To Sir, With Love (a defense of teachers)

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In a never ending quest to bridge ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans (and Independents and Libertarians), I consistently engage in conversations with people with whom differences exist. If I have any trait for which I may be uniquely suited as a representative, it is that I welcome such engagement.  And it is with a genuine purpose to reach understanding.

This leads to a lot of anecdotal evidence, and I’ve even been criticized for my posts that begin with, “I was talking to a Republican friend the other day…” but that is criticism I gladly accept. I believe that it is from real interaction and not platitudes from slanted media or party doctrine, that we can glean the truth.  So….

I was talking to a Republican friend the other day…

And we were talking about education. His position was that we spend enough of our budget on education (“It’s the biggest percentage”) and he’s tired of hearing about how we don’t have enough money for teachers and programs when he’s “paying for professors who take the summer off and teach only 15 hours a week.”

(By the way, I have his permission to share this story)

“I don’t mind paying taxes,” he told me, “but I do mind paying for things I shouldn’t have to.”

That last statement said a lot. First of all, I agree with that statement 100%.  I want the same value for every dollar I pay in taxes as much as any Republican or Libertarian.  Truth be told, so do most Democrats.  The question is:  What should we pay for and when are we paying too much?

Easy question to ask, but if it were easy to answer, Congress would be toasting each other across the aisle rather than sit-ins, government shut downs and unscheduled vacations. Even when we consider all of the gradations of party affiliations like Libertarians, Independents, the Green Party or the Tea Party, what our conflict boils down to is what criteria do we use to examine evidence, and at what point are we convinced that we have enough information?

Again, easier said than done. My friend pointed out that our education budget is inflated because of the salaries of college professors, “protected by unions” who “often put in less than half a normal work week” and take the Summer off while “still getting paid well above what such a schedule should allow.”

“I don’t accept that teachers have to be laid off,” he continued, “or that classes have to be cut, because the Iowa Legislature approved only a 2.25% increase rather than 4%. That money is just going to salaries.”

We were in the company of others who all agreed with his statement.

“Well….” I said, “I believe that you are determining your policy based on a myth. A myth that is being perpetuated within Republican ranks by conservative media.  From my view, it is created to diminish the value of education, in general.”

I knew that I was going to get a reaction that was less than positive, but I was telling the truth as I saw it.

He countered:  “I’m fine with paying taxes toward education and I’m fine with the fact that most of our budget goes toward education, but it isn’t a ‘myth’ that a lot of it is being wasted. What we don’t need to do is spend more.”

“Then why is Iowa ranked in the middle,” I asked, “and in some studies toward the bottom in several measures of education where we used to lead the nation?”

His answer was swift. “Because we are allowing for substandard results, and letting bad teachers continue to teach because their union protects them.”

Not a beat that I haven’t heard before from the drums of modern conservativism.  My mother was a teacher, many of my closest friends are teachers, and so this is territory in which I am not unfamiliar.

“Okay,“ I said, “let me tell you what I know. Most teacher salaries do not keep pace with inflation.  One of my college professor-friends works at another job all summer simply because of the fact that her salary does not pay all the bills.  During the summer, she, like many others, takes classes to improve her knowledge in her field, in order to continually improve her curriculum.”

My friendly adversary smiled (was not convinced), and asked if we could continue this at another time, as we were both on our way to other functions.  I told him I would and today I emailed him my thoughts:

During the school year the time in the classroom is only a third of the time required forteacher-and-students each class. They prepare lessons, grade papers, counsel students, stay after school tutoring those who are struggling, and also keeping up with meetings and myriad activities required by an institution.  Offhand, I’d say those ‘low hour’ teachers are putting in 20% more time, year ‘round, than the average full time worker.  That’s not to mention the research that is required by a university.  Research incumbent upon them in order to keep their jobs, but also that’s critically important work in the broad scheme of improving society.

The average salary for a college professor in the U.S. is just over $70,000 annually. Nothing to sneeze at, but not exactly inflated.  K through 12 is around $40,000.  When compared to real hours dedicated to their students and schools (not the ‘myth” of sabbaticals in the Bahamas and diminished hours during the day) they are being grossly undervalued.

In Iowa, first year teachers are paid below the national average. I know of several young graduates from UNI who have left the state for better salaries in Minnesota and elsewhere.  How do we compete if we do not retain, or even attract, the best new teachers?  How does America compete globally if we don’t start with the teachers themselves?

