Category Archives: Politics

Is Breaking Up Hard to Do? (National Edition)

Let me first make abundantly clear that what I write here is meant as an invitation to frank conversation, honest debate, and in no way is meant to be a statement of a firm opinion.

You’ve been together for years. You have a great story: an almost fate-led, near mythology to those starry-eyed early days. Those first days, months, even years, were full of passion. A force beyond yourselves pushed you together into a magical bond that nothing could break. Perhaps all of that passion blinded you to a few differences that could cause some issues later, but you’ll deal with that when you come to it. You’ve got your song. You share common values. You have a shared vision for what the future looks like. Perhaps you occasionally argue, but nothing that can’t be worked through when you think of what really matters. To the world, you are strong as one, united together, ready to set forward into forever together.

What if you are a nation? What if you are a united collection of states, initially bound together with a single purpose that influences a common bond of passions, forever leading you into the future as one sovereign entity? After that single galvanizing event brings you together, you settle down the passions and discuss critically what your values are, how they will be laid out, and how they will dictate your future. With any luck, and a whole heck of a lot of continued investment by subsequent generations, you have managed to maintain a national cohesion around those values – struggling at times, of course – always looking forward at how you will stand together for the foreseeable future.

Like any romantic couple, any interpersonal relationship for that matter, its health always needs to include an honest, perhaps brutal, assessment in how you continue to look at the future. Do you still share the same values? Does that spark of passion still ring true? Are the qualities you still have in common strong enough to make the ways in which you may have grown apart seem minor? Or, are you fooling yourself into believing you still have enough to keep you together?

The United States, We the People, need to seriously assess who we are, what we value, and truly question if there is still enough holding us all together to maintain out identity as these United States of America. If we are honest with ourselves, I think we might all see that it is at the very least a valid topic to broach – cautiously. Such an exercise should have two possible conclusions. Either:

  • we are reminded of what brought us together, how strongly we still believes in our common purpose, even if our focus is being constantly distracted by the superficial
  • or we face a very tough reality that portions of our union have grown terminally apart from one another to the point that saving it is an exercise in futility

We have all seen, from the outside, that couple forcing it to work for much longer than they should. Is that who we are now, or do we still have enough to work for?

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A Flag for Everyone: Let’s Own it!

I was driving to school a few days ago when I saw two large trucks traveling ahead of me with large American flags waving proudly in the wind. When I got nearer to the trucks, I was not surprised to see Trump stickers stamped in the center of their back bumpers. I was instantly reminded of the years following 9/11 and on through the heaviest years of the war in Iraq.

My first memory was that of the unity displayed following the attacks which brought down the World Trade Center towers, lodged a gaping hole in the Pentagon, and instantly moved our collective awareness into a new era. During that period, flags popped up all over – on cars, in windows, on trees, on lapels. As a nation, we collectively decided that we were together in our grief, our anger, and in our response. Flag sales spiked higher than ever before.

My next memory was from the days leading up to and in the midst of the Iraq War. Flags became the symbol of support for the war. I was not one of them. I saw it happening. I saw one side of a major issue – one that was more based on political ideology than matters of peace and war should ever be – take ownership of a symbol that belongs to all of us. Waving the flag illustrated that you believed in the war and questioned the patriotism of anyone who dared to take issue with the motivations or the application of it. You stood by George W. Bush without debate. There were moments when it bothered me that those of us on the left ceded our flag, a banner representing freedoms and dignities we hold dear, to one side of an issue. It was and is our damned flag too!

Returning to today, I fear we may be returning to that division. We may be returning to an environment where you are a patriot to stand with the current administration – the incoming Trump Administration – and will wave the flag for all of its glory and history. Anything less is unpatriotic of even um-American.

I want to qualify what I am about to say next by stating that I have a strong belief that asking permission or for social acceptance for the proper and inoffensive form of protest is not a protest at all, but a meaningless social transaction. I’m not sure I would ever express myself by stepping on or burning the flag, but I strongly support the right of those who do. This is a symbol heavily linked to freedoms enshrined in our Constitution. Many of those who protest in this way are saying quite forcefully that they do not believe they are enjoying the same level of those freedoms, that the opportunities which should be available to them are not. To many, this form of protest is abhorrent…but it gets your attention. If you are more worried about the fabric of a flag than the fabric of our system, please reconsider what you believe that flag stands for. Protest is meant to grab your attention. Unfortunately, too many focus on the act rather than the motivations behind it. Not enough people look at the act and consider what could be so distressing to a person burning the flag that they believe this is how they must respond to get some attention placed on their plight.

