“A man hears what he wants to hear…”

donkeyPolitical arguments can get ugly from time to time.  I’ve had some heated exchanges and I, a man who prides himself on civility, have lost my cool.

I contend, however, that I never draw first blood, even if my posts incite disharmony; it’s my ideological foes who are the first to turn disagreements into personal insults.

I’ve been called stupid, a liar, and uninformed.

Sometimes I walk away, but sometimes I simply cannot bear the condescending remarks, particularly when they are extended to my friends.

One “foe” resorted to:  “Gary’s liberal friends are stupid and should be ignored.”

From there the gloves are off.

A conservative friend posted a quote from Winston Churchill, on my Facebook page:  “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

Clearly, the point he was making is that “socialism is bad” and it was directed toward me because he thinks that socialism is what I (and all liberals) are directing our country toward.

I’m in a bit of a quandary when I get things like this because I’m caught between my desire to correct their thinking and the realization that if someone is living in a world with talking trees and flying monkeys, what is the point?

I decided to clarify Churchill, someone I admire, and to put this quote into perspective.  Even though Churchill was a brilliant man, his views, taken out of context, do not necessarily stand the test of time.  The same can be said of any historically revered figure.

I pointed out that Churchill was a man of his times and, in fact, opposed women’s suffrage in England.  He saw the presence of women in politics as unnecessary and believed that men represented them well enough.

I also mentioned that Churchill, in spite of his sincere dislike for socialism, also realized that aspects of that philosophy were necessary and many crept into his own political initiatives.  He advocated for unions and collective bargaining and even created state health care, similar to Medicare, that was paid for by taxes.

I wasn’t trying to de-mythologize the man, but, rather to clarify him, but that is where the trouble began.  Not everyone is looking for clarity and suddenly someone writes, “Only Gary would say that Churchill was a bad man…”

Sigh.

“Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest,” is how Paul Simon describes his iconic Boxer’s decision to choose his profession against voices in opposition.

Selective hearing is very common in our political discourse (as well as relationships), and I particularly see it coming from the right (Uh-oh!).

My challengers often put words into my mouth that were never there; often those words are the complete opposite of what I’ve said.

In another post I wrote: “It’s frustrating when intelligent people don’t use intelligence in their arguments.”

Immediately, the responses lined up:  “Gary is calling us stupid!”  “Gary said he’s never wrong!”

“No…,” I replied, “…I just called you intelligent.”

Sigh (again).

The issue at hand is the choice, or the ability, to go beneath what we see on the surface; to look several layers deeper to find the truth.  That is the essence of critical thinking.  It is not the sole domain of liberals to use, however, in our modern political discourse it has been the platform of liberal ideas, while on the right it has become the bane of their policy.

Let me offer a conversation I had with someone about Social Security to illustrate that point.  This person took the position that they could “invest that money a lot better than government.”

That concept fits perfectly with the political position to empower the private sector and it deflects the encroachment of government.

I then asked, “What if you DON’T invest well?  What if you don’t invest enough because you wanted a boat or a bigger house, or whatever, but by 65, you don’t have a good retirement?”

He responded, “Then it’s my fault.  I have no one to blame but myself.  That’s called taking personal responsibility.”

“Okay…but….what do we do with you and the millions of others who didn’t invest well?  Do we step over your dead body on our way to work?  Do we annex land in Arizona and call it “It Sucks To Be You Acres” and farm you off there?”

“I’ll just have to keep working then,” came his reply.  That, too, fit nicely into his privatize /personal responsibility/keep government out of my life policy paradigm.

“What if…you can’t?  Aging has this nasty habit of diminishing our skills.  There aren’t a lot of 85 year old airline pilots, and frankly I’m thankful for that, but what if retirement is forced on you because there is a better employee, younger, cheaper and able to work longer than you, who’s ready in the wings?”

They were silent.  I never assume that I’ve “won” these arguments because 999 times out 1000 no one’s mind has changed, but I know that my point was received and not dismissed.  Political ideology is as inherited as our religion and the roots can be planted deep and so change doesn’t happen often.

This isn’t fantasy and it isn’t an illustration of what would be an anomaly in a post Social Security America, it is exactly what would happen.  But finding that truth required going deeper than his superficial concept of freedom and personal responsibility.

That doesn’t mean that the person was “superficial” only the concept….Oh God!  Here they come!  I have to remember- “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it- people like me!”

Weiners with Boehners

Why is it even news when a public figure lies?

