House of Cards

The Republican economic plan has been the same since 1980.  It is derived from neoliberal (not to be confused with social liberalism) economics, once called laissez-faire economic liberalism, and has evolved from supply-side to “trickle-down” (inspired by the Laffer Curve) or Reaganomics.  Convoluted by titles, perhaps, but the common threads have always followed these principles:

1) Lower income taxes for the highest earners because they will expand their        businesses and investments.

2) Cut federal spending by eliminating federal agencies.

3) Reduce government regulations on banks and Wall Street, and lowering barriers to produce (supply) goods and services.

6334869991_b601178b49_zLogic follows that consumers will benefit from a greater supply of goods and services at lower prices and the investment and expansion of businesses will increase the demand for employees.

This macroeconomic theory is as old as Merchant Capitalism itself, but it has been the exclusive, adopted economic model in the United States for the past 35 years.

Unfortunately, the result has been far from extended prosperity.  Except for the wealthiest Americans who have seen their holdings increase by nearly 250% (the richest 1% now controlling over 40% of America’s wealth).  Working class wages have remained essentially flat during this time, and as the cost of living has inevitably risen, most Americans have, in effect, received an annual pay cut.

Wealth, it turns out, does not trickle down; it becomes concentrated at the top and the rest of America (consumers) cannot keep up.  The bottom falls out from decreased spending, and more Americans fall under the poverty line from this systematic inequity of distribution.

It should be noted that this concept was not the sole domain of Republicans.  Democrats jumped onto thetrain-i-think-i-can Trickle Down Train, as well.  President Clinton, for one, spent time at the Altar of Alan Greenspan who opposed any regulation on derivatives and preached that the market will always correct itself.  Even he had to admit he was wrong as worthless bundles of trades collapsed Wall Street like a house of cards.

Where I give Clinton a major pass is the fact that he believed in shared prosperity and while he reduced deficit spending he kept social programs intact.

It is clear from history that the market will expand and contract somewhat cyclically, but deep recessions and depressions are the result of errors.  The Great Depression was the result of a fall in the quantity of money being distributed throughout the system that led to a downfall in production and employment.

chartFrom October 1929 to April 1933, the liquidity of money in our system dropped nearly 40%. When bank deposits dropped by almost half, the wealthy suddenly had too little in their portfolios and a stock sell off began to straighten their positions.

The prices of shares crashed, so did real estate, and demand for goods and production fell off. Corporations, because of an unregulated market (pre-SEC) cooked their books and made, in today’s money, billions. There was a feeding frenzy and the working American was the fare.

It wasn’t that different in 2008.  Wall Street and investors were getting rich beyond measure on sub-prime loans.  Bankers knew that the bubble would burst when the housing market leveled (when the starter income can no longer afford the starter home, the bottom drops out) and loans would begin to default, but no one stopped it until it was too late because too much money was being made.

The assets became so toxic from bundles of derivatives being tied into better loans, and when the insurers of these loans no longer had the capital to pay on the defaults, well….again, a house of cards.

So…the multi-trillion dollar question is:  How do we recover?

If you make online searches for answers, conservative websites will blame President Obama for all of it (even the collapse that occurred before he came into office) and will accuse his administration of making things worse.

Liberal websites will blame President Bush for every misfire, including mini-skirts with leggings, but objective analysis can put the acetate of economic growth and contraction up to the light of history to reveal what former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, calls “The Big Lie.”  That “lie” is that our economic problems are due to a government that’s too large, and that the solution, therefore, is to shrink it.

“The truth,” he says, “is that our economic problems stem from the biggest concentration of income and wealth at the top since 1928, combined with stagnant incomes for most of the rest of us. The result: Americans no longer have the purchasing power to keep the economy going at full capacity. Since the debt bubble burst, most Americans have had to reduce their spending; they need to repay their debts, can’t borrow as before, and must save for retirement.”

The long term solution is to reorganize the economy so the benefits of growth are more widely shared.  Reich offers specifics:

1) Make higher education free to families that now can’t afford it.

2) Rehire teachers.

3) Repair and rebuild our infrastructure.

4) Create a new Work Progress Administration to put the unemployed back to work.

5) And rather than marginalize unions, support them, because all workers benefit from collective bargaining for better wages.

So, how do we pay for this?  That is a relevant question no matter what side of the aisle you are standing.  “Taxes” are the part of the solution-equation that have become political suicide, even as they are applied to those who have benefitted the most from our current oligarchic financial structure, but, it is within that symbiotic relationship between wealth and Wall Street where the answer lies.

Bernie Sander’s proposal for a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) could generate 1.5 trillion dollars over the next decade.  FTTs are a small fee on stock trades at a rate of 0.1 percent, and trades of most derivative instruments at 0.01%.  Speculators would pay a tax on their trades, just like we do when we make purchases.  It is an equitable solution

The truth is that taxes go back into our system when they are spent on services, infrastructure, and education and they create liquidity immediately.  By spending on roads, schools, hospitals, bridges, programs and agencies that put people to work, subsidies that help farmers, and new technologies (clean energy, for example) that, in turn, create new businesses, we create jobs.

We have to have serious people in Washington who are willing to be honest, grownup, and take the hits that come with telling the truth.

