Lead Like Jesus

This weekend I was in a bar and a friend that I rarely see came up to me and pulled me over to her table.  Immediately she descended upon me.

“I can’t even be your friend anymore. You are so stupid and your blog is so idiotic that I de-friended you on Facebook. I don’t want to have to see your trash. I can’t believe you are such an idiot!”

“And….how are your drinks?” I replied.

A friend of hers at the table asked, “Is he a liberal?”

My friend continued, “He’s a stupid (expletive) liberal.”

Caught off guard by this unexpected assault, I smiled and said, “So, I’m guessing you guys like…Rick Perry, maybe?”

“Anyone is better than (the whole table in unison) OBAMA!”

“Well,” I said trying to re-calibrate reality, “My stocks are looking good, my business is growing, unemployment is down, corporate reserves are great…yeah, I feel pretty good about him.”

“What ?” snapped one of her friends.  “He’s the worst President in history!”

There is a gray mass that starts to form in my brain when I am confronted with obstinance and I can hear my inner voice making a choice. “Should I go after this or will that turn ugly…or should I lead like Jesus and just turn the other cheek and walk away?”

I was more than willing to have a sensible conversation, listen to their evidence, compare it to mine, eventually settling into beers and a few laughs, but this crowd was enraged by the mere fact that I was a liberal and were not about to offer anything except: “You’re stupid and we can’t talk to you!”

Feeling a bit too defensive at this point, I countered with, “You can disagree with me, but I don’t think stupid is something you can call me…after all, you did vote for Bush TWICE and your credibility is pretty low.”

I feigned a laugh and walked away. I heard someone say, “He can’t even make an argument.”

Heavy sigh.

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t do this to incite anger, I do this to inspire educated debate where ideas can be argued, even aggressively, and more often than not, where we can “agree to disagree,” but what I encountered was rage.

If I thought this was an isolated incident I wouldn’t be writing about it today but I believe that this is the heated “conversation” being waged in bars, restaurants, barbeques and town halls all over America.

I always make an effort to find a clearer perspective and so the next morning, I opened up my blog and re-read the past month of posts, looking for unfair analysis or extreme bias.  I will concede that if I were a Republican/Conservative I certainly wouldn’t conclude that Gary Kroeger loves my politics, but I am pretty confident that I would engage him (as many of my friends do) and it wouldn’t be with fury.

I know this because I do have Republican friends, some of whom are in positions of party authority and we have respectful, even enjoyable relationships.

I am not a Democrat or a liberal without my reasons, just as the Republicans and conservatives I respect are justly so for their reasons, but a lion share of the public is finding their position from an emotional allegiance without using logic.

Information is how we calibrate our compass when navigating the waters of opinion and the overwhelming evidence in my observation is that the Republican party is being steered by extreme elements that cater to a theocratic, imperialist doctrine.

Therein lies the problem.  If you look at Republican/Conservative history there is no consistency beyond broad platitudes, and platitudes are not policy.

Lincoln it can be argued was socially progressive.  Eisenhower embraced many progressive ideas that are anathema to today’s Republican/Conservatives; social programs, social security, unionization, healthcare reform.

Eisenhower even warned us all, having been the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in WWII, against the growth of the “Military-Industrial Complex.”

Barry Goldwater understood that Christian zealotry could not be allowed to control conservative philosophy.  Nixon gave us the EPA and proposed health care reform similar to “Obamacare.”  Ronald Reagan (the standard by which every conservative is now measured) supported social security and was quoted to say, “Church and State are, and must remain, separate.”

You’ll find very few touch points by which to compare today’s Republicans to a consistent ideology that connects them throughout history.

“God and the Bible” is a familiar rally cry to crystalize conservatives with their beliefs, and while there is nothing wrong with being a proud Christian and believing in the Bible, what is fundamentally wrong is to believe you are a truer American because of those beliefs.

This is the difference I consistently observe between political affiliations and why I align with liberalism and the Democratic Party.  Liberals and Democrats define themselves with terms of inclusion, not exclusion.  We don’t say, “I am a Democrat because I am a Christian.”  We are more likely to say, “I am a Democrat because I believe all religions, or even lack of faith, belong in a free country.”