We are lied to when verbs are manipulated to minimize the meaning of an indiscretion.  We are lied BoehnerJohnCrying1to by politicians who flip-flop positions in order to score higher with populism’s moving target.  We share trust issues with wives of candidates, who were lied to about previous lies.

anthony-weiner-twitter-lewd-photo-shirtless-picture-sexting-rep-congressman-democrat-new-york-new-cats-scandal-affair-womenSo why are we surprised when we are lied to by baseball players, golfers, linebackers, actors, and Tour De France winners?

Perhaps due to some collective insecurity, because we know how flawed we are individually, we participate in stories of transcendent greatness that belie the vulnerable nature of being human. We create myths around sports figures, political leaders, and even performers, that elevate them to stories of Divine Intervention and our expectations are for these players to transcend what we fear most; our mortality.

This storyline leaves no room for anything that debunks that myth.  Like the truth.

These “heroes” can hit baseballs farther and ride bicycles faster. They move us with celestially inspired words so that we can rise to defeat evil enemies, or they earn our adoration for how they survived the desert as they journeyed toward fame.

And here’s the irony- we don’t even believe the stories we create.  Who didn’t think that Lance Armstrong was lying about PED’s all along?  Who really thought that Barry Bonds had no idea that he was given steroids?  Is anyone going to put a real money wager on Roger Clemons s-ALEX-RODRIGUEZ-STEROIDS-PRESS-CONFERENCE-largetelling the truth…or A-Rod?

Were we really surprised to find out that they were using what was available to them to win?

I’m not excusing the lies stemming from weak moral values or crippled character, but if we, as a society, believe the axiom that winning is everything and that the popularity from those winning achievements is the measure of success, then can we be surprised when we discover that our winners did whatever it took, and hid whatever they had to, to reach that plateau?

Do we secretly want them to lie when they’re accused of taking mortal steps?

From a more Earthly perspective, if your paycheck is determined by how many tackles you make, wouldn’t it seem logical to become as big and strong as you can, and as quickly as possible?  Where is the surprise if steroids are used to accelerate that pathway to the success we expect from them?

If your endorsements increase every time you win a race, and everyone around you is using performance enhancers to beat you, doesn’t it sort of make sense to improve yourself the same way?

Problems arise when we use our myth and not reality to determine the rules we play by.  It will be inevitable that there will be contradictions between fiction and non-fiction in our storyline, and the truth is, the “offenders” are only doing what we asked of them. Except that we added a provision –don’t get caught- so that we can keep our phony moral judgments.

Our craving for the drama that distracts us from reality has also created a media machine to propagate those fantasies and it grows as it exposes the layers that make us human. Like the “Borg” from Star Trek, it gains power by absorbing the energy of what stands in its way and mechanizing its humanity.

Whether we watch the news and read the tabloids, or not, we are still affected by its influence.  This Mass Media Behemoth determines our ethical (even political) directives and it does so by elevating or demonizing whatever or whomever gets the most attention, the fastest.

Ethics are what guide a society toward civility, but the dilemma we now face is that the elevate-300x226ethical decisions being made by our creation are fake. They are as false as a magician elevating above the sidewalk; they are an illusion to give us a sense of living in a world that suits our mythology but diverts us from the reality that life might be too…human.

We end this perpetuating paradigm of moral paralysis by gazing at our own reflections and determining to judge others only as we would wished to be judged ourselves.  “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

In the meanwhile, all we ask is that you don’t let us know that you’re lying or cheating.  If we find out that you’re doing what we already know you’re doing – we’ll bring you DOWN!

Our Beloved Plutocracy

I love 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 their bank they would guide me wisely to protect and grow my investments.

What’s more, I’m a Capitalist!  I like the motivation to earn more and to seek the opportunities to do just that.

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 by an instinct to accumulate in order to protect ourselves, and so the model works, but that also leads to shades of fear and greed. We try (most of us) to suppress that part of us, but it is consistently revealed whenever we steal that extra cookie.

Yet, Capitalism exists today around the world as the principle economic alternative to Communism, and “Globalization” is a realization of the power of capital.  China’s growth, for example, is an extension of Western economics.

So where does all that leave me and my dreams of great 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 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%.  Has this led to industrial expansion from the “Job Creators”?  No, not consistently.

After the Bush tax reduction in 2002, jobs were consistently lost over the next 8 years.  All that has happened is that the upper 10% have increased their holdings and the upper 1% have amassed wealth at the greatest rate in history while the rest of us have suffered a deep recession.

Money is power and when we inch 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.

The only thing that can counter the massive force of wealth is the aggregate voice of the People; the communal power of government.

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.”

