory action” against any business or person that discriminates against LGBTQ people. The act creates the right to refuse service to LGBTQ people based on two sets of beliefs: “(1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, and (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

The bill positions the right to discriminate against one class of Americans as a “first amendment” right, and bans the government from taking any form of action to curb such discrimination. The irony is that FADA allows individuals and businesses to sue the federal government for interfering in their right to discriminate.

Many people (some are reading this) believe that Religious Liberty is at stake here and that it is logical to allow people, and businesses, to follow their beliefs, even if those beliefs contain discrimination against a group of people. But there is an ill-logic at the root of that reasoning; that being the First Amendment disallows state dominance of one religion over another and it allows for the interpretation of religion.

No one here will (nor should they) argue that a Christian baker shouldn’t bake a cake for a Jewish wedding, even though there is a fundamental religious difference; Ephesians reveals that earthly marriages are a picture of the church’s union with Christ. Christ is the Messiah in Christianity, in Judaism, He is not, but if the denial of services was acted upon, due to such religious differences, then our First Amendment has been directly violated. FADA would have protected the crime, not the amendment.

“The free exercise of religion” outlined in the First Amendment does not mean the free exercise to impose one set of religious beliefs upon another, or onto non-believers, as well. That is the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. If a person is gay and their beliefs likely include that they are acceptable human beings entitled to full civil rights, should they be denied service within a country predicated on equal rights?

Makes no sense.

“How can a person who supports gay marriage be religious?” I’m sure someone has asked. Well, I know of many. I have religious beliefs and I also recognize the rights of the LGBTQ community. How is the First Amendment defended if my beliefs can be arbitrarily discriminated against?

Makes no sense.

The First Amendment was based on Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute. In it he states:
“Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right.”

In summation: We have the right to fully live and express our religious views- right up to the point when they interfere with the civil rights of others. In America that means that every citizen can expect to receive service without regard to the nature of their beliefs or their being. FADA would erase Jefferson’s clear directive.

Let’s see…the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson or Ted Cruz…I’m going with Tom on this one.