Song Sung Blue

images8AEUTZQ8Iowa has gone blue in the past couple of elections but this is essentially a conservative state.  Iowa has a long history of landmark progressivism, but that is actually a result of Midwest conservatism that prefers that we keep our noses out of other people’s business.

“Why not let women vote?” we asked in 1919.

“I don’t want anyone in my bedroom so I’m not peeking into yours” we agreed in 2010 as the Iowa Supreme Court batted down the Defense of Marriage Act.

But, Iowa remains conservative by nature (I’m pretty confident we won’t second guess the 19th Amendment, but the DOM debate still looms large).  I live in a predominately conservative town, and I work in an overwhelmingly conservative company.  All that being said, as a liberal minority, I am not chastised, ridiculed or rejected; I count every socio-political persuasion among my friends.

I do, however, get a pretty clear perspective of modern Republican/conservative thinking; what motivates them and what their priorities are (I am a liberal mole!).  I can make pretty accurate statements drawn from the many (many) debates that I’ve had.

Modern Republicanism has identified 4 areas of militant concern:  1)  Public Education is liberal indoctrination, 2) Mass Media (except for their own mouthpiece, Fox News) has a liberal bias, 3) Government is a vehicle for liberal policy, and 4) Science is liberal voodoo.

No point in arguing with me here, conservative friends (all two of you who read my posts).  Those arguments are consistently consistent in their consistency.  One or more comes up every single debate over policy, ideology, or history.

So we have to ask, how did liberals become so powerful?

I mean, this is amazing when you think about it.  Schools, television, radio, newspaper, laboratories, all phases of governance; the liberal scourge has devoured.  Leaving good, America-loving, hardworking (note:  only liberals on welfare choose handouts over work.  Conservative welfare recipients receive social services only because they are coerced by liberals) patriots to toil in a sea of socialism.

How did this come to pass?  There have been great, strong Republican/conservative untitledleaders.  Many came out of Federalism.  The original Republicans were abolitionists.  There was Lincoln!  Teddy Roosevelt!  Eisenhower!  Reagan!  How did they let liberals (ewww!) take over- EVERYTHING?

I could continue this sarcastic direction even further, but there is no point (outside of the fact that it’s fun).  The truth is two fold:  1) Liberalism does not control education, media and science, and 2) Liberals gravitate toward education, media and science.

Sound like a contradiction?  It isn’t.  The liberal ideology is based on the acquisition of information. It comes, in fact, from the Age of Enlightenment.  Liberalism was not anuntitled (2) idea born from John Locke or any other single philosopher; it was a movement that sprang from a very human need to know more.  A logical desire to question the status quo to move beyond tradition in order to discover new, and possibly better, ideas.

It is the opposite of conservatism, which is more central to our human character.  We are incline by nature toward what we already know and to protect that which has led to our survival.  There is Cognitive Dissonance in all of us as we protect our inherited values, while feeling a need to explore.  There is a Conservative/Liberal polarity which has moved us out of caves and into Outer Space; but only at a pace that we can accept.

That’s why I don’t dislike conservative ideology.  I, personally, am very conservative in many ways.  I like certain traditions in my life because they make me feel safe.  But I worry (deeply) about the contentious divide between conservatism and liberalism that is defining modern political agenda.

Liberal minded people gravitate toward the disciplines of education and information (even entertainment) because those are the professions most closely connected to the pursuit of knowledge. This doesn’t mean that liberals are smarter or more educated and it doesn’t mean there aren’t great conservative teachers, broadcasters and scientists, but there is a different focus of intention.

What needs to be understood is that the pursuit of knowledge does not necessarily contain a bias toward an agenda.  This is what has derailed modern conservative thinking and has created the extreme view that sees socialism, hedonism, and defeatism in all things considered liberal.  And this is why we are in trouble.

Grave trouble.

Republicans like Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Goldwater, Dole, even Reagan, if they exist at all anymore, are nearly silent.  The Far Right who believe that American ideals are rooted in mono-theism, anti-intellectualism, and jingoism, have pulled even moderate Republicans into the glare of their extremism.  They have beat the drum of fear so loudly for so long now that issues that should be long gone, still rear their irrational heads.

“Obama is a Kenyan.”

“He is fighting for Islam.”

“The economy is worse.”

“The wealthy need more breaks…”

I hear quite often:  “Things have never been this bad.”

Really?

6 years ago, American troops were being sent to fight on two major fronts.  One was a pre-emptive war based on fabricated information from an administration seeking to nation build.

The economy has stabilized and many markers are at all time highs.  Unemployment is below pre recession levels.  The highest percentage of Americans have health care in history.  All of this without even the slightest bi-partisan cooperation.  How “bad” things are is simply the echo of those who cannot, or will not, accept that things have gotten better, and could have gotten a LOT better without their own vindictive, damnation of a President, a party and an ideology focused on reality and not hyperbole.

The Midterm elections could very well fall prey to the real propaganda that has infected imagesVEI2D977our airwaves, and politicians Hell-bent on heightening the neoliberal economics that created the greatest economic divide in history, leading to the Great Recession; De-regulation that minimizes creating production in favor of creating margins; Civil Rights legislation that excludes good Americans from the promise of freedom; Dangerous misunderstandings of common sense restrictions on deadly force; Imperialistic foreign policy that degrades our moral standing-  This could be the direction of our country.