This gets me to my point: as much as burning the flag makes a statement, it also serves to reinforce my previous observation – the idea that the flag belongs to one ideology. I want to suggest that we not allow that to happen this time. The flag and all that it symbolizes should not again be ceded to those who will seek to enforce a biased sense of patriotism based on an adherence to their worldview. The flag, like our country, belongs to all of us. The freedoms and sense of dignity our founding fathers – while not perfect in living those values – conceived of, these principles are the property of all, not of a single ideology.

By all means, burn the flag if this is how you need to make your statement. Want to make an even stronger statement? Own that flag and all that comes with it! Wave it as you protest! Wave it as you march through the streets demanding that your rights not be trampled on. Wave it as you question policies that seek to divide us against one another. Don’t let your oppressors once again take it and let it only serve to symbolize their perspective. Wave it like it is yours. It is!

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Flip flops are for beaches. Let’s keep them there.

It is 2004 when the campaign of George W. Bush produces ads portraying his challenger, Senator John Kerry, as a flip flopper on important issues. I can still recall a deep voice in my head saying “flip flop, flop flip” in an ad that ends with a clip of Senator Kerry declaring, “I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” The declaration was in regards to an appropriation bill to fund the Iraq War. Many things haunted his campaign that year, including having a thoroughly uninspiring candidacy for a base that was looking to be inspired. That attack was among the most damning.

There is a school of thought in electoral politics that says anything and everything coming out of your campaign must stick to the message. When executed with the utmost discipline, it can be largely successful. But, in the case of Mr. Kerry, attacks that put everything you are working for at risk should not be ignored. Although there was a tepid attempt at addressing the attack, the label stuck and the rest is history.

We see this attack leveled against elected officials on a regular basis. It is utilized in races from Presidential on down to mayoral and city council. I don’t doubt that there are examples where a change of opinion comes purely from a place of political expediency. Candidates want to win and turning a blind eye to inner reservations for the sake of a few extra votes is nothing new.

However, I believe that these attacks are unfair in most situations and plant an easy label when individual situations often have much more complex details. It is the bumper sticker caricature that fails to recognize honest changes that happen with new knowledge, deeper understanding, or even simple evolution in perspective that every human being is entitled to. I should hope that we all allow ourselves the right to be moved as a fundamental part of growth and maturity.

I am not talking about retreating from calling those out who appear to take a vastly different approach than before without any real sense to be made as to why. Accountability is a paramount principle in public service. What I am saying is that we need to not be so easily influenced by this attack without considering the factors behind it. Seeking an easy way to turn voters against your opponent is understandable. You want to give people a reason to choose you over them, or at least make them reconsider supporting your opponent. My concern is that it does a disservice to the process. There is an environment in which fearful politicians find that it is politically better to be confidently wrong than to be perceived as a flip flopper. Most of us would call sticking to one position as being principled, and it is if you truly continue to believe in the same position. Standing on principle does not mean standing against reason when facts you know change or you develop a deeper understanding which alters your perspective. It is the principled leader of good character that is willing to admit they may have been wrong or at least not entirely informed when they took an earlier position. It is the reasonable, well informed electorate that can accept this as a part of the human experience.

Candidates for office need to be less afraid to grow as leaders and set themselves as examples for others to follow. They also need to be more prepared to explain themselves by addressing where a change in position grew from, and accept that it is better for people to disagree with your reasoning than to leave them in the dark. Voters must also attempt to refrain from accepting an easy label made by those whose motivation is simple — winning an election. We all know that very few situations in this life are as simple as they are made out to be. Governing is far from simple and as complex as anything in life can be.

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Politicians Are People Too

Some popular sentiments are so commonly expressed that it is often too easy to just repeat them without considering the extended impact. This is how I feel when I see a Facebook post, a blog comment, or a comment in the stream of a news story regarding the perceived lack of respect for all politicians.

First, let me start by saying that skepticism for the mainstream political establishment is fair, healthy, and warranted. We should all want the best people with the right intentions representing our best interests. Often, we should and do disagree on what our best interests are — but that’s open democracy. What we should desire are political leaders that fight for those best interests with thoughtfulness and integrity. Our skepticism comes from very public examples where that example is not being illustrated.

What is missed are the countless number of people who have done the good work of the people but aren’t in the public eye. The countless number of people who work today for those they represent in states, counties, Congressional or Statehouse districts, and on down to village ward council members. Some have public name recognition, but most are known only to the small segment of people they represent. The overwhelming majority seek out those roles because they care enough about their communities to put themselves out there.

