“Silly, flat, dishwatery, utterances”

politicsI spend a lot of time thinking about how our government does business.  I also think about the way the public debates the issues and how we are informed (or become uninformed).  And I think a lot about how bad things have gotten and how they are getting worse.

Several times I’ve said or written:  “This is the most contentious time in history.”

Never has anyone disagreed with that statement no matter which side of the political fence they stand.

Sit down for this.

What if I said….things are not getting worse?  The political climate that we are living in today is not only better than it was, but we are going in the right direction to make things even better.

What on earth am I talking about?

I enjoy reading history, but find myself having to look a little farther than the conventional history books that have, for over a century, woven fairytales around the creation of America.  From what we’ve been taught in school and from the traditions and ceremonies we’ve brought into American life, we’ve come to believe that stories and the men who created them were beyond reproach and that their vision was clearly defined.  But as I dig deeper into autobiographies and historical records, a more interesting perspective begins to develop.

No less than Benjamin Franklin expressed his regret for the growing animosity and “false accusations” that Americans have toward each other, toward their government Benjamin_Franklin_Portraitand even toward “our best national allies.”

While we have myriad resources today to retrieve or disseminate information and ideas, the central theme of our most contentious debates is the same.  Franklin wrote 250 years ago:  “In the conduct of my newspaper (Poor Richard’s Almanac) I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country.”

At the founding of our country and for nearly the century that followed, states bargained with other countries, and fought over where state borders should be.  Not with rhetoric and loquacious debate, but with muskets, swords and pistols.

Much has been written about the contempt that our present Congress appears to hold for members from the other party, but they seem to draw the line at verbosity.  150thCA381G1T years ago as Congress debated the Kansas Territory’s pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, a Pennsylvania Republican and South Carolina Democrat exchanged insults, which soon turned into a brawl.  More than 30 Congressmen from both sides joined the melee until the combatants were arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Contempt was so high in the 19th century between states that actual border wars broke out.  Do you know why Michiganders are called “Wolverines”?  Because people from Ohio found them to be no different from the angriest, most foul tempered creature of the forest.

wolverine5As they argued violently over a ribbon of land at their border called the Toledo Strip, blood was eventually shed and state militias were called to quell the dispute.  A simple border between Americans, living no more than a few miles apart, led them to view each other as fundamentally different human beings.

Things were no different west of the Mississippi when the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise.  The Missouri Compromise created verbal and physical warring in territories where a line divided the north from the south, allowing slavery to be legal in new states below the line, and illegal above.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was a compromise of that compromise and stipulated that the issue of slavery would be decided by the residents of each territory (known as popular sovereignty).  After the bill passed on May 30, 1854, violence erupted in Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, a prelude to the Civil War.  Abraham Lincoln, considered by many to have been the greatest President in our history was reviled by both sides of this dispute.

lincolnPosters calling him a “tyrannical dictator” and a “traitor” were not exclusive to the South.  One Chicago Times writer even reviewed Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address thusly: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly flat dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

One hundred years after the Civil War, systemic racism with the bitterness, anger and injustice it creates, continued in America.  Senator Richard Russell (a Southern Democrat who later founded the Conservative Coalition) said with regard to even benign civil rights legislation:  “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our states.”

I have no delusions that we have solved our dialectic dysfunctions and that gentle decorum is the order of the day, but, as we argue, yell, accuse, castigate, belittle, and protest each other, at work, at home, at the barbeque and on Capitol Hill, perhaps, it would behoove us to consider220px-PreliminaryTreatyOfParisPainting what we don’t do any more in the practice of our political debates.

We don’t fire across our state borders at each other over land disputes.  Our states no longer act as sovereign entities, negotiating with foreign powers, to bolster their own interests against other states.

Congresspeople have heckled Presidents in recent memory, but no fisticuffs have broken out.

Could anyone imagine a statement being made today in the senate such as the one Russell made 50 years ago?

lincoln_gettysburgaddressAnd while it is true that many of us, along with pundits and politicians have said nasty things about speeches our President, the Speaker of the House, or any number of representatives have made, have any been called worse than “silly flat dishwatery utterances”?

Maybe things aren’t as bad as we’ve made ourselves believe.

“What so proudly we hail”

flag Our flag has been getting a lot of press lately.  It seems to be a flashpoint for people who feel betrayed by it, people who are inspired by it, people who are afraid of it, and people who stand by it.

The flag was burned in Ferguson by people whoflag-burn feel America does not provide equal protection of freedom and justice.  It appears to them as a betrayal of that promise.

A flag was taken down by a university where a student displayed it on his campus porch because to foreign students passing by it represented a form of nationalist patriotism that doesn’t welcome them.  It scared them and the university agreed.

untitledWhen it is either waved or desecrated, people rally to one side or the other to defend what it means, what it doesn’t mean, what it stands for, or what it stood for.

The only common thread of that upon which we do not tread is that “Our flag represents America’s freedom.”

So the question is:  What is American freedom?

That’s not easy to answer.  American freedom, even as it’s outlined in our Constitution, is a vague construct.  Freedom to do what, exactly?  Live free?

What if my free imposes on your free?

Freedom to worship?  What if your beliefs deny my beliefs?

Freedom of speech?  What if our speech promotes the restriction of freedom for others?

Freedom from government tyranny?  Sure…but, government was also created to keep us free from…government tyranny.

I’m not trying to be pedantic here, but there are conundrums inherent to the very concept of the freedoms we defend.  All we can actually believe in is an idea of freedom and ideas are not always clearly defined and have amorphous edges.

What we are actually believing in is not a concrete set of principles, but the feeling we get when we consider our own personal identification with that idea.  Good or bad.

