Occupy and Tea Party Movements – What Can We Learn?

As I read through the press coverage and watch legitimate news around the GOP primary coverage, I am at a loss at the absence of discourse around the key issues of the day. Even when the President enters into the debate, he is silent on some issues of import, even when he has a better story to tell in several areas. The Occupy and Tea Party movements are by no means perfect, but what I do applaud is their raising of issues that beg to be discussed and are being avoided by GOP candidates and the President. I would add that parts of the Tea Party are adding several seasonings to a key message that make it very unpalatable, but there are key elements of what it is being said that needs to be heard.

The United States has several issues and is no longer the “shining light on the hill” we once were. By far, we have the greatest form of governance ever conceived, when it is allowed to function well. As history has shown, our governance model is usually compromised by its incumbents and rabid political partisanship. I worry greatly when rabid politicians say they want to change the model. The checks and balances are there for a reason.

We have been eager to let short-term decision-making get in the way of long-range planning. Our electorate does not have the patience for decisions that will take time. And, the rabid political parties are too eager to cry foul or blame before things run their course. So, sometimes, even well conceived decisions are not given enough time. Finally, the money that is needed to get elected exacerbates an age-old problem of influence buying benefactors who tend to promote versions of the truth or outright falsehoods on a given topic. So, it takes some earnest effort to uncover the real causes of problems and solutions. This is difficult in that there are seldom black and white answers to problems.

The two movements are focusing on some major issues of our country and we are not openly discussing them. Yet, the problems exist. The Occupy Movement correctly points out these major issues:

  • About 50 million Americans live in poverty in the US – that is about 1/6 of our population; a greater number are living paycheck to paycheck.
  • About 50 million Americans, before the full implementation of “ObamaCare,” as the GOP calls it, do not have or cannot afford health insurance.
  • The economic disparity in this country is atrocious. Wages and wealth for the top 20% have grown at a measurable rate, while wages and wealth for the rest of America have been relatively stagnant over the past 30 years.

The Tea Party Movement correctly notes that we have to get control over our deficits. We have been sliding down a slippery slope dating back to when Bill Clinton left office, the last period when we had a balanced annual budget (we were still in debt mind you). We not only have to balance the budget, we need to have some surplus to pay down the debt.

And, let’s layer on to both of these movements, the other vital issues of the day – job creation, investing in education that will lead us forward and intelligent energy/ environmental policy that will address Global Warming – please keep telling the GOPers it is occurring.

I encourage people to read the book “Nickel and Dimed – On (Not) Getting by in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich. The author did first hand research by working near-minimum wage jobs in America – usually several at a time – to see what it was like. The book is very telling  in that she discovered very hard-working people trying to make ends meet. What she found is in conflict with the American dream. There is a significant part of our society who can work as hard as they can, but they can never escape poverty. The near-minimum wage environment is the closest thing to slave labor as we can get. For every Herman Cain who through hard work and opportunity climbed out of poverty, there are thousands of people who cannot. They cannot afford health care, they must eat cheaper unhealthy meals when they do eat and they cannot save for a rainy day. As we speak, most retail employers cover only 1/3 of the workforce with health care insurance. The other 2/3 or more cannot afford it. So, these are not lazy people who have needs. They tend to be hard-working folks looking for a fair deal.

On the flip side, we as a country have been living beyond our means. When people lose a job or there is income reduction in a family, they do what is necessary to cut expenses. Our country has not done that. We have to tell everyone we have a problem and we all need to do our part. We have to have constructive conversation around actions needed. The Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Plan was an example of this. The President and Congress need to embrace all of the elements and tell the country why parts of it don’t make sense. That includes the revenue increase part, as well. This is the area where I vehemently disagree with the Tea Party and Grover Norquist influenced GOP crowd. We must simplify the tax structure, but increase the overall amount of taxes collected.

This last point is not new. Many smart people cried foul when the Bush tax cuts first went into play. Between the tax cuts and the extended wars, we went from a balanced budget when Clinton left office to what we have today.  We have to cut expenses and raise revenue as ordered by the Bowles-Simpson Plan. The math will not work otherwise. And, if you look at the non-partisan budget office projections, Gingrich, Santorum and Romney’s plans all would measurably increase the deficit. Only Pauls’ would decrease it, but his cuts may cause too much bleeding. Nonetheless, at least Paul has an understanding of the issue. And, let’s be reminded that Ronald  Reagan increased taxes five times after he cut too much in his Tax Simplification Plan. Grover Norquist will not let you believe this.

