THIS is the right time!

The other day a friend asked me why I am running against two well-known Democrats. He said, “Kroeger, you’re not known in politics, maybe you should look at this as your trial run and prepare for another race in a couple of years.”

I understood where he was coming from, I’ve heard that before and believe me, I’m faced with challenges, but I replied, “Because THIS is my time to run.”

This is my time for precisely the reason he stated: Because I’m NOT a well-known why2politician.  This is the time for a middle class guy, from outside of politics, with two young sons and a mother who is a senior citizen, to run.

This is the time because many of America’s most urgent issues are the issues I face every day-

How do I put 2 boys through college with escalating costs and skyrocketing tuition?

How do hand over to my sons a fragile world due to reckless foreign policy?

Will health care in America be what my mother requires?

What about the men and women who go to work, like me, every day?  Where is their opportunity to build their careers and to save for their retirement?

What about the environment in which we all live that allows 7 billion tons of inorganic gas to be pumped into our atmosphere every year without even the slightest compensation for what that is doing to our planet?

I am in this race because, like a lot of other Democrats, I was very unhappy after the 2014 midterm elections. I was unhappy with what happened as an extreme right wing ideology swept like a brush fire across the United States.  I was unhappy with my fellow Democrats.  We didn’t inspire voters.

But, the other side did!  They even inspired without policy!  They inspired voters with empty platitudes like “Make ‘em squeal!” and their rank and file came out to vote.  Ours didn’t.

Democrats don’t win without policy and that is as it should be, but Democrats inspire by being bold.  And we weren’t.  We settled for poll-driven rhetoric that told candidates which issues to champion and which to ignore.  And we lost.

needlemanI used to be an actor and I’m not shy. I’m not afraid to point out the fact that many of us will disagree on different issues.  And I’m not going to pull back my views just to stay on your good side.  We don’t have to take a poll of the room before I take a stand against TPP, or stand up for gay Americans, or for minority rights and better immigration laws.

Some of you may not like my stand for stricter guns laws, but that’s okay- I’m going to tell you how I feel anyway.  And that’s how we start to build better government.

garyhasissuesWe must always talk about civil rights, a woman’s right to choose, and the health of our planet.  Those aren’t always the topics du jour, but we inspire when we are bold, forthright and transparent about ALL of the issues we face.

We inspire when we are unafraid to be Progressive.

That is why I am running.  And that is why THIS is the right time!

www.kroegerforcongress.com

Though Love and Life make tearful intercession…

Theologian, A H Strong, defined the human will as “the soul’s power to choose between motives and to direct its subsequent activity according to the motive thus chosen.”

No more apt description of the duty of a true politician has ever been written.  Such reflection is what strengthens our moral purpose, and as a candidate for the United States Congress, the convergence of my ideas and motives are what will reveal to voters what kind of a representative I will be.

Strong continues his description of will as “The soul’s power to choose both an end and the means to attain it.”  Within our soul is our moral purpose.

The journey I am on has led me to biographies of political leaders to learn more about their motives and recently I have been drawn to biographies about Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and James Garfield.

universe-wallpaper-20It would be easy to develop a fatalistic point of view, considering that each of these men were assassinated, but my belief is that life is a series of capricious events orchestrated only by our capacity for reason; we attach meaning to stories drawn from the collision of our will and forces outside of our control.

My point of view does not deny the existence of God, it only admits that I cannot define God any more clearly than I can define love for my children; the concept transcends the confinement of words.

Lincoln, Kennedy, and Garfield each seemed destined, yet their demise was the result of careless mistakes; a lack of attention when they should have been more aware of their vulnerability.  As purpose and fate comingled in my mind, I began to think about my own mortality.  Not in a morose “Oh-my-God-I’m-past-the-halfway-point-and-the-last-half-includes-incontinence!” way, but in a reflective “What-is-the-sum-of-this-journey-so far?” kind of way.

Life will always reveal a lesson when our awareness is heightened.  I was on a flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids in pitch-black darkness, zero-visibility cloud cover, andplane-lightning-100610-02 buffeting crosswinds from a huge storm system passing through.  I fly a lot, but this was one of those flights where the wings tilt dramatically side to side and simultaneously hit air pockets where the plane drops several feet, and I’ll admit that I said a prayer.

It wasn’t a fear of dying at that moment, but I thought to myself, “What if I did?  What was the sum of my life?  What would people say?  Would I be remembered as a good man?  Did I remember to pay the cable bill?”

