My Fellow Americans

The media and multiple taking heads are excited about a 55% turnout in Wisconsin. Really? How is just more than half of all registered voters showing up at the polls a cause for celebration? Nationwide, voter turnout was under 50%. That means that over half of all people view government (local, state, and federal) as this far away entity over which they have no influence, and which is not worth their time. How did we get here? There needs to be a compelling voice, a message of hope, a reminder of the good things that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can do.

What can we do?

Take a risk.  Run for office.  Or at the very least, actively support those who support what you believe.  Shold I run?  I don’t know, but maybe, just maybe…

So, what do I value?

What do I believe about education?

Education for all.  Public education needs help.  It needs to be freed from the constraints imposed on it by politicians and private businesses who have zero experience and political and economic agendas driving their decisions.

What can be done about education?

Completely remove standardized testing from all schools.  There is such limited validity in standardized test scores that using them as an evaluation tool for students and teachers is absurd.

Emphasize problem-solving and critical thinking skills.  These require an understanding of basic concepts in whatever subject is taught, so the three “R”s will not only survive, but thrive, as they are given real-life application.

Allow teachers to do what they do best.  Teach.  Reduce class sizes by hiring more teachers.  Improve teacher training.  These are professionals, treat them as such.

Change the culture.  View teaching as the noble pursuit it is.  Pay teachers more appropriately for the time and effort they pour into educating our children.  Listen to their expertise.  Real and effective improvement comes from those who are doing the work every day.

Reject “one size fits all” education.

Push for classrooms with two or three teachers, or one teacher and one or two highly qualified assistants, to provide as much opportunity as possible to engage students (and fellow teachers) in learning.

Most importantly, increase the size of the middle class by implementing new economic policies that will truly stimulate the economy. (see below)  Too many of our children are living in deep poverty that hinders their hope and constricts their ability to learn.

What do I believe about the economy?

Trickle down economics is a fraudulent failure.  The most wealth is held by the fewest people in history.  The wealth of the upper class has not made its way down to those who need it most, and never will if we continue with the status quo. Small businesses and family farms continue to suffer, while corporations dominate and serve only their wealthiest stockholders.  We need policies that strengthen the middle class and make things like savings, retirement, and family time a reality for everyone.

What can be done about the economy?

Strictly regulate the financial sector.  Those who create nothing have profited long enough.  The financial sector needs to be held accountable for the damage it has caused.  Implement strict usury laws barring outrageous interest rates.  Require financial institutions to carry the risk again, so they will avoid dangerous financial instruments that have run roughshod over the economy.

Increase the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour, and tie future increases to the cost of living and GDP.  There is a fallacy that this will cause rampant inflation.  It will not.  There is a belief that small businesses will suffer.  The increased purchasing power across the board will mitigate the increase in labor costs. Incentives and low-interest loans will be offered to all small businesses.  Publicly traded corporations and financial institutions will NOT receive these incentives, as they have declared that their only responsibility is to their stockholders.  We need to invest in small, local and regional businesses to revitalize the economy.

Promote small, local and regional credit unions and banks which serve their local constituencies.

Close all loopholes that allow corporations and other businesses to avoid paying their fair share in taxes.

Renegotiate or cancel all economic treaties that encourage outsourcing.

Avoid all economic treaties that benefit the already wealthy at the expense of the poor.

Reinvigorate and reward manufacturing and innovation.

Fully fund a wide-ranging national infrastructure program that will reduce unemployment.  This includes roads, bridges, energy, and fiber optics/technology improvements.

Repay the money “borrowed” from Social Security over the past 45 years, to insure its health for future generations.  Fully find all social programs.

Reduce both the influence and the financial anchor of the military-industrial complex, both of which have dragged us down long enough.  Meanwhile, fully fund health care and education opportunities for veterans.

What do I believe about health care?

Health care is a fundamental right.  While our current system is renowned for its innovation, it is also rightly castigated for its unaffordability.

What can be done about health care?

Adopt a preventative, rather than reactive health care model.

Single payer health care.  Health insurance companies could still offer private insurance, much like the German model.  However, they will no longer determine cost and thereby become de facto death panels.  Everyone will be covered.  Everyone.  No one will ever have to have to have a benefit to pay for life saving procedures.

This will be paid for using a significant increase in the capital gains tax, strict taxes covering profits made from purely financial transactions, and a significant  income tax increase for those making more than twice the median income.  The increased income tax will apply only to the amount of income exceeding twice the median income.  Latest numbers put median income at $51,939.00, meaning the increased income tax would take effect on any income exceeding $103,878.00.  As median income increases, the floor for this increased tax will increase.  According to latest figures, this tax will affect only the top 20% of wage earners, who currently make almost 50% of the income in the US.  It is time to pay their fair share for the freedom and opportunity they have enjoyed.

We NEED a healthy nation, a healthy workforce, and we need to return to the values that made us great once.  We need to stop thinking only of ourselves, and think about the success of our fellow citizens.  That will benefit EVERYONE.

