Voting with my heart and my mind…

I struggled this week as I listened to political commentary and exchanged a series of point/counter-point arguments with people on my Facebook wall.  It’s not that I struggle with where I stood necessarily.  It’s that I struggled to understand where people were coming from.  I’ve mentioned it before in previous posts, I feel like an outsider a lot of times as I listen and talk to people.  A perfect case in point, in my state (Missouri), the state senate overruled the veto of a bill they had passed that prevented local communities from setting a higher standard minimum wage than the state sets.

I would argue that this was a classic case of larger government overreach (for those who say such things are a problem).  Outsiders at Jeff City, the state capitol, were telling other communities in our state how they could and couldn’t regulate local business policy.  The biggest supporter of the veto override was the state Chamber of Commerce and other big businesses.  The local petition to raise the minimum wage had over 100k signatures on it from registered voters.

Yet the same people who argue against government overreach were in many cases the same people who voted to overturn the governor’s veto and so prevent local control.

I point this out because it presents what to me, is the seeming contradiction of the modern Republican party.  It says that it wants smaller government and less government intrusion, but that has proven true only as long as the policies in question align with their own perceptions.  The GOP intrusion into end of life choices, abortion, opposition to same-sex marriage and more are perfect examples of where they are perfectly happy to have the government interfere with people’s lives, but heaven help you if you mess with people’s business.  They don’t want to regulate the money only their version of morality…whether you agree with it or not.  It’s the main reason I registered as a Democrat… not particularly because I am enthralled by the Democratic position, but because I cannot stomach the Republican one.

It’s also the reason I have become such a fan of Bernie Sanders.  He is, in my opinion, the most honest and authentic person running this race and while I don’t agree with him on everything, to me he seems to have his heart in the right place and I am happy to be a part of his political revolution.  #FeeltheBern

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Foundations

For me these two documents – 1.) http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/uploads/Einstein%20on%20Why%20Socialism.pdf
and
2.) http://www.cofchrist.org/common/cms/resources/Documents/Sharing-in-Community-of-Christ-3rd-edition.pdf

best lay out the foundations for why I believe what I do… about family, faith, community, politics and the world.

The first lays out an influential essay by Albert Einstein on why he supported (little-s) socialism versus the capitalism that currently drives our society.  It includes some additional thoughtful commentary and links afterwards that I think is well worth the read although the entire thing can be a little thick.

The second is a publication by my denomination, Community of Christ, and lays out the foundations of our faith.  We are a non-creedal church so belief in these ideas is not required for membership, but this is the official church policy and largely mirrors my own understanding and belief.

I share these out of a desire to help explain why I say and do the things I do, not necessarily out of a desire to change or convert you to my way of thinking.  I do this because, as Bernie Sanders said recently to a crown of students at Liberty University, “It’s easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you, it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Last Daddy Manifesto – Scie Scie Baby… let’s do science!

So here is the final piece of my list of things I believe, feel, and think about politics as determined in part by being a father of a 17 and 2 year olds.  And in case anyone has forgotten by now where the original inspiration for this came from, see also this link here: http://www.people-press.org/2015/01/15/publics-policy-priorities-reflect-changing-conditions-at-home-and-abroad/ 

Scientific research – I support more…  research funding is what helps keep us competitive in a fast-paced global market, it’s what keeps us safe by developing new and better ways to defend our country and our data.  It can help end energy independence and improve our environment and so many other things.  This should be a no-brainer to me.  This should be a higher priority in our country today in my opinion.

Global warming – It’s happening, get over it.  Whether it is directly caused by human activity or not, we are impacting it and can and should do more to help the issue.  As with the clean air and clean water acts, why would we NOT want to do this?  I believe it what I think is a simple philosophy… “Leave things nicer than you found them.”

Environment – See also my philosophy above.  If we want to have places to go hiking, biking, riding ATV’s, fishing, hunting, etc we need to protect and manage our natural resources.  That doesn’t mean wall them off forever and a day, but it also doesn’t mean handling them like they will be around forever or that there are no consequences to what actions we take.  I want my children to see Buffalo, Elephants, Tigers (oh my!) and other creatures in something besides a story-book.  I want my grand-children (and not even just mine) to be able to enjoy the outdoors without worrying about how bad the air is, or whether they will see trees die out in their lifetime.  In that respect the Lorax by Dr. Seuss had a huge impact on my developing psyche. And so did Teddy Roosevelt (just in case you thought my philosophy stopped at age 8).