Many people are seduced by a myth that the wealthy create more jobs when they have more money (in reality it is demand that creates jobs), and many people believe they will see more money in their own pockets without a progressive tax system.  Neither is true as our piece of the economic pie dwindles in a tax system that is already tipped in favor of the investment class.

A Plutocracy is “rule by wealth”…is that what we want? Could it be that’s what we already have?

The History of Winners

Years ago I was struck by a line from Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  ThethCAQY2U4G film’s protagonist, Judah, imagines his family celebrating a Passover dinner as he contemplates (his real life) guilt after having his girlfriend killed.

He asks the table about the ethical consequences and his imagined aunt responds, “And I say if he can do it and get away with it, and he chooses not to be bothered by the ethics, then he’s home free.  Remember, history is written by the winners…if the Nazis had won, future generations would understand the story of World War II quite differently.”

“History is written by the winners.”  That line has been attributed to many people, including Winston Churchill, but the only reference I can point to with assurance is the Allen film.  It resonated with me because…it’s true.

American history has been written by the victorious, and this is where my journey into American Ethics may run afoul for some.

We have been taught from pre-school through graduation, in our homes, churches, at work, and at the County Fair, about the honorable principles that founded and sustain America:  We are the “Land of the Free” and the “Home of the Brave.”  Our Constitution was forged from the Spirit of Independence and the Nobility of Human Rights.  Liberty and Freedom are granted by Providence as unalienable rights.

These platitudes are so engrained into our collective psyche that they are inseparable from our national identity.

Yet…slavery drove America’s rural commerce for 250 years…666b98cd9e6b7c4e0b4270d423f2c233

While the reality of human bondage is recognized in our story, it has essentially been forgiven as history records the victory of Emancipation.  Clearly we were not the “Land of Freedom” from the colonies through the Revolution and 100 years to follow, but slavery became part of the tale of our journey to fulfill our destiny; it is adopted and adapted to follow freedom’s storyline.

Another sinister reality was evidenced by the destruction of the people indigenous to this land and their exclusion from determining its fate.  It has been recorded instead with tales of American bravery and christened as our manifest destiny.

The fact that basic civil rights were not extended to women (half of the population) for another 50 years after the Civil War, or that extreme segregation policies, born from institutionalized racism, continued for even another 45 years, is astonishing, yet appear as merely bent branches on Lady Liberty’s family tree.

Our ethical shortcomings become rites of passage toward realizing our greatness, rather than hideous manifestations of the ugliest realities of humankind.

5180565640_95ff6566a4_2Worker’s hours, wages and conditions were exploited for 150 years after the Declaration of Independence, but are woven into the story as the substance of our awakening rather than serving as examples of our greed.

History is written by the winners.

The other day a couple of friends were at my house watching Bill Maher and we were discussing differences between Democrats and Republicans when another part of America’s legend surfaced.  A guest of Maher’s said (I’m paraphrasing):  “I love America because this is the land of opportunity.  Today, capitalism is being denounced as ‘stealing’ but it is capitalism and it’s reward for innovation that built America.”

Suddenly, it dawned on me that this is only as true, and is as precarious, as our history of freedom.  America’s story of “innovation” was “written by the winners,” as well.

We love the stories of railroads and steam engines and we embrace the inventions of american-inventors-ingenuitythe light bulb, telephones, phonographs, lasers and the discovery of fusion.  The assembly line and mass production are as much a part of our story as liberty, but these, too, are histories of those who succeeded.

The myriad inventions, risks and gambles that failed, however, become lost into archival history and are not the narrative of our conscious one.  The thousands upon thousands of businesses that faltered or were destroyed by the ambitions of others are not part of how we understand our destiny.

There is cohesion, however, within our story, and it unites our entire history; our failures with our successes, our shortcomings with our vision, and it is not the inventor or the industrialist.  The American worker is the thread throughout the fabric of American innovation and industrial dominance.

An investigation into truth reveals that America was not built on the shoulders of capitalists incentivised to innovate; rather it was on the backs of ordinary folks, wanting to put food on the table, protect their families, with a desire to leave a better world to their children than the one they inherited.  They are the ones that our economic principles must maintain if we are to be prosperous.

The reason this understanding is crucial is because it defines the difference between political ideologies (the differences I was discussing with my friends).  The right side of the aisle is basing their ideas and their policies on the fictive account of the winners.  Their economic policy is predicated on the idea that it was, in fact, the capitalist/industrialist that built America and, therefore, they need to be set free of restrictions (and tax burdens) and rewarded so that they will be incentivized to “innovate.”

The social policies from the right are based on the story of America where the battle for Freedom has already been won and so they assume that there are no discrepancies or lingering prejudices that would call for renewed or continued actions.