I fully realize some of the Occupy Movement’s issues are in conflict with that of the Tea Party Movement. That is why this is so hard and needs thoughtful discussion. I have always tended away from the Libertarian “you are on your own” philosophy. I like elements of what Paul has to say, but I believe a society’s greatness is judged by how it takes care of the less fortunate. Otherwise, we will all live in Potterville instead of Bedford Falls.

In an earlier post, I noted my state of the union recommendations gleaned from smarter people than me. The President has done many good things, but what he has not done is embraced the Bowles-Simpson Plan and said let’s do this. To me, that is a start.

I also believe we need to tweak ObamaCare and not overhaul it. I firmly believe most GOPers do not know what they are sounding off against when they say repeal it. It is not perfect, yet it is getting at providing coverage to many. The extension of the age 26 requirement for adult children not in college has already added 1 million to coverage. And, it is getting at the industries who have gotten by with slave labor for a long time – that is why retailers, restaurants and other low margin businesses are crying foul.

The President is heading us down a path of greener energy. We need to continue on this journey. Solar energy cost has already been reduced form $9 a watt to $3 a watt. Some believe it can be at $1 a watt in the near future. Gas mileage standards, the promotion of wind, water and biofuels are also important. Fossil fuels need to be carefully diminished in our future. Domestic oil production has actually increased over the past year, more so than consumption demand, which means speculators are driving up cost over worry.

We need to invest more in education and the technologies needed to advance more productive businesses. We need to onshore more manufacturing jobs, so we can employ more here and learn, first hand, how to improve processes from people on the floor. We need to lift up impoverished communities through orchestrated actions which can center around a vibrant school or business. This has been shown to be a better use of charity dollars (please read “Toxic Charity”).

Finally, we need to move to a better living standard of wages. People cannot live on the  minimum wage that is offered today. I would advocate a living wage or something close to it. These low paying jobs perpetuate poverty and the costs show up elsewhere. I think this will help us get back to being the “shining light on the hill.”

So, let’s hear these voices and address our real needs. We don’t need to hear about contraception which is not an issue or same-sex marriages and gay rights which should not be issues any more in today’s world – they both should be supported.

My One Word Descriptions

During the GOP debates earlier this week, the four remaining candidates were asked to describe themselves with one word definitions. Ron Paul said “consistent,”  Rick Santorum used “courageous,” Mitt Romney used “resolute” and Newt Gingrich used “cheerful” which got an appropriate laugh. If they asked me the same questions, my answers would be a little different. 

I would use “zealous” in describing Ron Paul. He is very fervent in his beliefs, right or wrong. In many respects you have to admire his consistent zeal, yet the problems many have with him is his zeal for a world that would have trouble existing. While his voice should be heard, we do need to discount his opinions when they are too pure for our own good.

I would use the word “sanctimonious” with Rick Santorum and that is not meant as a compliment. He is very fervent in his beliefs, but his arcane positions ostracize many and are hypocritical at times. A female guest on Bill Maher’s show said, if elected Santorum would take use back to another century – the 13th century.  

My first word for Newt Gingrich cannot be repeated here, so I will settle on “egomaniac.” Folks, it is “all about Newt.” It always has been and will always be thus. He has very high opinions of himself that is not shared by people who know him well. My favorite comment about him from a former colleague is “if Newt is the smartest person in the room, my advice to you is to leave the room.” The fact he touts balancing the budget as Speaker for four years, is not true as he was only Speaker for two of those years and he actually voted against two of Bill Clinton’s bills to help balance the budget.

Which brings us to Mitt Romney. The word I would use is “fluid.” He seems to go with the flow and has made past decisions that are inconsistent with his current posturing. The reason he is the best GOP candidate is he is a moderate, which is what we need from the GOP. The problem is he cannot tell anyone that he is as there is a faction that is looking for a strident, uncompromising conservative voice. I actually felt sorry for Rick Santorum when he was booed for saying politics is a team sport. He is right.