This is just a start.  I believe in these things, and believe they will benefit everyone.  Do you agree or disagree?  Do have different ideas?  Do we have a chance of making a difference?

Never Forget?

Another year has gone by and another September 11 has come and gone.  When people say “Never Forget”, what do they mean?  Do they mean never forget the beautiful lives that were lost that day, and celebrate the moments of beauty those people left in the world during their time here?  Or do they mean never forget the death and destruction?  Maybe they mean never forget the extremism that led some very misguided souls to end their lives by destroying the lives of others as well.  Or maybe they mean never forget the destructive foreign policies that gave rise to such extreme hatred.

I fervently wish that when people commemorated September 11, they would celebrate the beauty of those whose lives were lost, but sadly, most do not.  They wallow in the terror, the death, the anger.  If we could stop fetishizing destruction, then maybe we could see how counterproductive we are and make a new beginning.  We could transform our own lives if we just left the hatred and pain and terror behind and thought about how we can treat one another here and now.  We could avoid the brutal mistakes of the past…

Yeah.  Who am I kidding.

Instead, we are going to pursue a policy of military intervention against a perceived threat.  Again.  We dance to the familiar drumbeat of  aggression.  We demonize without attempting to understand.  We create new messes to replace the messes we have already put in place.

When will we learn?

Try saying this silently to everyone and everything you see for thirty days: “I wish you happiness now and whatever will bring happiness to you in the future.” If we said it to the sky, we would have to stop polluting; if we said it when we see ponds and lakes and streams, we would have to stop using them as garbage dumps and sewers; if we said it to small children, we would have to stop abusing them…if we said it to people, we would have to stop stoking the fires of enmity around us. Beauty and human warmth would take root in us like a clear, hot June day. We would change.Joan Chittister

I Can See Detroit From Here!

Perspective.  That is what it is all about.  The Awesome Pastor shared a message of perspective today and it struck a chord with me.  I have never been interested in seeing Detroit, even when it was thriving.  But now, after a force-feeding of bleak images and horror stories in the media, an excursion to Detroit seems like a sad joke.  Today, my perspective was challenged and changed.  What if we start viewing Detroit not as a sinkhole, but as an opportunity?  Not as bankrupt, but as ready to rebuild?  Not as a slow death, but as a rebirth?

All the stories of Detroit, and Flint, and Gary, and Dayton, and all the other struggling cities in the derisively named Rust Belt miss one very important detail… people.  The recession and poverty that have settled onto these cities hurt and affect people.  People who have families, who struggle to feed those families, who struggle to find stable employment, who keep hearing over and over again how they are “moochers” on society for accepting welfare, who make things work in the face of overwhelming challenges, who find love and joy in living life, who take pride in the achievements of their children.  These are human beings who laugh and cry and live.  And THEY are Detroit.  And Flint. And the Pine Creek Reservation.  And North Minneapolis.  And Gary.  And wherever you live.  They deserve opportunity and hope as much as you do.

It seems to me that the people who ask, “Why should my taxes go to people who don’t work?”, are asking the wrong question.  What they should be asking is, “In the monetarily richest country in the world, why do we still have so many people struggling and unable to feed their families?”  The first question is asked from a position where the individual asking the question is at the center.  The second question puts the issue at the center, where we can begin to work on it.  Perspective is everything.

The Youth Gathering for our church is taking place in Detroit and will provide a huge influx of money and community service while they are there.  I pray that they inspire the service to continue in Detroit.  Love is there already, God is present there.  But the people of Detroit need help, and support, and opportunity.  The Youth will be showing us the way, do we have the strength and will to follow?

How can we each work to build up places that are in need of rebirth?  What can we do to provide hope to those who need to know there is opportunity where they live?  I wish I had an answer, but maybe the most immediate thing we can do is to remember them in our prayers, keep them in our thoughts, consider them when we contribute to charity, in who we support for public office, in what we do for people in need in our own communities.  And maybe we can visit our own “Detroit” and find the beauty that we missed there.

When I Need It Most

The Irish Bird Assassin pleasantly surprised me with another installment of questions for our on-going mutual interview.  Nothing quite makes my mind swirl like her questions…

1. Your soul is on fire. What three aspects of your personality do you save?

Nothing like starting out in the deep end!  My sense of humor, my support of the underdog, and my general grumpiness.  Those are the three things I think that are at the core of who I am as an individual, and really, that is what the soul is about, for me.

2. Word-associate the following: delicious, smurfy, cantankerous, platitude, luxurious, scratchy, plush

yummy, blue, cranky, cliché, soaking, wool, Stone Temple Pilots

3. You’re given the chance to send one text message (140 characters, no more) to our friend who passed away last year. Would you do it?

Yes. “You will never fully know how much you meant, but  your influence shaped some of the best parts of me.  I miss you stupidly.”

 

4. Your eyes are quite distinctively handsome. Do you tend to play them up – specific colors, more or less, that sort of thing – when dressing more formally? Or is there some other aspect of your appearance that you tend to feature?