The trouble is…it’s a great story and one we would all prefer to believe and I’ll go even further by awknowledging that is essential toward inspiring and invigorating our ideals – but it is also the apologue of our winners and does not tell the whole story.  The complete story illuminates prejudices, contradictions and inconsistencies in our saga.  The truth reveals noble principles that are not as rooted in our nature as we’d like to believe and we’ve had to be governed by our collective morality.

The rest of the story is where the other side of the aisle looks to create ideas and policy.  The left strives to tell the same story of American greatness, but by recognizing our mistakes, struggles, frailties and faults, and not by believing a fable that says they no longer exist.

coffeetalkOkay….now discuss.

I call this meeting to order!

It is not uncommon when I post to get a response that starts out fairly benign to lull me in:  “Gary, I agree with a lot of what you say…”

My guard goes down as I enjoy being agreed with, but then they will edge toward a counterpoint:  “…but, Gary, you are wrong when you say…”

I lean in (even when I’m reading) to capture what it is that I am wrong about, but very quickly the screw with turn.  “And you damn socialist liberals want to put everyone on welfare!”

I really do enjoy debate and I rarely draw first blood, and while my blog may incite opposition, I am careful to use evidence and first hand observations to illustrate my positions.

I am guilty of the occasional joke but I can laugh at jokes about liberals and Democrats, too; what I don’t like are generalizing indictments of progressive agenda (“lazy, socialist liberals hate America”).  When that happens I might fire back with, “Yeah?  Well, conservatives love to grill because they’re still surprised by fire!”

And it degenerates from there….

Seriously, Dear Conservative and/or Republican Friends, I have never had a conversation with a liberal or attended a meeting of Democrats where we’ve discussed any agenda to make America a socialist state or to put everyone on welfare.

There is no Pussify America Committee and we don’t have classes where we “Learn to Mambo While Bowing to Foreign Dignitaries.”

My detractors must imagine that our meetings go something like this:

“This meeting of the Black Hawk County Democrats and Young Socialists is called to order!  Please read the minutes from last week.”

“Um…the Nanny State Committee reported that, unfortunately, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs seem to be working, and with unemployment numbers coming down, we are losing the battle to keep people on the dole!”

“That’s bad news, people!  We’ve got to buck up!  Has anyone thought to raid Best Buy?  If we can deliver more flat screen tv’s to the poor -they won’t look for work!  Let’s get it done!”

“Also, the Young Socialists gave a 3 minute presentation on fire safety and neighborhood watch programs and then we watched a short film about foreign policy called, “Wave the White Flag.”  Bob Johnson made a motion to include black, yellow and red on our white flags to be more inclusive.  It passed unanimously.”

(Applause, applause)

Meanwhile…on the other side of town at the Republican Headquarters, the meeting has also been called to order…
“Let us recite the pledge….I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the Majority for which it stands, one nation, under Reagan, with liberty and justice for all who are just like us.”

“Has the Plutocracy Committee prepared their report?”

“We have, sir. The transfer of wealth is almost complete.  Its taken 30 years but the wealthiest Americans—“

“Praise them!” cries a woman in back.

“Yes, praise them!  The wealthiest Americans have increased their holdings by nearly 250 percent!”

“Praise them!”

“Yes….of course…praise them!  Koch is risen!  We now have 10% controlling 90% of the wealth.  The Middle Class is nearly obsolete and the poor….”

(The room stifles laughter)

“…well, the poor continue to get—“

“POORER!” the crowd chants in unison.

“And finally, a big ‘thank you’ to the food and decorations committee who bought this evenings meal with their own food stamps. Thank you, Barbara!”

(Applause, applause)

Okay…perhaps a little too much coffee this morning, but I do have a point. These generalizations are ludicrous. I can cite Corporate Welfare of over 100 billion dollars a year to counter anti-entitlement arguments from the right.  We can argue about Social Security, New Deal programs, who freed the slaves and what Biden really whispered to Boehner until the tanned cows come home, and never get anywhere.

We can fight with numbers until we are blue (or red) in the face, however- there is such a thing as truth and there are such things as facts.  There are things like respect, humanity, compassion, and there is a capacity to judge right from wrong stored in some primal cavity in our brains.  It is stimulated by information.

And the more information we seek from credible sources, the better informed we become to make better decisions that can lead to better changes…and in the meanwhile we can have better arguments and make fewer generalizations.

See you at the next meeting,

Gary

God’s Vengeance

I’ve been thinking about evangelicals.  They are a strong political force within the conservative movement and while I have no problem with the expression of deep faith, I am always a little confused by the contradiction between their pageantry and Matthew 6:1:  “Take heed that ye give not your alms before men, to be seen of them.”

