The Last Call for the Conservative

There’s a critical purpose for a true conservative voice in government.  And it’s in danger of being lost right now. We’ve got a day left before our country takes the fork in the road down a dark and dangerous interpretation of the sweet simple art of conservatism. And the path back is not usually a straight line.  So on the eve of our departure, I’d like  to pay homage one last time, to let true conservatives know, that they have a place, and a voice. And the rest of us will welcome the day it returns. Until then, I’ll leave you with this.

Progress is a violent, messy business when it comes to the governing of man. We bounce from periods of stagnation to regression on to rapid leaps forward. And like a storm front rolling over the plains, the pent up energy of human potential leaps forward with dynamic consequence. Though some may desire that progress march forward unencumbered by resistance, lubricated by the ideals of equality and charity, most of us desire a conservative check.  If for no other reason, just to keep us honest.

That is the point of conservatism. To ensure that progress is well thought out and organized-not halted. To ensure healthy skepticism is applied to those times when progress can only be ushered in by government intervention-not disavowed at all costs. To ensure that things that are new and different are all not uniformly assumed to be in the best interest of America but instead held to the standard our forefathers sought. That our government necessity existed in as much as it was required to ensure our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. That all people are to be assumed good and equal and have the right to be left alone by government and their neighbor if they so choose-even if they are different.  This is the heart that beats inside of true conservative America. And it’s weakened right now by a dark movement.

I know for many good Americans, life has been hard these last 15 years. 9/11 happened on my first deployment overseas in the Navy. I’ve felt the very real pain. Since then, my family has endured financial hardship, a never ending war and a job market that doesn’t look anything like it did twenty years ago when I was trained with the skills I thought I was going to use in my career. I won’t lie to them and tell them everything is all right. It’s not. And I don’t know what the answer is to fix it. But I do know what it isn’t.

It’s not the garbage that Donald Trump is packaging up and selling. We need strong, real, conservative Americans right now, maybe more then we ever have. People this dark movement of fake conservatism refers to as “establishment”. Perhaps it’s a fair term.  They’ve established the conservative foundation of the greatest country on earth.  The accomplishments of the new breed have been division, hatred and weakness. No more.

Tomorrow, after Candidate Trump wins most of the delegates in the 11 states in contention, you have a choice. You conservative leaders and supporters- you have a choice.  You have a choice to line up with the weak and weary followers of your party, who have yielded to the voice of an angry few in fear of negative personal outcomes. Or you can draw a line, collectively and ensure this goes no further for all history to remember. If you aren’t in second place of the presidential race, drop out.  When you drop out, support who is. If you are a Republican office holder, openly declare that you will not support the Republican nominee if it is Donald Trump. If you are anyone else, don’t let anyone anywhere normalize discussion of Trump’s candidacy. Stomp it out anywhere. Do not rely on Democrats or independents to stop it. The cost to your party will be too much. The line is here. This goes no further.

History will remember those who stand up.   Men and women have sacrificed more than the potential favor of an elected president to ensure far less harmful things have happened to this nation. And I for one, will miss the conservative voice in our national discourse.  Because if you let that light go out, the light of Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan-the light of countless hard working good conservative Americans that have built and defended this country to their dying breath, that light is going to be off for a long time. And all of us, progressives, moderates and conservatives alike, will be worse off for it.  History will long remember what happens in the hours days and weeks after tomorrow.   What side will it see you on?

The Cult of Personality

It finally happened. While I sat in my car during one of my soul crushing Southern California commutes, jammed into the I-15 freeway, paying my morning penance for living in the suburbs, it happened.  On the radio, pundits were worked into a lather, clambering about the latest runaway victory of candidate Trump. Their tone was acceptance.  Gone was the harsh warnings of the danger of nominee Trump or President Trump, dare we say. Gone was the disbelief or predictions of failure. Acceptance had seeped into their consciousness. And for the first time, I felt myself starting to normalize a Trump general election candidate-then a President Trump.  I could feel myself preparing for what that might be like. Because that’s what we do.

