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?

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Politics and Faith

Read something that I found very disheartening today.  It disheartens me because, once again, a man who insists that he is a man of God, reveals that he is more motivated by politics than he is by his faith.  It also disheartens me because of the undue influence that personal faith has come to have on who we decide to support for political office.

On the first point, Franklin Graham’s father, the evangelist Billy Graham, is someone I respect, because while he did show his faith in a very public arena, and shared his faith openly with politicians from both parties, he never entered the realm of politics.  He never encouraged support for one politician over another, at least not implicitly.  I do not agree with his theology, but it’s hard to deny that his life showed him to be a decent man.

Now, his son appears on MSNBC throwing doubts on whether President Obama is a Christian.  His reasoning?  President Obama has said he is a Christian, but “he seems to be more concerned about them (Muslims) than the Christians that are being murdered in the Muslim countries”.  Ah.  Clearly, that is a solid reason to doubt someone’s faith.  Because, of course, as Muslims, they obviously deserve less concern than Christians do.  I mean, Jesus clearly taught that, right?  Well, let’s not judge Franklin GRaham too hastily.  Let’s see what he says about other candidates…

Rick Santorum – “His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it… I think he’s a man of faith.”  Ok.  Obviously perception is what really matter in questions of faith.  I mean, if Rick Santorum wasn’t a man of faith, he couldn’t possibly have clear values on moral issues.  Because, certainly Jesus never would have related a parable about a Samaritan showing more mercy than a Jewish man of faith to illustrate that outward proclamations of faith mean nothing unless you actually exercise those values in your daily life.  I have my doubts about whether Rick Santorum is a man of faith, and they have far more to do with how he refuses to support initiatives that would assist the most vulnerable and poor among us.

And speaking of the Pharisees, who proclaimed their deep faith while hypocritically ignoring the basic commandments of that faith…

Newt Gingrich – “I think Newt is a Christian. At least he told me he is.”  Well, there you go.  Newt said so.  But, wait… didn’t President Obama say he was a Christian?  Oh, that’s right, but he appears to show more concern for Muslims.  And what of Newt?  He was divorced twice, had two affairs… where is the skepticism concerning his declaration of faith?  It appears that Franklin Graham’s criteria concerning faith is malleable.

Franklin Graham finally gives us his definition of what it means to be a Christian. “For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith and we have trusted him as our lord and savior.”  Ok.  That makes sense.  But there is one problem.  No one has the ability to look into anyone else’s heart and determine whether they are a Christian or not.  So, Franklin Graham, whether you like it or not, it’s not for you to say if President Obama is or isn’t a Christian.  Case closed.

And that leads me to the second, and more troubling issue.  When was it mandated that the person elected as President of the United States of America has to be a Christian, or even a man of faith?  The truth – it’s not.  In fact, it’s not even suggested.  So, why do we, as citizens, feel the need to delve into a person’s faith when they run for this esteemed office?  Well, one argument contends that a Christian person has values that mirror the majority of Americans.  Interesting argument.  And one needs only point again to the parable of the Good Samaritan to refute it.  The Samaritan was not a Christian or a Jew or a man of faith.  Yet, he showed greater mercy than the other men of faith who passed by the man at the side of the road.  Faith does not make one more righteous than anyone else and it most certainly does not make one automatically qualified to hold public office.  It is wrong to assume that someone who says they are a Christian is a better choice to lead the United States than someone who is not.  If you use it as one part of a whole picture of a candidate, that’s reasonable.  But it makes little sense to me disqualify an excellent leader based solely on his faith or lack of it.

The sad fact of the matter is that questions of faith have become political tools of attack.  And the sad fact is that Franklin Graham is tarnishing his father’s legacy by using his pulpit in such a divisive fashion.  As a man of faith, he should respect the man that God has seen fit to allow to serve as President.  I was not a fan of President Bush and disagreed with his policies, but I respected him because of the office he held.  President Obama’s concern toward Muslims is in the best interest of the United States of America, because it was a lack of understanding and a belief that “we” are somehow better than “them” that contributed to the strife in the first place.  (And yes, that applies in both directions)

I know it is difficult to accept differences.  It requires all of us to lay aside preconceived ideas and try to engage our brains.  What bothers me most is that every time a man like Franklin Graham does something like this, it causes too many people to stop thinking.  God gave us this incredible capacity for reason.  It’s a sin that we don’t utilize it more often.