Where religion is concerned I seek humility and my world view is non-exclusionary, allowing for all religious and non-religious people to “follow their bliss.”

That phrase was coined by the late mythologist, Joseph Campbell, who believed that all world religions contain the same fundamental, transcendent truths.  My problem with modern evangelicals is the fact that they’re so…evangelical, and aggressive righteousness leaves no room for “inclusion.”

The original movement in the 17th century rose from Lutheranism to de-emphasize ritual and ceremony in the Church and to instead focus on pietism.  They were, in fact, non-conformists.

Today, however, “evangelicalism” has come to mean strict social conservatism, devout adherence to Scripture and a clear establishment of Christian doctrine in politics.  It is zealotry that leads many to anti-scientific theory and anti-intellectual conformity that can compromise solutions to real world problems.

That, in my opinion, is dangerous.

A poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service, questioned respondents about God and natural disasters, and it revealed that 60% of the evangelicals polled (more than any other group), believe that natural disasters are signs from God.

Other denominations hovered around 30 to 40% but that is still a staggering number of people who feel that solutions, even the ones within our human grasp, may be as simple, and as exclusionary, as piety.

Right after the Newtown massacre former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee came onto Fox News and opined, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.”

A columnist wrote in a Texas paper that “their deaths could be attributed to God’s displeasure with our culture’s moral collapse.”

I was reminded of a person I saw interviewed before the Republican convention in 2012 who shared his belief that Hurricane Isaac was descending on the Republican Convention because, “God is flexing his might to remind us that we have turned our backs on Him.”

I’m always impressed at how quickly a zealot can turn any occurrence into whatever ideological confirmation they choose. The sun was shining over the Democratic Convention, but I’m sure someone surmised: “God is casting a blinding light onto those who see false idols”

Years ago I had dismissed Pat Robertson after he blurted out that “the earthquake in Haiti was a result of a Haitian pact with the devil” but, a new email is circulating with hundreds of names attached which states that we are “suffering because we are becoming a Godless nation” and it has set off my alarm.

My first thought is that this concept betrays the very nature of God.  I never thought of Him as a Father that would resort to playground tactics and exact revenge on those who don’t follow. I have children and when they ignore me (which is most of the time), I hardly wish for them to perish in a flood.

Then I thought…..

What if…this fundamentalist Christian notion is all wrong?  I mean, what if, in fact, it is exactly wrong?”

What if God is angry at the Christians inside His church who pose as followers when, in fact, they betray His doctrine?  What if God is angered by those who recited the Gospel yet went to work and pillaged the credit of the less fortunate and plundered the investments of his hard working flock?

What if He is appalled at the trusted servants of a major Christian denomination who would first choose to protect themselves before innocent children?

Maybe God is angry at the Christians who want to repeal health care reform that can help over 30 million of His children to have more security in their lives.

Maybe God is less insulted by those who would remove prayer in schools, than He is by those who cannot separate religion from the laws of men.

Maybe…maybe, God gets upset with those who would deny civil rights to others who wish to show their love and devotion through marriage.

Maybe God is fed up with those who manipulate His divinity into messages of smite and exclusion.

Or what if…God is how we measure our compassion for others and His word represents the responsibility we have to care for one another and for this planet?

What if…natural disasters are just that, natural, and solutions to the problems we face depend on how we accept each other, as we are, and not whether or not we share the same piety?

My faith contends that our collective thoughts can bring us answers.

 

A Rosa by any other name

The immigration debate rages on.  I saw a post from Ben Stein the other day 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 hypocrisy to many people.

Well…the logic is as fertile as Dry Run Creek during a hot summer drought.

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 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 fender-benderis a risk of nonpayment in car accidents, personal financial responsibility laws are inadequate to remedy the risk of nonpaying, at-fault, 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.

Frankly, I would not feel that I was being embraced by the “Land of the Free” if I were as legal as the guy born in Kansas, but I had to carry papers and he didn’t.

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 the anti-reformers (the right wing) voices are calling it.  They (the 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 Joe Bob and Billy Ray didn’t like the grueling work of picking crops, and farmers stuck in a agricultural system have 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 the right wing wants 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 chestnut?).

They came here to work and to provide, and they would prefer to contribute.  The reform that President Obama is now being criticized for is to show compassion for the children of illegal immigrants who are being wrested from their parents; to find legal avenues of leniency so that families are not torn apart.