I suggest we put a consortium of policy wonks, representatives and economists into a room, order pizza, and let them out only when they have come up with a plan for a more stable and prosperous economy for all Americans.

I’m really not kidding.  Hey…it took “Gamers” only a few days to unlock the puzzle of HIV DNA that had baffled researchers for decades and all they required was the Complete Collection of Dr. Who as incentive.

We can do this and stay on budget!

Who’s with me?

Once Upon a Time in America

This morning on CNN, Liz Cheney (daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney) remarked, when asked why Donald Trump is so popular in the polls, “…people are frustrated with a president that doesn’t believe in American Exceptionalism…”

I immediately recalled a statement former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani made last year that he didn’t believe President Obama loved America.  His assumption was based on the fact that the President has, at times, been critical of “American Exceptionalism.”

Not long before that I had just read an article by Senator Rand Paul who stated:  “America is indeed exceptional.  Our history has proved it so.”

newt-gingrich1-600x345Paul’s statement had reminded me of Newt Gingrich’s book “A Nation Like No Other” in which he extolls the virtue of “Recognizing and honoring the history-making, world-changing ideals our Founding Fathers enshrined.”

And that narrative continues back to Mitt Romney who ran on that same premise two years ago; a return to the principles that stirred the dreams of millions of immigrants to journey to a land where “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

“Almost all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants,” Romney iterated, “who came here for opportunity.”

Rudy, Rand, Mitt, Newt and many Americans are passionate about the historical promise of opportunity in America and how we have fallen from our exceptional directives.  Particularly throughout Obama’s presidency they’ve talked about American “Exceptionalism” and a need to recapture the values upon which our prosperity was built.  Books have been written and stirring speeches have been made.

The story of America they’ve embraced is selective.  It is culled from only the heroic events in our history to become a Movie of the Week narrative that takes artistic license.  The true story has shades of grey.

immigrants2Once upon a time…during great periods of immigration to America, when immigrants left poverty, famine or threats of tyranny and war, the possibility of a better life was enough to take great risks.  From that fortitude many created new enterprises and their relentless pursuit of success fueled an Industrial Revolution.

This did, indeed, create the economy that made the American dollar the currency of the world, and it is a part of our history from which to draw inspiration.  What this history fails to record as dramatically, however, is that this story of great determination also created failures.  The once agrarian culture of colonial America was replaced by urban blight, conflicts and prejudices, and a new class of poverty became as much a part of the landscape as newly drawn success.

The ideal that many Americans want to return to overlooks such realities.  Realities like Industrial Barons who destroyed their competition and exploited workers.  The unconscionable continuation of slavery in a nation proclaiming freedom is stepped over in this fairytale because we did, after all, have a war to end it.

What doesn’t end, however, are tentacles of human nature that can reach toward greed, fear and selfishness; that hold onto bigotry and deny rights when they feel threatened.

This is the paradox of freedom that compelled our founding fathers to create representative government and why government has expanded along with the growth of our nation.  America has seen what happens when monopolies inhibit new businesses and what a stock market will do without regulations to keep it fair.

We’ve seen what can happen to workers, minorities, and to our resources, without the aggregate force of the people to keep special interests in check.

The America of Rudy, Rand, Newt and Mitt doesn’t exist, and it can’t exist.  There’s nothing wrong with finding inspiration in the highlights of our journey, but when we form policy based on returning to values based on a semi-fictional history…well, there are going to be problems when dealing with issues that are 100% real.

Morality is not found in the absence of critical light, but rather in the illumination of purpose.

We all want greatness, we all want a better life and more secure future, but we aren’t going to get there by creating policies based on antiquated or selective triumphs in American history.  We get there by learning from history and by examining our frailties and shortcomings as well as our achievements and strengths.

It will be a more cognitive and honest reflection on the principles of freedom, humanity, compassion and generosity that will lead America into a greater future.

fairytale-bookWe won’t get there by believing in fairytales.

The Shooting Paradigm

“Guns don’t kill, people do.”

That is often repeated by the NRA, the pro-gun lobby and 2nd Amendment “purists” to defend the possession of firearms and to get guns off the hook after violent crimes.  It’s such a seemingly logical turn of a phrase that it’s embraced in that community as Soundbite Gospel.

But, it belies the real situation and betrays solutions to gun violence.

Technically, what actually kills is neither a gun nor a person, but a small projectile usually made of lead that entered a victim anywhere from 700 to over 1900 miles per hour and tore apart a vital life support function.

Simply put, when a trigger is pulled, a hammer strikes a firing pin and ignites the primer which, in turn, ignites gunpowder within a shell.   As the powder burns, it creates expanding gas which propels the bullet down the barrel of the gun.

The projectile is what does the actual killing, but obviously, as an inanimate object it has no authentic responsibility for the action; it is merely the function of the firing mechanism that propelled it toward the target.

pengunHaving the same inert property as the bullet, the gun, by itself, has no criminal responsibility, either; a human being is required to set the mechanism into motion by pulling the trigger, and, therefore, bears the only true responsibility for the event.  But this is where the gun supporters are led astray.

We tend to think of firing a gun as a one-step process, it is fired, but that over-simplifies the reality of what has happened and confuses how to solve issues of misuse.

In reality, the firing of a gun has 4 very distinct components and the event cannot take place without all four coming into play in a sequence.

