WILL THE REAL BIGOT PLEASE STAND UP?

In the wake of the three murders at a Kansas Jewish Center a troubling conversation is taking place regarding the political leanings of the murderer, Frazier Glenn Cross, and bigotry, in general.

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A conservative blogger pointed out that “Cross once ran for Governor of North Carolina as a Democrat.”

A contributer pointed out that the “KKK was formed by Democrats.”

Another piled on:  “Democrats are the real racists in this country.”

Ay yi yi yi….

Racism is the result of adopting, or inheriting, principles born from ignorance and fear; it does not hold a political allegiance.  That being said, let’s get the history straight.  A racist faction of Southern Democrats, who were segregationists, formed the KKK.  They were not “liberals” and they do not resemble the face of the Democratic Party today.  In fact, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Southern Democrats, all conservatives, joined the Republican Party and formed the Conservative Coalition.

It was the Republican Party during the Civil War that championed the Abolitionists, but it was not conservatism that led them to embrace emancipation, rather it was progressivism at the center of their movement.

untitledToday, those who brandish the weaponry of racism are also the ones identifying themselves as the most patriotic Americans and they voice intolerant platitudes like “America, Love It Or Leave It.”  They are claiming conservative values and predominately vote as Republicans against progressive liberalism.

Recently, I was made aware of a Facebook page titled, “I’m an American, why should I have to ‘Press 1 for English’?” and I navigated there to see if it fit my assessment of that evidence.racist-facebook-post-1

I read post after post that denigrated the President, immigration, liberals, and Democrats, while conversely praising Fox News, gun proliferation and anti-immigration laws.

There were some reasonable posts and fair criticisms of government and the President, but over 90% exhibited hatred for any concept that even bordered on being progressive: Immigration, the environment, gay rights, health care, gun control, religious diversity, and foreign diplomacy.

One post said, “Speak English or get the (expletive) out!”

Another proclaimed, “This is one nation under God and if you don’t like that get out you(ethnic slur)!”

Another post was of two bullets over an American flag, titled, “Two Tickets to Paradise” with “paradise” written to resemble Arabic.

I tried to learn what I could about the people on this site, but mostly I was blocked since I’m not a friend.  The few I did get to said, “Conservative.” (One called herself “a liberal wife” but that could just mean that she writes letters to Penthouse Forum)

press_1_for_english_011But, there were countless endorsements from Tea Party factions, of NRA sites, and links to conservative blogs and websites and it was clear where most political ideologies were placed.  A question then leapt from my occipital to my frontal lobe:  “Why is it that this kind of ignorance and bigotry find a safer haven within conservatism?”

Hold on!  Re-holster your pistols!  I am not suggesting that all conservatives support such things, but why do those qualities; the lowest on the human spectrum, find the right side to be more comfortable?

This issue goes deep for me.  I don’t want my children to inherit the country these people are fighting to establish.  I want my children to embrace all cultures and religions.  Not because they saw pictures in a book, but because they went to visit a friend who is Jewish, Muslim, or from Bosnia, Sudan or Iran, and they saw how other cultures can thrive within a free nation.

So I called a conservative (and Republican) friend for a “lifeline.” I asked him, “If part of your party shows these stripes, don’t you have to evaluate why?  And why doesn’t your party aggressively distance itself?”

He replied, thoughtfully, “There are as many extremists on the left, you’re simply more aware of those who disagree with you.  These people are angry at growing government infringing on their rights, spending money and threatening their children’s future with debt.  They have as much right to protest as you and I’ll bet they find your positions as repugnant.”

Nice answer, but no go.  “This site wasn’t created to discuss government overreach and debt, it was to share the opinion of anti-diversity!”

He countered:  “Look at the extremists who led your party in the 60′s and 70′s, like Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman.  They were more dangerous than anything I see today.”

“They were radicals,” I replied, “but they didn’t lead the Democratic Party!  Democratschicago7 didn’t seek their endorsements.   Yet today, the right-wing extremists; those crying for a one-language, one-religion nation with exclusionary civil rights, are heavily influencing the direction of the Republican Party.  They are consulted, even embraced by Republican candidates who seek their endorsement.”

I kept going.  “Tom Hayden (one of those 60′s radicals) ran as a Democrat but he was running for ‘participatory democracy,’ civil rights and policies centering around peace and social justice.  You need to understand the difference or this discussion can’t get anywhere.”

The discussion didn’t get anywhere.

I knew this would happen when I traipsed over to the page, and so I deserved my frustration.  I didn’t get an answer to my question, but there is good news and hope for the conversation.  I spent the day with my sons and had friends over that night and we talked about the value of diversity.

And here’s what pleased me the most—-my conservative friend was one of them.

I’m With Stupid

My ex-wife thinks I’m stupid.  Okay, that, in and of itself, is not unusual; lots of people think I’m stupid.  And when we’re talking about the perceptions of ex-spouses, I’m sure the incidence of perceived stupidity is high, but my problem is that my ex is pretty smart and so when she calls me “stupid” I have reason to pause.

Pause.

300px-Stuart_SmalleyOkay, I’m not stupid (“…and I’m good enough and doggonit, people like me!”).  What I am is a person who is unable to wrap his mind around certain things.  Certain things like…taxes and insurance (and assembling shelves from IKEA).

4405_explodedDiagramReally smart people seem to be really smart in everything and they can read schematic diagrams with ease or hear presentations from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield guy and discern what plans make the most sense.  I, on the other hand, am confused as soon as I read:  “The party of the first part coveted to convey its entire interest in the subject real property to the party of the second part.”

And that’s not even a legal brief; those are the instructions for the nightstand I bought.

Where I really get confused, and where my ex-wife thinks I am several tickets shy of a packed house, is when it comes to understanding insurance.