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 exactly what President Obama has proposed.  We have to spend the money to strengthen our borders.  To put more officers on those borders, with more equipment, more fences, more of whatever the vulnerable parts of our borders require.

We also need to examine our immigration laws.  Immigration processes should be amended to allow for better “legal” immigration.

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.

Who’s the greatest of them all?

I saw a poll yesterday among voters who consider President Obama to be the worst president in post-FDR history.  They ranked President Reagan as the greatest.  It isn’t hard to dismiss this sort of faux-information as shallow, given the fact that Duck Dynasty and the Bachelorette continue to get high ratings, but I must admit that a wave of dark energy coursed through my veins.

It made me want to hold a nationwide Webinar where I show America howaverage-government-spending unemployment is below where it was when the recession started (in spite of the obstruction of a jobs bill), how the stock market has grown, how corporate reserves are at all time highs, and deficit spending is down.

I want to remind America, even those who have believed the budget alarm rhetoric, that more Americans can live without the fear of losing everything due to illness, that we haven’t entered new wars, and that strides have been made to improve our environment with clean energy resources.

Then I want to show them stock market graphs, deficit gaps and unemployment figures from 2001 through 2009 and ask them again:  “Who was the worst president?”

But…I’d be wasting my time.  Fox News reaches them, too.

As troubling to me as the Obama-fail in the poll was the Reagan-canonization.

The Legend of Reagan not only endures but grows, as he now stands neck and neck with Abraham Lincoln as The Great Emancipator; taxes versus slavery.

It grows because the Republicans have not had a legend since Lincoln.

They marginalized, their own war hero, Eisenhower, during his presidency of prosperity because America had also moved to the left, post World War II.  Republicans created a more extreme ideology in order to define their relevance; ergo the second Red Scare, McCarthyism, the emergence of Goldwater conservatism and finally the great alliteration himself: The Ronald Reagan Republican Revolution.

I can admire Reagan as a great communicator and his brilliant media presence that still inspires people and policy around the globe; his televised indignation toward communist repression resonates to this day.  Love him or hate him, he was a galvanizing figure in history.

I will never forgive his inaction toward HIV/AIDS after 48,000 vibrant American men and women had already died by 1987.  Hindsight reveals that Reagan, himself, may have been sympathetic to the gay community, but his staff had nothing but animus for homosexuals and I remember my anger, as if it were yesterday, as friends and colleagues died, and the gay community pleaded helplessly to his administration for action.

Reagan’s lasting legacy is not about social awareness, however, it has been of economic success and this is where I want to shed some revealing light onto his “greatness.”

I contend that it is a myth; a fable; a story woven from selective memory in order to put a noble face on failed policy.

In 1980 (Jimmy Carter’s last year in office) inflation averaged a very high, 12.5% and America was heading into a recession.  Carter’s failed economic policy was the perfect platform for the Reagan myth to begin.  Reagan immediately implemented supply-side economic policies which meant tax cuts across the board and expanding the tax base to offset revenue loss.

“Reaganomics “now entered our lexicon (even though the theory was as old as Reagan himself) and certain economic indicators began to improve quickly.  During Reagan’s administration, the unemployment rate averaged 7.5% over his eight years after reaching a high from the recession in 1982 of 10.5.

Reagan’s legacy was already set halfway through his first term because he was the man who lowered our taxes and turned the tide of a recession.  Production was up, unemployment was down, Mount Rushmore can’t be far behind! 

But, there was a virus deep within Reagan’s great plan.  There wasn’t enough revenue to pay for his defense initiatives and for the government programs that he supported, so along came…the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982; the largest peacetime tax increase in history.

And here’s the caveat that made him the Greatest Showman on Earth- while tax burden increased on the Middle and Lower classes by eliminating breaks, he sold the need for fiscal responsibility to the general public with a brilliant aw-shucks approach that furthered his legend as the Patron Saint of Tax Relief.

He then sold the Tax Reform Act of 1986 which “simplified” the tax code while raising the bottom bracket tax rate by 4% and lowering the top another 22%.  In theory, he could say that they were tax cuts, since the total percentage was lower, but the burden fell to everyone but the wealthy.

Because I actually have an interest in fairness, I must point out that these Acts were bipartisan; Democrats were on the Trickle Down Train, as well; further proof of the historical journey toward Plutocracy that has seen a 250% increase in the holdings of the upper class over the past three decades.

Again, my interest is in truth and it must be said that the widening gap between the rich and poor had already begun during the 1970s before Reagan’s economic policies took effect, however, it must also be stated that Reagan’s policies exacerbated that trend.  When Reagan left office there were 7 million more Americans living in poverty than when he started.