We humans are capable of normalizing amazing things. We can put up with a lot, if we choose to. Years ago, deployed as a Naval Officer to Africa, my team built a camp in a remote location. Within days, a massive hive of killer bees infested the showers and stung us to death whenever we wanted to get clean. I remember one time in particular after I’d showered and endured a half dozen bee stings to the face,  mumbling to a buddy heading the other direction, “At least I’m clean”.  I was willing to deal with quite a bit of downside-repeated bee stings to the face, because I was so dirty. I felt it was a fair trade off. Get clean, or don’t get stung by bees. I had no third option. Now I was normalizing President Trump, because I felt like I had not other choice.

So there I was, sitting in my car, stuck in traffic, suffering through the bee stings to the face that was candidate Trump’s victory speech in Nevada. I started thinking, “maybe it wouldn’t be too bad to have that ass hole stick it to the Chinese…maybe he might finally strike a deal between Israel and Palestine…maybe he could bully congress into doing something for once” and then I caught myself. I was surrendering. And I’m not the only one. We have entered into dangerous territory.

Here’s some background. I grew up in Atlantic City. Donald Trump has been a part of my life for my entire life. My family has worked in his casinos. I used to watch his helicopter land on the pier on the beach that I worked on as an ocean rescue lifeguard in high school. He ran those businesses into the ground and got out, in the nick of time, Trump style. Atlantic City is for losers is likely what he would say.  I don’t know him. I’ve never been in the same room as him. But I know plenty who have.  And they all say mostly the same thing about their personal encounters with him. He seems like a nice guy. He makes you feel important.  And he’s very gracious with his attention.  That’s about all I really know about him aside from the cartoon character he’s been playing in the media the last few decades. As a guy, he sounds lovely. Of course, that’s also what people said about Saddam Hussein.  About Joseph Stalin…about Hitler.  Which brings us to the problem.

Trump isn’t Hitler. He’s not Stalin. He’s probably not even Putin. But people haven’t really figured out how to articulate why he shouldn’t be president. They scream louder and louder that he can’t or won’t win and like a cosmic sci-fi movie villain, he absorbs the negative energy and grows stronger with each word of malice. I’m done predicting that he won’t win. I’m done predicting anything because I’m sick of being wrong. I won’t tell you why he can’t be president.  Because he certainly can be president. And if we’re not careful, he will. Instead, I’ll try another approach. I’ll tell you why he shouldn’t be president. But I’m going to do it in a way besides pointing to the fact that he’s Donald Trump. That’s clearly not working.

Here’s how we’ve tried so far.

He’s a chauvinist bigot. 

He might be. He might not be. I don’t believe anything he says is sincere so it could all be an act-hold that thought. He’s a 70 year old white guy from New York who was born with a lot of money so he’s probably got a little of the old white guy thing going on that we white folks know many of our dad’s generation struggle with-prejudice and sexism. Sorry folks, that may be a little uncomfortable truth for some of us. The people who like Trump-angry white people-don’t care.

He’s a dishonest demagogue that will say anything to make you support him. 

Congratulations, welcome to politics.

He’s a bully. 

See last item.

He’s a manipulator.

See last two items.

He is a lousy businessman who has filed for bankruptcy four times.

That’s actually a lot of bankruptcies. But it’s a pretty normal practice and it was chapter 11, the type where you do it so the business lives to see another day. It’s not a smoking gun.

He’s a rich kid who got all his money from his father.

Ever hear of the Roosevelts?  JFK?

He’s a draft dodger.

We’ve had one president in the last 50 years serve in combat. Thank you George H.W. Bush for your service.

You get the point.  You can play this game all day long. It doesn’t work. Trump’s most brilliant talent is staying relevant in our ever shifting culture. He started with real estate and then moved into our consciousness as someone synonymous with simply being rich in the 80’s and 90’s. Then he morphed into a reality TV star and invaded social media and now he’s impregnated our political machine with the Trump brand.