Our youngest son was born with some problems in both of his ears.  He can hear, but does not have the full spectrum of response in either ear.  We are way past “tubes” and this is a case of some inner ear apparatus never having fully developed.  He has had two operations where cartilage has been grafted from one area into another to close gaps, but so far, nothing has been 100% successful and so he is going in for another.

Without going into unnecessary details, I simply do not understand what is covered, to what degree, how deductibles are met, what medications my insurance covers, and why I pay so much in premiums to have so little covered.

My ex is a dentist gh1and I’m sure there was a medical coding and billing class that was included in the curriculum and so this is second nature to her; the problem comes in explaining all of it to Gabby Hayes and for Gabby to ask questions that don’t annoy her.

This is not a post about the high costs of medicine or an indictment of health insurance companies (or my ex-wife); this is a post about how important matters have become so complicated that it takes a doctorate to understand them.  This is true in several aspects of our lives, but the most troubling to me are:

Taxes and Insurance.

Our taxes are so complicated, if just to get the breaks we are entitled to, we have to hire experts to fill out the forms.  “How,” I ask myself, “can it be right for taxes to be required from every working citizen, yet too complicated for any working citizen to understand?”

“If insurance is the only way to offset astronomical health costs,” (again, to myself), “is it fair that we need an industry in between the insurance companies and our best interests to interpret and define what is out there?”

The answer is probably “yes,” but that doesn’t solve the fundamental life issue I am trying to explore here:  How did we let things get so complex?

I usually begin writing with a thought already in my head and this windup has been somewhat rhetorical.  I do have a meta-physical idea as to why our lives have gotten so complex.

fear02It is because of….(drum roll)….our FEAR.

The fear that we will be killed.  Or hurt.  Fear that we will lose, be lied to, forget, taken advantage of, exploited, cheated, cajoled, left out, left in, left to die, left to live, given less, too much, starved or drowned.

We are afraid and so we create provisions, instructions, diagrams, briefs, and orders to clarify, explain, disclose, divulge, divest and disclaim, everything and anything that could confuse, confound or confute in order to placate and protect our interests, needs, investments, wants and….fears.

Fear is a vital, emotional response to perceived danger, and it’s important.  If we didn’tfear-brain feel fear, we couldn’t protect ourselves from threats.  It is as primal and integrated into our being as anything can be, including hunger, thirst or our need to be loved.

Fear may occur in response to anything perceived as a risk to health or life, status, security, or even wealth and anything held valuable.

For this reason society (particularly an advanced industrial one) creates a matrix of systems designed around assuaging our fears.  So tax codes and insurance programs have become complex to navigate around lawsuits, counter suits, and claims so that we (we, meaning you, me, government and insurance companies) have the least amount of exposure to myriad vulnerabilities.

But, this is where I get scared because with increased complexity comes increased confusion and consequences.

Just the other day I read a post from a friend who did his own taxes (God forbid) and made a small $60 mistake.  The IRS has descended on him with threats of withholding income and property liens.

I guess he should have called H&R Block.

Another friend recently called his attorney and is in the middle of translating legalese to understand insurance-ese because in the fine print of his health insurance agreement his condition required another opinion that he never got.

Apparently, the profuse bleeding led him to making a hasty decision.

And I got an earful when I asked my ex-wife if she was using my insurance to get medication for our son because it was my understanding that the plan I chose had a co-pay that would only be $2 instead of $75.  Apparently that is only for generics in a 3 tier prescription drug program that I didn’t understand.

But, I’m kind of stupid that way.

A Rich Heritage

thCAXY929MHow many of you knew that the concept of an individual mandate to purchase healthcare was initially proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation?

During the George HW Bush administration the conservative think tank devised an alternative to the single-payer health care being proposed by Democrats and it followed reasoning that was proposed by President Richard Nixon in 1974 (and even that was an extension of what Republican President Eisenhower had considered 20 years earlier).  Nixon’s plan required employers to buy private health insurance for their employees and gave subsidies to those who could not afford insurance.

Nixon argued that this market-based approach would build on the strengths of the private system:  “Government has a great role to play, but we must always make sure that our doctors will be working for their patients and not for the federal government.”

No one said “boo” that Nixon’s plan was “unconstitutional,” and the irony is that it faced opposition from Democrats who were insisting on single-payer.

15 years later, 142116_Papel-de-Parede-MonokuRo-Boo-Boo_1280x800an individual mandate was championed by Republicans as a free-market approach to health care because, according to the Heritage Foundation, it “resonated with conservative principles”; it promoted individual responsibility and opened up the unique healthcare market to endless profitability.

In 2006, Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, enacted an individual health-insurance mandate (with bipartisan support) and “RomneyCare” was praised.  Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said:  “Take some good conservative ideas, like private health insurance, and apply them to the need to have everyone insured.”

untitledRomney himself said: “I’m proud of what we’ve done. If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be the model for the nation.”

And then….

Barack Obama, running for President in 2008, took the torch for healthcare reform passed from Senator Ted Kennedy and made it part of his platform.  He was elected partly because of that promise, yet it was very clear from the outset that a single-payer reform, or anything resembling Universal Healthcare, would never meet the congressional approval needed to pass.  So, newly elected President Obama dusted off the Conservative Handbook and the Affordable Care Act was born.

It was hurried, however, as time was going to run short when Republicans started to oppose the mandate (they did as soon as it was wrested from them) – and if it didn’t pass with Democrats in control of Congress it probably never would.  In fact, in 2009, every Republican Senator voted to describe the mandate as “unconstitutional”  and Republicans, who had previously supported individual mandates, including Romney, emerged as critics of Obama’s legislation.

Why would they oppose what they once supported, even created?

The answer is simple:  Politics.

It had to be sobering for Republican leadership to realize that if a Democrat were successful with giving Americans health coverage, and by opening up the health market to new opportunities by further commoditizing health to the benefit of insurance companies, that the Republican Party would be rendered irrelevant.  Especially after the economic catastrophe realized by George W Bush’s continuation of what his own father dubbed (Dubya’d?) as “Voodoo Economics” that was part and parcel with the new conservative movement.