And if it’s economic impact that concerns us the most, a Stanford University study concluded every excellent teacher (determined as above average by a defined criteria) raises each student’s lifetime earnings by $20,000. If there are 20 students in one class, that is $400,000 more generated income. If that seems like small potatoes in an individual sense, consider that there are 21 thQWFDNSJRmillion students in America. That’s over 80 trillion dollars.

What is imperative is to listen to the teachers themselves who are saying that they are not getting the funding for the tools, and to retain the teachers and classes, that give our students the best advantage.

A state representative said to me the other day: “Do you think teachers are happy with the budget the state of Iowa has given them?  Ask them.”

I did. They aren’t.

I immediately received an email response and it was short and direct, but also respectful:

“We can agree to disagree. State government is wasteful in many ways and I can point to several cases where funds were allotted to various institutions that simply inflated salaries.  I simply cannot absolve government when it comes to oversight and spending our tax dollars the most efficiently.”

On that, I do not disagree. And from here, maybe we can build a consensus or coalition or even re-evaluate some ideas.  At the very least, we can continue a respectful conversation.

And at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of every worthwhile exchange, there will be education.…maybe, that’s what we need more of, in general.

 

 

Who’s on Second?

We have this tendency in America to fictionalize the stories of our founders in order to create a shorthand understanding of their great accomplishments.

George Washington certainly told a lie, but it inspires us to believe that the Founding Fathers were cut from divine cloth.

This has been on my mind as I read positions regarding gun control in the wake of Orlando and after the epidemic of murders from California, Oregon, Connecticut, Colorado, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, and Auburn.  As anti gun-control activists apply the protection of the Second Amendment they often embellish the authors with a clairvoyance above mere mortals.

But mortals they were…

They were not mystics and wizards and could not imagine the technologies that would emerge from their infant nation.  In their time a “well regulated militia” (of farmer-soldiers) was necessary to supplement the national army to protect the sovereignty of our nation against foreign invasion.  It was inconceivable at the time that a militia would ever become irrelevant.

And so having, at the ready, armed citizens, to protect their young and vulnerable country from an invading army was logical. They included, therefore, a prefatory clause in their Second Amendment:  “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state….”

After the massacre in Orlando, the gun control debate has re-ignited, and four bills regarding background checks and FBI authority went before the Senate (two Republican-drafted bills and two Democratic bills).  All four were struck down.

Background check expansion is the low hanging fruit in this debate and even there bi-partisan cooperation could not be found.  Iowa Senator Joni Ernst supported Iowa Senator Charles Grassley’s amendment to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and to give the FBI three days to investigate an individual to confirm or rule out links to terrorism (if evidence is found, the FBI could seek a warrant from a judge to prevent the transfer of a gun to that individual), but that appeared as smoke and mirrors to Democrats who saw it as too weak with too many constraints to make a difference.

The concern of Republicans was defense of due process and not subjugating law- abiding citizens to unlawful restrictions regarding the purchase of guns.  Ernst regarded the amendment as a “reasonable solution … without unlawfully infringing on law-abiding U.S. citizens’ Second Amendment rights.”  That, in and of itself, is not an unreasonable statement, but it will not bring us any closer to a resolution.

The central argument that needs to be understood is not even being raised.  Or, if it is, it is so divisive it simply cannot be resolved.  And that is:  What are those Second Amendment rights?  How far do they extend?  Do they include weapons designed for the military?

I asked a friend who disagrees with me on the issue of gun control and he said, “There are no restrictions.  The Second Amendment says ‘arms’ which includes anything.”

He continued:  “I’m not saying people can have rocket launchers and bazookas, but anything they can carry on their person for protection or hunting.”

“What if firearm technology,” I asked, “develops a personal, mini-missile launcher that fits neatly onto your forearm?  As easy to conceal as most handguns.  Is that now fair game to own?”

“You’re being ridiculous.”

“No, I’m not.  That is no more of a stretch from today’s weaponry than a semi-automatic rifle is from a single shot musket.  You know…the ‘arms’ that were understood in the Second Amendment.”

Personally, I cannot see how military weaponry is protected by the “right to bear arms” and how we can justify an instrument intended to destroy as much human life as possible in the shortest amount of time to be part of our domestic universe.  I will admit to heavy editorializing in that last statement, but that is the degree of my befuddlement.

I asked another friend to help me understand and he wrote this in return:

Just as folks in Nebraska started locking their doors after 9/11, it is an irrational response to what appears as a rational fear.  They feel that personal assault weaponry is appropriate protection, even though that threat has a near-zero probability.  And since Isis or al-Qaeda haven’t actually attacked North Platte, it reinforces in their mind that their actions are causally related to that fact.