I’ll be gone before this “Great Experiment in Democracy”* has been undone by the perverted values of a Plutocratic America.  I vote to protect my children.  And theirs.

 

 

*John Adams

 

 

I luv teechurs!

Last month I attended “Orientation Night” with my 15 year old son who is attending Washington High School, in Cedar Rapids.  Tschoolhe evening was an introduction to the philosophy, achievements and curriculum of the school, hosted by the Principal and several department heads.  It was followed by break out sessions in 14 different classes.

I was wowed.

The teachers were passionate, accomplished and devoted.  This is a public school that lives up to the standards from the Iowa Department of Education and it rises to the best of what education can offer young minds and bodies by offering diverse and specific disciplines, all designed to equip students with every possible tool to succeed.

This is also the criteria of all Public Education.

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” -  Victor  Hugo

Washington High is consistently ranked by several sources as the #1 High School in Iowa and so it should come as no surprise that it was an impressive orientation, but as I sat there and listened to teachers explain their course material, I thought back on my own experience in high school.  I went to a very small school, a “lab” school that was part of the University of Northern Iowa, and they did not have as wide a selection of electives as what I saw at Washington, but, the courses that were offered, the teachers that taught them, the facilities that were at my disposal, and ultimately the guidance I received, was extraordinary, none the less.

Chemistry Teacher with Students in Class --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisI then thought about the teachers and students that I know in my own community; that are part of Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Wavery, Hudson and Dike.  The teachers I know are committed, informed, motivated, and nurturing.  The students are cared for, given opportunity and are facilitated to discover themselves and their goals.

I thought about other public schools that I’ve visited over the years where I’ve been asked to talk about my own career path in order to inform students of the choices and divergent paths out there, and I recalled how consistently impressed I was with the staff, the curriculums and the energy I witnessed from students.

This is not to say that there are not bad schools in our public school system, and there are some bad teachers, I’m sure; this is not a blind affirmation that ignores falling test scores (particularly in math and science), what this is, is a call to action in a different direction from what the public discourse regarding education has been—

The problem, as it occurs to me, is in the private sector; it lies with parents, our socio-economic perspectives and politics.

“It is very nearly impossible… to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” – James Baldwin

Our entire society has de-emphasized math and science.  A turn toward anti-intellectualism, a cultural shift that denies science in order to accommodate dogmatic versions of faith, has led to a falling curve in disciplines where America once led.lazy-americans-why-people-hate-america

In the political arena, representatives fighting for education funding have been met with rejection from austerity obsessed opposition.

In the private sector, the convergence of these fights has created a hostile view of teachers, their unions, their pensions, salaries and benefits.

Echoed in this discourse are phrases like “American schools suck!,” and “We have bad teachers!”

From the macro view, neither is true.  Quite the contrary, actually.  What we have is a diseased view, from too many people, of the entire concept of education.

The mission statement from the U.S. Department of Education is …to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”  Improvement will come toward achieving that end when we improve our political commitment to public education and when we improve our respect for the men and women who have chosen as their life’s work to facilitate the life’s work of our children.

776449-teachers-union-protestStop blaming the schools.  Stop blaming the teachers.  Start making the system work by believing in education itself.

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” – George Washington Carver

The Wrong Direction

Political Speech Writer's Jargon In and Jargon Going Forward Desk Organizers.If you’re a political speechwriter the easiest thing to write for your candidate to say is, “I don’t like the direction America is heading.”  It’s a chestnut we hear every election cycle because a lot of people never seem to like the way we’re heading.

It’s what candidates generally say when they’re running against a candidate whose party is in the White House.  Clinton used it against Bush, Bush against Gore, and Obama against McCain.  We hear it in congressional and senate races, too.

It resonates because it always appears that things are getting worse.  Yet, we seem to miss the irony in the fact that these are the very days that future candidates will one day wistfully recall as the better times we need to get back to.

We all pretty much agreed that we didn’t like heading into a deep recession in 2008 and Barack Obama won by a substantial margin, but, the refrain, “I don’t like the direction America is heading” is being trotted out again.

Personally, I’m not happy with many of America’s foreign policies, but I’m never happyGraph-Upward-Trend2 with many of America’s foreign policies.  In domestic matters, however, unemployment figures are below pre-recession levels, the stock market has reached new highs, corporate profits are healthy,  environmental concerns are finally being addressed, civil rights are front and center, and that indicates a pretty good direction.  At least good enough to make “I don’t like the direction America is heading” a fairly thin statement.

But polls are showing that it still works and that suggests a continuing truism; the truth is not what the public is looking for.

Political consultants have known this for decades, if not centuries.  Voters are looking for feelings, not facts.  The most blatant illustration of this in my lifetime came from a AP515702295380Democratic campaign when a Lyndon Johnson commercial showed a nuclear explosion insinuating that Barry Goldwater was so extreme that his presidency could end the world.  It played on fear without any substantive reason to make that connection.