1)      There is a CATALYST (the shooter)

2)      There is the FIRING MECHANISM (the gun)

3)      The PROJECTILE (usually a bullet)

4)      And there is the TARGET (whether intended, or otherwise)

How-Guns-Actually-Work-CutawayEach component is equally significant to the function of a firearm.  The bullet is to the target what the shooter is to the firing mechanism; a direct relationship where each is reliant on the application that puts it into motion, and it cannot escape the sequence.

Success means that the target was hit.

(Please note:  I am not making assumptions of criminal violence or making moral or ethical arguments here.  This is simply an analysis of the principles of firing a gun)

You cannot remove the “target” from the sequence because that is the purpose of the process; to be hit.  The “firing mechanism” is the vehicle to facilitate that result, and so it is cannot be removed, as well.  The only part of the shooting-model that can be influenced to change is the “shooter.”

The shooter motivates the shooting event, and therefore, is the only realistically responsible element, but this is where we have an accountability problem.  Since it is impossible to know the true intentions of a shooter until after they have initiated the process, the only safeguard a society has is to regulate the shooter’s primary relationship in this process; their relationship with the gun itself.

So, how does that relationship share responsibility when the act is criminal?

When I was a kid, a friend’s dad had a paperweight that was a mounted grenade.  I was always told by my friend that it was a “live grenade” and, of course, I believed it.  I was told that if I pulled the pin it would still trigger the grenade.thCAMJP2Z0

Of course it wasn’t “live” but I had no way of knowing, so the philosophical question is:  What was it’s primary purpose now?  Was it still a grenade or was it only a paperweight?

If one day the grenade/paperweight had exploded would that have been called an accident because it was a paperweight, or the fulfillment of its intention because it was a grenade?

A gun is, as the gun lobbyists say, innocent, because it requires intentions from a human being to carry out it’s function…but is it as benign, otherwise, as a paperweight?

No.

Neither the grenade or the gun can be removed from the kill-model they were created to be part of.  This is what gun control is all about; recognizing that the gun and the shooter are inextricable from the process.  Doing our best to restrict the availability of firearms from those who shouldn’t possess them and creating logical accountability from those who do possess them, is the rational option for a functional society with the collective responsibility of protecting it’s citizenry.

There are no regulations that will eliminate criminal activity, but gun control advocates are not that delusional.  Clearly, someone who does not follow “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is not likely to heed “Thou Shalt Not Have Guns” but what controls can do, are increase gun proficiency by mandating safety education, and decrease ease of accessibility so that responsible gun owners can be isolated from those who are not.  And regulations create hurdles for the criminally inclined that can impede or redirect their relationship with a firearm.

It’s true, “guns don’t kill,” but, like the bullets they fire, and the shooter that pulled the trigger, they are part of one paradigm that does.thCA2F30JX

 

We Love Our Guns!

wayne_la_pierre_09_26_07_lrgExecutive Vice President of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, stated that government should not interfere with our right to possess guns to defend our homes and protect our children.

It’s such an appealing statement.

The “right to defend our homes and protect our children.”  It makes us feel like warrior-kings protecting our domain with bravery and nobility.  It erases any question of strength and replaces timidity with fierce, unquestionable valor.  It’s so easy to support that claim because it is shorthand to understanding our paramount purpose, the protection of children, so why would anyone ever doubt its sincerity?

Because it isn’t entirely true.

The proliferation of firearms is less about protecting our families than it is about America’s love of lethal force.

Guns shoot things.  They are powerful, yet contained within our grasp to become extensions of ourselves making us almost super human.

They are sculpture.  Whether entirely metal or a combination with polished wood, they are curved, angled and sexy.

gunsThey are a culture unto themselves.  With guns come ammunition, clothing, sports, and clubs.  There is no “gun,” there are “guns.”  Like automobiles, comic books, figurines, and trading cards, guns are collectibles that come as pistols, revolvers, bolt action rifles, carbines, shotguns, machine and elephant guns.  They are single barreled, double barreled, long and short.

And they all have a function:  To take out, take down and obliterate whatever they hit.

They can be used for hunting, target shooting, military defense, personal protection, and murder.  I’m confident that no one reading this is promoting the last entry, but it’s a reality of guns.

Personal or family protection is the pivot point of the gun argument, but, if anyone is serious about protecting their families they should be sobered by a study from Emory University that determined that the likelihood of a murder occurring in homes that have guns nearly triples.

They should be even more concerned by a survey conducted by the Archive of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine that shows us that 40% of the children in homes with guns know where the guns are stored.  20% of those children have handled the guns without adult supervision or even knowledge of the handling.

I lived in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles for 27 years and never needed a gun.  Imagine that.  And I hardly lived an isolated life strictly in tony neighborhoods either.  That’s not to say that bad things don’t happen where a gun could be used for protection, but why does a guy I know living in Iowa need an AR 15 under the bed, a sawed-off shotgun in the closet and a handgun by the nightstand in order to feel safe?  Especially when you consider that according to that same Emory University study, 77% of those killed in their homes were murdered by someone they knew with no signs of forced entry.  Strangers account for less than 4% of the murders.

If protection is what anyone is seriously concerned about, they should be an advocate for sensible gun legislation, because the truth is that the possession of guns increases the risk of someone you love being injured or killed by a gun.