When someone becomes that ubiquitous, they become a walking talking, tweeting, insulting, bullying, Rorschac test. People start to see in him what they want. For those feeling left behind by a changing economy, he’s a business man who will solve it. For those feeling marginalized by our changing culture, he’s going to kick out all the foreigners. For those scared of terrorists, he’s going to bomb the hell out of ISIS. For those of us who want to shout down inequality and bigotry, he’s someone to hate.  He is different things to different people. Like scripture, if you stare at candidate Trump for long enough, he will tell you whatever you want. And there’s one thing you can’t argue about with someone. It’s their religion.

But that doesn’t mean we should get baptized by him. Here’s why.

There are three critically important dimensions to useful political thought.  Effective political thinkers need be equally principled, empathetic and pragmatic. Looking back at candidate Trump’s public and private life experiences, he fails this test in an extremely dangerous and troubling way. More so than any person seeking the office of President of the United States in a long time, maybe ever. After 40 years in the public eye, it’s almost impossible to point to areas where he has been a part of something bigger than himself, built on a guiding principle that made other people’s lives-people he didn’t know or wouldn’t be in a position to receive something in return from-better.

He appears to be entirely devoid of anything that mimics empathy. Heads of government need to be able to feel the pain of the people they govern as if it were their own. That doesn’t mean that they have to be selfless or even charitable. It means that they have to have the capacity to care about the outcomes of other people. Candidate Trump fails.

He does have one thing in abundance-pragmatism. Unfortunately, pragmatism without empathy towards those you govern and not grounded in principle other than self promotion is powerfully dangerous. It’s that thing that the truly dark rulers of history seem to have in common- the ability to get things done without the troublesome headwinds of principle and care for others. It’s the recipe for how the governing of man has gone horribly wrong for thousands of years.

This is usually where supporters of one candidate start to throw out the flaws of the other candidates in response. But here is where that doesn’t really work for candidate Trump. Every other candidate, on some level, does better at the standards explained above. Here’s how you can tell. Take a look at how they’ve spent their life and then look at candidate Trump. Candidate Trump was named the president of his father’s $200M real estate firm in 1974, when he was 28, six years after he graduated from Wharton.  What he’s done since, is on display for the public to see. At no point has he even appeared to serve someone else. And that’s hard to find, even for someone not running for president.

If you run the other candidates and recent presidents through that test, the difference is staggering. Hillary Clinton was one of 27 women in her graduating class from Yale Law School. She had a wealth of opportunity and chose the Children’s Defense Fund as her first professional role. Ted Cruz is the son of a Cuban immigrant who graduated from Harvard, was the editor of the Harvard Law Review and then served as a clerk for several federal judges including Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist. He’s horribly unlikable but he appears to actually believe in something other then himself. Bernie Sanders chooses to call himself a democratic socialist, something that has limited him his entire career until recently, because he believes in it. John Kasich has answered to the people of his state as the Governor of Ohio. Some are supporters.  Some are not. But at a minimum, he appears to have governed with benevolent intent. President Obama, same a Cruz, son of an immigrant, Harvard graduate, became a community organizer. Reagan was the president of the Screen Actors Guild and then governor of California. JFK was a decorated war hero as the commander of PT-109. You can go down the list and point to times, whether you agree with them or not, that other candidates have served someone other than themselves.  

But you can’t for Trump.

And this is what that means. If candidate Trump were to be President Trump, the first group of people that he will be responsible for serving, above his own interests, will be the entirety of the American people and by virtue of our standing as a global power, mankind.  And that is as strong a case as anyone can make against anyone doing anything. There’s a lot at stake here. It’s not the time to get comfortable with candidate Trump. And if he is nominated by the Republican Party to run for office in the 2016 Presidential Election, it’s not because he’s right. It’s the death spasm of a scared, angry ideology that has poisoned the conservative mind of our country. And we should think that it’s as ridiculous now as we ever have. Because it is. It’s just a lot more dangerous.