A young Karl Rove must have been taking notes because he emerged as the master of modern political rhetoric.  When Ann Richards seemed unbeatable as governor of Texas, Rove felt otherwise.  He knew that people vote on emotional connections and not substantive ones.  When crime was down in every major category in Texas under Richard’s watch, he had his candidate, George W Bush, say, “Ann Richards says crime is down in Texas, but I don’t believe that.  I don’t feel safer.  Do you?”

thCA03UG69And enough Texans rose to their feet and said, “No!  We don’t!”  Never mind that they actually were and statistics were there to prove it, reactive fear came to the polls and Richards lost.

Truth doesn’t matter.

In a current Senate race a candidate’s support for veterans is being disputed by challenging his committee attendance.  The accusing candidate has gained from the attack, but the truth is, few politicians have worked harder for veteran’s rights and benefits than the candidate under fire.

The playbook has been written and candidates who use it best fare better than those who think that honesty will rule the day.

Today, extreme media is using the playbook by taking dangerous concerns like ISIS and Ebola and whipping people into a froth of fear to, once again, move opinions with feelings and not with rational thinking.

Truth doesn’t matter.

Yet, we know in our hearts that truth does matter.  And when it’s rendered irrelevant in our rhetoric, consequences will rise in our reality.

When the truth of justice is swept aside, fear is manifested.  When the truth of generosity is ignored, we give rise to greed.  When we are blind to the truth that bigotry is evil, we are complicit in the hate it reveals.

The-Wrong-DirectionTruth matters, and until we give it more importance in elections, we will undoubtedly be heading in the wrong direction.

Have a Koch and a Smile!

Senate Republicans Speak To Media After Their Weekly Policy LuncheonRepublicans have voted against Obama’s jobs bill…voted against a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to curb the fraudulent practices that contributed to the recession…voted against a bi-partisan budget…voted against ending tax breaks that did nothing but line the pockets of Big Oil…they voted against the “Buffet Rule” that would essentially lower marginal tax rates but also disallow the loopholes that effectively give the wealthy the lowest tax percentage…voted against the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act….and are now looking to 2014 to become the referendum against insuring Americans who couldn’t afford health care…

…and yet they claim to be the patriotic Americans, true to the principles upon which we were founded; a Republic for and by the people.

All of these initiatives intended to improve the economy; to improve the standard of living for the majority of Americans; reduce their risk; reduce the manipulation of stocks; to make taxes more equitable for all of us; improve Veterans benefits; and to give all Americans access to medicine.  However, Republican leadership has convinced its flock that reform is bad for America unless it is to turn policy in favor of the investment class even more.

I’ve heard echoed in the streets, “We have to give the rich incentives, they are the Job Creators.”

It has been clear, however, over the past 30 years that we have been giving the rich incentives.  The upper class have increased their holdings 250% and the top 1% control over 40% of America’s wealth.  And they have the power and the money to influence legislation on every level, and to convince too many voters that they need even more so that they can continue as our benevolent benefactors.

I’ve read and heard comments from people who contend that we don’t want to upset the rich by suggesting that maybe…just maybe…they could afford to pay a little more to pay down the debt…since…well, they benefitted the most from the way things have been…and maybe because some of it was fraudulent (Rigas, Skilling, Lay, Kozlowski, Ebbers, McDermott, Waksal, Madoff, etc.)…and…oh God, I hope I don’t offend anyone…but the average working American has been paying the bill while many have lost their pensions….and…here we go—-couldn’t afford health care….

This is where someone invariably chimes in with, “We need the rich and wealth creation is their incentive- don’t you know anything, Gary??”

Actually, I know very well how the system works.  It’s a Capitalist/Free Market with Mixed Market influence to minimize instability while creating incentives; it sustains with the creation of wealth.  “Job creation,” however, comes from demand from consumers; businesses are created or expanded to meet demands.  No one goes into business to create jobs, in fact, job creation is the last resort as it adds costs.

Nothing sinister about that, it’s just the way it is.

Don’t get me wrong- I love the rich!  Some of my best friends are rich!  Wish I were one of them - but reform isn’t a punishment of wealth and success; it is a stop-gap to protect those who feed the machine with their consumption of goods and services, the working class, so that the system can prosper within a Republic.

What many people have forgotten (or never knew) is that our system of governance is the primary function of this Republic, not our system of economics.  Perhaps, the reason so many Americans are more protective of Capitalism than they are the social and cultural advantages of a representative Democracy may be because they believe our survival depends on economic prosperity while the constructs of justice and democratic social order are not actually…necessary.

But this is where our collective noodle gets fried; the quality of American life, what our military men and women have fought and died for, is our social order and constitutional justice- not the free market.

Some of my critics have said that the rich are going to stop investing if we insult them or hold them responsible to pay a more fair share, and like sycophantic serfs we must acknowledge their great contributions to jobs and the economy.

They are afraid that they will take their ball and go home unless we apologize for suggesting that they have been doing pretty well and that it is time to share the burden of this recession.

I’d like to ask a question.  Where are they going to invest?  We’re 25% of the entire worlds net worth.

Are they really going to take their ball, and say, “We don’t want to play with you anymore because you don’t appreciate us!”?