To be fair, I need to do the same process with our President. I would use the word “judicious.” Warren Buffet described the President as the “best editor of information he has seen.” He meant the President would ask everyone their opinions and then make an informed choice. You may not like his choice as he tends to be more of a moderate, but he is judicious with his decisions and less strident in his views. The GOP has trouble labeling him as such. but he and John McCain were not that far apart on many issues. Ironically, McCain would stand no chance of winning his party’s nomination today.

I am hoping it comes down to Romney and Obama. The President should win as he has done a pretty good, but not perfect, job as our steward. I would give him more thumbs up than down. Yet, I could tolerate Romney more so than his GOP rivals if he did win the White House. 

 

Rick Santorum – The New William Jennings Bryan

About two months ago, when I wrote a post regarding the dearth of good GOP candidates, I did not give Rick Santorum the time of day. I felt that most people would see him for what he is and, other than the evangelical right, would not give him a lot of credence. Unfortunately, with the “anyone but Mitt Romney” sentiment within the ultra-conservative GOP wing has now found Santorum as their new ambassador after the failings of others – remember Bachmann, Perry and Cain? Newt is still around, but people are now seeing Newt’s history first hand.

I worry that Santorum may carry the day from the GOP side and, if the economy shows any fall back of the steady improvements it has made, he could win the election. That would be quite unfortunate given his stance on a number of issues that would, indeed take our country back – back to the 19th century. I chose this time period judiciously as he reminds me of another historical figure who ran for president a couple of times and is known as one of the great orators in history – William Jennings Bryan. Some folks may remember him more as the prosecutor in the “Scopes Monkey Trials” where a teacher was put on trial for teaching evolution. This trial was captured in the movie “Inherit the Wind” where the names of the participants were changed. A famous scene occurred when Clarence Darrow put Bryan on the stand and Bryan proceeded to say the Bible shows conclusively that the world is only 6,000 years old. Now, where have we heard that recently?

Bryan could easily be labeled an evangelical candidate then and today. In spite of being one of the finest orators, a view held by all sides, he never won the presidency. His evangelical positions were even too much for the times and he was short on practical ideas to lead the country.From my reading of history, Rick Santorum is the new William Jennings Bryan. Not as gifted an orator as Bryan, Santorum is a good candidate and does more grassroots politicking than his competitors. I give him credit for meeting the people. Yet, his conservative positions on contraceptives, women’s rights, gay rights and now the environment trouble me greatly.  I do not deny any person the right to believe what they believe, yet I need the same treatment from them.

When we hear people bring up the constitution and the need to go back to it, I find it ironic. At the heart of the constitution is the separation of church and state. Our forefathers got it right, as we should not let a person’s beliefs dictate what others can and cannot do. Of course, those beliefs make us who we are and help us form our character, but the religions of the world have a lot more similarity than people would be led to believe. To try to tell someone your religion is more righteous than others can be viewed as arrogant. Especially, when the key tenet of almost all religions has some variation of the Golden Rule in Christianity. There are far more non-Christians in the world, than Christians.

As an independent voter, I tend to advocate for justice and fairness. My religious persuasion makes me believe in the premise of Gandhi that a society’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of the less fortunate. He is echoing what Jesus said earlier about taking care of the lesser of these when contrasting people who were less fortunate to those who are so. This is one of the concerns I have had about the Libertarian party. We cannot be left totally alone. We need to help people help themselves and, yes there is a need for government to do that which has been a tenet of our country for sometime.

So, addressing my concerns over Santorum – I very much support the rights of LGBT to have the same opportunities as others in our country. I very much support the rights of women. To me this is a major reason the middle east has trouble overcoming the problems they face. If they gave rights to women such as are held in the western world, they would be far better off. Just using Malcolm Gladwell’s point in “Outliers.” They are overlooking one half of their intellectual capital by denigrating women. They can never compete with one arm tied behind their back.

I very much support the widespread use of contraceptives. This is not only a women’s health issue, it is a family planning and global health issue. There is a huge amount of data  which shows correlation between poverty and size of family. Plus, we will run out of resources to feed, water and shelter people if the population grows too rapidly. And, there is data that shows when contraceptives (specifically prophylactics) are limited, sexually transmitted diseases and AIDs increase, especially in third world countries.