As so, the right wing emerged with a bankrolled vengeance and a new message was spoon fed to the masses by Fox News and conservative pundits:  “ObamaCare is unconstitutional and unsustainable.”

And it wasn’t a hard spin to sell.  Republicans had hammered spending, budget and big government to the point where anything implemented by President Obama became a “cost burden that we cannot afford.”  Never mind that deficit spending was practically pioneered by President Reagan or thatobamacare5 it was Bush-era spending and tax cuts for the wealthy while funding two wars that ushered in the deepest Recession in nearly 80 years; healthcare reform was going to be labeled “Big Government Spending” and “Socialism.”

Never mind that ACA was a realization of conservative political thinking; this was now Obama’s and the right wing would give no quarter.   The only agenda Republicans drew upon with consistent obedience was to destroy a Democratic presidency.

It would be laughable, if it weren’t so devious and disingenous, but just today I saw a Koch brothers financed, anti-Bruce Braley commercial that accused Braley of supporting “ObamaCare which only lines the pockets of insurance companies.”  It seems that Republicans bank on Americans having a short memory and know they can win when voters don’t care to look at even recent history; today polls are favoring them in the Midterm elections- largely due to the negative perception of ObamaCare they created.

I am all in favor of voicing conflicting points of view in the Town Square; it is the way our Republic was intended to serve the best ideas.  I believe that the polarity from opposing ideologies can lead to those new and better ideas.  I do not believe that there are any flawless realizations of any philosophical or ideological agenda, but when one side of the political fence changes the core principles of their platform simply to oppose the other, then we are not having the spirited debates that lead us to improved legislation; we are only playing a dishonest political game to gain power….

And it isn’t good for the health of the American people.

Mr. Kroeger Goes To Des Moines

Mr_ Smith Goes to WashingtonRecently, I joined a group that was invited to the State Capitol to petition legislators during the 85th Iowa General Assembly, and I must admit to being a bit awestruck.  Even as a salty old wonk that has followed, written and preached about government and civic duty for decades, I felt like a grade-schooler on a field trip; I was amazed at the majesty of it all.

20140401_140344That being said….there was a strange brew of optimism along with frustration as we talked to lawmakers about our initiative; I was simultaneously emboldened by the process and….a little aggravated.

Let me start by telling you about the initiative.

A Not-For-Profit foundation called “Sing Me to Heaven” presented themselves to my Rotary Club in January and we were uniquely moved by their mission.  That mission is to provide low income families who have lost a child with financial assistance toward funeral costs.

“Sing Me to Heaven” was created in 2011 after Jennifer Mehlert, a young mother, lost her daughter Natalie and suffered the reality of financial burden during her overwhelming grief.  Along with her own mother, Diane McIntosh, they committed themselves, in Natalie’s memory, to help other parents, usually young, who have no insurance or financial security, with up to $2000 toward funeral costs.  The intention and hope is to alleviate some of the pain and burden the grieving family suffers. (www.singmetoheaven.org )

The bill asks for a one-time grant of $100,000 to set up an infrastructure and also to promote the organization so that it can self-fund into perpetuity.

While there are counties and funeral homes that provide assistance to bury children, there are still hundreds of families annually, in Iowa alone, who do not receive help, and SMTH is the only organization in the country attempting to bridge that gap.

From a personal perspective, not only do I feel that this is a worthy cause to support but I believe that it is an opportunity for the State of Iowa to affirm its place in the nation as a compassionate state that believes in the quality of life.  By assuring that no family in Iowa, who has suffered life’s most unimaginable loss, will be denied the proper burial of their child, our state can be proud as the First in the Nation to do so.

So….back to the Capitol.

For those who don’t know, citizens, ordinary folks like you and me, can wait outside of the House of Representatives and petition lawmakers.  There is a note that you fill out stating your purpose (in our case a bill has been filed by Representative Bob Kressig) and who you would like to talk to, that is given to the Doorman.  The Doorman 20140401_120821delivers it to a Page who, in turn, presents it to a Representative inside.

The representative may not be present or they may have other pressing matters, but more often than not, they will come out of the chamber to speak to you.

A conversation ensues where we first present the details of our bill and respond to their questions.  But, the ultimate purpose is to get their support so that it is, at least, offered to go to a committee for discussion.  Obviously, the more representatives who support your cause, the more likely it will be put into the Session agenda.

I should preface, that Rep. Kressig also called a Press Conference where news agencies that cover Des Moines are invited to hear about the case we’re going to lobby.  As a marketer, I certainly understand the strategy; the more buzz, the more attention, the more likely we are to be taken seriously.

Now the good news….

Every representative we talked to (around 10), whether a Democrat or a Republican (and at least one who aligns with the Tea Party) were engaged and respectful.  I’m not going to mention names because I have no intention here of holding anyone to the fire (I have mentioned Bob Kressig, however, because he has been a champion for this bill) but I was sincerely impressed by their genuine desire to do good work for the people of Iowa.  I don’t believe that one single person resides in that chamber to collect a (very) meager paycheck or who is not there to serve to the best of their ability.

The fact that people can come to the Capitol to petition or redress their government, to20140401_130912-1 ears that will listen, reminded me of the fundamental concept of our representative democracy.  The Capitol Building is filled with concerned citizens, activist groups, students and legislators who are trying to make a positive difference in our lives.

I have always said that the most elemental obligation of every citizen is to cast informed votes, but my eyes were opened to something every bit as crucial:  the activity of a government of, for and by the People.

Most of us can do far more than argue on Facebook and in bars; we can stand in the hallways of government to make our voices heard.

Now the bad news….

While every representative was, indeed, thoughtful and engaged, they nevertheless followed their party-line rhetoric.  To the “D’s” this was a can-do initiative, but to the “R’s” that we need there was a wall of “I don’t think we have the money” or “We’ll look at this next year.”