There just might be safer ways to protect your family.

second-amendment-220x220I can argue until Ted Nugent joins Greenpeace what I believe was the true intent of the 2nd Amendment, but I will acquiesce to the fact that words are there to create an argument for private ownership of firearms.  But, that doesn’t mean that I’ve put logic and sanity off to the side; quite the contrary.  That “right” demands sane and logical regulations that evolve right alongside the evolution of firearms.

If you are a law abiding and responsible gun owner- no one is coming for your guns, but, don’t hide behind a deceptive belief that you are really protecting anyone.  Be honest.  You like guns.

 

For information regarding violence and guns, www.bradycampaign.org, has compelling statistics.

 

Press One For Ingles

Recently, I was told about a Facebook page called, “I’m an American, why should I have to press one for English?” and I couldn’t resist going to it. I knew what I’d find,th8BYD9DW7 and I knew that many posts on that thread would make my blood boil, but I just had to go anyway.

I wasn’t disappointed in the sense that I found what I’d expected, but I scrolled down to read post after post that degraded liberals, Democrats, the President, MSNBC and conversely praised Fox News and quoted Rush Limbaugh as if he were the Buddha.

There were a lot of posts that vamped around the basic theme: “Speak English or get the hell out!”

One said, “This is one nation under God and if you don’t like that get out you damn foreigners!”

Many were worse.  Much worse.

Some got off topic and were about evidence of illegal immigrants spreading disease,screenshot Obama’s fake birth certificate, and “the socialist takeover to outlaw guns.”

There were a fair share of confederate flags with angry white faces, and plenty of anti-Islamic memes.

I decided to learn what I could about the people on this site by going to their “info” links.  I was blocked by many since I’m not a Facebook friend of any of them, but I did get to a few.  Those that identified with a party or ideology wrote:  “Republican” or “Conservative.”  That was consistent with my own observations about where the “one-language,  one-religion, patriotic-zealot” crowd stands.

That does not mean that conservatism is an ideology centered around bigotry or that the Republican Party supports ignorance or intolerance, but, it begs the question:  Why do those qualities, the worst of America’s character, find the right side of the aisle to be where they can take root and even flourish?

Agitated by my own question I called a conservative who is very close to me for his opinion.  I wondered if I was going to hear, “Because the Republican Party is the party that is more inclusive of all beliefs!” and so, coiled and ready to spring, I lobbed:

Why is it that intolerance and bigotry find a safer haven within the Republican Party? And (I wanted to get everything off my chest)…if Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann become leaders in your party, don’t you have to question the direction you’re moving?”

He paused and said thoughtfully, “There are as many extremists on the left as on the right and you are more aware of those who disagree with you. These people you are referring to are angry at what they see as a 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.”

That was the answer of an intelligent person, but I’ve heard that answer soooo many times before.  I continued:  “If a growing part of your party is showing the stripes of ignorance and intorance, don’t you have to evaluate why, and don’t you have to adjust your thinking?”

Then he made a fatal error. He said, “Look at the extremists who led your party in the 60’s and 70’s. The Jerry Rubins and the Abby Hoffmans. They were more dangerous than anything I see today.”

“Those were radicals, for sure,” I said, “but no Democratic candidate ever sought their endorsement.  No left wing radical was asked to join a ticket or consulted for party rhetoric.

Yet today, the extreme faction of the right, those who cry for a one language, one religion nation with exclusionary civil rights, are dictating the direction of the Republican Party. They are consulted, pandered to, even embraced by Republican candidates who have actively sought their endorsements.

Tom Hayden of the radical Chicago Seven ran as a Democrat but let’s not forget that he was running for ‘participatory democracy,’ civil rights, and policies for peace and social justice.  Sorry…but you need to understand the difference or this discussion won’t go anywhere.”

The discussion didn’t go anywhere.

For me, it comes down to this-

I don’t want my children to inherit the country that the people I encountered on that Facebook page, and many that I see protesting liberal ideals, are fighting to establish.

I want my children to grow up in a melting pot of culture and diversity.  I want them to embrace all cultures, not because they saw pictures in a book, but because they went to a friend’s house that is Mexican, Bosnian, Sudanese or Iranian, and saw how other cultures thrive within the safe confines of a great, diverse nation that embraces liberty.

I don’t want my children to be surrounded by bigotry and intolerance; I want them to witness people embracing their differences. I want them to learn as many languages as they can. I want them to have the opportunity to create a world of peace and understanding that too many people, today, are working to destroy.

I knew that I would be frustrated when I traipsed over to that Facebook page, and so I am responsible for bringing this on myself.  Fortunately I’m going to a Democratic central committee (full of “radical” activists fighting for the middle class, labor, the environment, civil rights…) to relax…

It’s No Laughing Matter

My campaign for Congress is now 4 months old.  I have learned a lot, made a lot of headway and have shown Iowans at events, committee meetings and backyard barbeques that I study the issues and have ideas to expand our economy, protect our environment and to educate our youth.  Yet, I am still faced from time to time with a comment that more or less goes like this:  “Gary you were a comedian, how do we know you can be taken seriously?”

needlemanI cannot (nor do I have any desire to) deny that I was once a satirist on Saturday Night Live; that once I made my living looking for laughs, whether as a performer, a writer, or even as a game show host.  The truth is, those experiences lend themselves very well to the business of politics.