There should be a difference between holding our elected leaders up to a high standard, and simply trashing them all because some have been engaged in dishonest, unethical, or selfish activities. It is a real problem when we elect people to represent us and they use that role to benefit their own interests. What we should avoid is painting an entire profession with the same brush and deciding for ourselves that anyone holding an elected post is inherently a crook, a puppet, or anything less than an actual human being. What we should do is encourage good people to get involved and pay more attention instead of less. Cynically throwing our hands up in frustration is easy, but the resulting apathy only allows the pervasive cycle to continue where the lowest common denominator of public servants keep their jobs.

I admit that there is a personal motivation behind this post. I have friends who are good public servants and truly believe in the work they do and care about the people and communities they serve. Although I can’t say for sure that my future will include an elected office, my ambitions include public service in some way. It is not because I want to be some famed politician or historic statesman. It is because my past has given me the experience and the drive to do for others. I am choosing that direction knowing what the public sentiment is. All others have done the same.

Next time you are tempted to exclaim how they’re all crooks, they’re good-for-nothing, or they don’t give a damn about average people, stop yourself and consider if you are doing more harm than good by expressing such hostile terms for an entire group of people. Most are or have been average citizens at one time, and chose to get involved because they did indeed give a damn. Again, it is easy to get frustrated and only see through a single lens because the worst examples do tend to get the most attention. However, choosing to seek the path of public service is just that, a path of service to the public. How many good people will continue pursuing that path if it means being devalued as a human being by the people they wish to serve?

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Gun Control

There is a photo circulating around Facebook that shows a major vehicle collision. Above the picture are the words, “WE DON’T BLAME CARS FOR DRUNK DRIVERS.” It is stated below the picture, “WHY BLAME GUNS FOR VIOLENT PEOPLE.”

Besides the obviously missing question mark at the end of the second sentence, here is the problem with this argument:

Yes, it is true that we do not blame cars for drunk drivers. We also DO NOT blame guns for violent people.
HOWEVER….
This analogy is full of Swiss cheese holes.
Cars can become weapons when used poorly, but we use cars for a variety of reasons such as transportation to Grandma’s house, getting to work, taking the kids to Disney World. They provide a function that encompasses social, economical, and recreational capacities. We also have a series of regulations in place to limit dangerous use of vehicles. Those who have shown that they cannot use them responsibly have the legal right to use them taken away. We register people who use them and we register the vehicles. We regulate the speed at which they can be driven. We regulate safety devices to make them safer. We know that the series of regulations will not prevent the wrong person from using them unsafely, but we accept the regulations and driving laws because we accept that having some common sense in our regulation of them has a limiting effect on what can go wrong with them.
Guns are ENTIRELY for purposes of killing. Yes, they can be used effectively to put some meat on the table, as a deterrent to the man breaking into your house in the middle of the night, or as a protection for those who are charged with leading or serving society. Their purpose is ONLY as an instrument of injury or death though. Yes, no amount of regulation will deter the wrong person from using them unsafely, but we should accept that having some common sense in our regulation of them can have a limiting effect on what can go wrong with them.
Why is it that we can all accept that speed limits can be a good thing but that limits on how much ammunition you can shoot is controversial? Why is it that we are not all allowed to have a military tank in our driveways or a working, loaded cannon in our yards?
So, keep using your silly analogies for a variety of other machines we use in our lives that can also harm people. They all serve and are designed for other purposes. They kill when used the wrong way. Guns kill when used the way they are designed to be used.

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On Voting for the Romney/Ryan Ticket

You tell me that I should make the choice of changing leaders this November and support a new “direction.” What direction is it you’re asking me to go in again?

First, on a personal note, I have a President who respects my desire to marry the man I love, to share my life, my financial future, my (God forbid) hospital room, and then there’s the duo that wants to advance the notion that I am one of this nation’s problems, and that they somehow know more about what exists in my heart than I do.

I have a President who believes that I should have the chance to continue my education. I am a proud college student with principles, motivations, and values that I want help my community and world with. The access to that education through grants, scholarships, low interest college loans, and debt forgiveness is an access to personal competitiveness in society, and national competitiveness in the world. Then there’s the duo wants to limit and reduce access to that education by reducing investment in it. Borrow it from your parents, they say. Never mind the fact that an increase in college graduates increases the chance of success for the army of entrepreneurs they express to be fighting for so adamantly.