I try to tame the tendencies of self-indulgence by mediating such thoughts, but I think it’s a primordial human desire to want to be worth something to others, and suddenly an existential moment with my father popped into my head.  He was dying and only two months before he passed away he asked me if I was happy.

Puzzled, I replied, “Yes…why are you asking me?”

GE DIGITAL CAMERA“Because I’m not going to be around forever and I want to know that my family is happy. I can believe that I had something to do with that.”

I asked him if he was scared and he said, “No.  I raised good sons and that’s how I want to be remembered.  And maybe you’ll tell your children that there was once this man named Glenn Kroeger…”

I found solace in his words because I already knew that my memories of my father would always construct a story about a good man, who was kind, wise, intelligent, and who loved his family. It would be the story of a man who achieved great success by giving his children the safety, comfort and dreams that his own childhood was denied. His flaws would be as forgiven in death as they were in life; they were not the measure of the man.

On this flight I asked myself, “Will my children feel the same way about me?”

There was an unsettling vibration under the fuselage as the plane banked against the wind to land, but as we touched down softly and safely, it occurred to me that the answer lies in the question itself.  In these moments of perceived peril that turn into the fortune of living, our vanity is arrested by reality.

The present is a moving target that passes seamlessly into the future and instantaneously becomes the past; and that is where my lesson found words:  To live the best of my life from each moment on.  Value is not measured by quantity, but quality. The number of years, the amount of wealth, or the accumulation of things, have no bearing on the value of a life.

My motive in this quest for Congress is exactly that.  As I serve the purpose of being a father by sharing with my children the best that I have to give, I will serve my constituents with the same resolve.

As my father once proffered:  “We are immortal when our sincerest motives live in the memories of those we’ve loved and served.”

 

“A man hears what he wants to hear…”

donkeyPolitical arguments can get frustrating from time to time.  Exchanges can get heated and I, a man who prides himself on civility, am sometimes tested.

I contend, however, that I never draw first blood, even if my posts incite disharmony, and I never resort to personal insults.  I, on the other hand, have been called stupid and uninformed.

Sometimes I walk away, but sometimes I simply cannot bear the remarks, particularly when they are extended to my friends.  One “foe” resorted to:  “Gary’s liberal friends are stupid and should be ignored.”

A conservative had 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.”

That quote is worthy of discussion, and clearly the point he was making is that “socialism is wrong” and it was directed toward me because he thinks that Marxian Socialism, or communism, is what liberals (like me) are directing our country toward.

I’m in a bit of a quandary when a deduction like that is made, however, because I’m caught between my desire to correct them and the realization that if someone is living in a world with talking trees and flying monkeys, what’s the point? (Okay…but that’s as close to an insult as I get)

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 revered historical figure.

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.  In spite of his sincere dislike for socialism, he 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 over voices in opposition.

Selective hearing is very common in our political discourse 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.

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 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, but in our current political discourse it has been the platform of liberal ideas, while on the right it can be an obstacle for 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 to deflect 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 bigger house, or maybe you only made enough to pay the bills, and by 65 you don’t have a 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 possibly 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 some of our skills.  There aren’t a lot of 85 year old airline pilots.  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 often as inherited as our religion and the roots can be planted deep and 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 a superficial concept of personal responsibility.

That doesn’t mean that the person was “superficial” only the concept….Oh no!  Here they come!  I have to remember- “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it- people like me!”

Who’s the greatest of them all?

I saw a poll among voters that concluded that President Obama has been 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 meaningless, given the fact that The Kardashians and The Bachelor 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), and how 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.

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 Eisenhower during his presidency of prosperity because America had also moved to the left, post World War II, and Republicans created a more extreme ideology in order to define some 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 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 tax 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 oligarchy 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.

Feeling a need to be social…

The problem with the “Socialism” label is that it’s just that: a label.

Without delving into the meaning, it becomes nothing but noise to distract us from the intelligent discussion that America needs to have.

The literal definition of socialism is a set of social and economic measures, policies and systems characterized by social ownership and democratic means of production.  “Social ownership” may be public, cooperative and citizen ownership of equity.  In a representative Democracy, such as ours, equity can be interpreted as a fair distribution of resources in the best interests of the people, or the Common Good.