No. I’m pretty sure they are going to stay right here and keep making money. They will continue to belly ache because they know they can convince enough people that they are the “victims” rather than the winners in this market, but no one is going to pass on the endless opportunities in America to increase their wealth.

The budget, the debt, debt celings, fiscal cliffs and sequestration have been excuses to convince a frightened public who experienced a deep recession leading to job loss, loss of income and investments, that we need the Supply-Side (Trickle-Down), Neo-liberal economics back at the helm…the policies that emptied their pockets in the first place.

Nothing illustrates this paradoxical policy paradigm better than the Fabulous Koch Brothers, withthe-koch-brothers a combined wealth of over 50 billion dollars, who recently released a commercial denouncing social services.

They proclaim that a salary of $34,000 a year puts a person among the wealthiest 1% in the world (which is as logical as saying that between me and Bill Gates, we have over 40 billion dollars!).  The Koch’s are saying that we don’t need food stamps and a minimum wage because Americans are already better off than most of the world.

“We’ve got to clear those out,” they said, “or anything that reduces the mobility of labor.”

If they were being genuine they would have added: “Or anything that keeps us from getting richer.”

What is at stake here is more than economic policy differences, but the very foundation of freedom and liberty as championed by our Great Charter.  We cannot allow for policy to be purchased.  We cannot tolerate living in a plutocracy where justice, opportunity and freedom is meted out according to wealth.

Koch-Blocked_coke-parody-300x192

The Church For Christ’s Sake

Controversy abounds regarding the Human Equal Rights Ordinance in Houston, Texas.Annise-Parker  The mayor, Annise Parker, signed an ordinance that prohibits “discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics.”   Mayor Parker is openly gay and the issue of discrimination against homosexuality is clearly a motivating factor, but discrimination against women and minorities are, of course, included.

Several pro bono lawyers have now sent subpoenas to several pastors in the city, asking them to turn over “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (also known as HERO).  Their concern is whether certain Christian themed sermons comply with the ordinance.

Ted Cruz has called the subpoenas (and erroneously lays responsibility entirely on the mayor) “shameful.”  Before I address that “shame” I believe that the real shame lies in ted_cruz-1024x641the fact that in the 21st century we need to write ordinances to compel people to behave civilly to one another and to recognize that equality extends to us all.  But, given that a large portion of America refuses to recognize such decency toward certain people, behavior ordinances have become part of our legislative directive to be a better society.

That being said, my first reaction to the subpoenas was that they are in violation of the First Amendment.  I was pretty certain in my conviction that, within the confines of a church, government must respect the right to share beliefs; no matter how much many of us may disagree with them.  It is the underbelly of Religious Freedom when beliefs separate decency from others, or are even hypocritical, but they do fall under the protection of the First Amendment.

I continued my argument (with myself and no one in particular):  These churches do not have theDowns-1986 right to persecute others within the town square, but like the decree in Skokie years ago that allowed Nazis to march, we cannot legislate thoughts, and ideas, even contemptuous ones.

And then….I considered something.

I considered the fact that I am a heterosexual, white, male in America.  I am not gay.  I am not a woman.  I am not a minority.  I have never gone anywhere, been employed anywhere, or joined any organization where I felt that I might be discriminated against, ridiculed, or paid less, or given fewer opportunities because of any of my natural characteristics.  And then I considered a different scenario…..

What if…I started a church?

What if it were a fundamentalist Christian church adhering to strict Old Testament doctrine?  My parishioners are called “Leviticans” and we Leviticans believe that to truly exemplify Christian values that we must consider 10710665_10154618066935058_2126745376983170345_nwomen to be the property of men.  We believe that “Woman are not entitled to the full privileges of citizenship,” and thereby should not vote and in many public instances are to be segregated from men.  They do not belong in the workplace, their ideas are folly, and as “property” can actually be dispensed with if they cause a man displeasure.

Sound ridiculous?  It isn’t if you read the Old Testament.  But the point here is not to cast any doctrine of Christianity into extreme light, but to illustrate how religious beliefs can persecute.

To bring my hypothetical to its conclusion, let’s say that a woman becomes mayor of a major city where my church has grown, and the “Gospel” of subjugating the rights of women is spreading; businesses and social organizations are limiting opportunities for women (this is also called “reality”).  This mayor then issues an ordinance that forbids any civic institution from such discrimination.  Where does Ted Cruz fall, along with the others who today are crying, “Where’s our religious freedom?!”?

I don’t need answers, I’ll tell you what they’d be doing.  They’d be hollering “Hooray!  Women deserve equal rights and it’s going to take aggressive leadership (and ordinances) to bring Kroeger and his Leviticans and their shameful movement to social justice!”

Contemporary Christian values discriminate against gay people in many churches, and that discrimination requires bold initiatives to fight.  My argument here (again, with myself) has not been resolved completely, either way.  I don’t believe that we can easily dismiss the First Amendment protection of religious freedom in this case, but I also stand by my hypothetical journey.

thCAS68N7WHarper Lee adapted a Native American proverb in “To Kill a Mockingbird”:  “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Welfare Does Not Perpetuate Poverty (Nor Will It End Poverty)

Most of my posts concern issues which come up as I talk politics with friends and colleagues.  The issue which consistently divides along party lines is with regard to social spending.  The position I hear the most from the right side of the aisle is that welfare creates a system of perpetual poverty and that a high percentage of people using welfare are exploiting the system.