Which brings me back to the flag…

A national flag is a symbol of that nation.  It is visual statement to identify the temperament, history, ideology and people comprising that nation.  The US flag signifies, as stars, the 50 united-states, and has 13 stripes representing the original colonies that revolted against Britain.  The history of that revolution, democratic representation, our sovereignty, along with the constitution binding those states with unalienable rights is woven into that fabric.

But, therein lies the problem.  A symbol is as perfect as it is benign; its realization is not.

In the 1960’s a phrase entered our lexicon in answer to the protests against the Vietnam War:  “America, Love It Or Leave It.”

It was conservative shorthand to define American patriotism and it meant that if you don’t like the way America handles its business, you should go (or stay) elsewhere.  It was $(KGrHqZHJEEFDN6t2SSZBQ6TmcfJZw~~60_3draped around our symbol; the flag.

It was meaningless upon even rudimentary scrutiny because those saying it usually hated any government representation that wasn’t from their own party, but it was embraced by many because it made them feel good about their personal connection with the idea of America.

They proudly waved their flag.  And a lot of people became frightened by this exclusionary concept of America.

During that time, however, conservatism was in the shadow of emerging liberalism that began after World War II and reached its zenith during the Machiavellian, law-defying presidency of Richard Nixon.  In the 60′s and 70′s it became (and remains) more culturally relevant to be a liberal.

“America, Love It Or Leave It” endured, but it was a bumper sticker confined to the more extreme right wing.  That is until a new revolution; an ideological revolution from 30 years of pent up, conservative, nationalism, took hold:  the Reagan Revolution.

President Reagan, more than any other president (or at least as much as any) galvanized a decaying nationalist spirit and he turned a disenfranchised form of patriotism into something positive.  He made a lot of Americans feel good again about being an American.

reagan2_largeEven though many of us did not believe in Reagan’s jingoistic interpretation of American exceptionalism and we bristled at the wealth-pandering, class-separation he created, it was undeniable that a new conservative-patriotism was sweeping America.

Being a “liberal” was now being labeled less patriotic.

The neo-cons cornered the market on such brilliant, shorthand messaging to diminish liberalism and to rally the spirit of their base.  During the George W Bush administration they found a new cry, again in support of a war, and this one no one could take exception to:  “We Support Our Troops.”

What it meant, initially, was that they supported the military action in Iraq taken by that President,support_our_troops1 but it soon transcended that limitation as it was folded into the centerpiece of the sentiment; the bravery of the men and women in uniform.

The flag was part and parcel again with every representation of that statement.

But, again, we have to ask, “What does that mean?”

It doesn’t necessarily mean support of the government (of which our military is part).  Or support of the president who is their Commander in Chief, as many of the people using it today, don’t.

It no longer means support of the foreign policy directives those troops have been called to defend.

It doesn’t even mean domestic support of our troops with better health, job or education benefits.

It succeeds as socio-political panacea because there is no greater rapture of true patriotism than from the acknowledgment of those who are willing to stand in harm’s way to protect us, and that cannot be argued.

Which, again, brings me back to the flag…

a2929d6d1742f22c640f6a70670009a2Anyone standing next to me at a football game will know that I sing our National Anthem (loudly), and will see that my hat is in my left hand and my right hand is on my heart.  They will also see me making sure that my sons do the same.  I do this to show respect, humility and sincerity.

I do this to support our troops, and our citizens, and our fight for freedom.  I look at our flag as I sing, and every word of “The Star Spangled Banner” has relevance for me.  When I sing “The land of the free and the home of the brave” it is with the belief that we really can stand as a nation in support of that ideal.

And I also realize that to some people that ideal has been lost or has never been realized.  They are saying that we cannot be the “land of the free and the home of the brave” if only for a few.  They remind us that a flag is only cloth flapping in the wind unless the nation that flies it is true to its purpose.

We can argue either way, but the bottom line is that our flag no longer symbolizes only the idealism of a Republic and the spirit of freedom that carried our nation to sovereignty, it now also contains the divisiveness, the separation and fear that results from exclusionary nationalism.

And so…what is that freedom it represents?

It is all of the above.  It has contradictions, vagueries, truths, triumphs, defeats, promises, shortcomings, and inspirations.  The sum of all of these gradations is the freedom to protest, even to burn a flag, and the freedom to be repulsed by that action.

Our flag is powerful because we have the freedom to interpret its symbolism in whatever way our experience compels us.

The flag belongs to all of us to wave proudly or to protest.tea party anger1

And that makes some people really angry.  One way or another.

When in the Course of Human Events…


I make no secret of the fact that one day I would like to run for public office. I have no specific plan, organization or even office to consider, but it’s been on my mind for a few years.  Last year I wrote down some of my central positions to create a chart by which to navigate the inevitably dangerous waters of conflict, should that day ever come.

I’m concerned about the direction of politics and campaigns, in general, and I think every politician would be well served by creating a personal document of this nature.

It can be risky to document positions that can evolve, but I’d rather not hold an office than be afraid to voice the opinions I carry today or to compromise what I believe.  These are not specific policies on issues (that’s for if, and when, I run), but broadstrokes to serve as an ideological guide.

Economics
The collapse of 2008 was the result of legislation from neoliberal economic theory (not to be confused with social liberalism) and those policies have controlled the argument for over 30 years.  It favors the well-to-do by creating tax loopholes along with too much de-regulation, and that allowed for toxic assets in a volatile subprime market.

I support regulations to control ( and make transparent) the massive, risky bets with borrowed money (an unscrupulous practice of AIG, for example) that brought down the financial system. I also support “No more tax payer funded bailouts” of financial institutions.

I recognize that Small Business needs to be incentivized and supported (tax breaks) and I believe that the Democrats, historically, in a noble core directive to support labor, sometimes turn a blind eye to small business employers.  I’ve been an employer myself and too often the regulations designed to reign in corporate malfeasance have choked Main Street and we need to separate the two.