A recent poll said that 43% of the Democrats polled in Iowa identified themselves as10436 “socialist.”  That has stirred controversy among Democrats and Republicans, alike.  Democrats who don’t want to identify with socialism and Republicans to fan the flame that Democrats (particularly like Bernie Sanders) want to take America toward Marxism.

So, what does socialism mean, exactly, in the context that Sanders and many Democrats are supporting?

It’s important to understand because that label is going to be hung out to dry throughout this entire election season, and Bernie Sanders is going to either rise or fall because of it.  First of all, here’s the poll: http://media.bloomberg.com/bb/avfile/rgsikEKtNf30

Now, let’s look at the history of social democracy in America….

We may as well begin with none other than George Washington.  Washington (who was non-partisan) believed that broad-based worker ownership would ensure “the happiness of the lowest class of people because of the equal distribution of property.” Washington even gave tax incentives to New England fishermen to rebuild their fleets after the Revolutionary War on the condition that the captains and the crew sign contracts ensuring broad-based profit sharing among all workers.*

The-Founding-FathersJames Madison wrote that “the owners (the People, themselves) of the country itself form the safest basis of free government.”  He also stressed “the universal hope of acquiring property.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote to Madison that “legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property.” Jefferson secured the Louisiana Purchase to allow for more land ownership by citizens.

John Adams (our preeminent Federalist) favored “preserving the balance of power on the side of equal liberty and public virtue (by making) the acquisition of land easy to every member of society.” Land being the most valued currency of the time.

Even, Alexander Hamilton, the favorite of the money-class, argued that few people wanted to be wage laborers only, and he believed that a strong middle class was, thereby, the mechanism for mobility. Our founding fathers believed that democracy would work only if citizens had an ownership stake in the economy, and they feared that property inequality would prevent America from fulfilling its promise.*

But our history of socialist concepts does not end where our history began; late 19th century tycoon, George Eastman (Eastman Kodak) helped to invent stock options for employees, and early 20th century business magnate, John D. Rockefeller, encouraged worker ownership.

Henry Ford echoed Alexander Hamilton 120 years later as he modeled the Ford Motor Company on his belief that a strong middle class was needed to become “energetic customers of businesses in the entire economy.”

100 years ago, iconic Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, ran on his Progressive Party platform, titled “A Contract With the People.”

AR-701089997Mainstream Democrats and Republicans considered this a dangerously socialistic document. The party’s call for social reforms included:  A National Health Service; social insurance, to provide for the elderly, the unemployed, and the disabled; a minimum wage law for women; an 8 hour work day; a federal securities commission (to rein in Wall Street malfeasance); farm subsidies; and worker’s comp.

The Progressives advocated for what were considered left-wing, socialist, ideas like women’s voting rights, and strict disclosure on campaign contributions. The main theme of the Progressive Party platform was to challenge and reverse the domination of politics by business interests that Roosevelt believed were controlled by both established parties.

The platform specifically stated that their purpose was to “destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”**

Now…let’s catch our collective breath. How different is any of this from what Senator Sanders is saying today?  That is the breadth of the “socialist” label that he affixed to himself and is being bandied about by everyone, from supporters to foes.

A representative Democracy, or the Republic, for which we stand, is predicated on the thNKXU32AKpremise of a government of the People.  Our venerable Constitution begins, let’s not forget, with “We the People…” and not “We With All the Money….”

It’s a little bit “socialist.”

 

 

*Source: “The Citizen’s Share” Blazi, Freeman, Kruse

**”Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Socialist’Party Platform” Timothy Ashby

 

The Shadow of Our Burden

Over the years I’ve heard opponents of social spending say, “If I were taxed less, I would give more generously to charity.”

On the surface, at least, that statement seems to have some validity and as I am privileged to host several fundraisers every year, helping to raise money for everything from the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, MDA, Family Children’s Counsel to local hospitals and schools, I am always pleased by the generous turn out of this communities well-to-do citizens, many of whom are Republicans, who favor tax reductions.

Democrats attend, as well, of course, but I consistently count on reaching out to Republican friends and they rarely disappoint.

Nevertheless, the statement, above, is something that I hear with regularity and it begs for an investigation.

Could federal spending be reduced, by reducing taxes and thereby allowing for more personal charitable giving to care for those in need?

It would seem logical, if that’s true, that as taxes have systematically decreased since 1959 that charitable giving would go up commensurately. And it has…except not with Americans that have seen the greatest decrease in their federal taxes. It has among those who can least afford to give and whose taxes have been reduced less dramatically.

The Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year give away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 give away 2.7 percent.

Paul K. Piff, a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology from the University of California, reaches the same conclusion that “lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.”

There is a more basic issue underlying charitible donations, however, than percentages. Charities have long known that donors give to charities with which they identify and from whom they might expect a more direct return. While the poor give to organizations like the Salvation Army and to their church, wealthy Americans tend to donate to the arts and humanities and to organizations where only about 10% is directed toward the poor.

Furthermore, most charities are localized and reflect community values and interests; wealthier communities get more substantial contributions than poorer communities, not in terms of percentage of local incomes, but in total dollars.

Marvin Olasky, the conservative author of “The Tragedy of American Compassion,” concedes that the federal government is more efficient at handling national economic disasters (Depressions and Recessions) but argues that in “a normally functioning economy, charities are sufficient to handle the everyday poverty…”

This, however, is not true when you look at the micro economic picture. Challenges can arise in any economy and can affect one region more than another, and poorer communities will have less resources for charity.

For reasons due to changes in local industry or natural disasters, certain areas can attain higher unemployment and economic devastation, and if that area cannot generate dollars, poverty grows, crime rises, education suffers and a new self-perpetuating cycle of depressed living occurs.

In theory, it is the Federal Government, the blind arbiter of social and economic justice, that steps in to help where the private sector cannot.

A little math reveals that Americans would have to give 10 times more than what they are currently offering to charities to replace what is spent on social welfare and relief programs, and if we are to continue to use logic, there is no reason to believe that people who hate paying taxes would increase what they currently donate in order to compensate.

As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “There are not enough social workers, not enough nuns, not enough Salvation Army workers to care for the millions of people who would be dropped from the welfare rolls” without government subsidized programs.  What’s more, private charities often spend up to 90% of their revenues on administrative costs.  By contrast the federal government is held to strict accountability standards and transparency.

Tax rates for the wealthiest Americans have dropped from nearly 90% during the Eisenhower administration (and there was no shortage of wealth accumulation during that time, by the way) to 36% today, yet their percentage of private charitable giving has remained steady at 2% of their income.

Whereas for the rest of us, our tax rate has always been about the same, hovering in the 20’s, while our charitable giving has risen to nearly 3% (over 4% from the lowest earning Americans).

Many conservatives (the rich ones anyway) argue that 2% of a million dollars is a lot better than 3% of 40,000, but there is an important part of that mathematical justification they are leaving out.  While headline grabbing donations like the $100 million, billionaire Steven Schwarzman, commited to the New York Public Library might make an argument regarding what income bracket gives the most, such mega-gifts translate into less than one and a half percent of overall donations, according to Giving USA.

Rather, it’s the smaller donations by hundreds of millions of non-billionaire Americans that fuel most of the nation’s nonprofits (individuals account for about three-quarters of donations).

I do not mean to belittle the compassion of those who attend and give to charities, and I am eternally grateful to those in my community that I see, event after event, giving generously, whether Conservative or Liberal. The argument I am making is that the relatively small amount taken from our taxes and spent by the federal government to bridge the unavoidable gap between private giving is neither the enemy of our household budget nor our economy.

I hope to offer some perspective on the truth of giving.

“There is no sweeter pleasure than to surprise a man by giving him more than he hopes for.”  – Baudelaire

A Capital Idea!

I’m a wannabe Capitalist. I want a boat, a bigger house ( maybe with a moat!) and castleI’d like to make enough money so that I never have to worry about the bills…along with a sports car and a little bling.

And if my capitalist dream ever comes true….I won’t change one word of what I’m saying today about the market, regulations and the necessity of containing the corruption that is an inevitable byproduct of a free market.

Someone said to me recently that “the liberal economic model has taken over the United States” yet, over the past 35 years the divide between rich and poor has grown to be the largest it’s ever been. The top 10% have increased their holdings by over 250%; the marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans has been reduced by nearly 55% since Eisenhower; and Capital Gains have been reduced by 80%.

Who’s winning and who’s losing, again?

If they were talking about the “neoliberal economic model” (neoliberal economics are not social “liberalism”) they would be right, but we know that they’re not. The truth is that the liberal model, based on “trickle UP” to create the consumerism that propels capitalism forward, has been losing for decades to the conservative model that believes that wealth accumulation at the top trickles down to create more prosperity at the bottom. Neoliberal economics planted that seed over 40 years ago and became embedded in our economic policy. The Great Recession of 2008 revealed the consequences of that trend.