The argument they follow with is that welfare should be abolished or greatly reduced and that is married to their belief that the hard earned money of working Americans is being wasted on lazy people.  The solution, they often say, is that money would be better spent by putting more in the hands of the wealthiest among us who will then create jobs.

It is quite common to read something from any number of professionals who also believe that welfare begets welfare.  I saw a letter in USA Today where a family counselor in Texas noted that a family he counsels contains “4 generations of welfare.” His conclusion was, once again, that welfare perpetuates the need for welfare.

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

When the deduction is made that poverty is passed on generation to generation because of a system of sustenance to provide for those afflicted with it, the truth is being missed.  Welfare was never intended to eliminate poverty; it cannot. It is a system created by a compassionate nation that understands that we must protect those who have fallen through the cracks of our capitalist system.  That safety net is not what perpetuates poverty – POVERTY is what perpetuates poverty.

A child born into poverty may grow up seeing only struggle and that can become the template for their own survival patterns. Their educational opportunities may suffer. Perhaps, the value of education is not realized in ways that many of us can take for granted.

They might be growing up in a neighborhood where their role models have succumbed to crime. Success is measured by different standards when you are outside the system.

Someday they may have a family of their own and the legacy of poverty can continue…

What we try to do with social programs, and what can happen (and does) is create resources for hope, so that someone might break that cycle.  Someone who found the right school, or a special teacher, or was shown the right opportunity to inspire a break.

That happens only when we cast a safety net that will sustain their lives.  We don’t know who they are and so the net has to be wide.  That is the welfare model.

Poverty doesn’t replicate because a social program or service brought some sustenance to the table.  And it isn’t because someone may have exploited the system and found a way to buy steak dinners or get a new flat screen tv.  For the record, families that have someone receiving some form of welfare do not produce an inclination by others in the family to work less.

Programs to offer assistance will not end the cycle created by the realities of poverty but they can give many what they need to survive so that they can find their way to opportunity.

In my view there are 3 immutable reasons to improve and continue welfare programs:

1) They keep children from starving, 2) They can bridge the gap between unemployment and employment, and 3) It’s the right thing for a compassionate and civilized society to do.

Our dilemma should not be whether to continue welfare programs, but rather, how do we spend our tax dollars in other places, as well, to reduce the poverty rate and to grow our economy.

On the right is the belief that we should give more to those who own the stores and factories so that they will create more jobs.  A superficial glance at the issue makes that seem logical, but any depth of analysis reveals that’s like giving Gatorade to the team owner when the players are thirsty.  Businesses don’t expand when owners have more money in their hands; they expand when there is demand for their product.

When the consumer class has disposable income they spend it and that’s when the economy grows.

It’s Tricke UP, not Trickle Down.

America has the money to sustain welfare and to create job programs.  We have the money to enrich education.  We can also give tax breaks and incentives to businesses because that will stimulate hiring and keep businesses from closing, but there’s no reason to reduce teacher’s salaries and not to modernize schools, as well.  We can afford the infrastructure building and rebuilding that creates jobs.

Education and Jobs. That is the equation to reduce poverty and to grow our economy, and the arguments we’re having about spending should be centered there…and not around welfare.

Freddy the Freeloader

There are two things that I hear consistently from people who oppose the liberal position on social spending:  “It’s MY money,” and, “I don’t want my hard earned money being spent on people who want to live off handouts!”

Apparently, they feel that many of the poor are that way because they haven’t been threatened enough to stop being poor.

First of all, it should be understood that our current tax rates are quite low, especially when you consider our Gross Domestic Product. U.S. taxes at all levels of government claim around 28 percent of GDP, compared with an average of 36 percent of GDP for the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In fact, only 4 countries have lower taxes and one of them is Japan which is a virtual tie.  The lowest is Mexico.

Next consider the truth about those “freeloaders.”  If you take Medicare and Social Security out of the debate (those are a different arguments) and just focus on the “social services” commonly called “entitlement” programs, you’ll find a very small percentage (between 1 and 2%) abusing the system according to US Dept. of Labor statistics regarding UI programs.

“The myth of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen who defrauds the system lingers even though there’s no proof of it”, said Erin O’Brien, a poverty expert at the University of Massachusetts.  Accurate sources are hard to find, but of the over 95,000 welfare recipients in Philadelphia, for example (a metropolitan area over 4 million with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates), fraud is less than 2% according to the District Attorney’s Office.

In other words the vast majority of people using welfare initiatives are going back into the tax base and contributing; a very small amount of our taxes are being “wasted” on entitlements.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t correct abuse, but in terms of the personal anger I hear at being “robbed”, please reconsider the actual sacrifice you’re making.

Most people (other than Ron Paul supporters) understand the need to pay taxes to some extent. Most people understand the need for a strong military, for roads, hospitals and schools (infrastructure) and that government is the administrator of such things.

Where people come unglued is…all the other stuff.