The Middle Class has been squeezed to near non-existence and yet they are the fuel of our Capitalist/Mixed Market system.  I will always lend my voice to their needs first.  While I support and contribute to Corporate America because it is the engine of that system, I’m not worried about the quality of life for those who are already well off.  Rather, I am concerned about the Working Class and ensuring them the best wages and working environments possible, as well as the necessary support they require if they’ve fallen on hard times.

Education
Education is part of the infrastructure for which government is responsible, and should be, in fact, the brightest patch on the American quilt if our future is to be strong and prosperous.

I support the Public School System and while school vouchers might seem a like a solution to rescue poor students from failing schools, vouchers threaten our free educational system as well as the constitutional principle of separation of church and state as taxes would be funneled to parochial schools.

We must prioritize higher teacher salaries, better facilities and educational funding programs.  Everyone, regardless of party, says they support education, but when push comes to shove, educational initiatives move down the priority ladder.  We need to consistently move it into the highest priority when we create our budgets.

We can hold schools and teachers accountable for results, but only if we have given them the best tools and viable incentives by which to teach.

Civil Rights

images We cannot rightfully claim to be the “land of the free” if we do not look critically at our justice system and assess when there is racism in its application.  Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are only the most recently debated examples concerning systemic racism that has existed from our inception and continues to the present day.  While we can see progress toward racial equality, we cannot fully experience the celebration of our constitutional promise of freedom until the complete excision of racism from the body politic.

The oppressive specter of discrimination weighs so heavily on those who are outside circles drawn by prejudice, that policy must be considered, along with vigilant examination of justice, to counter where oppression does still exist; until such a time when the evolution of inclusion transcends intolerance.

Gay Rights

 I believe that to recognize the civil rights of all citizens regardless of race, creed, gender, color or sexual orientation is the advancement of civilization and not a symptom of moral decay. I support Human Rights to the fullest degree and that extends to the rights of Gay Americans to fully participate in the civil rights we are all guaranteed.

I support the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court to allow gay marriage. They ruled that the Constitution cannot alienate any group of its citizens from that right and that includes those who are gay.  That was a correct constitutional decision regardless of anyone’s personal or religious view of homosexuality.

We may all believe and live as we choose, but we cannot allow a personal belief system to become the doctrine of constitutional justice. You can preach and live by your moral doctrines, but that is a compass of your own choosing and not a place for government to dictate, except to guarantee the protection of that freedom.

Religious Freedom
The Constitution is not a moralizing document and government is not the administrator of religious moral doctrine. The rights of non-believers to appreciate the freedom protected by our Constitution are as great as those who believe that our morality is founded on Christian principles.

Hard as this is for some to grasp, we can never allow our country to be determined a Christian nation.  The freedom protected, therein, is not the private domain of only those who believe a certain way.

With this realization of freedom in mind, I support a Woman’s Right to Choose.  While abortion is a terrible thing, it can be necessary, such as in the case of rape or when a mother’s life is at risk.  A woman, not government, must have control of reproductive rights.

No one is “pro-abortion,” and no one, who is thinking rationally, supports the idea of abortion as a birth control option and that’s why it must be kept out of back alleys.  The decision must be left to a woman with the counsel of her doctors and others whom she trusts (family, church).

Immigration
The Arizona immigration law of 2010 was a dangerous precedent that can lead to unlawful enforcement, civil rights infringement, illegal profiling and reinforce trends toward racism.  Illegal immigration is illegal, but our focus should be on strengthening our borders and re-evaluating immigration as a whole.

Having been a small businessman in California I know firsthand that most illegal immigrants are not here to break the law but are here to work so that they can provide for their families. The action they have taken has broken the law but before we judge them as criminals we should consider that they are also courageously trying to create a better life at great risk.  There is a difference between a criminal and someone who has broken the law and our immigration policies and enforcement must reflect that distinction.

Immigrants must follow, and we must enforce, legal standards to become Americans but we have created a system by which illegal immigration is often more viable; we have created jobs that many businesses have knowingly hired illegal immigrants to occupy and so culpability for the problem is shared.

Except for Native Americans we are all descendants of immigrants, and while most came here legally, we need to include wisdom and compassion in our application of justice.

Unions (Collective Bargaining)
In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice . . . Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers, and . . . a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society.”

I am a card carrying union man and I vigorously support the Unions and Collective Bargaining to protect the best interests and prosperity of the American worker. While problems do exist within unions and they need to be held as accountable as we demand of management, they serve a necessary purpose in a free society.

Climate Change
I believe that we have reached a critical juncture that will compromise, even destroy, the quality of life for future generations and we must embrace Green Initiatives, Renewable Energy and Bio-fuels with urgency. Climate Change is real and environmental protection is necessary in more stringent ways.

If future science proves me (and over 80% of all Climatologists) wrong, I will gladly submit to a spanking, but a clean energy future, non-dependence on foreign resources, is the correct direction for America, no matter where a person stands on the issue of greenhouse gasses today.

Gun Control
This is not really a 2nd Amendment issue; rather it is an argument of common sense.  We can debate the intention of the Framer’s with regard to a citizen’s right to bear arms, but I posit that it has to be considered in the context of its time.  I do not take a position that civilians should not realize their 2nd Amendment rights today, but with the advancement of weaponry and the evolution of how our sovereignty is protected, guidelines are necessary, as they are with any exercise of freedom.

Anyone who is not proficient in the use of firearms or who has a criminal history must be denied access to deadly force as realistically as society can enforce such control.

The Role of Government and Welfare
I believe in good governance; organized, effective and strong. When in the hands of informed and responsible legislators, chosen by an electorate that shares the same responsibility, it becomes the impartial equalizer to ensure that all Americans have access to our resources and benefits.

Too often this is misinterpreted as a trend toward “socialism” and it is not.  While everyone will experience success, affluence or struggle in different ways and to different degrees, the goal of our constitutional Republic should be to create an America where every citizen can participate and pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness to the best of their ability.