I have a President who worked hard and spent a great deal of political capital on advancing health care for all. It isn’t perfect, but improvement is always a work in progress and progress only comes from stepping into the dirt and pushing in the shovel for the first time, a process harmed by obstinate attitudes and falsehoods. Then there’s the duo who supported this cause when it was their own idea, but now wants to go backwards to a time when people could suffer pain in their lives and even die from causes that could be treated, but could not get access to that treatment. They say replace it, but they don’t seem interested in expressing any solid details on their plans to fix the nation’s health care environment that was broken to the point of creating an imminent danger to our economy and security. Consequently, this duo talks a good talk about national debt when lack of insurance adds to that debt due to uncovered people in emergency rooms. They detest the fake boogie man labeled the government bureaucrat making health care decisions, but have no issue with the corporate bureaucrat making health care decisions. Which bureaucrat do you want, the one who has to contend with the voting public or the one who is primarily motivated by the profit margins of stock holders?

I have a President whose 4 years in office have been marked by exploding profits and stock values for the companies that lost so much, and laid off so many before he took office. These companies are the ones not hiring, even though they face a business environment that has never been better. Then there’s this duo that wants to reward those companies with more tax cuts, with the notion that this will encourage them to hire people, even though this philosophy has been proven to not work. The loss of national income will be paid for by reducing investment in the living, breathing people of this country so that companies that ship jobs overseas can be invested in.

So, explain to me what choice it is that I have this November? I am to vote against my own self-interests and the interests of the people and communities that I care about. I am to take my vote and choose a President and a party that has boldly and unashamedly sought every chance to barricade any progress? I am to take my vote and choose those whose strategy of obstruction was set on day 1. I am to choose a party who had no issue with expressing that their main motivation was not helping the people of this country, but winning back the seat of the Presidency. Please, tell me what choice it is you are asking me to make, because it looks me to that you are asking me to be a fool!

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Congressional Salary — The Misguided Cause

I have observed a graphic going around that expresses the sentiment stating “Pay Congress Minimum Wage.” I feel the need to respond to this. The problem is not the wage earned by Congress, it is the money they must raise to run for office, and run for re-election. It is the overwhelming cost of being considered a viable candidate, leading men and women who begin with good intentions and the desire to be honest public servants toward the interests of those who can finance their campaigns. Worse now due to certain court decisions, they must now have enough money to fight against unlimited funds that can be used against them by the almighty Super-PACs. A good person sees a set of issues that tug on one’s passion to serve. They are then faced with proving themselves — not primarily with the ideas or values that spark the fire in their soul — but with the judgement of how much of a financial “war-chest” they can manage to build. Perhaps the fire exuded is enough to earn them a place in a small state Legislature, but the moment they begin to look like the elected official that got there on the merit of their message, the special interests (on both sides) that don’t like to see things shaken up begin their assault, and the only defense in today’s environment is enough money to fight it.
No, the wage of Congress is not the issue. Honestly, I would prefer that the people we elect to make the big decisions be paid enough by the people they represent so that they can focus on their jobs instead of the minimum wage they earn. Not to mention, minimum wage for Congress would mean that only those that have enough wealth to not have their Congressional salary be an issue already would run for Congress, forcing out anyone who cares enough to want to run but can’t afford to live on that wage.
The issue is easy access for wealthy donors. The issue is the idea that money is speech. Freedom of speech is shredded when those with more in the bank are given more “speech.” When you make the speech of one person more valuable than another, that freedom ceases to be the free speech written into our Constitution.
I appreciate the sentiment that goes into such a statement “Pay Congre$$ Minimum Wage.” We want our elected officials to have a grasp on the livelihoods of average working Americans. Paying them a lower salary would only result in exasperating an already troubled system where too many big money interests control the votes.

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Business Success = Political Success?

I fail to see how having been a business owner translates into having the right skills to lead a country. Sure, the experience likely has some effect on your economic knowledge, but it is one facet among many — and that experience isn’t necessarily a plus depending on what kind of success was achieved, and how. A business, for the most part, provides products or services with an interest in making profits. A businessman would make a fine advisor for economic issues, but a President should be someone who takes into account more variables than running a country like a CEO would entail. I, for one, don’t want a President with a businessman’s perspective. I want a President who considers policy based on the benefit to the society as a whole, with economic success being one. With national wealth steadily becoming more centralized to a few, too many are not benefiting from our so-called status as the richest nation on Earth. We need priorities that aren’t simply about helping business owners save more money — at the expense of public safety, health, or to the detriment of everyone else.

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July 9, 2012 · 7:30 pm