We are more likely to say when identifying our adherence to the Constitution that “Liberals believe in the civil rights the Constitution guarantees to all Americans regardless of personal orientation.”

We are more likely to say, “I love America because of the nobility of her promise of Freedom” than we are to say, “America never apologizes.”

This brings me back to the confrontation this post started with.

I’m not stupid because I’m a Liberal or a Democrat.  I’m stupid because I can’t do algebra.

I’m not a Liberal or a Democrat without reasonable, thoughtful and researched information and observations made throughout my life that compel me to align with what I believe to be more relevant in the fight for human rights, and peaceful and healthy existence.

Many people might call those Christian values.

If you are a Conservative and a Republican because you believe history reveals a better realization of your values, then fine, you’re not stupid either…you just require less information….

Damn! I was so close to leading like Jesus!

The Color of Fear: One More Commentary on the Lynching of Michael Brown

“Gary Has Issues” is moving into a new direction.  When I come across an editorial that I think is important I am offering my site as a platform.   I have a fairly wide base that includes many conservatives and I welcome a healthy and respectful debate.

staceyI met Stacey Walker last Spring as he was working on Anesa Kajtazovic’s campaign for the House of Representatives.  Stacey stayed at my house during much of that time and I was honored to meet such a bright, engaging and passionate man.  His thoughts here are relevant, powerful. and unedited.            - Gary

 

Ferguson is on fire for a reason. That reason isn’t just because on Saturday, August 9th 2014, an unarmed black man by the name of Michael Brown was gunned down in the streets by someone who swore an oath to protect and serve the public. The reason Ferguson is on fire is because Michael Brown is just one of the latest high profileferguson-riots incidents of this nature, and when taken together, an entire race of people are becoming crudely reacquainted with the idea that their skin color is a liability that carries with it lethal consequences.  And while I don’t endorse any violence or lawlessness on the part of the protesters, I certainly understand it.

The simple truth of the matter is, every time an unarmed black man is killed by the police, and there is no consequence, a very clear message gets communicated to the rest of the country:  the value of black life is negligible.

For this reason, I will have the obligatory talk with my future sons and daughters where I give them pro-tips about how to act around the cops. I will try to let them know that their life indeed does have value but some people might not see it that way. Every black man I know has received this talk by someone who loves them. Naturally, as a parent, it will be my job to let my kids know, that although all men are created equal, and endowed with certain inalienable rights, they will need to be extra careful around the  police, even more so than their friends who have less melanin in their skin.

You see, in America, for so many reasons and for far too long, Black skin on a man has come to be seen as dangerous. And as the incredibly astute Brent Staples pointed out many years ago, this perception is what leads police officers to make those split-second decisions to pull the trigger and end a life. In dicey situations, when the target is Black and thereby considered scary or dangerous, it seems like many in law enforcement subscribe to the policy of shoot first, ask questions later. Fear and weapons is a very bitter cocktail, as such Staples goes on to warn that where fear and weapons meet – and they often do in urban America – there is always the possibility of death. The hard truth is, if our society teaches us to fear black people and perceive them as a threat to life and limb, then that society is wrong and needs to work on correcting itself.

Why doesn’t America weep for my people? Because Black skin evokes fear and signals danger, because African Americans are grossly underrepresented on police forces around the country, because most of the people being gunned down don’t have  a 401k or preferred stock in their company, because Fox News is quick to point out the lawlessness that ensues after a gun-related tragedy instead of facilitating a meaningful conversation on the relationship between law enforcement and Black America, because for far too long the consequences, if any, for those who do the killing have been minimal, because Black people have come to accept these killings as a part of life and they hope that the conversations they have with their kids about mitigating this danger actually sinks in, and because this sort of thing happens so often that the shock value is waning and we as a people are becoming desensitized.

I don’t have many encounters with the police anymore. I no longer live in an area that requires their strong presence. I wear button-downs and nice slacks to work every day, so I don’t really fit the bill of many of these young men that are being killed by cops. But none of that really matters. A life is a life, whether that life is Ivy League trained, or a recipient of welfare. Yet and still, I am a Black man and I understand that even if I’m whistling Vivaldi in my pressed shirt walking home from the Englert Theater, that I am bound by an entirely different set of rules should I encounter a police officer. The game is different for me, and the odds of me getting hauled away in a body bag because I reached for my wallet too quickly are higher than the norm.