“We should be judged, and judge ourselves, not by the affluence we produce and enjoy, but by the actions of our nation, and our willingness as individuals, to help those in need.”  - Me

My Thanksgiving Prayer

Someone once said to me, “Gary, I don’t see any evidence of American pride in your positions.  All you do is criticize our great country.”

I was startled.  I honestly feel that my perspective is a tribute to America, even when I am critical of politicians, policies and political parties.  I never take for granted what this country provides, and I consistently give thanks for all that I have.  I’ve been educated, I have a great job, I have healthy sons and I am free to speak my mind in the public square.

To bring some harmony to this dissonant chord I decided to form my political views, realized and hopeful, into thoughts of thankfulness.

I am thankful to live in a country where we are free to protest, to peaceably assemble to empower the voice of the people.  A country where such a right is recognized as essential to securing our freedom from tyranny.

I am eternally grateful to our military men and women who have bravely sacrificed so that we may have that freedom.

I am thankful that I live in a country that has recognized that clean air and clean water are vital to the health of our nation.

I am hopeful that health care reform will continue, and improve, so that more Americans can live healthier lives and reduce the fear of illness and financial ruin.

I am thankful that I live in a country where the rights of citizens are protected by ethical laws regardless of race, gender. sexual orientation, or religion; and that these laws are vigorously examined to suppress the tendencies of prejudice and fear.

I am thankful to live in a country that offers support and help to those who have fallen on hard times or who are challenged by obstacles of ill health, physical or mental, or who have been raised in an environment without advantages.

I am thankful to live in a country where education is acknowledged as the engine of prosperity and freedom, and public education is offered to every child.

I am thankful to live in a country where more reasonable voices can subject an imperfect system to better governance and demand accountability from those who have taken advantage of its flaws.

I am fearful, however, that the national debate has turned into demagoguery that could compromise much of what I am thankful for.

I am fearful that many politicians are working to eliminate or marginalize many of those great things that Americans have fought for; things like civil rights for all Americans, environmental protections, equality of opportunity, public education, religious freedom and valuable social programs.

I have two young sons, and on Sunday nights we have a traditional, good old American meal of burgers and sweet corn.  Sometimes I share my thoughts with them.  My 15 year old is, well, 15, and can wear boredom as a badge of honor, but he gets a little memory chip from Dad’s passion for public service, and lately he’s been coming to the table to play his own hand.

My youngest just turned 10 and little of this resonates, but this won’t be the last time ol’ Dad talks to his sons about how much he cares about America.

And for now, I am thankful just to have them at dinner.

Every Dollar You Ernst

Okay….Republicans swept into Washington in one of the biggest political polarityuntitled shifts in history.  I worked for Democrats to keep that from happening, but ultimately it came as no surprise.  Mistakes were made, Democratic blocks didn’t vote, historically this happens anyway, and an unpopular President was reflected onto his party.

My focus has shifted away from making cases for Democrats and toward how we make all of this work.  My concerns, however, have not changed.  One of several things that concerned me about Joni Ernst, for example, were her statements about welfare; sentiments that she shares nationally with a majority of Republican lawmakers.

Senator Ersnt campaigned saying:  “We have fostered a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them.  It’s going to take a lot of education to get people out of that. It’s going to be very painful and we know that.”

Painful for whom?  The people without the means to endure that pain?Mitt+Romney+Campaigns+Iowa+Senate+Candidate+JL3vy1uKyDjx

And what evidence supports that statement that drew cheers from every conservative crowd?

There isn’t any.  But it is repeated so often that it has become truth to many.

What is used a lot is a statistic that tells us that nearly half of America doesn’t pay taxes (“47%” according to Mitt Romney).  The deduction they are making is that this represents the failure of welfare programs, and that if people don’t have to work, they won’t.  It has become a cornerstone of modern Republican rhetoric; Republicans who are now in control of Capitol Hill and who will create (or remove) policy.

A more relevant deduction from 47% is the fact that too many people don’t make enough to pay taxes or they are unemployed.  What it isn’t is a statistic showing lack of desire to work, or laziness.  What it shows is that the balance of opportunity in America is out of whack.

Most working Americans have at some time or another taken some form of welfare, if just a temporary unemployment check, and most Americans who receive welfare will go back into the work force.  Welfare (only 1% of the federal budget, excluding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), is not “wasted” tax money, either.  Beyond the ethical fact that sustenance is being provided, every dollar goes back into the economy as cash exchanged for products; it is liquidity in the market.

In the micro-view:  Among all households receiving food stamps, almost twice as many include at least one working adult as those that don’t.  In other words, welfare does not discourage work; it simply supplements a wage that is inadequate to provide the essentials of living.

Furthermore, according to the Food Research and Action Center, only 56% of people eligible for food stamps nationwide actually claim the benefits they are eligible for.

Here’s a macro-view:  According to UNICEF, nations with stronger social welfare programs report a smaller percentage of population living in poverty.   Denmark, 2.4%; France, 7.5%, Norway, 13.4%; Canada, 14.9%; United Kingdom, 15.4%.

In the United States it is 22%.  Social programs keep us relatively low when compared to world standards, but it still translates into more than 1 in 5 Americans living in poverty.  In the richest, most powerful nation on earth, how is that possible?

I’ll tell you.  It’s possible because 40% of everything is owned by only 1%.

And that is why welfare has existed since the Roman Empire to provide sustenance to those who ultimately provide sustenance to the ruling class.  While we prefer to look away from our own socio-political inequities and pretend that there is no “Power Elite” in America, poverty is a bi-product of an economic engine that creates exhaust.

What we cannot ignore is that our “exhaust” is a human life with a family.

Senator Ernst, when you look at real numbers and not rhetoric, we are paying a small price to help those who have fallen through thehungry cracks.  And when you oppose raising the minimum wage to a living wage, how are you not exacerbating the problem and only increasing the pain that you believe they must endure?