The job of any artist, whether a comedian, a painter or a novelist, is to look at life with the deepest, most clarifying lens possible to reveal the idiosyncrasies, the contradictions and sometimes hypocrisies of the human condition and bring them to light.

Is it really any surprise that Senator Al Franken has been such an effective voiceal franken?

Yes, I have in my career poked fun at the way things are done in Washington, because business as usual in the District of Columba is laughable at times.  But I can easily make the distinction between that dysfunction and the business of the people, because that is no laughing matter!

It’s no laughing matter when hard working Iowans with fulltime minimum wagegary speech jobs remain below the poverty line. And to deny support for Americans who have fallen on hard times in favor of entitlements for the wealthiest among us is not only insane, it is un-American.

It’s no laughing matter when labor and unions are under attack and pension funds are at risk.

It’s no laughing matter when 10 billion tons of inorganic gas is pumped into our atmosphere every year without any compensation for the danger that is caused to the health of our planet.

It’s no laughing matter when the principles of a government, of the people, are perverted into austerity fever to deny access to medicine for all of the citizens it serves.

I loved being an actor, a producer, a writer and any other hat I may have worn in Hollywood, but I know the difference between the entertainment of laughter and when the serious matters of the people and our government are at hand.  I am very clear as to why I am running for the United State Congress from Iowa’s 1st District: To serve the people, using common sense, logic, compassion and sanity in that pursuit.

upwww.kroegerforcongress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And to the Mob for which we stand…

Today, I read two things in the “Opinion” section of the Waterloo Courier that reinforced a concern that I’ve had for quite awhile now.  That concern regards a fundamental misunderstanding that many Americans have as to the nature of our Republic (a representative democracy), and that misunderstanding corrodes our nation.

A columnist wrote:  “People are fed up with leadership in America all the way from the local to the national level.  Our ‘public servants’ act more like public masters who avoid being downwind form the unwashed public and ignore majority wishes after being elected.”

A letter to the editor opined: “Christians with an orthodox view of Scripture who take Biblical condemnation of homosexuality seriously have a strong theological case.”

These two observations, while seemingly disconnected, have one thing in common:  They don’t understand our representative democracy.

How many of us can actually define a “Republic”?

I’m not attempting to be pedantic or condescending, but it has occurred to me that a lot our political debate is centered around the concepts of representative government, and the words “democracy” and “republic” are bandied about freely with the assumption that we all know exactly what they mean.

As Plato is my witness, I believe that the words are not understood and that is causing a great deal of confusion for too many people as we try to improve our governmental processes, elect good representatives and in our understanding (or misunderstanding) of the parameters of government.

Our Founding Fathers designed a republic, with democratic principles, to ensure that the voices of all the people are represented.  They understood that the citizens within a republic, under the auspice of a charter (our Constitution), will elect representatives to govern, and because they are bound by that charter defining the limits and the powers of the state, the people are kept free.

The fact that people vote for representatives is not what keeps them free, it is their willingness to live by that charter.*

A pure, or direct, democracy, on the other hand, is government by the majority.  It could also be defined as “mob rule.”  There is still a political unit formed by citizens in a democracy, but this group rules directly and runs the state.  They may delegate specific leadership tasks to individuals, but the ruling force in a democracy is not a charter (if there even is one), but the vote of the majority.*

There is a chasm of difference between these two systems of government and the concern at the Constitutional Convention was that the government they created would be too democratic because a majority could vote itself anything it wanted.  The potentially dangerous slide into a direct democracy was foreseen by John Adams who observed, “Our experiment with being a Constitutional Republic is rapidly coming to an end….democracy never lasts long.  It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.”

Historian, Alexander Marriott, points out, “When ignorance of this distinction contends that this country is strictly a democracy, a disservice is done to all of the people who created and have fought for our republic.”

Our representative government was created to contain the tyranny of a majority that could, in fact,majority-rule1 limit freedoms because the law is whatever the majority says is the law.  No inalienable right would be safe, not even freedom of speech.

While it is not the duty of elected representatives to defy the will of the majority, it is their duty to weigh a majority opinion equally with a minority in order to determine what is best for the Common Good.  Whether our debate is over health care, military deployment, budgets, debt ceilings, or religious freedom, it is not the will of popular opinion that determines legislation, it is the government that was elected by us.

The columnist above misses the point that a representative democracy can make determinations that are contrary to the will of the majority population.  A woman’s right to vote, for example, was not a popular consensus across America, but enough elected legislators in enough states realized that it was correct for a constitutional government predicated on freedom and equality.

The letter writer above, defending the actions of religious moralizing, has missed the most crucial aspect of religious freedom within a republic.  Fundamentalists do have the right to exercise their beliefs as they wish, but only within the circles of their religion, and not in the context of the republic as a whole, if those beliefs contradict the freedoms of others.

Not one of us has to agree with any legislative decision, but we have agreed, by our acceptance of our constitutional charter, to abide by them.  Our charter also protects freedom of speech, and our right to petition the government with a redress of grievances; collectively that is how we contain the government that is designed to protect us.