Neurological pathways are created that associates gun ownership with safety, even though the opposite is more likely to be true.  Gun ownership increases the probabilities of a number of negative events (e.g., your spouse shoots you; you accidently shoot yourself; you shoot the pizza delivery guy because you didn’t know your son ordered Dominoes at midnight).  The chance of you chasing away a would-be killer with your AR 15-  almost zero.

That got me thinking:  What can statistics tell us about the relationship between guns and our safety?

Americans own over 300 million firearms. 35% of our private residences own at least one gun.  According to a survey conducted by the Archive of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 40% of the children in these homes know where the guns are stored and 20% have handled the guns without adult supervision or even knowledge of the handling.

Emory University conducted a study that determined that the likelihood of a murder occurring in homes that have guns nearly triples. 77% of those killed in their homes were murdered by someone they knew with no signs of forced entry, whereas, strangers account for less than 4% of the murders.

These are pretty numbing statistics and contradict the notion of the NRA and most gun supporters, who oppose gun laws, saying that carrying a firearm provides greater safety.

In the aftermath of the Arizona shooting at an outdoor shopping mall, several years back, I was in a conversation with a couple of friends who were of the opinion that if “people had been armed this tragedy would not have gone as far as it did.”

I heard the same with regard to the shootings at Sandy Hook.

“Really?” I asked. “If more people, without police or military training, were packing heat you think the violence would have been better contained?”

“You bet!” was the response.

My point here is not to limit responsible Americans from owning guns or to inhibit our hunters from their pursuits, but to lessen the chances of people who are criminally inclined or unstable from the easy access they find today.

And to demand accountability from somewhere for an epidemic of assassinations that extends to every seemingly tranquil corner of our nation and, therefore, jeopardizes my family.

Here’s what a coalition of 550 US mayors have asked for:

#1 — Fix the Holes in the Background Database: Existing laws already outlaw criminals, drug abusers, the mentally ill, and other dangerous people from passing a background check. The problem is state and federal agencies aren’t required by law or funded by Congress to supply that information to the background check system and possibly as many as one million prohibited purchasers are missing from the background database.

A new law would create full funding and necessary incentives for states and federal agencies to comply with reporting requirements and make sure every legally prohibited purchaser is included in the background check database.

#2 — Sell No Gun Without a Check: Under the current system, even if a Prohibited Purchaser like the Virginia Tech or Tucson shooters would fail a background check, they could still have walked into any gun show and bought a car load of guns with no background check, no questions asked. A new law would close all of the loopholes and require background checks for every gun sale, with reasonable exceptions for law enforcement and certain gun permit holders.

A gun is a single function mechanism designed to kill and while the pro-gun lobby likes to use catchy phrases like, “Guns don’t kill, people do” as if to imply that a gun is a harmless lump of metal without a human pulling the trigger, they belie the issue.

Cars don’t run stoplights by themselves and they don’t drink alcohol either, people do, but we enforce safety laws and revoke licenses when vehicle safety is abused. We wouldn’t let a teenager drive a car before learning how because a vehicle is a potentially deadly force in incapable hands, so why are we lax on gun control and allow people who have not shown that they know how to use a gun to purchase one?

Which, invariably, brings us back to the Second Amendment….

After many drafts, it was finally worded and ratified within the Bill of Rights in 1791 thusly- A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

There is no question that this amendment was a safeguard relevant to its time, but state militias of farmer/soldiers are no longer the best application of force to protect our interests; our national military quickly evolved to serve that purpose.  Our military is now so powerful that it is only a cinematic-Patrick Swayze-fantasy that believes armed citizens can protect our sovereignty.

The Constitution is a living document conceived by a diverse collection of men who put their best ideas forward to design a charter that realistically interprets the times.  The role of firearms and part of the original intent of the Second Amendment has changed dramatically.  Just as Civil Rights have been more clearly and accurately defined over time and the Bill of Rights has grown to reflect our new enlightenments, so must our understanding and application of the use of personal lethal force.

There are no “rights” without restrictions.

Even the First Amendment comes with parameters to contain its reckless exercise; you cannot defame or harm someone’s reputation by libel or slander.  Just yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater and see how quickly your “freedom of speech” is curtailed.  The same is true of the Second Amendment.  You may have the “right to bear arms” but not any way, anywhere, anytime you wish.