Welfare should fall on our ledger as our privilege to provide, and not as our burden.

I Wish You Well

Sometimes it is easy to write these posts.  In fact, I usually find it fairly simple because I write about political issues where I already have some knowledge and a feeling about my position and the words come out rather quickly.  When matters are of a more personal nature, it is more difficult.

Partly because there is a tendency to question the motive behind personal narratives, and the balance between being useful to a reader and self- flagellation is always present. My hope with anything that I write is to engage someone to either activate their thinking on a particular subject or to find information that can benefit their own journey one way or another.

When I step away from politics and write about my family, my children and my own trials and tribulations with living it is with that in mind, as well. I am divorced and I know many divorced people.   Men and women.  Most of them with children.  We share the stories of our struggles with regard to visitations, child support and attitudes in order tocalvin_arguing calibrate our own perspectives and to give support to another who is experiencing the inevitable frustrations of shared custody.

At stake is always respect, dignity, fairness and agreement.  Yet, the reasons each of us got divorced in the first place was a lack of respect, dignity, fairness and agreement.  And so the same issues exist, now we just don’t have to see each other every day to be in constant conflict.  We rely on legal counsel, documents, decrees and judgments to mediate when loggerheads are reached, but even those prove to be useless at those times when….respect, dignity, fairness and agreement are in question.

Very few divorced people that I know speak highly of their ex spouse.  I do know of a couple of couples who claim to be better friends now and are intimately involved in each other’s “new” family lives, but the lion share (by a long shot) are not on such terms.  Most will give an exasperated grunt when they finish a conversation with an ex that is otherwise only heard in bullfighting rings (from the bull).

“My ex husband is an imbecile”

“Listen to what my ex wife just did…”

“My ex doesn’t even care about (fill in: kids, bills, making payments, etc)”

I’ve been going through a recent run-in with my ex over holiday visitation, but I won’t go into the details.  They aren’t that interesting, they aren’t that different from every other face-off for the past 9 years.  What is worth sharing is this…

The anger/hurt we feel is not shared on the other side.  We harm no one but ourselves.  Justice was never part of the cosmic agreement between human beings and it doesn’t matter which side of the ex-spouse argument defines your situation, every bit of negativity that you foster toward the person on the other end of the phone, text message or parking lot, lands in a puddle of inconsequential sludge.

“There is no comeuppance,” one friend reminded me.  “They never walk away feeling that they could have been more thoughtful.”

I am very good at getting on with my life, being productive, and being happy, but every time a new “situation” develops where I feel persecuted by the same dysfunctions that engineered the end of a marriage, the cumulative weight of every previous frustration and lack of…respect, dignity, fairness and agreement…crushes my shoulders.  It’s still there.  I’m writing today because there’s hope.  For me, and for you, if any of this is familiar territory.

Life has an uncanny way of putting answers in front of us when we need 20141114_163856them.   Or maybe they are always there and we see them when we are ready.  Yesterday I attended a lecture by Dr. Amit Sood of the Mayo Clinic.  His expertise is in the release of stress and reprogramming our minds to recognize joy and love before fear.

He gave us 3 steps to begin the process.

-Today I am taking two minutes to think of 5 people that I treasure (that’s an easy one).

-Every stranger I see, I will acknowledge with my eyes by thinking (not verbally) “I wish you well.”

-And any loved one that I talk to or should see today I will treat as if I haven’t seen them in a long time.

Three easy steps toward flushing away the negativity that only eats at one’s own tranquility.  I will do this every day. This exercise is designed to program the Focus Mode and the Default Mode that navigate our brains and after just one day my ex wife no longer appeared to me as a three-headed dragon!3-headed-dragon-3

Maybe that seems too simple.  Maybe the next time the peace is broken by one of those Acts of Obstinacy that is unique to the world of Divorce-Custody I will be back to burning effigies…but what I do know for sure is this-  No one suffers but me when I’m unhappy.

Peace and love, my friends.  And even if you’re not my friend, “I wish you well.”

Are you kidding?

Does this ever happen to you?  You’re having an argument with someone when they accuse you of a certain behavior, and you respond, “Are you kidding? I was just going to say the same thing about you!”

thCAL7F73JApparently, the criterion by which we judge others is not always applied to ourselves.  This happens to me a lot when I discuss politics with people who are firmly entrenched conservatives.

They consistently accuse liberals of:  1) Lying, 2) Being afraid of facts, 3) Putting blame elsewhere.

Are you kidding?  I was just….

My study here is anecdotal, but I observe this often enough to have drawn some conclusions that I stand behind.  I suggest this:  Conservatives are brilliant in a debate.  Their polished and refined strategy is:  If you take away your opponents strength by calling it your own, they have nowhere to go.

A Republican friend who likes to periodically goad me into a debate, came up to me the other day and said, “Liberals can’t stand facts!”

He went on to give me some “Facts.”WIN-Daily_Supplement-Facts

“Did you know,” he asked, “that the average unemployment rate under Bush was 5.3?  Obama’s is over 8.”

He went on:  “Bush increased the debt over two terms by 5 trillion while Obama increased the debt by more in less than half the time.”

I read Republican and conservative websites, and will tune into Fox News periodically to calibrate my perspective (and to picture the anchors naked, wearing funny hats) and so I’ve heard these numbers before.

I responded:  “Those are real numbers and I guess you could call them ‘facts,’ but they thdo not tell the truth.  Truth requires analysis and your conclusions from those numbers are as relevant as saying, ‘When I’m in a room with Bill Gates we have over 70 billion dollars between us.’  It’s true, but it doesn’t tell the true story.”

Laughter follows, but I argue so often that I’m more or less prepared.