Yet, I hear people (right and left) complain:  “Where is our money for flood recovery, the hurricane, the tornado?  Why is influenza spreading?  Why were oil platforms faulty? Why was the lunch meat bad at the high school?  Why did the plane go down?  Who’s going to stop the plant from polluting my neighborhood?”

Neo-cons and Libertarians will argue that the most effective way to handle these issues is to put more trust in the private sector, but that is painfully idealistic and shortsighted.  The private sector will spend where they wish and they won’t where they don’t.  Better off neighborhoods would be maintained and receive services while poor ones would suffer, spreading the scope of poverty like pestilence.

I’ve also heard many times, “If I kept my money, I would be more generous to those charities that do the work that needs to be done.”

Are you sure?  Studies show that generosity doesn’t increase with wealth.  A study in the New York Times ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22FOB-wwln-t.html?_r=1 ) reveals that wealthy people give a smaller percentage than the poor to charity.  And who in this private sector driven world will decide who gets what?  I can promise you that we’ll see the sick Gerber babies get plenty of help, but what about the babies of crack addicted mothers?  Who distributes the contributions so that help is generous and fair?  (See my article “The Shadow of Our Burden” http://garyhasissues.com/?p=4572 for more details).

“It’s MY money!”

Is it?  We get compensation for providing a product or a service; that’s the capitalist model.  Currency only realizes it’s value when we put it back into the system.  But who really owns money?  I owe everything I make to someone or another so when exactly is it mine?  When I do get ahead, I invest it so that someone else can capitalize on it.  The bank uses what I put in it and I’m pretty sure that when it’s lent elsewhere, someone else is laying claim to MY money.

If “capitalism” is our home, then money is the log on the fire to keep our house warm; and if we want to keep the fire burning we have to keep putting logs into the flame. I’m being a bit pedestrian here, but I always snicker a little when I hear “It’s MY money.”

“I EARNED my money!”

Maybe.  For sure, if you’re a coal miner.  I’ll never forget what my father told me when I made a pretty good check at Saturday Night Live.   I made more in one year than he did in 4 and he put his arm around me and said, “I’m happy for you, son. You made that much money.  But don’t ever tell me that you EARNED that much.”

He didn’t have to explain, I got his point very clearly.

Those of us who are employed, healthy, and are surrounded by friends and family, should fall to our knees (in my humble opinion) and thank God (or to whomever you pray) that we live in a free society, have opportunity, pay relatively low taxes, have a system of government predicated on freedom of speech (and tolerance) and have the services and protections that we have to pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness.

And when the government we elect shows compassion and offers sustenance to those who have fallen through the cracks, that is the realization of the promise of freedom….and it might cost you a penny or two out of every dollar you earn

Sounds like a fair bargain to me.

My Love/Hate Relationship

I love Politics.  I love the practice of influencing one another on civic and individual issues. I like the debate over what is best for the common good because it is from this politicsdialogue that we can emerge stronger and more secure in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

I hate Politics.  I hate the loggerheads created from opposing views and conflicting interests.  I hate the accusations that fly from having different perspectives and the castigation of individuals and groups of people that can be the consequence of our fear and misunderstanding.

I like Government.wordcloudgovfresh  I like the concept of representative democracy where power is held by the people themselves and they elect representatives to protect and improve their interests.  I like that we have a system of governance that is designed to defend the rights of even the least influential among us while protecting opportunity for all, predicated on principles of freedom and justice.

I don’t like Government.  I don’t like when it is corrupted by greed that panders to special interests.  I don’t like that it is imperfect and run by imperfect people who can be susceptible to the seduction of power.  I hate that its inequities can compromise the common good.

I like Big Corporations.  I like them because Big Business creates 50% of America’s Gross National Product and employs nearly half of all working Americans.  I like that the opportunity in America to be entrepreneurial and to expand with ingenuity literally created the world’s economy and the capacity to industrialize.thCAG9NPIW

I don’t like Big Corporations.  I don’t like them because without regulations mandated by the People they become a rogue government of their own, too often replacing morality and justice with margins and profit.  I hate when the strong arm of their influence contradicts the tenets of our Republic by serving the special interests of an elite-minority.

csp_savio-rallyI love Freedom of Speech.  I love that I live in a free country where I cannot be incarcerated for voicing my opinions and I have the right (Nay, obligation!) to protest and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  I love that I can openly influence others with ideas and I love that others can openly influence mine.

I hate that Freedom of Speech also allows for bigotry to have a forum and prejudices can bethCAW4UKDP shared which fan the flame of intolerance.  I hate that the free press, protected by our First Amendment, does not continually hold itself to standards of accountability and I hate that it can propagate misinformation as freely as facts.

I like and I don’t like some of the things that are sustained in the realization of our Republic; things that have been devised from this grand democratic experiment to live with freedom and to be prosperous.  But, it is within this conundrum that we might find some of the solutions we are looking for.

There is nothing unusual about this polarity; I believe that every human being carries a duality where we struggle between light and dark; a fight in our souls between fear and faith and we conform our guiding principles to follow one direction over another so that we can give that conflict rest.  And so we take sides:  Republicans face off with Democrats, Liberals challenge Conservatives, and Bears battle Packers.