“The right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” but when that declaration infringes on my family when we’re strolling through the mall or when my children are in SCHOOL, I will support legislation that demands responsibility from those who wish to exercise that right.

Now…who’s on First?

Government and Manure

Now that I have your attention….

An article was posted today in the Iowa Daily Democrat and it perfectly illustrated the role of government in our society.  The subject was the application of manure from large animal confinement feeding operations.

Current state laws are weak with regard to animal waste and with relatively few inspectors we have “compromised Iowa’s water quality and endanger our citizens’ 100630-ipp-logo-cert5health,” according to the non-partisan Iowa Policy Project. There are laws on the books that put restrictions on confinement animal feeding operations, but the report argues that those restrictions have too many exceptions.

“Iowa’s numerous exemptions add to the degree of vagueness and complexity, making it rife for potential abuse or honest mistakes,” the report continued. “Iowa also does not compare well to other states in staff to enforce rules and regulations.”

Not long ago individual farmers raised small herds of hogs to supplement their income, but all that has changed as America’s appetite for pork has increased and so has Iowa’s production. Today Iowa is the nation’s top producer of pork and livestock is central to Iowa’s agricultural economy. The new paradigm for production and profit in the Iowa pork industry has created huge hog confinement facilities where thousands of hogs are raised under one (giant) roof and hog producers can see big profits from that scaled model.

(Note:  This is not an article about the ethical questions surrounding animal confinement or consumption, it is about Iowa’s economy and community health concerns from the existing industry)

Commensurate, however, to growing profits, is a growing load of….crap.

The manure generated from those facilities is enormous. Manure, it must be noted, is valuable as a cheap and sustainable resource to enhance crop production and so the incentive exists for producers to keep manure from runoff that pollutes our lakes, creeks and rivers.  But even when liquified into lagoonseparate lagoons, the liquid masses have become so large that one could literally surf the waves (only a slight exaggeration).

As so the question becomes:  How do we dispose of and use that waste in compliance with the public health, while allowing farmers to maintain profitable margins?

Good government.

Farming, like any industry, is going to maximize margins as much as existing regulations will allow. That’s not evil, that’s not dishonest; it is simply making the most of what the system will allow.  Government’s role is to protect the public’s interests and health, but also to allow for free enterprise to prosper.  Good government finds a balance between these priorities, but tilts slightly toward the interests of public health.  It cannot be the other way around and still be a representative democracy.

In this case, there is a verifiable threat to public health (and anyone living in Iowa understands the pervasive qualities of hog manure). Regulations currently exist, but they do not reflect the realities of the newer paradigm of hog 2977889_Gproduction.

New regulations cost something.  They almost always do, as they must be enforced, and they can change the profit parameters.  We cannot strangle the productivity or discourage profitability, but neither can we afford to compromise water or land quality and jeopardize the public health.

To maximize the benefits of manure for farmers, to protect the environment and for the health of the communities downstream, Iowa must regulate how we allow manure to absorbed on every level; from individual farms to giant corporate facilities.

Can cleaner, healthier standards be self-enforced with incentives?  To some degree, yes, but if such autonomy were authentically embraced, we would already have seen voluntary expansion and compliance of existing regulations, rather than a consistent pressing of those parameters.  The contamination of drinking water and the creation of hypoxia, causing ecological and economic harm, has increased.

That is where representative democracy steps in.

I don’t like big government and I look at any new regulation with skepticism first.  I consider economic, ecological, and health values, and also what and how compliances should be implemented.  Can it be private, or must it be public?

What I like is government that is the correct size to do the correct job:  To serve the public good iowa pigsas a collective tasked to protect the safety and the well-being of its citizens.

 

 

The Die Hard Constitution

Bruce Willis has a message for advocates of stricter gun control legislation:             “Don’t infringe on my rights!”

attends 'Die Hard - Ein Guter Tag Zum Sterben' Germany Premiere at Cinestar Potsdamer Platz on February 4, 2013 in Berlin, Germany.“I think that you can’t start to pick apart anything out of the Bill of Rights without thinking that it’s all going to become undone,” said Willis.  “If you take one out or change one law, then why wouldn’t they take all your rights away from you?”

Not an illogical concern, but also not rooted in a full understanding of representative democracy.  Hold onto your Beretta, but our Charters of Freedom are not perfect, nor did the Founding Fathers delude themselves into thinking they were.