More frustrating were the political procedures that even the representatives themselves admitted created processes of confusion.

“I think this is a Policy Bill and you need to take it to the Senate.”

“This falls under Human Health and Services and you need to go there first.”

“This is an Appropriations Committee bill and we have our budget set.”

“I don’t think we need a committee discussion on this.”

“If we were to put this into our budget what do we say to the myriad other requests that we’ll deny?”

Representative Kressig is not deterred or surprised by any of this.  He knows how, what, where and to whom, we have to maneuver, but it was impossible not to feel, even with the accessibility to Congress, that the machinery of politics can leave us out in the cold when their hands are tied by political favors, allegiances and more popular priorities.

But, there’s good news again….

The press we’ve received, letters to the editor to papers all over the state, has made us a real story.  Other citizens are seeing the value of compassion that Iowa can afford and that it distinguishes our commitment to the Quality of Life.  And some legislators are coming forward to acknowledge this opportunity to show their constituents that government is not always at odds with itself, and can serve the public good.  (https://news.google.com/news/i/story?ncl=dw0OwKu09TyLR9MTTbAnap6hzugaM&q=sing+me+to+heaven&lr=English&hl=en)

The lesson from this story?

Politics are cold, but people are not.  When people believe in something, whether as politicians or voters, we can make progress.  Budgets, appropriations, committees, alliances, debts and the press are all part of the process, but it is the passion of our beliefs that propel us into action and can lead us toward effective change.

 

“Bring your brooms!”

I saw a commercial for Marty Huggins….I’m sorry!  I meant Mark Jacobs, a Republican running for the senate seat about to be vacated by Tom Harken.  In it he makes his case by saying that he’s been a businessman who has had to “make payroll” and has “balanced budgets.”

That is the criteria that many Americans feel is needed the most in Washington.

Jacobs ends his spot by throwing a calculator into his box of things he’s bringing with him.  Cute.

I was reminded (actually, I’ve never forgotten) that this was the same rhetoric used in the 2010 elections by the likes of Romney, Trump, and well, just about every single Republican running for anything:  “Government is a business and I can run it!”

It makes sense to a lot people that during tough economic times we need ledger balance leaders from the business world.

(Curiously, many of the people who believe that, are up to their ears in debt, but it has been my experience that very few people actually live the way they say the rest of us should)

This idea could very well decide the Midterm elections and the course of America.  And it is wrong….dead wrong.

To start this off with a bang, does everyone know the history of businessmen as presidents?  There have been two:  Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush.

How’d they work out?

An economic disconnect was inevitable because our businessman-presidents failed to recognize a simple reality:  The Federal Government is not a business- it is a government.

Two very different definitions, objectives and responsibilities.  Nowhere in our Constitution is it outlined or stated that the form of government being created therein is to be run like a business. Nowhere in the Separation of Powers and the Branches of Government does it resemble the paradigm of a business. Nor does the purpose of a business share the responsibilities of representation.

“But Gary, government should be run like a business, that would be a good thing!” is the oppositional statement that I just made up so that I could address this argument.

The demand on a business is that it produces a profit; that is how it sustains, grows and gives the shareholders their dividends. There is no guarantee that it will be a successful business and fulfill that end into perpetuity, and so the responsibility for leadership falls on its CEO and the Board of Directors.  They alone make the decisions to realize that goal, but usually leverage their personal risk onto the business itself.

If you were to compare this paradigm to a form of government, it would more closely resemble a Dictatorship; the decisions are made at the top and implemented down the chain of command.  Employees (citizens) comply with the rules or lose their jobs.

A representative democracy (a Republic) is the form of government outlined by our Constitution where the fundamental objective is to “represent” its constituency, according to that charter, fairly and evenly.  Where the poorest, least powerful voices among us are represented as fully as anyone else.

The authority, therefore, rests in the body of the people, as a whole, and the leadership pyramid is turned upside down.

What has happened, causing a serious government dysfunction, is that the “people” in this great republican experiment have been marginalizing their own voice by allowing special interests, controlled by wealth, to invade policy.  Wealth, by its very nature, compromises equality and inevitably leads toward a plutocracy, which is anything but representative democracy.  Wealth, in and of itself, is not corrupt (and most of us share a desire to accumulate it), but it is also does not carry a moral directive, and when it overwhelms a system predicated on equality, justice can be corrupted.

The business model for government is the wrong vessel to correct the course of our societal and economic health. In fact, it is what we have been evolving toward for decades following neoliberal economic policy since the 1970′s and is the fundamental transformation that has weakened the consumer class.  It came to fruition under President Reagan’s ”trickle down” policies and was harvested by the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

Consider that those at the top of the economic pyramid have increased their holdings by 250% over the past 30 years.  The top 1% controls nearly half of America’s wealth and the top 10% controls 90%.  That is the business-model and it led us into a deep recession because the engine of capitalism, the Middle Class, has been squeezed into near non-existence.

If we want to correct our course and establish sustained prosperity by strengthing the consumer that spends the money that, in turn, grows the economy, the last thing we want to do is make America more of a “business” and less of a Republic.

Our trend toward appeasing the rich almost suggests a collective memory of the conservative allegiance to King George, leaving many people more comfortable with the thought of a Ruling Class.  Yet, we are still a free, democratic, republican government and we, collectively, hold the power over ourselves.  We cannot effectively exercise that power, however, until we agree on certain principles.

But, there’s good news– those principles are already written down, ratified and sworn to be upheld; they exist in our great charter; the Constitution.

Businesses employ us, create opportunity and fuel spending; there is nothing inherently wrong with the business model, but it isn’t a model for fair and impartial governance.  Only if we elect legislators who understand and support the constitutional tenets that protect freedom of religion, speech, inalienable rights, and egalitarian justice with equal representation, can we begin to create better “government.”