 

 

 

 

 

Equal Protection Under the Law

213 year ago, a simple dispute over the appointment of a justice of the peace changed the way our government, and the government of countless nations to follow, worked.  The Supreme Court, in its infant stage, ruled that Secretary of State James Madison broke a law by refusing to deliver an appointment by President Adams of William Marbury to the position of Justice of the Peace of Washington DC.  The court then did something very different.  Instead of ordering the appointment, it declared the law that was broken, The Judiciary Act of 1789, was in fact, unconstitutional-a word no one had really ever used before. And since, the idea of judicial review, the doctrine in which an un-elected, independent body has the power to interpret and eliminate the laws passed and signed by democratically elected officials, if they deem them unconstitutional, has bound our government to our governing documents.

There are nine of these men and women-mostly men.  They vote on cases.  They debate.  They hear arguments. They ask questions-some ask questions. Justice Clarence Thomas has not asked one during a hearing in 10 years-not a joke.   They decide, first individually, then as a body.  And since the idea of judicial review has existed, the debate on how to interpret our great document has broken along the same lines just about any interpretive debate must-conservative, or liberal.  Some believe that the Constitution requires strict interpretation, “constructionism” as it’s called.  Others believe that a new law must be proven unconstitutional, instead of assumed so because it wasn’t written into it’s original articles or subsequent amendments.  If it sounds like a debate about religion, it’s because it is.

So how does history view these justices when they pass?  After all, they’re appointed for life, so they often do pass, while in office.  Well, for the most part, history doesn’t view them.  Except for a few-the first woman, the first black man etc.- we forget them. We remember their massively important opinions that shape the trajectory of our social progress.  We remember the cases, not the men.  Brown V. the Board of Education, Plessy V. Furgeson, Dred Sott V. Sandford-these are the cases we learn in civics and American history classes.  They decide existentially important issues like slavery, voting rights, segregation…gay marriage.

Besides the names of the cases, there is one thing we do remember though.  When we look back, through the generations at the conduct of our court, we remember when someone put pen to paper for all history to remember, in service to excluding others. We remember Justice Henry Brown in Plessy V. Ferguson, writing an opinion in favor segregation.

“If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.”

We remember Chief Justice Roger Taney’s words in his majority opinion in Scott V. Sandford.

“But it is too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration (of Independence)…”

History is not kind to them.  Nor should it be.  Because these men have made the fatal mistake of valuing the document that governs the people, over the people.  We do this when we hide behind the Constitution to exclude people from society.  And so, generations from now, history will remember Justice Antonin Scalia’s words.  Words in a dissenting opinion that would ask that we exclude gay’s from the society of family life.  Words that would weaken the hand of citizens in the democratic process and strengthen the hand of the wealthy and corporations, in service to a strict interpretation of a document.  His words will be his memory.   I can’t tell you a single thing about Justice Taney or Justice Brown, other than their words of exclusion.  Because history remembers what they stood for.  And so it will be with Justice Scalia.

History also remembers another man, whose ideals changed the trajectory of how man is governed on earth.  As a man, he was a flawed, slave owning aristocrat.  His words though, unlocked the potential of mankind in the name of equality.  And when it comes to how we ought to interpret the intention of those who crafted our governing document, I take my lead from him.  In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

I have no knowledge of the late Justice Scalia as a man other than what I’ve read in his opinions and brief anecdotes from the media.   He served his country as a conservative voice.  And conservative voices are important.  They require that progress is organized and thoughtful.  They demand consensus from progressives and moderates to move off their pedestals together.  Conservatives are good.  But you can’t hide behind conservatism when you try to exclude people.  Eventually, the world moves past you.  And your words endure.  History has a knack for shining a light on your message. Generations from now, someone somewhere will be digging up Antonin Scalia’s words, and wondering how we saw the intent of our founders in them.  History, like Justice Scalia, is a harsh and demanding judge.