When the Constitution was written, it was written by, and for, white, male land owners (probably less than 15% of the population); not exactly the perfect document to express freedom and inalienable rights.  The Bill of Rights and the ratification process of amendments were created to give evolving relevance to the charter and to inform citizens of constitutional protections so that laws could be written to enforce those rights and to govern fairly as we grew.

That is where their collective vision came into play.

ca. 1980-2001

The truth is, the Constitution was written to define only two purposes:  1) to establish a federal government and 2) to delegate to that federal government limited (and enumerated) powers.  The Constitution does not give us rights, but is designed to protect our rights.

The intent of the Bill of Rights was to prevent misconstruction of governmental powers and to ensure public confidence as a unified proclamation defining issues, deliberated upon to a point of agreement.

For example, voting within the system of government originally set forth, did not include women, but as our social consciousness progressed we came to realize, through our process of representative democracy, that the right must be clarified to include women, and the 19th amendment was ratified.

The rights of citizenship did not include former slaves even after emancipation and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were written and ratified to clarify the purpose and extent of freedom protected by our government.bor

The 1st Amendment was written to give the promise of freedom a strong foundation, but it also continues to be clarified in courts as slander and defamation issues will always nugentsurface.

When 2nd Amendment rights are bandied about by everyone from Bruce Willis to Ted Nugent who profess that, “We cannot meddle with what our Founding Fathers put forth,” it is without the understanding of what they actually “put forth.”

The 2nd Amendment must also be examined and interpreted as society itself changes.

Even 100 years after the Constitution was written it remained inconceivable that Americans would use firearms inappropriately.  It was, in fact, considered un-American that the President of the United States would ever require security- even after Lincoln was assassinated!  The American people remained steadfast that assassination was contrary to our national psyche.

It was only after the third assassination of amckinley-assassination2 president, the murder of President McKinley, that we started to think differently.

Today, as we examine the words “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” we absolutely must put them in the context of their time, just as we do any other amendment or the body of the Constitution itself.

We can, indeed, rightfully “bear arms” but as our societal norms have changed, as our weaponry has changed, parameters must be created and continually re-examined to accommodate or contain new realities.

That is not an affront to the Constitution as Mr. Willis has implied, rather, it is the realization of its true intent; to create a society of fair and just laws to protect our liberties in a changing world.

Progressive American Gothic

“Progress is impossible without change.  And those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”  –  George Bernard Shaw

The other day I was asked a question by a conservative friend that I often have dialogues with.  “Gary, what does it mean to be a progressive?”

That appears as a simple question, but I knew that it was also a disguise for an editorial comment, so, I started my answer thusly:  “Well…I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean, first.  It doesn’t mean that I’m what I’ve heard you call a knee-jerk, tax and spend, liberal, who wants to hand everything away.”

That took the wind out of the sail that I knew he was tacking, and a half smile-half smirk came across his face.  I continued:  “What ‘progressive’ means is this- if something isn’t working, change it!  Pro-gress from where we are.”

His eyes start to roll, but I was on sure footing.

“Progressive ideals don’t simply adhere to issues or solutions because they carry a label; they are a pragmatic process and rationale to create the greatest opportunity for people and for our communities to grow. They are a set of values that place people first.”

Values should play a vital role in politics, but I believe that many politicians confuse, or perhaps, overuse the term. They create a certain set of values to engineer support with a majority of constituents, but use a different criteria in private.  Therein lies the fundamental flaw in modern government where we find ourselves misrepresented.  Because there is one value that must stand before the rest:  Truth.

Without “truth” as our preeminent value, all others become moot.  What is a “value” if it’s not sincere?  And what do politics accomplish if we are not in pursuit of truthful ideals?

Politics are, essentially, a perpetual debate over what are, and what are not, our “Rights” and the definition and protection of them.  Whether it’s the right to bear arms, the right to celebrate our religious beliefs, the right to freedom of speech, the right to live and love as we choose and to have dominion over ourselves, we are connecting our rights with our values.

AmericanGothicAs Iowans I believe we are unique in that respect.  We are a confluence of rural and urban sensibilities with an innate respect for personal rights.  Often we baffle the rest of the country with our social progress within our ruggedly conservative nature.  I moved back to Iowa 13 years ago to give my children that very sense of propriety and progressive spirit.

We live by our values, and what we value is respect for one another and a commitment to family.  We value air, water and soil, and two of our greatest historical values are of education, and the well-being of our communities.  Those values drive how we live and how we behave.

I continued with my friend.  “Every policy idea should be preceded by serious and unrelenting questions:

Will this embrace our spectrum of families by making them stronger and more secure?