I was compelled to write my thoughts for several reasons. No doubt, I’m completely saddened by this tragedy, as are many others around the country. But I’m also writing because I’m tired of feeling as if I belong to a race of people who could end up on the endangered species list because we’re being hunted in the streets.

For every Michael Brown, there are countless others like him, whose deaths rarely command national media attention. I do not begrudge the media for being selective in which cases to publicize, nor do I begrudge the American people for their consumption of such media. However, I do take issue when justice is not served. When after all of the marches and speeches, we have no tangible signs of progress. If I am to feel as if my life has just as much value as anyone else, then I’d like to see meaningful action taken to curb the disproportionate violence against African Americans being perpetrated by law enforcement.

We should be reviewing the use of lethal force protocol for law enforcement officials around the country. We should investigate every instance of an unarmed death at the hands of the police. We should see the police officers punished when they cross the line. We should see families compensated for their loss. We should have more national conversations on race relations. We should see police departments doing more to understand the cultural dynamics of the communities they’re paid by tax dollars to protect and serve. All of these things and more represent only the beginning of what needs to happen.

Until we begin to walk down the path of correcting this ill in our society, these tragedies will continue to hurt us deeply, particularly because they are eerily reminiscent of a time where it really was socially acceptable for police officers to kill black folks. It hurts so deeply because we’re telling the world that we’re okay with lynching black boys in our streets so long as we can perceive them to be dangerous. We’re lynching these young men with bullets from a government issued gun with no sense of justice in sight.

Michael Brown’s mother will never hug her son again. He was assassinated. Six bullets, center mass.

Why won’t America weep for my people? Because right now, she is busy lynching them.

Intercourse for the Common Good

We need to create a Foreign Policy Constitution.  A document that we hold up to the light to reveal how we should approach every foreign engagement.  We, as well as our foes and allies, can refer to this document so that America can consistently carry the moral authority expected of this free and powerful nation, without compromise.

What we have is a vague set of evolving principles that have been subjected to so many diverse and conflicting interests that our authority on the world stage has become a liability.

There are principles, in theory, if not even actual pieces of paper tucked away in State29757841 Department drawers, but they are not consistently consulted.  The officially stated goal of the foreign policy of the United States, from the Foreign Policy Agenda of the U.S. Department of State, is ”to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.”

Could anything be more vague and open to interpretation?  What determines security?  Prosperity?  What are the parameters?  By what measure?  When are we benefitting?  How far do we go?

In addition, the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs states:  ”Export controls, including nonproliferation of nuclear technology and nuclear hardware; measures to foster commercial intercourse with foreign nations and to safeguard American business abroad; international commodity agreements; international education; and protection of American citizens abroad…”

The best part of that is “intercourse with foreign nations…”

Revolutionary Purists, Constitutionalists, and modern Federalists will reiterate the foreign policy themes expressed in George Washington’s farewell address.  These thCABEE2DTincluded:  “Observing good faith and justice towards all nations and cultivating peace and harmony with all, excluding both ‘inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others’, and “steering clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”

Wonderful broad strokes of humanitarianism and equal justice, but no more clear than a “more secure, democratic and prosperous world…”

The primary trend of U.S. foreign policy since the American Revolution has been the shift from non-interventionism to hegemony, becoming the dominate world power during World War II.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s support of the Allies against Germany and Japan resulted in an intense internal debate that initially determined that our policy arsenal_of_democracy_by_gonzoville-d4us61kwas to become the “Arsenal of Democracy”; financing and equipping the Allied armies without sending American combat soldiers.  But, Roosevelt then defined fundamental freedoms to rally American involvement which he said ought to be enjoyed by people “everywhere in the world.”

These were the “freedom of speech and religion, as well as freedom from want and fear.”

From here on a new expansionist American Foreign Policy objective was realized, and trouble has followed a never-ending, exponentially expanding, and impossible set of directives to accomplish.  How, when, and where will a sovereign, democratic Republic determine how, when, where and what we can accomplish?