A Challenge to Greatness

If you want to point to a single thing that indicates the erosion of American greatness, you need look no further than the fact that there is actually an annual poll that ranks the “Most Hated” people in America.  Exactly when did we as a country give up on the better angels of our nature in order to wallow in the muck and drivel of our basest instincts?  Seriously, what kind of mind says, “Oh hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could annually remind people of ‘famous’ people they don’t like?”  Shouldn’t the people we don’t care for simply be set aside so we can move on to something more important?  What exactly is gained by annually indicating our disdain for OJ Simpson or Paris Hilton or Caylee Anthony – or anyone else for that matter?

There was a time when Americans came together to make astonishing things happen: the founding of our country, fighting to preserve the Union and abolish slavery, mobilizing the government and private sector together to find our way out of the Great Depression,  the struggle to make the Civil Rights amendment a reality, sending human beings to the moon.  Have we now decided to limit ourselves to the bread and circuses of a dwindling greatness?

It has become a new sport to pass judgment.  All of us are guilty of indulging in self-righteousness from time to time, but it seems to have become a distinct and ugly primary characteristic of our culture.  We revel in throwing the figurative first stone.  If there is someone who can be “taken down a peg”, then the public drools and slathers for retribution of some kind.  It’s as if we have become the mob in Revolution-era France clamoring for the guillotine, or the Roman masses watching the games in the Colloseum.  We demand our version of blood sacrifice.

It makes me wonder why anyone would actually desire to run for President or high political office.  Whose life could ever stand up to the microscopic scrutiny?  Mine surely would not.  Are we so cynical and simple-minded that we cannot accept the great goodness possible in our leaders along with their shortcomings?  Are the successes of Abraham Lincoln diminished because he was a manic depressive who had ambiguous views on the abolition of slavery?  Is the tireless energy of FDR and his efforts through the Depression and World War 2 soiled irreparably because of the affairs he had outside his marriage?  Is JFKs ability to inspire the nation to action forever sullied by his womanizing?  These were complex, brilliant, inspiring human beings with all the powers and weaknesses inherent in being a part of humanity.

We were once a great nation because, despite our differences, we found ways to come together.  And often, it meant putting down our hatchets and overlooking the shortcomings in others.  It was never easy, it was certainly never perfect, but it always resulted in greatness.  I am not ready to surrender to mediocrity.  And I refuse to take the easy road and tear down when building up can result in so much more.

The Wisdom of John Adams

I am reading the biography of John Adams by David McCullough. It strikes me that those who most turn to waving the flag proclaiming “Don’t Tread On Me” haven’t the faintest clue as to what this particular, and genius, Founding Father believed was the importance of a republican form of government. What he said and thought was intelligently conceived, and wisely prescient. I could paraphrase, but his words are plainly clear and more eloquent…

“The happiness of people is the purpose of government, and therefore, that form of government is best which produces the greatest amount of happiness for the largest number.”

“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant”

“…I fear that in every assembly, members will obtain an influence by noise, not sense. By meanness, not greatness. By ignorance, not learning. By contracted hearts, not large souls…  There is one thing, my dear sir, that must be attempted and most sacredly observed or we are all undone. There must be decency and respect, and venerations introduced for persons of authority of every rank, or we are undone. In a popular government, this is our only way”

Stupid, Lazy Comedy

What Tracy Morgan said was offensive.  Let’s get that out of the way right away.  It was even appalling.  But when was the last time you took personal guidance in your life from someone whose job it is to simply be funny?  And if you did, how sad is your life?

It’s understandable that because he has fame, he has a louder megaphone than most people.  And with that fame comes a certain level of responsibility.  But this was said on-stage, during an act, not during a candid interview or in a private conversation.  Tracy Morgan’s act on stage is to say outrageous things… that’s his hook.  Is there anyone who believes that what he says on-stage is what he necessarily believes?  And if you do, let me introduce you to other comedians who make their living by being outrageous and inappropriate: Daniel Tosh, David Cross, Chris Rock, Dave Attell, Redd Foxx, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin.

Do we condemn actors who portray evil on stage?  In my opinion, this is much the same situation.