Will this give our children the best education in the nation or will it diminish the teachers, resources and materials that will achieve that end?

Will our land and the people who work it flourish and grow?  Or will they be stagnated by special interests?

And will our community, and the communities within them (veterans, entrepreneurs, students, senior citizens, the neglected, disadvantaged or infirmed), be made stronger and more economically vibrant?

Do we uphold our ethical standards?

This is what it means, to me, to be progressive and these are the values that compel me to run for the Iowa House of Representatives- to give a strong voice to the Iowans who share them.”

My friend donated 50 bucks to the cause.  🙂

Back to the Future

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of Planned Parenthood which has since become America’s preeminent provider of reproductive health care for women and for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies.

19 years later in 1935 American retirees first became protected by Social Security, reducing poverty among senior citizens from nearly 50% to 10%, making it one of the most successful programs in history.

In 1963 President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act to improve and protect fair wages for women. In 1964 his Equal Rights Act was passed posthumously under President Johnson.

One year later Congress enacted Medicare to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older.

In 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency was created under President Nixon and the clean water act to restore and protect the nation’s water supply was strengthened.

Union membership was nearing 40%, the middle class was strong, and wage earners were upwardly mobile.

Could any of us imagine that today we would be fighting for the very existence of every one of these things?  Programs designed to protect and improve our lives?

We are because an extreme right has coaxed a once reasonable Republican Party into their extreme narrative for America.  What was once considered our moderate center is now viewed as far left.  Our actual left, which once led the charge for social justice in the most formative moments of American history, is now dismissed as far left and too idealistic.

But, idealistic is what we must be.  Idealism is what will stop the decades long drift away from the promise of the Preamble to the Constitution: “..to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…”

Realism has replaced idealism as our modern operating system and while we must be realistic in order to achieve our goals-  our goals must still be forged from idealism.   Because that is how we will achieve great things.  Things like genuine civil rights, access to medicine for all Americans, affordable education, sane, moral and effective foreign policy, and curbing the dangerous course of a changing climate.

Edward Kennedy said it best when he eulogized his brother, Robert, by quoting George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and ask why….I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

That is the essence of the Democratic Party and that is why we are Democrats.  But no party can make an exclusive claim on great ideas.  Dreams and ideas are not partisan; they belong to our collective consciousness to improve lives.

This is not a time to compromise our ideals of liberty, justice and tranquility – this is the moment we must seize to inspire America back to the idealism that once moved us forward.

The Measure of Our Purpose


The Iowa Legislature finally adjourned at 6pm on Friday, April 29th.  Issues that remained unresolved capiltoainclude Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, water quality, and medical marijuana.  While we must consider any agreement to be a positive result and Democrats and Republicans came to an agreement on a $7.35 billion budget that will now go to Governor Branstad for approval, I am, personally, disappointed.

Democrats and Republicans have come to compromise agreements before regarding school funding that the Governor vetoed. And what he vetoed was such a watered down version of what Democrats originally proposed based on what Iowa schools really needed, that I saw little reason to be optimistic about that accord.

With all due respect to Democrats who have tried hard to correct these issues, what we are seeing as school funding falls woefully short, while clean water initiatives are not passed, while medical cannabis continues to be restricted from Iowans who can benefit from its medicinal application, is that Quality of Life has taken a back seat to corporate-pandering special interests.  We are seeing crony-politics take root and grow.

Since 2011, Branstad has gotten his way to give away $400,000,000 in new tax breaks to Iowa corporations.   What suffers, as a result, is our middle class, schools and infrastructure; all of the reasons that attract corporations to Iowa in the first place.

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Policy falling short appears epidemic as just the other day I was in a conversation with a candidate for office who said that medical marijuana needs to be tested more fully by the FDA, and as a Schedule 1 drug it warrants such careful and patient study.

I replied, “Without even getting into the absurd Schedule 1 classification, which was far more political than scientific, we aren’t even talking about recreational use here; we are talking about patients with epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other afflictions, who have found groundbreaking relief from cannabis oil.”

“More study is needed,” he continued, “I haven’t seen enough documentation.”

“I’ve seen plenty,” I said. “Even one little girl, who has had two brain surgeries for her epilepsy, whose parents told me that medical cannabis was the only treatment that gave her rest from seizures, is enough evidence!  But there are thousands like her. th Who are we?  If not a state that does everything it can to allow our citizens to live healthy lives?  This isn’t about anything other than improving the quality of life for Iowans who are suffering.  I don’t want to hear about years of testing to find out what we already know.”