Daddy Manifesto #….? who cares it’s all about the medicine baby…

Whenever I hear someone talk about health benefits, Obamacare, Insurance, this is mostly how I feel:

Health 1

Making Social Security solvent – Personally I would like more information on this before I make a judgment on it.  I can say two things for sure however.  The first is, that I am okay with raising the minimum age for which people qualify for benefits.  We are living longer as a people than we did when this act was first passed.  Realizing that, and realizing that there will still need to be accommodations for specific circumstances, would help the program enjoy more longevity than it currently faces.  Second, I am also okay with reducing the amount of benefit that people who make hundreds of thousands of dollars or more get.  Social Security was a safety net for people who had no other access to savings and retirement, and that is also no longer the case.  If, as a people, we want to reduce the amount of money that those people pay into Social Security as well as reduce their payments from it, that could also be the start of a discussion to improving Social Security.  But I am NOT in favor of privatizing it.

Reducing health care costs – Here too, I am not sure why this is so hard to do.  Other countries that have single payer health systems manage to keep their costs down significantly more than we do.  While we hear all the scare tactics and propaganda from the medical industries, I am unsure of the truth of the matter on this issue, in part because I am not sure that anybody, on either side of this issue, is really telling the truth.  I believe this in part because I think the truth is more complicated and more confusing than people think and it’s easier to either say “socialized medicine is evil” or “look what the evil medical companies are doing again.”  This is an issue I would like somebody to take and talk about in a more serious tone than I have heard thus far.

Making Medicare solvent – This is another of those issues that it seems really difficult to find some sort of sane and non-partisan information on.  If Medicare is truly close to becoming insolvent, then yes, solutions need to be found to prevent that from happening.  I like some of the ideas that I have heard, at least in theory, about redoing how Medicare is paid out, tying payments to patient outcomes (we do this for education so why not medicine, which is MUCH more measurable – i.e. are you healthier than you were six months ago or not?) and the like.  This is another of the social safety nets that I believe we need to keep in place to help protect both ourselves and our fellow human beings.  As a Christian, I feel it is part of my duty to help the sick, feed the hungry, etc.  “Protecting” my money was never a part of that list.

Daddy Manifesto #5 – Military

Military – This is a tough one for me.  I am the son of a Vietnam veteran, the uncle of two Afghan vets and have a number of other family members who served or are currently serving in almost all branches of the military.  I was unable to serve due to health considerations (class F4 right here), but I have always felt that our military deserves our support when they go and most especially when they return.  That being said, philosophically and personally, I am not in favor of supporting a growing military complex that continues to increase in spending and size, seemingly just because it can.  I look at the world today and am not blind to the threats that we face.  But I remain a firm believer in dialogue and diplomacy and if military force is used, it must be limited both in scope and in duration and have measurable goals and benchmarks to succeed.  Our military is not, and should not be, a global policing force.  That’s what the UN is for.  Our military, as it exists, is to help secure American interests, not corporate ones.  And it should undergo a thorough search of where and how money is being spent to more wisely use the resources at its disposal.

Defending country from terrorism – There are many ways to do this and not all of them are military in nature.  In fact, I would say that the most successful ways to permanently reduce the threat of terrorism has nothing to do with the military.  People turn to terrorism often for one of two reasons.  The first are the true believers.  These are people for whom the killing of another person is a valid response to whatever injustice they feel like life has paid them with, real or imaginary.  These are the ones for whom a military solution may be the only option.  But the second is often because of the lack of other opportunities and feeling of empowerment from the despair of life that people face.  These kinds of people can be reached with economic, political and social reforms that encourage job growth, educational opportunities and allow all members of a society to partake, not just a select few.  Terrorism springs from a mix of complicated factors and trying to simplify it down to a black and white view does a disservice to those trying to find a long-term solution to the problem.

Daddy Manifesto #4 – Crime, Punishment and the people

This is topic somewhat near and dear to my heart, not so much from personal experience but rather in large part because of my theology.  As the co-pastor of a small urban congregation that has severed a large homeless population at times, seeing the struggles they face daily and the persecution at the hands of officials and other stakeholders in the city, including incarceration for offenses the rest of us would never be detained on, I have gradually become more and more passionate about standing up for the rights of the voiceless.  I am sad to say it took me this long to do so.  I want to raise my children in a world more like this:

Children good

than this:

children bad

Moral breakdown – I feel like this is a bit of a straw man, red herring, whatever you want to call it.  It’s not that I don’t believe it isn’t happening, but I am not comfortable with the role of government in “fixing” this as I hear people talk about it.  In my mind this is where the great thinkers of our generation, our social service agencies, our religious institutions need to take the lead, not so much our government.  There certainly can be cases where government needs to intervene, but this is definitely one place I feel “less is more.”