Taking sides, however, can make us feel threatened by the “other side” and so we digcalvin_arguing in deeper, creating wider separations to protect our ideals.  Perhaps, if we recognized this about ourselves and took time to realize that there are qualities we can embrace within some of the things that we dislike, and that there are ideas that we should question within some of the things that we cherish…maybe…we could start to move toward more shared values, greater tolerance and less fear of each other.

Maybe we could improve our conversations, our government…and ultimately our lives.

I’d love that.

 

“To Blog or Not to Blog”

Sometimes I wonder if I post too much.  Occasionally, I will apologize for sending my links around because I don’t want my views to become a pain to my friends, although I have no qualms about being forward with those who generally oppose my ideas.

I don’t mean to be belligerent, but “life” for a post sort of begins with discord and debate; but I don’t want to become a broken record to those who generally favor my views and become tuned out as noise.

I’ve noticed, however, that Gary Has Issues has been growing in readership and that compels me to keep going.  There is a back-end analytics page with Word Press that shows me where readers are coming from and how many.  Don’t fear 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Amendment enthusiasts- there is no analytic tool that shows an email address, town or even state where a reader comes from, only the country and how many times a country “clicked” the link.

This tool shows me that I consistently draw numbers from the United States, but also new readers (non-spam) from Ireland, England, Germany, Russia, Australia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, and just today- New Zealand (Welcome Kiwi friends- I hope you don’t go bush if you get knackered when I rack off)!

My point is that I believe debate and the airing of views is vital to the survival of a Republic.  However, I must confess to a prejudicial judgment that I find myself making fairly often.  When someone tells me, “I don’t watch the news anymore, it’s too depressing,” or says, “Politicians are all crooks and so I don’t care anymore!” I conclude that they are masking apathy and justifying it with an artificial plea for integrity.

Kind of harsh, I know.  But I think I’m right.  Everything we do or have (with the exception of love), from where our kids go to school to the roads we drive to work, to the taxes we pay, the potholes that are filled or the location of the sewer drains, the safety of our neighborhoods and our nation and the information we receive online, on television, radio and in print, are all part of the political matrix that surrounds us.

It is inconceivable to me that any conscious human being, who has access to news and the ability to participate, would not choose to be involved.  That doesn’t mean by a cosmic mile that everyone should be as active or vocal as I, and others, choose to be, or even close, but awareness of our socio-political reality is as necessary to survival as the air we breathe.

It’s a paradox, to be sure.  Our individual liberty gives us the right to not participate.  We don’t have to vote.  Freedom of Speech also means the freedom not to speak.  Protection of our privacy includes the protection of our thoughts.  We have the right to replace “caring” with the confusion that can lead to disengagement.

Most people are, and should be, more concerned about their son’s grades, who’s coming to the barbeque, and whether they’ll get a raise.  Or…whether they’ll get a job, or if Grandpa will make it to morning, or if there will be enough food on the table tonight.

I’m not being flippant; our concerns over the matters which constitute our lives are the priorities we should choose, but participation in politics is essential to our freedom.  We can give it at least as much attention as we do to a traffic light to determine when to cross.

Our Founding Fathers wrote a charter to define a representative Democracy in order to secure liberty and justice without prejudice.  The blood that gives life to the body of this Republic is an informed electorate.  In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Whenever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.”

The reverse implication of Jefferson’s wisdom is equally persuasive, however; if people are not well informed, they cannot be trusted.  Being informed demands political awareness and that is the only thing that stands in the way of tyranny.

So…if we care about freedom; the freedom that allows us to debate and participate to whatever degree we choose…we must care about politics.  It’s the only game in town.

Now…who’s coming to the barbeque…?

I Love the Way You Lie

On Monday’s I take my sons to school and along Interstate 380, between Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, I’ve noticed for the past several years a homemade billboard which changes with some regularity.

Immediately after Obama was elected the sign read “O-Bummer.”

During the Iowa Caucus it read “Restore Sanity- Vote Santorum.”  Apparently, the common “san” was enough for the sign maker to equate Santorum with the concept of sanity and think it was poetic wisdom.  Of course, that’s as catchy and relevant as “Quit Stallin’- Vote Stalin!” but I digress…

I passed the sign today and it said “17 Trillion.”  Obviously, that is meant to say “The national debt has increased to 17 trillion dollars” and I’m sure the editorial point behind it is to say, once again, “O-Bummer.”

Never mind that the debt was created over decades and was exacerbated the most by two wars, tax cuts, Bush’s Medicare prescription drug benefits and dangerously low production due to a giant recession which began before Obama took office.

In the interest of fairness we have to include Obama stimulus spending (although that could be catalogued under the cost of a recession), and Obama did introduce costly new regulations and Medicaid entitlements, which increased the debt by over a trillion dollars.  The looming issue, however, is something else.

We can talk, squabble and point fingers as to where the massive debt came from until the Day of Reckoning (or when the Vikings win the Super Bowl, whichever comes first) or we can get serious and talk about our REAL problems.

One obstacle to solutions is the fact that we tend to believe what we read. When we read something over and over, hear about it every day, and from people who present themselves with credibility, eventually it starts to sound like the truth.