A business has little interest in, or need for, such ideas, unless they increase margins and profit for shareholders….like the Motch brothers.

 

 

My Confession

confessionI…am…a…hetero…sexual.

There!  I said it!  You can’t imagine the relief.  I didn’t choose to be this way, I just AM.  Some fateful decision was made before I was born, not by me, but by whatever forces that conspired to create me, to make me straight.

And somehow that choice is made for me every day because without any conscious decisions of my own I continue on this path of attraction to…girls.

Believe me!  I have showered around men and I have seen many a penis.  They just don’t do anything for mine.

(End of sarcasm)

Recently, I wrote a column in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier (http://wcfcourier.com/news/opinion/columnists/in-a-republic-the-majority-doesn-t-rule/article_2cce4f4f-548b-58b6-a916-94c78cc42f86.html) where I mentioned my disgust for the proposed legislation in Arizona to allow businesses to discriminate against gay people if their religious principles so dictated.  I have written many times, here and in the paper, about gay rights, the unconstitutional movements to restrict gay marriage, and in this particular Courier column concerning the definition of a Republic, I wrote of the duty of our representative democracy to defend their rights.

I wasn’t surprised that there would be discord from some people regarding my words, but one particular Letter to the Editor stood out:

“Gary Kroeger’s comments in Sunday’s Courier are typical of the left-wing portion of society.  So, let us ponder the following questions:  Are all women born women?  Are all blacks born black?  If you have a sex change operation, does it change your DNA? The answer is NO!  None of us had a choice as to where, when, sex, physical attributes or race when we were born.  But moral values are something we decide every day!  Being gay/lesbian is a matter of choice…..Is being forced to do business with people that want to be gays/lesbians a moral question or not?” -Dennis Buseman

(For the sake of venting, I’m going to address Mr. Buseman in the first person)

I’m not going to pull any punches here, Dennis.  I don’t have a full thimble of respect for your reasoning.  In fact, it is classic ill-logic.

Just as I didn’t choose my sexual orientation, how is it that gay people get to choose?Never mind asking why anyone would choose an orientation that leads to persecution from fake moralists like you, Dennis, or a life that many people want to deny basic human and civil rights to, like loving, monogamous matrimony.  Ask this:  Why are gay people wired to make choices about what attracts them physically (and emotionally) and we are not?

Maybe….they didn’t make a choice either, and they are as they were intended to be.

Or, maybe, Dennis….maybe, you’re finding yourself having to make the choice to be straight and that’s what confuses you.  Fortunately, there are a lot of people like me, and most of the gay people I know, who will accept you as you are.  Even as you fight the urge to become gay.

I know that you believe that your religious freedom gives you the right to make moral judgments about people who are different from you or who don’t believe as you do, but Dennis, this is where you have really lost your way.  And it isn’t just you, Dennis, there are millions of people just like you, trying desperately to force their will on everyone else.  But the “free exercise of religion” granted in the First Amendment does not imply that you have the right to deny others their rights.

People like you, Dennis, always seem to miss the Founding Father’s prefatory clauses and just before “free exercise” they wrote that the Constitution “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion.”  That means that even Christianity, the predominant religion in America then, and now, cannot determine our laws according to adherence to its doctrine.

That’s what freedom really means, Dennis.  And that is why I am calling you a fake moralist.  Morality is the determination between what is “good” and what is “bad” and who are you (even if there’s a majority just like you) to determine what choices were made by God, or nature, or Vishnu, or Allah, and which were not?

Or deep down inside, Dennis….is there a “bad” boy that wants to be heard?d_7426

We’re here for you over on the “left-wing portion” when you’re ready to come clean.

The Preamble Scramble

Avoid-Paying-Taxes-on-Your-Social-SecuritySomeone came into my office the other day and said, “I’m becoming a Libertarian.  I’m tired of big government in my life and I’m tired of government in my paycheck!”

I understood where he was coming from.  I’m working on my taxes right now and, ouch!  I don’t enjoy paying taxes, either, but I also don’t enjoy paying the cable bill; I realize that it’s just the reality I must accept from getting the service.

I do wonder, though, how much money I could keep in my paycheck if there wasn’t so much being allocated for…well…defense spending.

piechartI knew that my visitor was implying government spending on everything else, but nearly $700,000,000,000 a year must seem at least a little excessive to anyone.  We talked for a while and what he didn’t like were things like the Department of Education, the FDA, the EPA, welfare programs, and Social Security.

When I do a little math, though, I see that aside from Social Security, I don’t lose that much from my check to welfare, and except for the proportion that is spent on defense, I think I’m taxed moderately to run a nation with the services and benefits we have.

I asked my visitor, “Will you be making personal contributions to national defense to make up for less taxes?”

ace1He replied, “That’s what I’m happy to pay.  Government should take care of national defense and the infrastructure of the United States and nothing more.”

I agreed.  But, the question arises:  What is the infrastructure of the United States?

The preamble to the Constitution states:

“We the People of the United States, in order the-preamble-to-the-united-states-constitution,75366to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity….”

From this we can probably agree on the services necessary to protect Americans and our economic health:  National defense, highways, waterways, railways, sewers, utilities, and communication networks.

But what else is contained within promoting “the general welfare” and the “domestic tranquility” of the people?

Most people (including me) don’t hesitate to include schools and hospitals, but where do we draw the line?  The quality of education provided in those schools?  And what about the entire health system?  What is a hospital without the best care possible?

What is “domestic tranquility”?  Does that include social services?

And where is the line drawn for “common defense”?  Who defines the parameters of necessary defense before it becomes aggressive offense?

My office visitor left right after I said, “Government is what we’ve made it.  It is naïve to suggest that all we have to do is cut spending and cut programs and government will automatically get smaller.”

He left, but I silently continued my reasoning.

Government has grown as our country has grown.  We, the People, have demanded that our government protect our interests in areas that far exceed our Framer’s original understanding of Common Defense and General Welfare.