“When has a poor person ever given you a job?” was the cute, and all too common, retort from my friend.

Well…I guess the answer is never.

My jobs have all been given to me by entrepreneurs who risked their money, and I have nothing but thanks and respect for them.  The point of the question, of course, is to say that we need to protect the upper class and give them the incentive to create and grow business so that we can have jobs.

This position reminds me of the relationship between Renfield and Dracula; if Renfield worships and protects him, Dracula promises to provide Renfield with an endless supply of blood.

(Wow! When I nail an analogy, I nail an analogy!).

It is without a doubt a sycophantic relationship. Incentives?! Seriously? Aren’t they protected and incentivized enough?

As I observe the wealthy class in America it appears that they must have been incentivized along the way pretty well and nicely rewarded by our financial system. But when I look again at their actual tax to income ratio and then consider who buys the products that created or increased their wealth, it becomes all too clear that a different incentive must emerge.

WalMart isn’t a billion dollar corporation because rich people shop there; it is the middle class, the working class, that comprise 90% of America and consume the goods and services to create the wealth.

They are the ones that need to be incentivized and protected for our economic engine to keep running and to prosper.

That’s how Capitalism sustains.

I look at it this way…I am part of that dwindling Middle Class, but I am healthy, have great friends, and most importantly my kids are happy and safe. I am by the measure my father used in his life, a man with great riches and I don’t begrudge affluence at all, not one bit. I know how important financial success is to the system and, as I said, I’d love to be more affluent myself.

So, if that day comes when I can move into The Ridges and put a Bayliner in my third garage space, I will say: “Thank you America for providing the opportunity that I was able to capitalize upon. I will gratefully pay the taxes that our progressive system has asked of me so that our government can work toward an equitable distribution of resources for others; others who also fuel the engine that allowed me to prosper. And thank you for creating the programs that can help those who have not been as fortunate.”

Long live Capitalism!

The Sky is Falling!

I was talking with someone after the State of the Union address with whom I share very few political positions.  We respect each other and I always enjoy our discussions, but we are political opposites.  This was not an angry or contentious discussion by any means, but toward the end I realized, perhaps for the first time, that our views of the condition of America are as opposed as our solutions.

From my view, there is a rightwing- fringe movement in America and that has captured the center of Republican-conservatism and has moved it toward an extreme ideological edge.  Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, in particular, have become focal points for that movement, and they fan the belief that America is in such dire straits that we are likely to implode or explode at any moment.

They sincerely believe that liberal economic and social policies are taking us to thedanger-will-robinson3 brink of extinction and that our demise will be fast and furious unless a completely conservative direction is taken in 2016.

They believe that health insurance mandates, immigration compassion/reform, Dodd-Frank regulations on Wall Street, and clean energy development is the agenda of a socialist President who is Hell bent on destroying production, privatization, and wealth accumulation in order to create a fascist, nanny-state.

And they mean it.

Allow me to clarify my own position.  I have grave concerns and levy criticisms regarding our state of affairs, but I also believe that America is a great country, with great accomplishments and I hold the promise of freedom and equality high.  I also see that our history is peppered with contradictions and human rights failings that have to be overcome in order to improve; and constantly improve, we must.  I believe that progressive ideology has been integral in moving our collective consciousness toward a greater realization of that destiny.

If our history has shown us anything it’s that we can endure missteps, misappropriations and mistakes that result from this complex experiment in democracy, but we must be vigilant in holding ourselves up to the light of justice.

My friend, as we were parting to go our separate ways, wrapped up his evening thesis by reiterating the severity of this liberal/socialist conspiracy.  He believes that America will soon be laid to waste unless we drastically alter our course.

I was surprised by the conviction in his view, but my reaction was more quizzical than alarmed.  “But….aren’t we in a nice place right now?  Haven’t we been getting our food and drinks without incident?  Didn’t the traffic lights work as you drove here this evening?”

I continued:  “Do you feel that you could be threatened by missiles tonight?  Do you expect your work to be there tomorrow?  I mean…how bad is it for you and me, really?  Shouldn’t our attention be on those who don’t have what we have right now?”