Such is the case with the great Debt/Deficit/Budget/Fiscal Cliff debate. We hear so often that it is the debt that is destroying our economy and the evil of deficit spending that almost no one questions that premise anymore.

The Des Moines Register ran an op-ed which compared our household budgets to government spending. It’s a concept that’s easy to understand: “The federal government is exactly like such a family.  And its options are exactly the same” read the second paragraph. We’ve heard this often enough and it resonates; “just like my household budget where I have to bring in at least as much as I spend, the government should operate the same way.”

Except that the Federal Government and our households are absolutely nothing alike.

As economist William Mitchell wrote (Bilbo.economicoutlook.net) “But the government is not a big household. It can consistently spend more than its revenue because it creates the currency….governments can purchase whatever they like whenever there are goods and services for sale in the currency they issue.”

I understand the basis of Keynsian economics and it was of interest to me when I ran across this article by Mitchell, critical of Obama’s economic assessment, titled “Beyond Austerity” where he gives a historical perspective to our evolution in and out of free market regulations.

Before I give the impression that Mitchell takes the neo-liberal economic view, I must point out that he vehemently opposes the neo-liberal market philosophy. To further assuage confusion, let me point out the “neo-liberal” economic philosophy is not left wing economics; neo-liberalism stresses the efficiency of private enterprise and relatively open markets, and seeks to maximize the role of the private sector in determining political and economic priorities; in other words, it is the right wing point of view. Mitchell’s criticism of Obama is that he buys into it too often.

“Governments are being pressured to cut deficits despite strong evidence that public stimulus has been the major source of economic growth during the crisis and that private spending remains subdued” (from Beyond Austerity, The Nation Apr 4,2011). “Public deficits do not cause inflation, nor do they impose crippling debt burdens on our children and grandchildren. Deficits do not cause interest rates to rise, choking private spending…”

The Great Depression demonstrated the fallibility of a capitalist market; that it is unstable and susceptible to long periods of unemployment unless there is government intervention. The Hoover economic doctrine is literally what the neo-liberal economists (the entire Right Wing today) are trying to sell to us; that a balanced budget is the solution to market collapse.

Fortunately for them, Americans are short on memory (or didn’t pay much attention in history class) because it was WWII, as our government used deficit spending to fund the war effort, that led to full employment. A leisurely stroll through post industrial American history shows us that it was deficit spending, when supplementing private demand that led to creating jobs.

Many people are not aware of the fact that it was Richard Nixon in 1971 who abandoned the Gold Standard where the government could spend only insofar as taxes were raised or money was borrowed from the private sector.  After 1971, however, our monetary system became one that issued its own currency and was not convertible (into a commensurate gold supply) into anything of value but could now be floated and freely traded in foreign markets. As a result, we no longer have to “fund” spending and the liquidity in our system is not limited.

Our government now issues debt to match deficits, not because it is financially sound, but because of pressure from conservatives harkening back to the gold standard era with what has become a politically motivated agenda. By demonizing spending, i.e. entitlements, social programs and federal regulations, it is an easy sell to the public to cut spending, lower taxes and ultimately increase margins.

It is, in short, a shell game, and we, the public, are the skyward gazing tourists on the streets of New York losing our own money to the con.

As Michael Moore (Ooops! I just lost all credibility with my political opposition) once said, “America is not broke. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred in the greatest heist in history from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.”

Moore is dead on target.  We keep hearing about our “unsustainable debt” and the number is staggering; it is unsustainable, but the solution is not a straight line to sequestration, rather, we must look at the reason our economy became unstable.  Our primary issue is not unsustainable debt, it is Unsustainable Wealth.  We allowed 30 years of deregulation and tax loopholes to siphon too much money toward the top until the well was dry.

But don’t take my word for it, just look at history.  Look at the economic hills and valleys from post industrial America, through the Great Depression, thru Eisenhower’s tax rates, to Nixon’s redesign of the monetary system, on thru Reaganomics, Clinton budgets, Bush spending and Obama Stimulus.  Hold that policy time line up against the historical graph of employment, and productivity and you’ll see for yourself where we’ve been led astray. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_history_of_the_United_States

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_debt_by_U.S._presidential_terms#Changes_in_debt_by_political_affiliation

Debts and deficits are relevant, but not in the way that Republicans are parading in front of us as their leverage to continue neoliberal economic policy.  The debt “crisis” is a political manuveur to implement policy to keep taxes lower for the wealthy by reducing spending on programs that can help Americans who are not.  The debt is not the balance for the fulcrum that creates jobs and increases production.

I was on the bandwagon of the vocal left wing that called Bush/Cheney out for creating most of this debt 10 years ago, spending like drunken sailors while raping and pillaging progressive taxes and needed regulations, to pander to their cronies.  And when Cheney said, “The debt doesn’t matter” I was among the first to call him a self-serving liar. But you know what? It appears that was the one time he wasn’t full of shit.

While I maintain that it was the Bush/Cheney version of neo-liberalism that created this economic crisis through a continued cacophony of deregulation, spending and tax breaks for those who didn’t need them, with a perversion of Mixed Market Capitalism, they didn’t always lie.