Reagan remains popular as the anti-tax hero despite raising taxes eleven times over the course of his presidency, in the name of fiscal responsibility.  Overall, the 1982 tax increase undid about a third of the 1981 cut.

Economist Milton Friedman argues that Reagan’s tax policies were the stimulation to our economy that created the economic boom of the 1990’s, but others like another Nobel Prize winner, Robert Solow, argues that the deficits were a major reason why Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush, reneged on his campaign promise “No new taxes” and ultimately raised them.

Even Reagan opined that his greatest regret was having tripled the debt and having turned America into a debtor nation for the first time.

My take away is this— Reaganomics were a short term fix with long term, negative, consequences. Republicans today can cite the fact of an economic recovery in the 80′s because of neoliberal economics (Supply-side; Reaganomics), but they step over huge canyons of shame such as fiscal disaster, increased burden on the Middle Class and the poor, and ultimately even a recession after his second term.

What the neoliberal economic movement (don’t confuse neoliberal economics with social “liberalism”) did was use the concept of tax cutting incorrectly.  Lowering taxes does stimulate spending and the precedent for how its done was set with President Kennedy.  Reaganites turned a blind eye to Kennedy’s reform that worked (because it was, after all, progressive) and they continued, instead, with supply-side economics.  They contended, and still do, that the more money the wealthy can keep, the more they will benefit the rest of us.

Kennedy also cut marginal taxes, and the largest percentage decrease was from the top, but he reformed tax burden by eliminating loopholes for the top tier and by giving breaks to the bottom tier.  It was REVERSE Trickle-Down; give continued opportunity to the base to increase their holdings and they will spend money, which creates more opportunity for wealth at the top.

So, revere Reagan or hate him…or you can be like me; respect his talents and accomplishments while disliking many of his policies and mistakes.  The proof of his successes and failures are in our real history, and they will not be revealed by polls, party rhetoric or platitudes; they are there for serious minded people to view and decide for themselves.

Greatest president since FDR?  Depends on your income.

Just Don’t Piss Me Off!

I am conflicted.  Last night I became aware of something that I hadn’t really thought of before.  There are people who don’t participate in my political posts but still read them.  That may seem obvious, but as I write something, post it, and a debate, which sometimes becomes contentious, ensues, I am only thinking about the people who are participating.

A friend, who is a Republican, and never participates, wrote to me directly and was very blunt. “I’m tired of being made to look stupid simply because I’m a Republican.”

I was embarrassed.  I wrote back, “I don’t think Republicans are stupid and I certainly respect you!”

But I looked back on some threads and it wasn’t hard to find many comments that were9780974537603_p0_v1_s260x420 offensive from all sides of the debate.  Some liberal participants had, in fact, stated that “Republicans don’t care about others, only themselves” or said that they are “racist, blind and ignorant.”

I can assure everyone that I know as many Republicans who care as much as anyone about others, about this country, and who are generous and informed.

I can report to everyone that as I do fundraisers for various charities that there are as many, if not more, Republicans in the house reaching into their wallets.  And as the majority of business owners I know are Republican, I can tell you that I see them sponsoring community events, softball leagues and charities all over town.

But this is where I am conflicted….

It is not possible to have these ideological differences and not put on gloves to some extent.  It is also very clear how hostilities begin.  The way we think is part of who we are and when that is challenged it is not difficult to feel insulted.

My intention when I started blogging a few years ago was to have reasonable and informed debates and to keep the bitterness at a low flame.  I wanted solutions to Michele-Bachmann-corn-dogproblems, not body slam victories.

I have betrayed my own premise several times when I’ve posted embarrassing pictures of Rick Santorum or Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin….or George Bush…Limbaugh…Cruz… and while I am not retracting my distaste for their positions and how they manifest them, I gain nothing by insulting them or their constituents.

But, I have questions to be addressed before my conflicted state can be resolved. Debate them.  Offer counter evidence.  Dismiss them, if you wish, but I’d like to understand some of the differences that have been separating liberals from conservatives.

- I don’t understand why conservatives will call me “brainwashed” because I have this idea that caring aggressively about both our essential and aesthetic environment is a very important matter.

-Or “socialist” because I want to see every American and every child better cared for with better access to health care.

- I do not understand why many conservatives cannot separate their Christian faith from constitutional justice and why they do not recognize that ALL Americans share the same civil rights.

-I do not understand why Republicans disallow any connection between our current foreign policy quagmire in the Middle East with policies initiated 11 years ago.