American Employment, 2016

The United States of America has reached full employment-that sought after term used by economists that describes an unemployment rate where all who are able and willing to work, are working.  Though the actual number that represents full employment varies based on who you ask, it’s around 5.5% or less.  That’s where we are.

This month, Americans attained a massive achievement.  In a long fought journey back from the depths of recession, we’ve traveled from 10% unemployment, a rate not measurably exceeded since the Great Depression, to full employment.  Every single day of reduction of unemployment since the Great Recession of 2008-9 has taken place under the Obama administration.  During this same time, our federal deficit spending, as a % of GDP has shrunk to its lowest point since 2005-lower than all but one year in the Reagan and first Bush administrations combined, lower than the first term of the Clinton Administration.  These are facts supported by raw data that has been collected by consistent, non-partisan means for decades.  These numbers of economic strength are hard to argue with, on a macro-economic scale.  But for some reason, most Americans don’t feel that good about the direction of the country-in economic perspectives. Even our most fervent optimists admit, it doesn’t really feel like full employment. But why?  You could dismiss the sentiment as a result of partisan bickering in an election year-one covered on an unprecedented scale by the largest media market in the history of mankind, accelerated by our current social media environment.  You could do that.  Or, you could take a deeper look at the data.  We did the latter.

That Data

There’s no shortage of data to be found on topics that people care about these days.  But you have to be careful with who is supplying it to you.  Political organizations, even those that don’t sound political but actually are-think tanks, policy centers etc., tend to start with a point and then find the data to confirm it.  If you’re serious about data though, and you are interested in understanding instead of confirming, you start with the data.  The confirmation comes later.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a virtual treasure trove of data.  And if you take a look at two massive surveys they collect, the Occupational Employment Statistics Survey (OES), and the Current Population Survey (CPS), you can see the detail on job categorization, population, pay and employment status in raw form.  That’s exactly what we did.  What we found was a very clear and compelling.

Unemployment

You’ve heard President Obama himself tout the massive reduction in unemployment on his watch.  If you’ve paid attention to the Republican presidential primary race, you’ve also heard the counter-point that the impressive number is a “fake” number.  And that behind it, hides significant problems with people who have quit looking for work or people under employed.  So which one is it?  The good news is, the CPS, which is a monthly survey consistently delivered since 1994 and scientifically managed to be statistically significant, actually tracks that stuff.  What does it say?  Well, it says that the President is right.  We have reduced unemployment significantly across all groups, to include marginally attached workers (those who want work and stopped looking) and part time workers.

It’s not 5.5% like the pure unemployment number, but it’s pretty much back within normal range of our pre-recession levels.  Unfortunately for the opposition, but fortunately for the country, people are finding jobs-full time jobs-again.  And the trend is continuing to improve every month.

Job Category

So if we’re getting jobs, clearly they’re not good ones any more.  That’s why people are upset.  Right?   That’s the voice of discontent from the middle class these days.  So we looked in the Occupational Employment Survey to see how things have changed, since the current form of survey started in 1997.  Terminology regularly changes here, so we had to do quite a bit of work to broaden it to get to an apples to apples comparison, but here’s what we found.
Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 8.33.18 AMOur conclusion is that there has been a little shifting around.  But not much.  For the most part, over the last 20 years, Americans are consistently working in the same types of jobs.  There’s some uptick in management and computers,  some shrinkage in agriculture and science, but it’s mostly the same.  So what’s going on?  Well, when you start to look at income, the picture gets clearer.