I would’ve asked my visitor:  “When a passenger jet crashes, would you be satisfied with an explanation from Boeing that it will never happen again, or do you prefer that there is an FAA that investigates the crash without bias and has the authority to instigate changes to prevent that mistake from happening again?”

“When toxic waste is poured into a river and the neighboring town gets sick, would it be enough for the townspeople to ask that the company please refrain from doing that?  Or do we need the aggregate voice of all the people (government) to demand new practices?

“When the lunchmeat is bad at school, what will protect our children from the choice a provider made to hold better margins?

The answer?  Government of, by, and for the People.

300px-YeomanThe Libertarian ideal, the one that includes Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy of agrarian government, can no longer exist because the conflicting interests and demands of 315 million people (and counting) ensures that simplicity will never again be the operating system of America.

There is a reason government has not shrunk even when we’ve had Republican presidents with a Republican Congress.  It’s like changing a tire on a moving car; most of the programs and services contained within government were created by our own demands upon that system.  In many cases spending (welfare spending, as well) has increased under the watch of the party who stands most firmly against it.

We can, and should, talk about defining government responsibilities.  We can, and should, talk about controlling spending, and we should talk about redundancies and unnecessary government programs. But, those directives do not necessarily create smaller government or keep “government out of our paychecks.”  They can, however, aim our conversations toward creating “better” government.

Government is the foundation of representation and the realization of our Founder’s vision.  It is improved by cooperating within the system designed by our Constitution, by researching the issues, by participating with our votes, and even with our protests.

put-money-back-in-your-pocketThe argument about the size of government has derailed and sidetracked the solutions that actually could put more money back into our own pockets.

Let’s leave talking about size to fishermen and insecure guys in bars.

 

It’s “Kai-TA-zo-vich,” in case you’re wondering.

anesa-kajtazovic-postala-gradonacelnica-grada-u-americiI recently joined Anesa Kajtazovic’s campaign for Iowa’s 1st District.  Anesa will have to get through the Democratic primary first, but waiting for her on the other side may be another current representative in Des Moines, Republican Walt Rogers.

I met with Anesa for an hour and a half the other day to discuss issues.  I shared my concerns and hot buttons and she stated her positions.  I was impressed by Anesa’s views on economic growth and job creation, support for our Veterans, civil rights issues and education.  At a time when voters are begging for new blood in Washington to change the way it does business, here is a woman who stepped out of that very idea.  Anesa carved out a uniquely American success story as an immigrant from war torn Bosnia, working hard to overcome language and cultural barriers, earning her degree and becoming a highly respected Representative in Des Moines.

She is smart, compassionate, she studies, listens and articulates well researched and thought out ideas.  Her cause is better served by her own voice rather than mine, but I will certainly write in more detail about Anesa Kajtazovic in the future, as well as host coffees and events on her behalf.  What I want to address here is the message of the opposition she will likely face.

Walt Rogers perfectly personifies the new Republican platform (with a Tea Party twist for flavor) that has emerged over the past 8 years.  It is a platform that has been a source of frustration as I talk politics with some people who don’t seem interested in looking beyond rhetoric.   Allow me add a necessary caveat to my perspective:  I know Walt and he is a nice man.  A great father and husband and I trust that his beliefs are from a genuine intention to serve faithfully.  That being said, I also believe that his sincerity has been seduced by ideological fallacies drawn from a conservative agenda being bankrolled by selfish interests.

I “Walt-zed” over to his website to do my research.

Walt Roger’s theme is “Smaller, Smarter Government.”  Great slogan.  Who wouldn’t want government that is smaller and smarter?  We could pay even less in taxes and get the same protections and benefits that a government of, by and for the people, provides!

“Smaller, Smarter Government” is a lovely turn of a phrase but…it’s ultimately as disingenuous as saying “Elect me and I will heal all of the sick babies!”

Who doesn’t want that?  Once elected, though, Republicans, historically provide only band aids and say, “You should’ve known that we can’t cure them all and that’s all we’ve got.”  In fact, that is the classic Republican modus operandi; say what you need to say to win and then do what you need to do to reward the money that got you there.

On his website, Rogers lists a series of problems with our current government and follows with his solutions.  Great copy to make his case, except there is a fundamental flaw…almost none of it is true.

Each premise is built on the false perceptions and made up conflicts drawn from the well of Fox News and conservative pundits, fanned by Tea Party propaganda and covered by….Fox News, conservative pundits and Tea Partiers.  Rogers gives solutions to problems that don’t exist, at least not in the way that they’re stated.

Let me preface this by saying that I, by no means, think that things are perfect and that President Obama and Democrats have gotten everything right.  But I’m much happier with the way things are than the way things were.  What I really believe is that people like Anesa are the future of new ideas and Washington cooperation and that Walt Rogers represents the opposite direction (or more of the same).

Here’s what Roger’s website has to say (with my reply after each):

•A massive federal takeover of health care that is quickly becoming less of a real “law” and more of a lawless hierarchy of privilege where those with connections, money, and power get exemptions and the rest of us get stuck.

MISLEADING Exemptions were made for businesses to adapt to the change.  1,231 companies applied for and received waivers from the law’s restrictions on annual benefit caps. The law requires plans to gradually raise their benefit limits, and all annual limits will become illegal in 2014.

•Loss of full-time jobs due to ObamaCare’s employer mandate, leading to increasing levels of part-time employment and unemployment.

MISLEADING.  While some larger firms who have to provide insurance for employees come 2015 are cutting back employee hours to part-time to avoid paying for their health coverage, others like WalMart, have moved thousands of workers from part-time to full-time to embrace the law.  Also, many smaller firms will be able to hire more workers due to their ability to provide them with better benefits at cheaper rates.  ObamaCare itself funds the creation of new jobs in healthcare sectors.  Some job loss will be seen in the form of full-time workers losing hours- but job growth will result from new healthcare related jobs.