Plato predicted that in the long run a democracy will always become a tyranny, either by majority, or if the majority screws things up so badly and a tyrant seizes power from the ensuing chaos.  We must keep coming back to these fundamental understandings and definitions before we can create the change that will, instead, improve government, secure our freedom, and claw our way out of this maddening cycle of anger that produces shutdowns, filibusters and stalemates.

black-clouds-over-the-capitol

 

 

 

 

 

*Alexander Marriott

The Wrong Direction

Political Speech Writer's Jargon In and Jargon Going Forward Desk Organizers.If you’re a political speechwriter the easiest thing to write for your candidate to say is, “I don’t like the direction America is heading.”  It’s a chestnut we hear every election cycle because a lot of people never seem to like the way we’re heading.

It’s what candidates generally say when they’re running against a candidate whose party is in the White House.  Clinton used it against Bush, Bush against Gore, and Obama against McCain.  We hear it in congressional and senate races, too.

It resonates because it always appears that things are getting worse.  Yet, we seem to miss the irony in the fact that these are the very days that future candidates will one day wistfully recall as the better times we need to get back to.

We all pretty much agreed that we didn’t like heading into a deep recession in 2008 and Barack Obama won by a substantial margin, but, the refrain, “I don’t like the direction America is heading” is being trotted out again.

Personally, I’m not happy with many of America’s foreign policies, but I’m never happyGraph-Upward-Trend2 with many of America’s foreign policies.

In domestic matters unemployment figures are below pre-recession levels, the stock market has reached new highs, corporate profits are healthy, more Americans have healthcare coverage, environmental concerns are getting more attention, and civil rights are front and center.

Oh, we have work to do!  We have to build the middle class, create upward mobility for working Americans and fair pay for women.  We also have to tackle affordable education, but all of these things are on the table and that indicates a pretty good direction.  At least good enough to make “I don’t like the direction America is heading” a fairly thin statement.

But polls are showing that it still works and that suggests a continuing truism; the truth is not what the public is looking for.

Political consultants have known this for decades, if not centuries.  Voters are looking for feelings, not facts.  The most blatant illustration of this in my lifetime came from a AP515702295380Democratic campaign when a Lyndon Johnson commercial showed a nuclear explosion insinuating that Barry Goldwater was so extreme that his presidency could end the world.  It played on fear without any substantive reason to make that connection.

A young Karl Rove must have been taking notes because he emerged as the master of modern political rhetoric.  When Ann Richards seemed unbeatable as governor of Texas, Rove felt otherwise.  He knew that people vote on emotional connections and not substantive ones.  When crime was down in every major category in Texas under Richard’s watch, he had his candidate, George W Bush, say, “Ann Richards says crime is down in Texas, but I don’t believe that.  I don’t feel safer.  Do you?”

thCA03UG69And enough Texans rose to their feet and said, “No!  We don’t!”  Never mind that they actually were and statistics were there to prove it, reactive fear came to the polls and Richards lost.

Truth doesn’t matter.

Last year in a Senate race a candidate’s support for veterans was disputed by challenging his committee attendance.  The accusing candidate gained from the attack, but the truth was, few politicians worked harder for veteran’s rights and benefits than the candidate who was under fire.

The playbook has been written and candidates who use it best fare better than those who think that facts will rule the day.

Today, some media uses the playbook by taking dangerous international concerns and whipping people into a froth of fear to, once again, move opinions with feelings and not with rational thinking.

Truth doesn’t matter.

Yet, we know in our hearts that truth does matter.  And when it’s rendered irrelevant in our rhetoric, consequences will rise in our reality.

When the truth of justice is swept aside, fear is manifested.  When the truth of generosity is ignored, we give rise to greed.  When we are blind to the truth that bigotry is evil, we are complicit in the hate it reveals.

The-Wrong-DirectionTruth matters, and until we give it more importance in elections, we will undoubtedly be heading in the wrong direction.

“He is not great who is not greatly good.”

I’ve now heard every Republican who has declared their candidacy for the presidency state that we need a president that will “make us proud again to be an American.”

Yet, it wasn’t that long ago when Democrats were rallying to “return America to greater standing in the world” and to find our “moral authority once again.”

I remember because I was one of the louder voices.

Only 8 years before that the battle cry was heard from a Republican running against Gore that we needed to “bring dignity back to the White House.”

Clinton, before that, ran against Bush Sr. and promised to return us to “a time when America was respected more than feared.”

A letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register criticized Obama’s foreign policies and finished with the proclamation, “We need to make America great again!”

Every time I hear that I ask myself, “What ‘great’ period are they referring to?”

I hear “return to greatness” from both sides of the political fence and I wonder, “What is the criteria for greatness?”

Apparently, the letter writer felt good about the way things were before Obama even though the Bush era ended with economic catastrophe, and a foreign policy quagmire.

Maybe, they were referring to Clinton-era American pride.  Clinton did balance the budget and maintained an extended period of prosperity, but, something tells me that wasn’t the writer’s intention.

It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that many Americans wish for a return to the principles of Ronald Reagan and his “Shining city on the hill,” but, that was also when we first became a debtor nation from his fiscal schizophrenia.  Not to mention that the “Trickle Down” revival of neoliberalism (not to be confused with liberalism) created a divide between the Haves and the Have-nots that still tangle the economic debate.