Income

When you peal back the overall employment status, number and job type, you can see the income patterns.   At the highest level, the American worker is actually out-legging inflation over the last two decades.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 8.33.43 AM

The graphic above shows that, as a whole, the American worker makes $626 more a year then they did in 1997 adjusted for inflation.  That’s a good thing.  So, unemployment is stable, we’re continuing the same types of work we used to do at a macro level, and we’re making more money then we used to.  What’s the problem?   It’s this.  The “we” in that statement above, is fantastically uneven when you move one click down on the income detail.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 8.34.32 AM

If you are one of the higher paid job categories, things have been pretty rosy for you the last few decades.  White collar and professional jobs have seen their income increase relative to inflation since 1997 significantly.  When you look at the management bucket, the second highest paid group behind the much smaller legal industry, you see a massive 20% increase in income for people already making more money then just about everyone else.  Hold that thought.  Because it will start to help you understand some of the frustration being felt by the other group of American workers shown in the next graphic.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 8.34.11 AM

Educators, blue collar workers and service providers are hurting.  If you look at manufacturing, construction and maintenance workers, you’ll see that group has seen a 10% pay cut since 1997, despite being the most productive manufacturing workforce in the world, per capita.   That group is the largest portion of the American workforce.  Roughly one-in-four Americans works there.  Our next biggest group, Administrative workers, is down 4%.  So when you start to look at that pie chart through the lens of income, the picture actually gets pretty bleak.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 8.33.30 AM

There are a lot of Americans, most actually, that are in a worse condition now, then they were 20 years ago, from an employment perspective.  Which means there’s a lot of Americans who are justifiably dissatisfied. And the current political environment is quickly taking that appropriate dissatisfaction and throwing gas on it-urging us ever closer to a once inconceivable outcome of a Trump/Sanders presidential race.

People are angry.  And I think we’ve done a fair job at showing why they’re pissed.   But where should we aim that anger?  Which side has it right?  Is it Trump angry?  Is it Bernie angry?  Let’s start with some facts.

Some Facts brought to you by the good folks at Forbes Magazine, the Huffington Post and the United Nations.

  • In 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization.
  • The average annual salary for a manufacturing employee in China is $7,705.
  • The average annual salary for a manufacturing employee in the U.S. is $37,440.
  • 22% of the world’s manufacturing is done in China, more than any other country in the world.
  • 17% of the world’s manufacturing is done in America, more than any other country in the world except China.
  • In 1992, the United States manufactured more goods than any country in the world. China was 6th.
  • Companies in the S&P 500 reported over 30% profit growth in 2012.
  • During that same time, employment in those companies shrank by 1M jobs.
  • Over the last decade, corporations in America have increased employment in countries other than America 30%.
  • According to Moore’s Law, computer processing capacity doubles every year.

There’s a lot that goes into why the economic outlook has changed over the last two decades.  You’ll find most of your major culprits somewhere in that list though.  And though you could throw the catch all, “because that (insert political figurehead) has ruined America, we’re so unfriendly to business, all the jobs are leaving”, I’ll add one more graphic that shows that the business and taxation environment in America has never been greater and that investment in the American workforce during that time has been non-existent.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 11.28.25 AM

So what?

Unfortunately for some potential office seekers, economically speaking, you don’t see immigration, the degradation of conservative family values, government spending, Obamacare, welfare or even taxation in that list above.  You could try to add taxes in there if you want to. Our corporate tax rates (35% max) have been the same since 1994, and haven’t been lower since 1941. So you would be wrong. So why are the people that are most impacted by this shift so angry at those things?  It’s a really hard thing to explain.  But I’ll give it a shot.

Most of the things that have driven a negative shift in the quality of life for middle class Americans are events driven by innovation and free market capitalism.  So we’re stuck with a choice between being angry at something we don’t know how to be angry at and being ok with our lives being worse then they used to be.  We do neither willingly.  So, like an unhappily married couple, working class Americans have taken to blaming their outcomes on the things we really know how to get angry with.  Things like inequality, racial injustice, immigrants, people who are different, whoever is in charge.  Did I say people who are different?  Burn the witches because the crops have failed.  We’re humans.  This is what we do. And it’s not new.  So we’re doing it in spades.  We can’t get mad at free market capitalism and innovation, but we can get mad at something.