I wasn’t finished.

“I’ve heard state legislators who have opposed expanding the availability of medical cannabis in Iowa say that people should ‘go out of state to get what they need.’ I was told that one such legislator when confronted with the issue of an epileptic sufferer said:  “I’ll pray for her.”

“My daughter doesn’t need his prayers,” the parent told me, “She needs medicine that is being denied to her!”

And Medical Cannabis and School Funding aren’t the only issues that stand as evidence of misplaced priorities:  No Senate Water Quality Plan.

House Democrats put up a proposal that stirred discussion with Republicans, who had a proposal of their own. The Republican plan raided state funds; a classic rob Peter (education) to pay Paul (whatever they are willing to compromise on) and progress was halted.

Planned Parenthood also resulted in a stall. That stall works in favor of continuing current funding through Medicaid, but the fact that it’s even on the table is confounding.

My support of Planned Parenthood and continuing its Medicaid funding is three fold:

  1. The mission of Planned Parenthood is to provide women with reproductive health care.  In fact, it is the preeminent provider of health care to women as 1 in 5 American women have, at one time or another, used PP services.  The majority of their programs are preventive, primary care, to prevent unintended pregnancies through contraception, reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections through testing and treatment, and screen for cervical and other cancers.  PP in Iowa is a vital part of our health network, providing high-quality and affordable care to nearly 38,000 women (and men) each year.
  2. If abortion is the issue which Planned Parenthood critics have taken hold, then it cannot be overlooked that as a contraception provider it reduces unwanted pregnancies.
  3. And finally, abortion-related services are only a fraction (3%) of what Planned Parenthood provides, and government subsidies do not go toward those services.  Furthermore, in Iowa, Planned Parenthood receives no direct legislative funding, it is only through providers like Medicaid.

Defunding Planned Parenthood does nothing but compromise needed health services. There is no rational justification for its defunding especially if the primary reason is to stop abortions.

And since abortion is the issue by which the Planned Parenthood antagonists stake a very passionate claim, let me say this- NO one likes abortion. Where I stand is that I don’t want government dictating, moralizing or determining a choice that belongs to a woman.  A woman must have dominion over her own body, and it is with the counsel of her choosing; her doctor, clergy, and family; to decide in early term what course to take.  To say otherwise is, in my opinion, to demean the rights and equality of a woman.

We may disagree, but let’s do so without malice and use logic and reason whenever we can to make determinations regarding a very emotionally dividing issue.

In conclusion, whether we are talking about Education, Women’s Rights, Health Care, or the quality of our Water and Land, we are talking about the Quality of Life and the fundamental purpose of legislation: To provide a governing framework from which the citizens collectively “…establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

I believe that a legislator must evaluate every issue through the lens of understanding and AR-140509959compassion and consider the improvements to the quality of life that any legislation before them can provide. That should always be the measure of our purpose and our success.

 

 

Though Love and Life make tearful intercession…

dc82853e7904b0731f4e903e56980211Theologian, A H Strong, defined the human will as “the soul’s power to choose between motives and to direct its subsequent activity according to the motive thus chosen.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not willing to recognize that my father wouldn’t be here for years to come, I replied, “Yes…why are you asking me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What’s your CSI?

Do you know what I’m really tired of? Besides, shortfalls in education budgets, short-sighted environmental policy, political bickering, hyperbole, and demagoguery.

I’m tired of acronyms.

The intention of an acronym is to reduce space in writing.  Once a long name,acronym thebacksofmyeyelidsblogspot like the Association for the Proliferation of Acronyms, has been established in a document, the writer can save space by using AFPUA from then on.  Makes sense.  All the reader has to do if they forget what AFPUA stands for is jog back in the article to where the name was first used.

It comes as no surprise that such shorthand would find its way into advertising and promotion.  We all know that PETA, for example, is an organization that defends animal rights, but who remembers that it stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?  No need to; having “PET” in the shortened name makes it even better.  Even PETA doesn’t use their full title in their own materials.

NATO is NATO whenever it’s referred to. It is really the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Except in France where it is OTAN.  The Organization of Treaty for the Atlantic North.

And maybe those are two easy ones that most people do recognize for their full titles, but acronyms have nevertheless transcended from written pages to spoken language. The idea of saving time trumps all other forms of communication, but there is a virus within the body of shortcut language:  When you don’t know what the acronym stands for, not only is time lost, but so is understanding.