My point was that his reactionary view is not rational, but that’s when something occurred to me and it gave me a new insight into the ideological conflicts we are having.  It occurred to me that the entire political belief system of his movement is predicated on the idea that the state of affairs in America are so dire that we must react swiftly and severely with the broad sword of extreme conservatism in order to survive.

The sky HAS to be falling for the imminent anarchy point of view to have any validity.chickenlittle  We must be in a state of emergency, not an Orange Alert, but RED, or their measure of the economy, immigration, social justice, and foreign affairs becomes irrelevant.

We have serious concerns in America, domestically and abroad.  I, for one, am very worried about what ideology takes the reins and either leads us closer to the path of peace and prosperity, or creates greater challenges for both.  But, I also believe that solutions will come from vigilance and diligent attention to reality, as well respect for history and its outcomes.

Taking action is necessary, but our objectives must be clear.  We cannot be complacent, but we must be patient.  Our policies must be strong, but they must be equally as smart.

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.

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, from communion to our demise, 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 commerce on this land 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.

The reason this understanding is crucial is because it defines the difference between political ideologies.  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.

It’s a great story and one we would all prefer to believe – 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 that noble principles 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, as well, and not by believing a fable that does not question them.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And Wrong.

My oldest son, who is now 16, likes to talk politics now and again.  I love that he is showing interest in what has been his father’s passion, and he has been coming to the table with his own ideas.  Occasionally he will come right out with what is on his mind.

“Dad, why you don’t like Big Business?”

“Where did you get that idea??!”

“Well…um…someone said that about you…” and he trailed off.

It’s hard enough to discuss politics and actually get anywhere but when you have to completely correct perceptions of your position before even making your case, it can become nothing but an exercise in futility.  But, this is my son, for whom I have the patience of Job.

The truth is, my son’s comment is something that I’ve heard before.  In fact, I hear it consistently in conservative rhetoric.  The misperception is that Democrats, a) Don’t like big business, b) Don’t like the rich, c) Don’t like wealth accumulation or success, and, d) Want a Communist distribution of money earned by the wealthy.

Wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong.  And wrong.

I’ve never met a Democrat who didn’t like money, success, or who wants America to become a Communist state.  Maybe there are some, just like there are some people who don’t like butterflies and babies, but, as I said, I’ve never met any.

I also don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy money, or who wouldn’t like to have more of it. In fact, I know a lot of very wealthy Democrats and they aren’t embarrassed, nor do they feel that they don’t deserve what they have.

Big Business creates 50% of America’s Gross National Product.  It employs nearly half of all working Americans and when you consider that small business comprises 99% of all businesses; one can easily see the relevance of big American corporations.

No one wants to impede their success because it benefits all of us.  What we DO want to pay attention to, however, is HOW they succeed and we want to keep the power afforded to wealth balanced with the interests of the public.

I’ve heard or read so many blanket criticisms of the Occupy Movement, for example, from people on the right who dismiss the cause as “hatred of success and American business.”  It is not.  It is hatred of unfair pandering and greed which compromises the wealth and the success of most Americans.

It was (and remains) a protest against cronyism and bailouts of financial institutions whose unscrupulous tactics to amass wealth contributed heavily to the collapse of our system.  That collapse resulted in a lot of Americans, who didn’t wield influence, to lose their savings and pensions (and jobs).

The Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation was designed to regulate what should be regulated in our financial system, however, Republican lawsuits and clever legislative maneuvering have all but neutered its purpose.

Today, Republicans are blaming President Obama for not creating jobs fast enough, yet it is their own Republican controlled House that has blocked Obama’s job initiatives.  They have called the President “anti-business” but, the President has signed 18 different tax breaks and credits for small business since 2009.  In view of what he has done for the automotive industry and for the banks, plus more or less turning a blind eye to Dodd-Frank, my observation would be that the President has leaned too far to the side of big business.  Corporate welfare has actually increased.

So, I’ve come back to where I always come back; a wish for more truth in our arguments.  If I am called a “socialist,” or accused of “hating the wealthy and big business,” then I have to spend too much time correcting that fallacy before I can even get to a rational and factual debate.

My son and I are fine and he benefits by learning early in life how truth and rhetoric are not necessarily joined in Holy Matrimony.

Here’s what I suggest:  Conservatives should stop calling liberals “anti-business socialists who hate America,” and liberals, maybe we can stop calling them, “Greedy fear mongers who hate America.”