One of the things comedians do is take life and blow it out of proportion.  My best guess is he decided to take the insanity of homophobia to what he hoped would be a funny, if extreme, conclusion.  It wasn’t funny and it certainly didn’t work.  But, was he encouraging violence to anyone in the LGBT community by telling this failure of a joke?  I don’t think so.

However, in this era of bite-size information, we are too lazy to see complexity, too easily swayed by the raw first emotional response, too angry to see things from any other perspective than our own.  Again, he said it as part of an act.  Heard out of context, it’s a reprehensible statement.  Heard within the arc of his comedic act, it’s a tasteless bomb of a joke.  And it is SO EASY to aim all of our indignation at one person like this.  Much easier, than, say, actually doing something about discrimination and violence.

If you want to vilify Tracy Morgan for not being funny, have at it.  Sometimes he makes me laugh, but sometimes, like this time, he REALLY misses the mark.  He’s sporadically funny.  That’s why I usually don’t watch his act if it’s on TV.  And, everyone has that choice as well.  Don’t like what he’s saying?  Then don’t buy his CDs, don’t go to his shows, don’t listen to him.

Would you like to do something that REALLY matters as a response to this?  Volunteer to help the LGBT community where you live.  Stand up for them when someone says something disparaging.  March with them.  Be friends and accept them for who they are.  Support gay marriage.  DO SOMETHING.

Or just keep grumbling about what a terrible person Tracy Morgan is…

The Ongoing Cult of Public Apology

I am terribly disheartened today because Rep. Anthony Weiner has come out and admitted he has sent sexually explicit photos to women he has met online.  This is a congressman who has stood up for legislation that I considered important, so this is really a blow.  I could honestly not care less about the John Edwards saga, as I never felt he was anything more than a snake oil salesman.  But Weiner had really started becoming a rising star by supporting a number of Progressive causes.

Listen, we are all human beings, we all have faults and flaws, and expecting our politicians to not share that commonality of all human beings is asking a bit much.  However, the thing that has me so crestfallen is that he could have easily told the truth as soon as this came out.  And I speak from experience that lying is a terrible option.

So now, we have Andrew Breitbart, the paragon of character assassination, actually assuming the moral high ground.  He would have been just a footnote if Weiner had admitted the truth from day one.  I believe that attack dogs like Breibart are nothing but “gun for hire” muckrakers and will stop at nothing to besmirch any ideology with which they do not agree.  So, why did Weiner give Breitbart a golden opportunity to be the “good guy”?  An opportunity which the amoral Breitbart naturally fumbled by hijacking the beginning of Weiner’s press conference and exposing himself as the grandstanding self-promoter he obviously is.

If Weiner was “handled” by his staff, then they are completely incompetent.  If it was his call to deny, deny and then cry, then he should resign.  Either way, handing a “victory” to Andrew Breitbart prolongs the politics of distraction that have allowed the extremism of Tea Party Conservatives to run roughshod over a great country.

American Exceptionalism – A Crock

One of the most infuriating political ideas of late is American Exceptionalism.

Are there things about which the US should be proud?  Absolutely.

The US should be genuinely proud of the people who have found respite and relief here from political oppression.  We certainly should be proud of the ability and willingness of Americans to send aid to other countries when they face disasters, regardless of our political attitude toward them.  We should feel fortunate that we can travel from city to city and state to state at will.  We should treasure the wealth of natural beauty and resources that fall within our borders.

But none of that makes us better than anyone else.  We are NOT exceptional.  We are blessed.  We are fortunate.  We continue to struggle and wrestle with ourselves to do what is morally right and just.  It takes an insulting level of arrogance to declare ourselves the “best” or to portray ourselves as a “model”.

We have as many weaknesses and flaws as we do strengths.  To sit back on our laurels and bask in a false sense of Exceptionalism is an insult to all of those who have come before us.

There are so many things we as a country can do better and that other countries do far better.  We stubbornly refuse to take care of our most vulnerable.  We continue to pursue convenience at all costs.  We act rashly, and then regret the consequences.  We push, push, push without allowing for natural cycles to balance us.  We intervene when observation would suffice. We act for political gain instead out of moral duty.  We have become the frat boy douche bags of the world.

I love the US and feel fortunate to have been born here and to live here.  But, we could be so much more if we would only recognize the reality of who we are and open ourselves to the possibilities of what we can be.