We have rules to direct and contain how our forces are deployed, but even these have become lost and vague as sincere objectives become obscuredSep_of_Powers_thumb_1-1 by myriad of political and corporate interests.

While the President is Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces, only Congress has authority to declare war.  The United States Secretary of State is our foreign minister and is the primary conductor of state-to-state diplomacy and both the Secretary of State and ambassadors are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.

But those are just the rules.  Rules need to have purpose, vision and clear directives to retain relevance.

This may be the fundamental dysfunction of government, in general, but it is a conflict that we must resolve if we are ever to find balance domestically and abroad.  Just as we refer back to the Constitution of the United States of America, and a Supreme Court was created to interpret the application of its laws, we should have a document as accepted and revered for its timeless wisdom, by which to inform and guide our involvement in an ever changing world.

We should call for a new Continental Congress (I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I do believe that Thomas Jefferson suggested that we hold one every 50 years or so to remain relevant) to draft:  The Constitution of American Foreign Policy.

Such a charter will always be subject to interpretation, just as the breadth of our Constitution is continually challenged, but its essential purpose to outline fundamental laws protecting our freedom is respected around the world.  As we face military action in the Middle East, and as we consider loss of life and global impact, we must be clear on what it is we’re doing and why.  Chemical warfare and genocide are unthinkable crimes against humanity, but unless we’re sure that military intervention fulfills our moral authority…can we be sure that we are preventing any of it from happening again?

Have we so far?

To Hell in a Left Hand Basket

Last night I was talking with someone who has an active mind that I very much respect.  I always enjoy our discussions whether about politics, sports or women.  Politically we are polar opposites, but we share passions and at the end of the day, we share many concerns.  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 state of America are as opposed as our solutions.

There is a rightwing- fringe movement in America and that has captured the center of Republican-conservatism and has successfully moved it toward their extreme ideological edge.  It believes that America is in such serious and dire straits that we are likely to implode, explode or spontaneously combust in a matter of a few short years, maybe only months.

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 2014 and again 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 regarding this Fast Boat to China that we are allegedly on before moving any further.  I have grave concerns and have criticisms regarding American policies, but I, and most liberals I know, believe that America is a great country, with great accomplishments and we hold the tenets of America’s promise of freedom and equality high.  We see America as the gold standard of a Republic of, by and for the People.

We also see that our history is peppered with contradictions and human rights failings that had to be overcome in order to improve; and constantly improve, we must.  We believe that our ideology has been integral in moving our collective consciousness toward greater realizations of our best destiny.

We have been called “un-American” for not blindly accepting platitudes of American Exceptionalism, but we don’t believe that America is heading to Hell in a hand basket.  Instead, we believe that serious course corrections always need to be made.

If our history has shown us anything it’s that we can endure missteps, misappropriations and misguided 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 to separate engagements, wrapped up his evening thesis by reiterating the severity of this liberal/socialist conspiracy.  He believes that the America we love 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-whimsy, than alarmed.

“But….aren’t we in a nice bar right now?  Haven’t we been getting our drinks without incident?  Did the streetlights work as you drove here?”

I continued.  “Do you feel that you could be threatened by missiles tonight?  Do you expect your work to be there tomorrow?  Won’t Starbucks be open in the morning?  I mean…how bad is it for us, really? Shouldn’t our attention be on those who don’t have what we have already?”

My point was that his reactionary view of the state of the nation with a Democrat in the White House is not rational, but that’s when something occurred to me that gave me a new insight into the ideological conflicts we are having.

That’s when 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.  We must be in a state of emergency, not an Orange Alert, but RED, or their measure of the chickenlittleeconomy, immigration, social justice, and foreign affairs becomes irrelevant.

We had other plans for the evening, so rather than open up this can of Crisis Worms, we parted ways.  I got in my car, drove without conflict to a community theater production of “Les Miserable” and ultimately found myself at home at the end of the night.

My TV worked, the late shows I enjoy were still on and the neighborhood was quiet.  I fell asleep, confident that the next day would be productive and safe.

I did check the stock market in the morning, though, and…well…it’s fine for those of us who don’t panic.

“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 occassionally 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, but in our current 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.