“Bush inherited a robust economy with unemployment at 4 and handed off 8 with a bottomless recession right at the tail end of his presidency.  This month it is at 5.8.  Most of President Obama’s debt is from continued policies. President Bush decreased revenue and then borrowed to pay for two wars and a prescription drug program.  Plus war costs rise as they continue.”

Like I said, this wasn’t my first rodeo and so I transitioned into my rote rant:  “President Reagan still retains his crown as the Great Tax Emancipator, but the bill came due for his policies when George Bush, Sr. became president and tanked that presidency.  Same thing happened here, except that it wasn’t a minor recession; it was the worst in 80 years.”

My friend’s eyes are now rolling because he’s heard this before and he knows that he’s going to pull out the trump card soon.

I continued:  “Recessions don’t immediately reverse when new presidents take office and the quagmire of continuing job loss, increased unemployment benefits, necessary stimulus to stop the bleeding, resulted in trillions in new debt. That’s the truth beyond your easy to sell ‘facts’.”

And, right on cue, he pulled out the card:  “All you Democrats can do is blame the past and Bush.”

“I didn’t know that there was a statute of limitations on truth.” I fired back.  “Maybe we lincolnshould get over blaming Booth for assassinating Lincoln.  The truth is what it is.  A recession was caused by predatory lending in an unsupervised market with unscrupulous toxic assets and rising economic inequality.  We can argue all day about who is complicit, but we can be sure that it all happened before January of 2009.”

“I love you Kroeger,” was his sincere, but nevertheless dismissive, response.  We are good friends and we enjoy poking each other with argumentative sticks, but I felt that I’d “won” this little strategy debate and so did he.

My conclusion was, as it has been before, that “facts” are meaningless without analysis that goes deeper than simply offering evidence to support an already drawn conclusion.  And, my conclusion was, as it has been before….one side is less likely to go that deep than the other.

Were you just about to say that about me?

Crazy on you!

I was reading an MSN article on why people voted the way they did in this past election.  Most of the people who voted Republican were pretty consistent as to what two issues defined the races for them.  The issues that concerned them the most were expanding government, and economic progress (or the perceived lack of).

Woman-at-Dulles-Airport-Wearing-Hazmat-Suit-for-Ebola-e1413537522167Other relevant, but less pressing issues were immigration reform, gun control and even Ebola containment.  The article, comprised of polls, drilled down into the commonly shared beliefs among conservatives that climate change is fake, regulations on business are too restrictive, and that taxes are too high.

Believe it or not, Obamacare, while still something they opposed across the board, was not the most serious to conservative voters.  It isn’t difficult, however, to put the Affordable Care Act into the category of “government expansion” which was an overriding concern, and so, in reality it probably was more on the docket than the poll suggested.

I stepped into the fray on social media when admittedly I was not thrilled with the Red Sweep and my posts were of concern / disbelief / frustration / sarcasm / resignation.  Some were conciliatory.  CrazyTrainAll of them were met with criticism from my right wing friends, and varying degrees of support from the left.  Nothing, however, was accomplished.

Three different people called me either a “crazy liberal” or a “far left lunatic” and that is what really got me to thinking.   Not in a defensive way, because I’ve been categorized that way before, but I have yet to understand what they mean.

What is so far-out, crazy, left-wing about…..

Gun Control?  Guns are lethal force and 2nd Amendment interpretations aside, I certainly don’t think it’s insane to believe that not everyone who wants one should be carrying one.   We may disagree on what restrictions are necessary, but is it really far-granny20with20gunout to think that the proliferation of guns might not be the best way to contain gun violence?

When there are studies that conclude that gun violence increases by a factor of 3 in homes that have firearms, is it a liberal interpretation only that is sobered by that information?

Equal Rights?  This may be the historical domain of liberal ideology, but is it CRAZY to think it’s unfair that women earn over 20% less than a man for the same work?

Is it a dramatic swing to the left to interpret the civil rights defended in our Constitution to include…everybody?

How is it exclusively a liberal cause to be sure that our immigration laws serve impartial justice?

Environmental Protection?  Don’t we all live on the same planet, breathe the same air, and drink from the same rivers?  Again, we may disagree on what the parameters are, but is restricting the CO2 pumped into our atmosphere, or pollutants into our lakes and streams or limiting pipelines that deface our Amber Waves of Grain, a liberal concept alone?

Maybe it is, but is it so FAR to the left to consider warnings from a majority of environmentalists and climatologists?

Keynsian Economics?  This is the subject that divides us the most critically, and one which will likely never reach a consensus, but is it a screaming liberal position to look at the historical record of economics?  I don’t make up the statistics about economic growth and recessions.

Liberals didn’t create Keynsian Economic theory, they just used it, and from its most profound application during the Great Depression, there is evidence that there just might be some validity to it.

Disagree it you’d like.  Offer counter evidence!  But what it isn’t, is crazy

Health Care?  This one is a real head scratcher for me.  Eisenhower proposed government subsidies to businesses that offered coverage.  Nixon proposed employer mandates.  The conservative Heritage Foundation proposed the individual mandates to create a health market.  Mitt Romney ran with it!

Call the Affordable Health Act what you want, but what it isn’t, is Universal Health Care.  Call it government expansion, but to call it a purely left wing idea is, well….wrong.

Many liberals, myself included, have started to call our ideology “Progressivism.”  That angers some true liberals and some conservatives see it as a cop out, but I believe it is AR-701089997a more accurate description of what liberals stand for.  At least in this modern age where liberalism has been effectively re-defined by the right as “loose standards of behavior” and “socialism.”

Progressivism, the first born child of liberalism from the Age of Enlightenment, didn’t find its voice in America until President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a Republican, coined the term to carve out his agenda.

That agenda was social justice; safety and health standards, labor laws, a living wage and protection against the hazards of sickness and irregular employment.

It was to regulate corporate America insofar as to protect the prosperity of the working class and to navigate us away from the inevitable trend toward corporate oligarchy.