- I do not understand the logic from Republicans who believe that the solution to ourGreat-Depression-Chart current economic challenge is to use the same economic principles that created our economic crisis.  Why is it a silly leftwing position to imagine that history (the Great Depression and Keynsian Theory) has lessons regarding spending, taxation, entitlements, and free market regulation?

What is even more puzzling to me is that many of those concepts were once embraced by the Right.  Nixon brought us the EPA.  Republicans during his term introduced healthcare reform very similar ObamaCare.  Eisenhower supported collective bargaining and progressive taxation.  It was actually a Democrat (Kennedy) who brought the high end of the tax rate down, but created less tax burden at the bottom.

Our differences are not a question of stupidity or lack of caring for others, they are defined by matters of truth, and I want to understand this disconnect without being called “pathetic” or a “weak minded liberal.”

And I won’t call anyone stupid or ignorant or uncaring.  Unless you really piss me off.train

50% of Americans think 50% of Americans are screwy

I had no intention of embarrassing or insulting anyone, but I wanted to make a point.  I asked people around me (I won’t say if it was at work, at a party or in a bar) who the 15th president was.  The few who answered said, 5356774587_lincwant_xlarge“Lincoln.”

“No biggie” I replied, “but he was the 16th President.  James Buchanan was the 15th.”

I asked them about the ramifications of the Dred Scot decision.  Everyone had heard of it but no one knew what it incited.

I asked a different group about the Treaty of Versailles.  No one out of 4 was sure of it and one person thought it was a cocktail.

Again, no biggie.  I’m not trying to embarrass anyone and I completely understand that most people are more interested in how their kids are doing at school, where their stock portfolios stand, and how grandma is feeling at the home.  The history and minutia of politics is not as pressing and that’s as it should be; the business of living and raising a family is our priority.

…yet for some reason we think that, collectively, we are foreign policy experts, constitutional scholars and economic theorists.  Why else would we see all of these polls that tell us how many Americans agree with the President’s policy in the Ukraine or how many Americans are in a fit over the federal budget or what their feelings are about the national debt?

I read that “58% of Americans polled believe that foreigners view President Obama as incompetent.”

So?

What relevance is possibly gained from a poll of the perception some Americans have of opinions overseas?

I saw another poll that said “Most Americans now disagree with Obama’s economic policies.”

So?

If I asked 10 people around me at this moment, “What is the difference between the national debt and the deficit?” I’ll bet maybe 2 would know.  Yet, we think that our majority opinion is equivalent to a school of economics.

Again, this is not about insulting anyone, it is about being realistic.  I have a friend who sent me half a dozen links explaining why President Obama is the worst president in history.  I explained that each one was from a conservative source and that I could produce an equal number with a differing opinion.  In fact, I could find articles for, and against, every policy, every President has ever presided over.

I found it interesting that the same friend predicted that “Obama will go down as the worst President in history” -only 3 months after he took the oath of office.  Nothing the President could have done at that point could have indicated any future results whatsoever.  My friend is smart, but I assure you he isn’t a wizard or clairvoyant; he simply found the evidence that he wanted to find from sources that he sought for that very evidence.

And we spin our own points of view into “information” that we share as if we are educating one another, and polls only reflect the percentage that has been convinced by our rhetoric.  We all do this to varying degrees, left to right, but the past 6 years have created the most contentious divides in history, and we find ourselves in a political stalemate.

Most Democrats didn’t care for (even hated) the policies of President Bush, but they still came to negotiate at the end of the day.  Some Democrats gave Bush his wars, even his poorly conceived educational plan and prescription drug programs.

Most Republicans loathed President Clinton, but both sides still came to the table because if anything was to get done, they had to.

Since the day President Obama took office, the policy of the Republican Party has been a 100%, lock step, obstructionist agenda to destroy him.  The economy, national security, genuine health care concern, veteran’s benefits, all became irrelevant to their task of convincing the American people that everything he does will be something we cannot afford, even as he reduced deficit spending and de-escalated the wars.

Republicans have successfully bankrolled that message in every medium and polls show us the result.

Why have they done this?

Maybe it was because of the catastrophic economic collapse during the Bush administration and a foreign policy quagmire that the once reasonable Republican Party became frightened of obscurity.  In a country where the demographic map was not changing in their favor, maybe they saw this as the best hand they had to play in order to regroup.

And when a man became President whowhite unequivocally challenged the status quo their ideology is engineered to protect, maybe that was too much to bear.

The forum for our debates since 2008 became the explosion of the Internet where we no longer use objective journalism to investigate the truth (does objective journalism even exist anymore?), instead we find editorialists and polls to support what we’re looking for based on what we already thought.

But, I’m not sure…let’s see what the polls say.