What do we do about it?

This is where you have to be careful. Using the impacts of free market capitalism to explain a negative economic outcome and claiming that free market capitalism is bad are not the same things.  Capitalism is good.  Right now, though, it’s not good for the American middle class.  It’s improving the middle class of developing countries at an unprecedented rate.  And that’s good.  Because it promotes global societal health and stability.  And though people are screaming about how dangerous the world is today, coming off a century of near global nuclear war, multiple world wars and the spread and then failure of communism, ISIS is a relative lightweight compared to the demons of our past. We’ve never been safer. But we’ve still got a problem. Our middle class is hurting.  And the data shows it’s real pain.  And it has nothing to do with whatever party is in office.

So what do we do about it?  Well, unfortunately for most of the working middle class folks who identify as conservative, you’re not going to like the answer.  The types of things that tend to solve the problems of employment income and de-insdustrialization tend to look like government intervention in the economy.  And that’s a little scary.  But I’d like to start a discussion on solutions and outcomes. This is what that sounds like.  Here are three things I would like to see help the middle class.

  1. Increase in public works projects that will overhaul our deteriorating infrastructure (see Flint, MI) and create high paying jobs for skilled laborers that can’t be outsourced.
  2. Decrease the burden of healthcare costs for all Americans.
  3. Incentivize private sector investment in the American workforce or levy higher taxes on their record profits. Doing neither is bad for America.

Now, I assume that many people will object to these proposals.  Especially the #3.  That’s scary stuff.  But we’re in uncharted ground and it’s not going to fix itself.  I even assume that the very people who this will actually help will also object to them in the name of principal.  But what I’d ask of those who do is to demand that your candidate provide an alternative solution to the very real problems of the American middle class.  And don’t settle for the nonsense designed to channel your focus and frustration at things like immigration, rich people, Muslims, gay people, cops or the poor.  They have nothing to do with it, no matter how much you want them to.  If we’re going to get better than we are,  we have to be better than that.  And we’ve got real problems to solve.

Thank You Peyton

I’ve been watching Peyton Manning play football for my whole life.   At least the parts of my life that have mattered.  I was in my last year at the Naval Academy in Annapolis when he was a rookie.  I distinctly remember watching him in the TV room-we called it the “ward room”- with my roommate on a Sunday.  I had stayed in to study for finals.  Peyton beat the Bengals with three touchdown passes.

A few years later, while I was on a ship halfway around the world on my first deployment, he’d throw two more in a season opening win in New York against the Jets.  Two days later, the towers in Manhattan fell.   A month later, Peyton was on a bye week. He may actually have been watching us instead of us watching him as the war started, my ship launching the first strikes into Afghanistan, our picture on the front page of every paper in the world the next day.

In 2004, I didn’t see any football until November, deployed to a remote location, no television, no internet.   But the week I returned he threw four touchdowns and beat the Vikings.  He won his only Super Bowl, in the rain, in 2006, the year my mom died.  She loved Peyton.  A few years later, I returned home from Iraq, on emergency leave to be with my family.  It was the first game I’d watched at home, for what seemed like forever.  We watched football together.  My wife, my boys and me.  It’s what we did-what we do.  He threw three touchdown passes, beat the Texans.   A few months later, from a dusty mess hall in western Iraq, I would watch an interception he threw in the Super Bowl be returned for a Touchdown.  He lost.

Last year, a few years after I left the military world, I finally got to see him play in person.  I sat with my wife on a beautiful day in Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, his Broncos playing my wife’s beloved Chargers.  We watched him throw wobbly balloon ball passes that floated and fluttered right into the hands of his receiver, most of the life gone from his once strong arm.  He limped off the field and into the locker room right before half time having injured his leg. He came back in the second half as he always did.    His Broncos would win.