•Futile attempts to “stimulate” the economy by spending massive amounts of money borrowed from our grandchildren.

FALSE.  In a survey by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, 80 percent of the economists surveyed agreed with the Congressional Budget Office that the unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been without the stimulus law.  The stimulus plan under the current administration was essentially a continuation of the Bush administration policy and until it became a talking point to oppose Obama, Republicans generally accepted stimulus strategies.

•Complex, unpredictable laws creating an environment hostile to business, leading to even higher unemployment and underemployment rates.

FALSE.  Unemployment is down regardless of what Walt Rogers wants to print.  The “unpredictable laws” such as Dodd-Frank were designed to prevent predatory lending and unscrupulous tactics that destroyed pensions and savings due to a lack of regulations in the market.  This administration’s biggest effort has been lending.  Since the beginning of the recession, loans to small businesses dropped because banks have been reluctant and President Obama implemented the Small Business Lending Fund.  Many tax breaks have also been given and corporate cash reserves are at all time highs.  Hardly a “hostile” environment.

•Trying to regulate our children’s education with top-down, one-size-fits-all approaches like “No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core.”

DISINGENOUS.  At least Rogers is taking a non-partisan position here as “No Child Left Behind” was a Bush Administration program (and I personally agree that “Common Core” does not address the real educational issues either).  Problems in education, however, will not benefit from Roger’s austerity plans.

•A runaway, out-of-control EPA working to make sure President Obama’s promise of “skyrocketing energy prices” becomes reality.

MISINFORMED.   The “skyrocket” quote was taken out of context from an answer to what Cap and Trade can do to electricity prices and as a result, reduce consumption.  Obama, when running for President in 2008 outlined his basic energy premise:  “I think that we have been slow to move in a better direction when it comes to energy usage…we’ve been consuming energy as if it’s infinite. We now know that our demand is badly outstripping supply…”  Oil has fluctuated as it has for 10 years, natural gas prices are down and electricity may see an increase but it hasn’t yet.  Even with the sober and sensible warnings that halted the Keystone Pipeline, American oil production is up.

•Overloading people and businesses with taxes that cost Iowans jobs every day.

NOT TRUE.  President Obama hasn’t raised taxes as President Reagan, for example, did 11 times (yes he cut them, as well, but raised them on the middle and lower classes to offset debt).  And despite Republican assertions, Obama has cut spending and the national debt at its fastest rate since World War II.

Iowa, by the way, has created jobs and has an unemployment rate that is half of the national average.

So, Rogers now offers his “Smaller, Smarter” solutions:  1) Dismantling ObamaCare, 2) Unleashing American energy production, 3) Making sure our laws apply equally to all (but not to Gay people, of course), 4) Making education a state, rather than national concern, 5) Defending 2nd Amendment rights, as well as 6) Right to Life protections.

I’ll translate:  1) Allow our nation’s health to once again become commoditized and putting average Americans at risk of bankruptcy, 2) Unnecessarily escalating toxic environmental disaster in order to increase energy margins, 3) Double standards for justice, 4) Decrease funding to public education further crippling inner city schools, 5) Proliferating guns by making access to lethal weapons even easier, and 6) Using religious doctrine, contrary to the 1st Amendment, to increase the scope of government.

This is “Smarter”?  How so?

Is this “Smaller”?  Yes, if what he means is a smaller capacity to serve the American people.

Campaign slogans can be shorthand to understanding a candidate’s essential platform.  They can also be shorthand to understanding that the wool has been pulled over their eyes.

anesa_kajtazovicI’m not sure if Anesa has a slogan yet.  Here’s one that would fit nicely:

“Better Government That Works!”

 

 

Please take a moment to learn more about Anesa Kajtzsovic and consider donating to her campaign http://www.anesaforcongress.org/

Nut Neutrality

net-neutrality-e1292943634345How many of you are aware of an issue that’s been called “Net Neutrality”?  If you aren’t already, it will be coming to your town soon—WHOA!- It’s already there!

Quickly explained, “neutrality” is what has governed the Internet and that means basically–nothing.  Internet content, and accessibility to it, has been on a neutral plane with no guardian at the gate determining what goes through and what doesn’t.  Neutrality is what built the internet into the global, free speech communication system that we have.

Network providers like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, however, want to control the content and accessibility to it.

They would scale platforms with varying fees and become the “guardians” determining what information goes through and the connectivity to it.  By controlling the quality of content they will have the ability to reduce competition, thereby creating a huge profit opportunity.

The neutrality that has been the platform for free speech on the Internet began to change about a month ago as Verizon won an appeals court challenge to U.S. equal treatment rules for the Internet.  The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington sent the rules governing what’s known as “net neutrality” back to the Federal Communications Commission, saying the agency overreached in barring broadband providers from slowing or blocking selected Web traffic.

The FCC rules required high-speed Internet providers that use fiber- optic or other cable to treat all traffic equally and disclose their network practices. The challenge to this rule could leave companies such as Netflix and Amazon facing higher charges for the fastest service.

FCC_disc_logo_blueFor the record, the mission of the FCC is to “make communication services available…to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, etc.”  As the technologies of radio and television expanded, the corporate interests of “Networks” monopolized airtime to diminished affiliate programming (compromising the free market and free speech) and the FCC was created.

Ironically, the loudest opposition to Net Neutrality comes from those “Constitutional Purists” who call themselves “The Tea Party” who claim to stand for individual liberty as their preeminent ideal.  The head of one tea party organization says she is concerned that the policy (net neutrality) would increase government regulation and power, calling net neutrality one of many “assaults on individual liberties.”

In a letter to the FCC, the Tea Party group wrote: “Despite universal acknowledgement that Americans enjoy a free, open, and vibrant internet, the FCC is relentlessly pursuing a massive regulatory regime that would stifle broadband expansion, create congestion, slow internet speeds, jeopardize job retention and growth, and lead to higher prices for consumers.”

Chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation Jamie Radtke contends that the Tea Party has been increasingly concerned with the issue of net neutrality. “It’s starting to get onto the radar now,” she said. “I think the clearest thing is it’s an affront to free speech and free markets.”

net_neutralitySo, in other words….the position of the Tea Party is that by allowing communication corporations to determine and regulate what goes over the internet and to charge fees for tiered programs to access it; that is a better realization of free speech than it would be to keep them out and allow the system to operate without such restrictions.

No, it doesn’t make sense, does it?

But, in reality their voices are being bankrolled by people like Dick Armey and the corporate interests that want to control our content.  So, I guess it does make sense now, doesn’t it?

Do the architects of this opposition believe that a corporate takeover of an information system is the Free Market at work?!

Well…their money does.

Government is the line of protection between us (the People) and the interest of big business to increase profits at our peril.  Those profits, by the way, come out of our pockets.  This corporate-pandering “Armey” of zealots are using their agenda as a defense of “freedom” and a warning of “the encroachment of government” and then disseminating that message to the rank and file who wear tricorn hats, holding muskets from Walmart’s toy department, in Bank of America parking lots.Tea-Partyrally-June-19-2013-IRS

The most basic political issues come to bear here:  What is the role of government?  When does it protect us and when can our freedoms be diminished?  Who and what will best defend the interests of the People?  What are the interests of the information providers (the essential free press) and who controls the messages we receive?

It is with this knowledge that we form our opinions and those opinions are what shape and protect our freedom.

I will close with a statement a friend of mine (Paul Barrosse) wrote last year in his own blog:  “Our representative government is what stands between us and the rapacious depredations of a corporate oligarchy that’s been amassing money and power at a clip not seen since the Gilded Age of the Robber Barons. Our common fight isn’t against Big Government, which protects our water, food and air — and provides a host of other services and protections that individual Americans cannot provide on their own. Rather, we must be vigilant about the rise of corporate personhood and power.”

Well said, sir, well said.

Petition to protect net neutrality http://www.brucebraley.com/landing/w140214/?subsource=CK-BR-NN-A02-FB-FBLP.D-FKW-CUS-CT1-BO-30p-T01.P01.C03

 

 

“Stand By Your Manor”

thCAWSCTB2“Stand Your Ground” law keeps popping up in the news; most recently as a retired police chief in Florida is claiming that defense after shooting a man who was armed with popcorn in a movie theater.  This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; this is exactly what happens in a society where people carry guns into the town square and have at their disposal a defense that could exonerate them from any wrongdoing.

When the fundamental principle of any civilized society, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” becomes vague, the circumstances that challenge it will widen.  Or as comedian Louis CK put it:  “The law against murder is the number one thing preventing murder.”

“Stand Your Ground” law falls under Castle Doctrine and states that a person’s abode (or, in some states, any place legally occupied, such as a car or place of work) is a place in which the person has certain protections and immunities and may in certain circumstances attack an intruder without becoming liable to prosecution.  It states further that a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first.

The problems with these initiatives are not their purpose to protect our domicile, our family or our person, positions we ALL share, but in the language that accompanies them:  “without becoming liable to prosecution.”

This is a sharp turn to the right (or left, I’m not drawing political lines) that compromises the foundation of liberty and justice.  In fact, it is the degeneration of justice.  Castle Doctrine implies that if a person has to consider their legal grounds that they will not act appropriately to protect themselves, so by eliminating that concern, they will.   But by making such an action immune to prosecution it also means that justice becomes less relevant than what a sane society should demand from its judicial charters.

I understand the support that follows this legislation, as I myself have considered what I would do if my children were threatened or in defense of my own person.  I would attempt to destroy any threat to any degree necessary, but putting the law into the hands of individuals and away from the aggregate wisdom of the people challenges the very concept of justice as defined by the Amendments to our Constitution.

Castle Doctrine is reactionary and symptomatic of the greater illness permeating modern society:  The sickness of fear and suspicion.

It is what we are seeing in Arizona with profiling laws that allow for legal citizens to be apprehended on the fear that they might be illegal.  It is witnessed by American imperialism due to the fear of enemies overseas; it is the creation of the Patriot Act that compromises our personal freedoms in the name of intelligence gathering due to fear of losing our freedoms!

In Florida alone, the law has resulted in self-defense claims tripling and all but one killed has been unarmed.

Critics argue that the law makes it very difficult to prosecute cases against people who shoot and then claim self-defense because they felt threatened, and in most cases, the only other witness is the victim who was killed.

thCADVHF9FMiami police chief John F. Timoney called the law unnecessary and dangerous:  “Whether its trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn’t want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you’re encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn’t be used.”

At a National District Attorneys Association symposium concerns were voiced that “Stand Your Ground” laws could increase crime as criminals could use the law as a defense for their crimes.  They questioned safety when more people are carrying guns, and they concluded that people would not feel safe if they felt that anyone could use deadly force in a conflict.  The report also noticed that the misinterpretation of clues could result in use of deadly force when there was, in fact, no danger.

Again, I understand why people are saying, “Enough is enough!  I have the right to protect my home, my family and myself!” and I do not disagree, the question becomes how while maintaining impartial justice in a civilized society.  We have a long history in America of creating shorthand solutions to longhand problems and that’s what Castle Doctrine follows.   A law that exonerates a shooter because they make what appears to be a fair claim of self-defense is reckless and ultimately un-constitutional.

Put the 2nd Amendment blank check aside for a moment and let’s focus on solutions to save lives and reduce crime.  These laws, designed to give gun owners justifiable reasons to use their guns, do not reduce crime or create greater security around us.  They are instead reckless, irresponsible, and frankly, uncivilized.

They are the result of fear and suspicion and are the antithesis of what true justice requires:  Sanity, logic and reason.

Sanity, Logic and Reason…Oh, my!th