And it fought for the protection and enhancement of America’s natural resources.

Roosevelt’s progressive agenda was not embraced by the party he called his own, but the truth of the matter is that Roosevelt and the Progressives were seeking the best concept of “freedom.”

-Freedom to prosper without being exploited by industrial barons.

-Freedom to live in a clean environment and to share access to America’s resources.

-Freedom to live and work safely with protection from unforeseeable health hazards.

Today, liberal “progressives” have added to that journey toward freedom, tenets of racial, sexual and cultural equality.  They have added the advocation of common sense policy to contain misuse of lethal force (300,000,000 guns exist in American homes).

The movement that calls itself the Tea Party has centered its platform on Libertarian ideals of personal freedom, but ironically they have only championed a distilled concept of such, and one that is far shy of what Roosevelt’s progressives had imagined.  The Tea Party has focused freedom into a defense of the 2nd Amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms; to shrink government, specifically to lower taxes; and to pander to corporate interests, obstensibly to encourage wealth to have the freedom to accumulate without restrictions.

My perspective differs from the new right.  I drove to work today and did not feel encumbered by the FDA, the FBI, CDC, EPA, FAA or the Department of Education for that matter.  In fact, I probably felt a little better knowing that there are environmental, law enforcement, and health programs out there working for my welfare.

I don’t feel less free for paying about 25 cents out of every dollar toward running this country I get to enjoy.  (Don’t bother me with taxromney-taxes tables.  If you are paying more, even if in the highest bracket, get a new accountant.  Breaks and shelters allow a guy like Mitt Romney to pay closer to 14%).

I have two brothers and both have worked in government and I can say first hand that there are redundancies, inflated salaries and obsolete programs that are wasteful.  I don’t think even a crazy liberal believes otherwise or that government can’t get too big.  But no coherent, analyzed, comprehensive, logical, plan has ever been presented by the Tea Party, or Republicans for that matter, to honestly change that paradigm.

Except to implement draconian austerity measures and to toss around platitudes to ignite their base:  Government is too big!  Cut taxes!  Cut welfare!  We don’t need the EPA or a Department of Education!

There is a paradoxical swing in society that is both inevitable and confusing.  While human beingsthCAUSBW39 naturally evolve toward progress (polls show that even though people voted Republican, many support liberal ideas), there is also a natural counter-balance toward conservative values to protect ourselves from too much at once.

Our evolution, while trending toward social justice, also moves a faction farther to the right, pulling the center along.  Today, Republicans once considered moderate are being called “RINO’s” (Republicans In Name Only) by the new right.  Imagine how they categorize any liberal.

I offer an old post of mine to clarify some historical positions of American conservatives. http://garyhasissues.com/archives/6407

nugentSo allow me to conclude by going back to where this began.  We can disagree.  We will surely use different sources for information.  We may always be diametrically opposed on several things.  But if you think we’re crazy, commies over here…then you are so crazy to the right, that we’re not going to get anywhere….

Maybe I’m Amazed

Americans never cease to amaze me.  We are amazing with our collective brilliance, fortitude, tenacity and invention.  We have endured world wars and collapsed economies.  We’ve accomplished the impossible by landing spaceships on Mars and by giving Adam Sandler a film career.adam_sandler_woman1

We are also amazingly shortsighted, stubborn and hypocritical.

All of these qualities from the state of our nation are put on display during elections and these Midterms were, perhaps, the most colorful in history.  The outcome was not what I had hoped for, but the world hasn’t ended.  My car still starts (Iowa weather permitting), coffee brews at work, and tonight friends will assemble at Toad’s.

Life is good.  For me.

But therein lies the dilemma of election sweeps that change the course of policy.  Life may not be as good for Americans who could struggle due to austerity measures affecting services they need to survive and to create opportunity.

Life may not be as good for families who can’t afford high interest on student loans.

Life may not be as good for people where restrictions that once protected their water and air are loosened to allow better margins for industry.

Life may not be as good for Americans seeking the civil rights that are guaranteed to all by our Constitution.

Life may not be as good for many workers who see their income remain flat while costs of living rise.

Life may not be as good for those who finally got health insurance and are now worried they could lose it.

It amazes me that we can make such great strides then teeter toward throwing them 1401961540565_cachedaway so quickly.  And I am amazed that Americans claiming to be tired of the contentious gridlock in Washington reinstated the architect of 100% lock-step obstructionism, Senator Mitch McConnell, while some of the most cooperative statesmen, like Bruce Braley, have been retired.

I overheard someone say, “I’ll leave the country if they get their way” (I didn’t know if they were a Republican or Democrat and which “way” they were referring to).  I always laugh a little at anyone who says they’re leaving.  They never do, and frankly, no matter which party they align with, if they did leave, fine.  We don’t need those who throw in the towel.  What we need is participation and I am amazed to learn that less than half of the registered voting population actually voted.

What we need is to continue the debate.  We need to be better informed, individually, and by the press.  We need a press that returns to principles of journalism and away from being an entertainment commodity.

thCAJCY78TIf our country is in dire need of a single reform before all others, even campaign reform, it is a system of accountability from our nation’s press.  Our Founding Fathers wrote a charter to define a representative Democracy in order to secure liberty and justice without prejudice and the blood that gives life to the body of this Republic is an informed electorate.

In the words of Thomas Jefferson:  “Whenever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.”

The reverse implication of Jefferson’s wisdom is equally persuasive, however; if people are not well informed, they cannot be trusted.  A press that informs through the filter of hyperbole and opinion rather than journalistic objectivity will breed knowledge equally as slanted.

This is a great country and the cause of freedom and justice that first inspired Colonial Americans to pick up arms and to write a charter binding us to that promise is still alive.  We are not invincible because we, ourselves, are flawed, but the idea is perfect.  The idea that we are all created equal, and endowed with certain unalienable Rights, and that among those are “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We made an amazing promise.