Yet, the key is a woman having the right to decide with her significant other when she wants and can afford to have a child. What I tell evangelicals is you can preach all you want about abstinence, but people are going to have sexual intercourse outside of wedlock. I believe a church should embrace this and have informed sexual education classes held at the church. You can talk about abstinence and protected sex together. That would be the best of counseling letting teenagers know the real truth.

If this were not enough, Santorum is now attacking the environmental and global warming issues as political issues. The sad truth is this inane rhetoric is bleached into the GOP platform. Newt was even vilified for appearing with Nancy Pelosi in a public service ad saying he was wrong about global warming. That is one of the few issues I can say I agree with Newt on. Folks, the science is overwhelming and global warming is here. I have noted earlier in posts that the Republican Party is the only organized body in the world not to understand this as a problem. Since, the GOP is supposed to be party of economic conservatism, let me phrase it this way – the deficits won’t matter if our environment continues to deteriorate the way it is. The cost to shore up problems – holding back the sea as a true metaphor for all the problems – will dwarf the deficits we have.

So, Ricky and your fellow Republicans, we must do something about global warming now. And, the only person in the race for President to have done something is the incumbent. This is no longer a political issue. The scientific data will not let you make it one. So, if Santorum does win, I pray that our God will get him to read more than the book he quotes from most. God gave us a brain for a purpose – we should use it.

North Carolina’s Attack on the Environment

In North Carolina, the State legislature has passed a law giving free license to billboard marketers to cut down greater swaths of trees to put up more billboards. This law has been met with a significant amount of incredulity from many fronts, but the Republican led legislature is less concerned about these issues than letting this business group have its way.

The concerns are several, but let me highlight a few. Billboards are about the biggest eyesore, beyond trash, on highways and interstates. To me, they are a waste of space, in that going 55 to 70 miles per hour on the interstate, I don’t have much liberty to pay attention to billboards. When I do, the only utile information I retrieve is if a restaurant of choice is coming to a near exit. I am not inclined to make a college, hospital or investment decision based on a billboard. And, being a father, seeing billboards for naked women at the next truck stop, is not my idea of good taste.The distraction to a driver of a two ton vehicle going such a high speed is not conducive to safety. We have enough distractions as it is.

In these days of global warming, which is here folks, we don’t need to be cutting down trees without the replanting of new ones. We need these trees to absorb CO2 and give back the needed O2. There is some wording about replanting in the NC law, but it does not have any teeth and this industry has ignored earlier requirements, for the most part.

Yet, if safety, impact on the environment and lack of marketing impact were not enough, billboards are just unattractive and tacky. When I see a signifcant number of billboards, the words quality of life do not come to mind, unless spoken in a negative context.

I recognize this is more of a local issue, but green steps are best done at the local level. Many feel this is just not a step in the right direction.

How to stop super PACs? – Don’t Listen

I was reading an editorial in the Sunday paper with the title “How to stop super PACs” by Jonathan Alter of the Bloomberg View. It is a good article, but stops short of the advice I mentioned in a post of ten days ago called “Mute out the noise – please join me.”  There is something we all can do that is quite liberating and will leave you no less informed as a voter. It will also improve your psyche.

Quite simply, mute the sound when you see a TV commercial or hear a Radio commercial which is bashing another candidate. As one campaign spin doctor said the negative commercials are “at best half-truths.” The converse of this is to say they are at worst only half-lies. By not listening to the PAC or campaign funded rhetoric, it will show the funders they are wasting their money on buying influence and get the candidates to seek a different path forward.

As an independent voter, I do not financially support candidates any more and instead give my money only to charity. This is my own little rebellion against our election process. While they have different focuses, most Republicans and Democrats can agree on the desire for one major change – instituting term limits on all positions. This would also help with deemphasizing the PACs, as the influence they would be buying is time-restricted. I would also advocate the public funding of all campaigns and shortening the campaign season based on the role and geographic expanse of the candidate’s voters. Local elections can be shorter, while Senate elections need to be longer. I think we can elect a President with a 3 – 6 month campaign season. It is done this way in the UK and can be done in the US.

So, let’s begin with hitting the mute button or changing the channel. In so doing, we can prove the point about the world is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” This is even more true of politicians. If we refuse to listen to the negativity, the rules of the game may be changed. And, maybe better candidates than those in the GOP Presidential race will run and we won’t have to worry as much about their baggage.