You are exceedingly kind to say so, and that does make me blush a little.  Flattery, even, honest flattery, will do that.  I have been known to wear some blue on occasion in order to bring them out a bit.  In truth, when I am dressing to impress, I tend to wear dark colors that hide the imperfections of my shape rather than emphasize the positives I might possess.  Of course, I have always relied on my personality rather than my appearance to make any kind of impression.  Truly, it might have done me more good to honestly embrace the reality of how I look rather than see it as a liability.  I guess we all need our own kind of empowerment.

5. You’ve recently branched into fish-keeping. Is this a first-time thing for you, or is it an old hobby renewed? What do you like best about it?

First-time for me.  While my family has always been pet-minded, I never enjoyed the company of animals when I lived alone.  This particular expansion of my pet palette is thanks to the good influence of the Gardening Beauty.  I am now a dog lover and fish watcher.   I have always appreciated the relaxing aspect of watching fish go about their frolicking.  Now that we have added an even more interesting denizen (a blue lobster), I find myself even more fascinated.  Thankfully, the Gardening Beauty is expert enough to set up and maintain the aquarium, and she has taught me enough to help us avoid the heartbreak of a flush funeral.

God is Not a Molotov Cocktail

Today I read that Franklin Graham, son of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, made the following statement after the mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School: “This is what happens when a society turns its back on God.”

First of all, it was a young man with serious mental issues who killed those children.  Not God.  What kind of God would slaughter little kids just because he felt slighted and ignored?  Certainly no God I would want to worship.  Who in their right mind would not only believe in, but love, such an abusive and hateful God?

Here is the thing, the only people who paint God as vengeful and willing to destroy, are people who want to control you through fear.  If you fear, then you don’t question, and if you don’t question, then you accept things blindly.  Blind faith is simple ignorance – nothing more.  And charlatans like Franklin Graham rely on ignorance for their power.

Faith needs to be informed to be valuable.  Faith needs to be a living, breathing, and (here’s the kicker) changing thing.   Even Paul (someone with whom I constantly struggle) knew this when he wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.”  The faith we had as children, predicated on simple stories and black and white solutions, changes as we question, doubt, struggle and use our minds.  My faith is not something simplistic, or blind, or unwilling to change.  It shifts perspective and ebbs and flows.  It does that because I am no simpleton who believes everything set before him.  When I was a kid, I believed it because…. I was supposed to.  Now I believe it because… I want to.  Because through all the doubts and questions and struggles, I still see the goodness of God in the laughter of children, the beauty of science and nature, the hand that reaches out to help.  That is the God that I love, the one who walks with me, not the one who is hell bent on vengeance.

So, for Franklin Graham and his misguided ilk, who seem to live for those times when God chastens those who have turned away (definition: people who don’t believe their way), I say keep your God.  He does not exist for me, and should never exist for anyone.

A Prayer

With the upheaval and hopelessness that sometimes enters our lives, with our voices dimmed by forces seemingly beyond our control, with the helplessness that comes with witnessing suffering and loss, I find comfort in this prayer, because of its call to action…

We cannot merely pray to you, O God,
to end war;
For we know that You have made the world
in a way
That man must find his own path to peace.
Within himself and with his neighbor.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God,
to end starvation;
For You have already given us the
resources
With which to feed the entire world,
If we would only use them wisely.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God,
to root out prejudice;
For You have already given us eyes
With which to see the good in all men,
If we would only use them rightly.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God,
to end despair,
For You have already given us the power
To clear away slums and to give hope,
If we would only use our power justly.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God,
to end disease;
For You have already given us great minds
With which to search out cures and healing,
If we would only use them constructively.

Therefore we pray to You instead, O God,
For strength, determination and will power,
To do instead of just pray,
To become instead of merely to wish.”

Jack Riemer
Likrat Shabbat

 

I am especially grateful to the community at my church, for choosing to read the wonderful book in which I foundd this prayer, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner.

 

The Greatest Commandment

There are so few things in my life about which to complain that it boggles the mind.  For some reason, life has been good to me in so many ways.  I have an amazing family, a loving partner-in-crime, a job that pays most of the bills, decent health.  But why?  What did I ever do to deserve this?

The truth is, I have done nothing to deserve this.  This has become clear over the past few days’ struggles.  For every good thought or deed that passes through me, it is counter-balanced by countless thoughts and deeds that are selfish, gruesome, and appalling.   Many friends and acquaintances would be quick to disabuse me of this belief and try to convince me I am a good man, but the truth is I am deeply flawed.  I know they mean well, but the fact is, it is the acceptance and knowledge of my many weaknesses that motivates me to try and be better.  True, I often insanely make the same mistakes again and again, but I do not give up trying to be better.  The one thing that has remained through everything is a sense of  grace – the realization that the most valuable blessings in my life continue to flow, not because of what I do, but because of the Love of others.

Love Your Neighbor is not a suggestion, it is a reality.  My heart witnesses that reality every day in many ways, but it usually takes a personal stumble to make me recognize how Love really works in my life.