Many Americans think of the great moral purpose of World War II and the recovery from the Great Depression as the greatest time in the history of America. Although to hear the conservative revisionists speak of FDR today, you would think that every failure since, social and economic, was the result of the New Deal.

Lincoln, perhaps the greatest philosophical genius to ever occupy the White House, presided over the greatest socio/political divide in history.

There is no doubt that seeds from separatism still exist to this day as we continue to fight challenges of racism and policies born from ignorance and fear.

So…what is the period of greatness that we all, at one time or another, seem to crave?

Good news!  This isn’t a rhetorical question, I have an answer!

There are two things that happen when we consider our historical greatness.  One is a natural human craving for nostalgia.  Nostalgia is not built upon a remembrance of how things were; rather it comes from what we remember about how we felt at a certain time.  We carry in our narrative the fact that we have survived, and we remember the moments of joy in the cracks and crevices of our struggles; we instinctively long for those feelings again.

Some of my happiest memories are from financially hard times long ago where I found laughs and inspirations in my journey.  I yearn for them even today.

And two, we have a collective historical consciousness about the legacy and promise of America. We are aware of the unique place in world history that our Republic occupies and we have been taught what our forefathers fought for in defiance of tyranny. We are raised on the traditions of patriotism and the stories of struggle and triumph that define our realization of freedom and human rights.

While our history is undeniably peppered with stumbles and falls toward realizing those principles, it is still a timeline of progress toward life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Together, nostalgia and patriotism conspire to give us a sincere sense of what makes this country great and we perennially long to restore her to something that “used to be.”

My challenge for all of us is to ask ourselves, individually:  “What is it that I believe in that makes America great?  Does America follow the call of human rights and the principles of freedom?  What am I doing to continue that journey?”

We make a mistake when we put the responsibility of America’s promise onto the shoulders of politicians before we answer those questions ourselves.  Only collectively, as citizens and politicians, can we define the moral directives that will restore our journey to freedom and guide us toward the realization of peace.

That will make us great. Again.

The Art of the Deal; the Agreement with Iran

I posted this essay once already.  I took it down after a headline the next day was “Kerry Disturbed By Ayatollah’s Comments.”  The Iranian Ayatollah has made it clear that Iranian foreign policy toward the “Arrogant America” and toward Israel had not changed since the nuclear containment agreement.  Behind him were chants of “Death to America!  Death to Israel!”Death-to-America

Even though this was not really breaking news as the clerics of Iran have held this position all along, it was timing that I could not ignore.  My support of negotiations after a hostile threat was not going to be well received by people who are understandably concerned in the post 9/11 world.

But today as I read Mike Huckabee’s foray into this foreign policy debate I decided enough is enough.  Huckabee states:  ” The president’s foreign policy…is so naïve that he would trust the Iranians.”  He went on to invoke the Holocaust by implying that the Iran deal “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”‘

Huckabee is only the latest Republican candidate for President to prey upon many Americans’ fear and by tying this action to the Holocaust, he links Islam to genocide.  That is the black and white world of foreign policy carried by too many Republicans and why more open-minded thinking must prevail.  For the past half century, conservative Republican policy has been to keep our enemies, enemies, and to view any effort to assuage the very things that create enemies, to be weak policy.

Iranian clerics, it must be said, do nothing to placate the fears of Americans (and Israelis) by fanning those very flames with such statements, but this is where we have to go deeper than the rhetoric to understand the beliefs of the Iranian people themselves.

I came upon this blog:  http://iranian.com/main/blog/ayatoilet1/iranians-love-america-americans-hate-iran.html

And while this is a purely anecdotal perspective, it is TEHRAN+COFFEE+SHOPundeniably a point of view that runs contrary to the conventional perception that many Americans have of Iranians.  I was struck by the premise: “When Iranians burn the American flag in street demonstrations – they are NOT showing hatred toward Americans; they are, in fact, pointing out the the U.S. government has and is continuing to try to destroy Iran and Iranians.”

Huckabee may believe that it is good policy to condemn Iran with military intervention, but from the Iranian perspective, a mistrust of American policy is not only warranted, but well advised.  We are only one generation removed from a covert American operation in 1953 that imposed a coup d’état and deposed their popular prime minister.  The coup was to secure oil interests for the United States after Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh had nationalized Iran’s rich petroleum industry and oil reserves.  The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, became a puppet of the United States, while subjecting his own people to arbitrary arrests and torture.  While the Shah lived as a monarch, the people were kept poor by this alliance.

This led to the 1979 Revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and thus began the Islamic Republic.

Relations with the United States continued to fester as the US supported the corrupt regime of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war; again to secure our own interests.  The blog above pointed out that over a million Iranians died in that 8 year war with Iraq.

us embassy tehran muralAnd so I ask:  Is it any wonder that the people of Iran distrust America?

Here’s where I can offer a little perspective of my own.  26 years ago I lived in Los Angeles and there was what seemed like an epidemic of “Freeway Shootings.”  Along the freeways for several months there would be a flurry of bullets from one car fired at other vehicles and these events carried the news.  Now, the truth was that daily living did not change one bit.  No one re-routed to other freeways, no one refrained from going to outdoor cafes, and it was not the prevailing feeling that among 12 million people scurrying about that anyone was in any particular danger at any particular time.  At least not any more than usual.  But, that’s not how it appeared to the rest of the world….