Racial relations – Racism exists today.  To try and state otherwise is to try and wallpaper over a fact that many people deal with on a daily basis.  Personally I think we need more discussion on this topic, not less.  The more we confront our past, we can find the freedom to deal with the future.  I belong to a specific class (namely white and male) that has found greater opportunity than some others around me merely by virtue of being a member of said class.  I did nothing to deserve this, but neither have I used my position to knowingly deny others the same opportunities.  However, this does not abrogate my participation in this system, nor does it absolve me of responsibility for changing and leveling out the playing field, even to my own disadvantage.  I also believe it is important for us to work hard to understand the different experiences that we, as Americans, have based on where we live(d) and how we have experienced America.  Listening to each other’s stories is the surest and best way to find a path forward.

Immigration – What are we going to do with 11 million people?  Deport them all?  Impractical.  Arrest them all?  Given that we already have a prison shortage, unless you plan on building concentration camps, this isn’t practical either.  Grant them all immediate citizenship?  Never work and honestly, also somewhat impractical.  Create a pathway to citizenship for those who want it and expand our guest worker program for those that don’t?  Possible.  For people who expound on the virtues of free trade, immigration should be the poster child.  There are lots of Americans who could do the jobs that immigrants do, but the simple fact is many of them don’t WANT to do the menial and often unpleasant tasks that these people do.  Ergo, there is a demand for cheap unskilled labor which is fulfilled by a supply of cheap eager workers.  I would much rather hold companies accountable that hire illegals and pay them under the table so they can avoid paying taxes on the expense.  It’s also a simple truth that we like having and getting cheap things.  The reason we have that is because there are so many people willing to work for pennies on the dollar.  If we all suddenly started paying for items from companies who pay their workers fairly, we might see some other changes.  Finally, what is it the Statue of Liberty says again?  We must find a solution that honors our heritage, helps those who were brought here as children (with no other option but to come) AND is as fair as possible to the people who are trying to do it legally.  Removing automatic citizenship for people born here could be a start.  Smoothing and speeding up the process to become a citizen could also help.

Reducing crime – One of the most important things we can do to reduce crime in this country in my opinion is to work hard to create opportunity.  If people feel like they have hope for something better, crime becomes a much less attractive option.  Second to that is reform our criminal justice system.  The fact that we have more people incarcerated than any other country in the world speaks to a powerful industry as dangerous to our country as the “military-industrial complex” that President Eisenhower referred to back in the 50’s.  I am not in favor of legalizing drugs other than for medical use, but I think the laws regarding punishment need to be redone.  Non-violent offenses need to have alternatives to simply locking away and throwing away the key.  Prison only teaches inmates to be better criminals, it is not currently set up to teach them how to become better and productive members of society.  In too many ways our justice system is set up as a catch all for the mentally ill, the homeless and others that truly belong in other types of care but for lack of funding.  I am also deeply disturbed by the rise of “private” prisons that our cities, counties and states are beginning to use.  When the justice system becomes privatized, true justice breaks down in the face of simple economics.  If your income depends on a steady stream of incarcerations, why would you work to truly rehabilitate someone?  It’s like cutting your own wrists.  And with the amazing lack of oversight in this world, terrible things are going on as has been reported on more than once.   As with my other post on education, we also need to reform the School-to-Prison Pipeline that exists in this country.  More information on that may be found here: https://www.aclu.org/fact-sheet/what-school-prison-pipeline?redirect=school-prison-pipeline-fact-sheet-pdf  I am also in favor of finding ways to help police the police.  There are many more good cops than bad ones and police take unimaginable risks (to most of us anyway) everyday and get much more flak for it than they should.  That being said, with the power we have entrusted to them comes a responsibility that sometimes has gotten lost in the day-to-day operations of dealing with infractions and crime.  Being constantly surrounded by predators and people hurting others can skew your view of the greater population and as they are only human, this can influence their actions and decisions, sometimes in a negative way.  We need to find a way to address these inequalities and circumstances in ways that do not destroy people’s lives or demonize the police any more than we ought to demonize the communities in which these actions happen.  In cases like Ferguson and Baltimore, there is no such thing as a winner or loser.  Both communities lost.  Both the families of the cops and the families of the people who died lost.  It’s time we remember that.

Dealing with poverty issues (poor, homeless & needy) – While I am always in favor of supporting charities that work with the poor, I am also aware that some issues that the poor face are systemic in nature and go beyond what any single entity or group of entities can do.  There are some things that only the government can help with.  That being said, as I mentioned before, in my faith system, caring for the most vulnerable amongst us is a sacred calling and as such requires more from me than just a simple, “Here’s $10 bucks, go get a meal” or to put it another way “We’re giving you 30 days to get a job or you’re on the street.”  I understand the need to hold people accountable, but to do so across the board without considerations of context seems wrong to me.  I am also not in favor of just handing the issue over to private groups only.  Poverty grows from a complicated set of factors including location, education, race, opportunities, etc and it is only by dealing with all of these interconnected issues that this issue can be resolved.  What’s more, having fewer people in poverty helps to encourage growth, production, health and prosperity for all of us and that can’t possibly be a bad thing can it?