There is nothing new about Acronym-mania.  The AFL-CIO has been using theirs for over 60 years.  And to be honest, saying “The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, is a mouthful.  But do we really need to know their full title to understand that AFL-CIO is a labor union?  No.

I belong to SAG and AFTRA (since merged to SAG-AFTRA), but again, knowing that they are labor organizations in the entertainment industry is enough without spelling out Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists every time.

These are cases that illustrate exactly why acronyms became popular, even necessary.  My issue here is when they replace language as part of language itself when, in fact, they are not.

In my advertising career we throw around ROI, DMS, SPAM, BR, ASP, CR, CRM, CPL and MOM and expect everyone to understand what we mean as clearly as “Please pass the ketchup.”  The other day an employee came up to mean to say: “I didn’t know what AGI meant for 2 years.  All I knew was that I was responsible for it.”

In health care we are always talking about HMO’s, MCO’s, the NIC, HIPPA and HHR. It is assumed that if you are at a meeting within any discipline that you have taken a course in that industry’s Abbreviation Program and will use these letters just as you would call for the family dog.

“Here, HIPPA! That’s a good, HIPPA!”

No one wants to appear uninformed, and in fact, the truly informed love to show how informed they are by using the too-cool-for-school acronym vernacular.  As a result very few people will ever volunteer: “Hey!  Could you explain what you meant when you said ‘The ACU challenged the ACLU responding to the DCCC regarding the CBO assessment of the ECU analysis of the GNP’?”

The trend to abbreviate isn’t going to change; it satisfies too many of our instincts.  One is to shorten everything, another is to make ourselves exclusive whenever possible.  There is a satisfaction that is realized when we speak an esoteric tongue understood only by those “in the know.”

This little essay isn’t a reprimand with even the slightest hope that Acronym Fever will ever subside, but it is a caution.   In our progression to abbreviate language, we can also abbreviate understanding.  In the effort to save time, we can lose time.

How’s that for a PSTMOT? Oh….that’s a pithy statement to make one think.

Monica Vernon for Congress

When I was running for Congress I was running against two other Democrats in the primary for the nomination.  Naturally, the political stump is competitive as it is essential to differentiate ourselves so that voters can make a decision, but, my strategy from the beginning was to clarify myself, rather than define the other two.

“I’m not running against anyone,” was my opening salvo.  “I am running for the office.”

The truth was that three accomplished, informed, and credible candidates were running for Iowa’s First District. We were also three very different people.  I include myself in that assessment, at the risk of sounding braggadocios, but I would not have run if I didn’t feel that I was qualified.

FB_IMG_1453821273631I left that race, however, when a series of debates that I was counting on for media attention were cancelled.  The viability of a path to victory was greatly diminished.  I immediately (and enthusiastically) entered a race for the State House, leaving the two other candidates to vie for the Congressional nomination.

Also, upon leaving the race I endorsed Monica Vernon. I learned firsthand throughout the campaign, from other Democrats and from my own observation, that Monica Vernon has the right combination of skills, connections, experiences, and passion to help working families in Iowa, prioritize education, to promote equality and justice for all, and to continue improving health care, forward environmental concerns, and to grow Iowa businesses.

How we arrive in life at the place where we stand is personal, and the sincerity of our journey should be judged by what we do moving forward and so I do not question the progressive integrity of either candidate. Both are good Democrats. They are passionate about public service, have done great things with their lives and want to take their experiences to Washington to serve Iowans.  Most of the progressive principles at stake are issues that all 3 of us shared, with only variations in terms of prioritizing and some policy specifics.

Monica Vernon’s personal story as a mother, a businessperson and member of the20160425_155100 Cedar Rapids City Council, have given her insights that are unique toward building Iowa’s infrastructure with an unyielding commitment to Quality of Life.

Her rhetoric has remained positive and compassionate, and those are principles of character that I look for when making an important decision.

What struck me most was that she was willing to listen, and not simply dictate her views.  She regards her relationship with Iowans as a partnership and she is eager to listen and to elicit our ideas.  That is how it should be and that is a rare quality for a politician.  And it’s the one that sealed the deal for me.  She is a person before a politician.

Again, I am not against anyone.  I stand for certain qualities and principles and I believe that Iowa Democrats have great candidates up and down the ticket in district after Monica_Vernondistrict.  And I am on record to say: “I enthusiastically endorse Monica Vernon for the United States Congress from Iowa’s First District.”

 

Learn more at:  www.monicavernonforcongress.com