LGBT and Women – A Couple of Big Steps Forward and a Couple Back

I am very encouraged by some major steps forward these past few days to secure  the overdue freedoms and rights for LGBTers and women in the US. The journey is far from complete, but we are headed down the right path in this country in spite of some protests from the evangelical right. Unfortunately, two other steps were taken that will either dampen some of this momentum or heighten it. Either way, we should shine a light on the issues.

First, the major positive steps. Yesterday in Washington state, the State House of Representatives approved same-sex marriage following a similar move by the State Senate. The Governor should sign the bill into legislation soon. This legislation had the backing of three global employers based in the Northwest – Starbucks, Nike and Microsoft. This public backing is huge for a multitude of reasons as will be noted below.

Second, the State of California Appeals Court ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. Further, it said the current law was an insult to gay and lesbian Californians and trampled on their rights as citizens. This will eventually go up to the US Supreme Court, but it is huge step in eliminating discrimination against gays and lesbian Americans.

This movement is clearly the future and is long overdue. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights protect the rights of all citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They did and do not limit these rights to those who worship a certain way or have a certain sexual preference. In fact, the only limitation in the Constitution was for slaves who were at best counted as 3/5 a person for congressional representation. Fortunately, our country remedied this in 1863 and refined it further in 1964. So, this is the time for the LBGT Civil Rights movement. I reference earlier the backing of the three global employers. They know what is right, but know their target demographics as well. Over 70% of the US population between the ages of 20 and 34 support same-sex marriage, as compared to only 39% of those over 55. These are their predominant customers today and tomorrow. So, when certain conservative groups say they will boycott these companies, the companies have already done the math.

The other positive change was the quickly amalgamated support for Planned Parenthood when Susan B. Komen said they would cease funding this organization. I am huge believer in Planned Parenthood and Susan B. Komen. I believe the latter made a very poor decision that was righted after the public scrutiny. Planned Parenthood does a significant amount of good for women and family health issues. They are an outlet for the impoverished and middle class as well to get reasonable advice on family planning and women’s health issues. The data is overwhelming on the numbers of people they help and they have probably prevented far more unwanted pregnancies than the number of abortions they have helped facilitate. I hope Susan B. Komen has not harmed themselves too much as it is otherwise a fine organization.

So, while these positive steps were occurring, a couple of steps backwards occurred as well, although one was well-intentioned, but poorly executed. The well-intentioned change was to extend the contraceptive requirements under Health Care Reform to the non-church businesses of the Catholic Church, primarily hospitals and universities. 28 states have similar laws in place and the recommendations are consistent with the recommendations of the panel who looks at best practices. While I see the wisdom of what was recommended and I have always felt that the employment laws that other employers must abide by to protect their workers should apply to such employers, the timing is very poor. So, while well-intentioned and intellectually more reasonable, the President has done a disservice to his campaign and I hope his more progressive mantra does not suffer in the election.

Speaking of elections, the other troubling occurrence was the rallying around Rick Santorum in the GOP caucuses held this week.. Being in the “anyone but Romney” camp of the GOP, his evangelical following may carry the day as people tire more of Romney. Unfortunately, for independent voters, we see Romney as a moderate Republican who is electable. He is not perfect, but he is far more reasonable than the remaining candidates. I could tolerate him in the White House more than I could the others.

My fear is Santorum could carry the day as he is more Reactionary than the others (using an old term which seems to fit) and if the economy does not continue to improve, he could get swept into the White House. That would be unfortunate and would truly take our country back-wards, that is. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I think the voters are seeing Newt for what he is, so between the two, I would take Santorum, but neither is good for this country from my view.

So, focusing on the positives, it has been a good ten days. I hope the President will backtrack off his position a little, but he may have caused too much damage with this change.

Patience is a Virtue

At the age of 53, I can attest with experience that many of the mistakes I have made in my life could be directly traceable to impatience. While far from perfect, I would say between family and health, my life has been good thus far, so my mistakes have fortunately not derailed me too much. I guess the key is to learn from the mistakes and try to minimize future ones. Using a golf analogy, life is a game of managing your mistakes. As long as you can find the ball, you can always knock it back into play. You just have to manage expectations. And, a good sense of humor helps.