 

Here is a link with an interesting post called “The Fairness Doctrine of 2015″ related to the issue of journalistic integrity: http://thisrunson.wordpress.com/about/

Make ‘em squeal! Vote Braley!

joni-ernstI don’t dislike Joni Ernst as a person.   She appears to be very nice and it is with sincere admiration that I thank her for her military service.  I believe that she is sincere, as well, in her commitment to improving Washington and to change the course of America in a better direction.  But that doesn’t make her the right person for the job.

c8d34a066f68aac8f8f552efbab6cec1Not by a country mile.

An article the day before an election may seem like too little too late to influence a race; many absentee ballots are already cast and most people know with certainty which little box they’re going to fill in tomorrow, but a vote not yet cast is still a vote not yet cast.  The Braley/Ernst race will be close and a few people reconsidering their decision could make a difference.

The most aggravating aspect of this race has been the erroneous rhetoric that has attacked the candidates.  Bruce Braley’s record has suffered the most in this regard due to dark and unlimited soft money (Things go better with Koch) that have given Republican attack ads the lion share of airtime.

He has been portrayed as uninterested in our veterans “just when they needed him most”- yet nothing could be further from the truth.  Braley has made Veteran’s benefits the signature of his terms in the House.  Braley introduced and passed a law to give tax breaks to companies that hire veterans returning from duty, unemployed veterans, and wounded warriors.  He took on the Pentagon to secure overdue combat pay for 800 Iowa National Guard troops  and helped secure full GI Bill education benefits.

Committee attendance records are a non-issue.  They can be used against any serving candidate.  Ernst, in particular, has a low attendance record in Des Moines, but that doesn’t mean that she’s been uninterested in the job, it simply means that she (like Braley) was serving her office in other ways.  I don’t hold her low attendance record against her.thCA2CH61F

In one of the more ironic twists of any campaign, Braley missed a committee meeting because he was literally welcoming Iowa veterans in Washington from the Honor Flight.

Several Republican PAC commercials have cited Braley as a regulations creating, tax and spend Democrat.  Each of these points are simply political rhetoric.  The Bush Administration left America with an economy in a death spiral and spending was the inevitable result.  Detroit was buoyed by both Bush and Obama stimulus.  Wall Street, as well.  New regulations were put in place to curtail devious practices that led to toxic assets that crippled the stock market.

To now pin spending on Braley and Democrats is as disingenuous as politics can get.  In fact, deficit spending is now less as we move toward balancing the budget that Ernst says would be her priority.

George Bush had a Republican Congress for 4 years (Democrats only had a majority in both the House and the Senate for 2 of Bush’s 8 years) and the brick and mortar were laid that resulted in economic collapse.  Why, America, would we think that the same formula would lead to different results?

We may not have a Republican President today, but if Republicans sweep into Washington in these midterm elections, we will be one step away from the trifecta that opened the financial faucet for the wealthiest Americans to amass greater fortunes and choked the Middle Class to where they could no longer spend and sustain the economy.

1411952863007-desm0928DebteErnstBraley00226 months ago, Bruce Braley led this race by a wide margin.  Since then Joni Ernst has mounted a very strong and clever campaign.  She is a nice Iowa farmgirl and a self sacrificing patriot and that translates very well in the midst of a contentious political climate.  Braley meanwhile pulled a gaff in Texas that was exploited by the Ernst campaign.

I can say with certainty that he wishes he could take a remark back where he appeared to belittle Senator Chuck Grassley by categorizing him as a farmer, but the comment has to be put in context.  He was speaking privately to lawyers suggesting that someone with a law degree and not a “farmer who never went to law school” should head the Judiciary Committee.  That, in itself, is not an outrageous statement.

Would he rephrase that if he could?  Absolutely.  Does it mean he doesn’t care about farmers?  Absolutely not.  Braley has fought tirelessly to re-new the Farm Bill to provide our farmers and ranchers the tools they need to produce abundant and affordable food.

Your vote is important.  Have you taken the time to look at his REAL position on farming?  http://braley.house.gov/issue/agriculture

It comes down to this.  Bruce Braley has been a Congressman who has reached across the aisle to get things done.  He cares about Iowa, he cares about America, and he fights for better benefits for veterans and subsidies for farmers.  He is a passionate advocate for renewable energy to bolster Iowa’s economy as well as provide better environmental standards.  Yes, he is a lawyer, and thereby knows a thing or two about the system our Founding Fathers created.  We are a nation of laws; that is how we keep order, justice, service, fairness, opportunity and advance our interests.

Joni Ernst has gained a lot of attention for her position to “bring Iowa values to Washington.”  Great statement and it has worked because we are tired of the hostility in Washington.  But it’s hostility created by a 100% obstructionist agenda by Republicans since January of 2009.  It is hostility created by superficial memes and news agencies with nothing but a financial agenda.  It is hostility created by billions of dollars that serve only the special interests of those spending it.

A vote for Joni Ernst continues the gridlock that defines today’s politics.  A vote for Ernst supports the special interests of corporations.  It is a vote toward undervaluing women in the workplace and away from the freedom to have dominion over their own bodies.  A vote for Ernst is a vote against affordable student loans, a living wage and a healthier environment.  A vote for Ernst moves us toward the privatization that steers America toward plutocracy.  A vote for Ernst leads us toward policy that threatens the civil rights guaranteed by our constitution to all Americans.

A vote for Bruce Braley is a vote for the kind of politician we all say we’re looking for.14776993581_e36e55437b_o  Intelligent, willing and able to listen and respond, who reaches across the aisle, who is passionate about his state, his country, and those who serve, from our agricultural roots to the service men and women who defend us.

A vote for the Democrat in this race helps to secure balance on Capitol Hill to ensure that we do not, once again, begin a slide into economic and cultural catastrophe.