Daddy Manifesto #3 – It’s the economy stupid…

Lately we have seen a lot of “stupid is as stupid does” going on in D.C. on both sides of the aisle.  For what it’s worth, here on some thoughts on a few more of these topics….

Reforming tax system – I have heard a lot on this over the years, but I think the last time anything significant got done on it was before I was out of grade-school…which has been more than a couple of decades ago.  I am not sure if a flat tax rate, as some propose, really would be the best idea or the fairest idea, but I know that some of the tax breaks we enjoy both as individuals and as corporations cannot be sustained.  Part of the larger conversation that needs to happen here in my opinion is the disconnect some people seem to have between government services and government funding.  People don’t like paying taxes, heck I don’t like paying taxes, but I understand the need to.  Taxes are the ONLY way for the government to pay for all the things we do like and while there needs to be more oversight of how the funds are spent (and yes, there is still PLENTY of bloat in our nation’s government), you get what you pay for.  If we don’t pay taxes we won’t have a strong military, veteran’s benefits, funding for Social Security or Medicare, beautiful National Parks, clean water/air, highways and other important infrastructure, disaster relief and more.  Whether we like it or not, we need to pay SOMETHING in order to get ANYTHING.

Reducing budget deficit – I understand the need to pay down your debts, whether you are a country or an individual.  That being said however, sometimes you have to pay things on credit in order to invest in areas that lead to growth.  I think balancing the budget through a COMBINATION of tax increases and spending cuts would, in the long run, be more helpful than just trying to pay down the deficit.  After all, it doesn’t really seem to help if you are paying it down with one hand and then turning right around to charge more on the credit card with the other hand now does it?

Strengthening the economy – While I believe I understand and appreciate all that so-called “Free Market Capitalism” has done for our country and the world, I am not a fan of unregulated capitalism.  It creates the sort of income inequality that divides countries, people and helps fuel strife and corruption.  I want to see a balance of regulation and free-market policies, with a personal preference for coming down on the side of regulation.  It wasn’t until we started putting some of these things in place after all that we got things like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and more none of which I would argue are a bad thing.

Improving job situation – This may surprise some people, but I am actually not in favor of a $15 minimum wage.  While I agree the minimum wage could probably use an increase, creating a blanket increase in the short term may work to resolve some of the issues people are concerned about but per the law of economics, eventually the market will swing in response and in 3, 5, 10 years the increase people wanted so badly will be back to being a “starvation wage” as everyone’s buying power goes down.  What I would rather do is improve funding to job training programs, encourage entrepreneurial dreams and find other ways to move people from low wage jobs into better opportunities.  That to me is what the American Dream is and has always been about, the ability to find better work and better jobs if you work hard and are willing to put in the time.  The problem I see today is that many people have the willingness but not the opportunities.

Trade – Without trade there is no growth.  We must open up our markets to encourage competition, but we must also make sure that other countries are equally opening up their markets to American goods.  Workers need fair wages, whether they live here or in China or Mexico or wherever and moving jobs to places with the lowest paid workers is not a sustainable future for our companies or our people.  I am not a protectionist per se, but I am not convinced that unrestricted free trade has helped spur great growth and prosperity to our people beyond the 1%-ers of the population.

Roads, rivers and other infrastructure – I am still confused why this one even became an issue other than it was viewed as a “you can’t have it, it’s mine” toddler-esque sort of mentality between the two parties in Congress.  We need to improve our roads, bridges, channel systems, etc.  Many are falling into disrepair and our states are not in a position to take the lead on this in a way that we might wish.  I certainly favor having states help to support this endeavor as they are stakeholders in supporting these structures and edifices but why we can’t get bi-partisan support for this (as in so many years past) is just beyond me.

Energy challenges – I have posted before in other forums on the need for us, as a country and a global society, to switch from fossil fuels to other sources of energy.  While I am not advocating an overnight change or some sort of radical program that completely eliminates gas/coal/etc, I AM advocating for a change of focus.  Long term, we all know that these fuels will run out and we will need to use something else or watch the world as we know it crumble.  Nuclear, wind, solar, hydro, all of these are possible sources of fuel and energy that remain underfunded and underutilized.  Rather than wait until we are forced to by circumstance I would like to see us take the bull by the horns and lead the way in researching new ways of using the bounty of creation to help power the world we live in.  This includes helping developing countries find renewable ways to fuel their economy rather than become dependent on fossil fuels like we have.  This is also enlightened self-interest for if we help other countries become less dependent on fossil fuel it leaves more for us to use more efficiently.