When I have been impatient, the mistakes have occurred at a higher propensity. Please don’t accept this as a truism that each time I have been impatient a mistake occurred. I would be dead otherwise. Yet, when I look backwards from the mistake, there seems to be a high correlation with my acting impatiently or witnessing someone who did and the mistake or near mistake.

The easiest example is a car accident and is one reason I am writing this today.  My eldest son’s car was totaled earlier this week in an accident due to someone else’s impatience.  He is fine as is the other driver, but the other driver decided to run a red light rather than slowing down and hit the front of my son’s car. He had the turn signal and proceeded into the intersection, yet the other driver kept coming. A sidebar lesson for him. me and others is to always pause after a light turns and look for those impatient drivers. Fortunately, he is alive to execute this strategy in the future.

As I look at the accidents I have been in, whether caused by me or another driver, I can say it was due to impatience. People acting in haste to do something without thinking through the consequences is a bad combination with a 3,500 pound vehicle in motion.  This does not count the close calls which could be traceable to impatience. So, what I have learned? Following distance cures most traffic problems, pausing before pulling out in front of someone avoids difficulties and the light will change again soon, so rushing through serves little purpose. I have witnessed people pulling out in front of a car where if they waited, there was no traffic three cars behind the other driver. So, the merging driver could have been totally safe if they waited five seconds, but risked their life by being impatient.

Other good examples can be traced to electronic communication which permit the rapid response to something you don’t like at first. I use the words “at first” since some messages are not that bad, but the responding writer is reacting to the messenger more so than the message. When Blackberries first came on the scene, I told one colleague that he needed to throw his in the ocean. “Why?” he asked. The reason is he would react to the messenger and set off a fire storm of messages that would escalate an issue that was not an issue to begin with. He just had some poor dealings with the messenger in the past.

As further evidence of the power of electronic media is people who do something that they thought was a good idea at the time. We have a former Congressman, an otherwise  reasonably sane public servant, who resigned because he thought sending a picture of his “junk” to a female was a good idea.  I cannot think of any time or reason why sending that kind of picture could ever be seen as a good idea. I am not saying this is the case, but we need to amend the rule about mixing testosterone, alcohol and explosives to replace   “explosives” with “electronic media.” Bad decisions by males under the influence can be explosive when using electronic media. I am sure if the Congressman had been more patient, he would have come to the conclusion that this was not the smartest of ideas.

The lesson to be learned here is do not send anything negative or that might embarrass you via the electronic media. Reread any email, text, Twitter or Facebook post before hitting “enter” or “send.” A question you may ask yourself is “how would this look?” if it went viral or was published in online or print news. Relating to the faster means of communication of Twitter, texting and Facebook, also ask yourself is it important that someone knows what you do at every moment of the day? I personally am not that interested to know the every minute details of people I love, so I sure don’t need to read about the mundane actions of people I don’t.

A related lesson ties the first two sets of examples together – nothing is that important to text when you are behind the wheel of a 3,500 pound vehicle. If you do text and drive, let me say it plainly – “you are being a dumb ass and your being such is putting you and others at risk.” Do not think you can do both without risk. I recall a “Myth Buster” episode where they proved you drove worse when on a mobile phone than when driving drunk.

The final example also involves communication, but are of the verbal kind. It is hard to unsay what has been said. So, please think or at least pause before you speak. We are all guilty of this. We have said something that may have sounded good at the time, but did not come across well. I have quoted this saying before –  “you have two ears and one mouth, so use them in that proportion.” The best advice I can give is you do not have to share your opinion or be right at every time. Silence is golden. One of my great pleasures as a parent is to hear my children say or do the right thing that my wife or I have shared or demonstrated before. They now are owning the behavior. Some people would be tempted to say, “I told you that,” but the best course is to be quiet and silently thank God or some higher being that the messages or lessons are heeded.

Patience is a virtue. Do not be in such a hurry that you make mistakes. And, the world does not need to know your every thought or action, so by being patient and keeping it to yourself, you may be doing yourself and the world a favor. By taking the time to observe more of what is happening around you, you will learn more and be better for it. You only have one life, so don’t rush through it.