Later that year I was in Israel (making the legendary film “A Man Called Sarge”…I jest…) and I was walking down Dizengoff in Tel Aviv with a young Israeli soldier.  He explained to me that he is always aware of his surroundings as an act of terrorism could happen at any time, yet he seemed as relaxed and secure as anyone I’d ever known.  The Uzi hanging over his hip, however, gave clarity to his words.

Then he said, “Yeah, but it’s not like where you’re from where people are shooting at each other all the time.”

And it hit me.  People outside of each reality only know what they see on the news, and the news carries what is the most newsworthy.  The report is no less real because of the coverage, but it is heightened by the broadcast.  Could that be the reality elsewhere?  Such as when we see Iranians chanting “Death to America!”?

Would it be hard to imagine that Al-Jazeera reporting on the KKK chanting ” White White-supremacist-group-the-Ku-Klux-Klan-assembles-outside-South-Carolina-Statehouse-to-protest-against-flag’s-removal_-—-Al-Jazeerasupremacy!” could lead some nations to view us as primarily racist?  Is it hard to imagine that people in the Middle East, and elsewhere, might see a glaring contradiction between the free nation we pride ourselves on being and what they actually see of us?  Especially when what they see first hand is intervention that rejects their own way of life?

I offer a more scientific poll as evidence of this disconnect.  It also supports the previous bloggers distinction between the American people and government:  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89683583

This nuclear agreement with Iran is not a simple, quick fix as this short essay may seem to imply; it is only part of a modern transformation.  Extreme Islam is a reaction to this change, but this is also where new alliances will form. Iran shares the fight against ISIS, and we must also shore up our true allies, particularly, Israel.  And while Israel is uneasy with a solvent Iran, this could be the step toward breaking the stalemate with the Palestinians, as an agreement (perhaps a two state solution) is what will hold serve in the inevitable Middle East transformation.

Zahra_YousefIt’s true that Tehran supports Hamas and Hezbollah and has not recognized Israel since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, but this agreement is also for the people of Iran who wish to live in peace.

One side of the debate in America believes that Iran must be treated as an enemy of the United States and anything short of military annihilation of nuclear facilities (including power) and continued economic sanctions so that Iran’s ability to rebuild them is rendered impossible, endangers us all.  Inflammatory comments from the Ayatollah easily verify that position for many.

The other side believes that Iran is a sovereign nation, and like the blogger points out, is a proud nation, suffering under economic sanctions.  They believe that the pathway to03IRAN-master675 peace is to restore economic solvency and salvage their national pride by acknowledging that sovereignty.  But only after creating strict parameters on Iran’s uranium stockpile (reducing it by 98%), destroying centrifuges and submitting to expansive inspections to insure that no military nuclear development is possible.

I stand with the latter.

The opposition to the agreement is based on a misunderstanding of the country and our history with Iran.  Not that a misunderstanding is hard to understand, given the anti-American rhetoric that has been part of that history for several decades, but the reverse suspicion is equally as relevant.

The sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports to fall by two-thirds, their GDP has plummeted, inflation has risen over 40 percent, and the people have struggled to buy necessities.  Unemployment has skyrocketed, foreign investment has disappeared and nations like India and China, which owe Iran billions, have not been permitted to pay their debts.

The lifting of sanctions could allow Iran to recoup more than $100 billion in frozen oil profits and would reopen Iran’s ability to export worldwide and allow its banking system to do business with Europe.  They would be integrated back into the world economy.

Is that good news for world security?  I offer “yes” but only with vigilant attention to the ramifications of these transitional events.  David Rothkopf writes in Foreign Policy Magazine (July 20, 2015):  “Make no mistake, this deal is just the latest in a series of seismic shocks that are remaking the modern Middle East. Some have been generational. Some have been technological. Some were manifested in the Arab Spring….Some came with the evolution of the extremist threat from al Qaeda, to the Islamic State, to whatever comes next. Some are unique to the massive changes taking place within individual countries — from Israel, to Syria, to Libya, to Yemen, to Iraq. But all are part of this being a transformational moment, and all will be impacted by this deal and its consequences, intended and otherwise.”

The agreement with Iran, even as clerics and American/Israeli government hating protesters posture, is a catalyst toward cooperation as it was the process of negotiation that held the trigger without laser guided missiles.

I don’t believe that the inflammatory statements of Ayatollah Khamenei can be ignored, not by any means, but we must put him into context.  He condemned 9/11, his foreign policy has been to avoid confrontation with the United States, and he asserts that US intervention throughout Iranian history is the primary source of Iranian insecurity.  That is not a position without credibility.

His anti-Zionist views are extreme and create understandable uneasiness in Israel, but that is why this agreement is crucial. Iran would be foolish to unleash nuclear weapons on Israel or anywhere.  They would be annihilated and they know it. They would be foolish to attempt to develop nuclear weapons and risk the automatic reinstatement of crippling sanctions. My interest is in a path to peace that protects Israel by taking away the capacity for a nuclear threat against her while redirecting the machinery of war to a treaty between nations.

article-2328629-19EB010B000005DC-374_306x423The jacked up fear mongering of Huckabee and too many others is not the reality of this agreement.  The reality is that giving people respect, dignity, and sovereignty, will go a lot further toward establishing peace, than beating the drums of intimidation and fear.