Tomorrow, Peyton is probably playing his last game.  The wreckage is bad, four neck surgeries, a bum leg, a bad foot, nerve damage in his arm that makes it hard to grip a football.  There’s been a lot of mileage on him the last 18 years.   I guess you could say the same thing for me-for all of us.  For many, none of this matters. Football is just a game after all.  But for some of us, sometimes it feels like a lot more.  I’m sure tomorrow, as I sit down with my wife and my boys one last time to watch Peyton play, it’s going to be one of those times.  Thanks for the memories Peyton.

The Berning Platform

If you’re trying to produce meaningful social or political content and someone hasn’t called you either a communist or an elitist, then you’re probably not trying hard enough.  If you’ve managed to be called both, then you’re getting somewhere. That’s what happens.  If you’re going to explore the boundaries of things that matter in an objective way, then someone somewhere is going to be offended-or confused.  Confused is better than offended. It’s the first step towards understanding something interesting.  Like Samuel Goldwyn said, “If I look confused, it’s because I’m thinking.”

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of that going on in some of our political spaces these days-more specifically around the words socialism, communism and capitalism. If you’ve been paying attention to the the Democratic presidential primary race though, you might be thinking that perhaps we ought to start. Because there’s a bit of a movement afoot.

Senator Bernie Sanders (D) of Vermont calls himself a Democratic Socialist. And he just missed winning in the Iowa Caucuses by a fraction of a percent over one of the great shoe-in nominees in recent history, Hillary Clinton.  Because 84% of all caucusers under 30 voted for him.  Progressive kids sat through hours of caucusing to vote for a white Vermont Senator who was born three months before America entered World War II. It’s not because he’s cool.  He’s a grumpy old man who is audibly indistinguishable from Larry David’s George Steinbrenner caricature on Seinfeld.  It’s not because they identify with him either, unless he reminds them of their curmudgeony grandfather. It’s because of his maniacally consistent message that is striking a chord with young progressives.  And though the political windsock that is the mind of the young progressive tends to blow towards whatever new message wanders into their Twitter feed, there’s something else to acknowledge here. These kids seem to have no instinctual fear of the word socialism. And that’s different.

When I was younger and more impressionable, socialism and communism and the Cold War and the nuclear arms race and Olympic Hockey all wrapped up into one massive package of horrible un-American-ness. America is-was-ever shall be synonymous with unmitigated capitalism. And socialism and communism are basically the same thing, right? At least in as much as they’re not capitalism.

I remember the movie Red Dawn (the original). The second “S” in USSR is Socialist. The Nazi’s were the National Socialist party. That’s the message I grew up with. And depending on who you ask today, it’s still true. So why in the world would anyone support a person who openly admits he’s a socialist? Well, it turns out, it may be someone who has a more firm understanding of the economic reality that has existed over the last 230 years in America than those of us who grew up hating the Russians.

America is a democratically elected socialist republic . Unarguably, shamelessly, a democratic republic that has democratically chosen to socialize many aspects of our life for centuries. I know that is contrary to many of our beliefs. But it’s true. And it’s absolutely fine. Because capitalism, in its purest form is so miserable for most people and so slanted towards those with concentrations of capital, that it becomes impossible to make good on the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” promised by our founding fathers.They never promised capitalism. They promised liberty.

So we socialized things. They did it 80 years before Karl Marx began to write of communism.Public education is socialism.  Professional police and fire services are socialism.  Federal highway systems are socialism.  Social security…the military..the post office…all socialism. Anything that is supported by tax dollars from the public, to support the broader population independent of their contribution is socialism.  So unless you are willing to debate the existence of these foundational, centuries old institutions in America, then you are actually not willing to debate that we are a socialist democracy. The more appropriate debate, is how socialist are we and how socialist ought we be?

Contrary to popular belief, becoming a more socialist society does not make you a communist society any more than smoking more makes you an alcoholic. Too much isn’t good.  But one doesn’t on-ramp to the other simply by doing it more.  Communism is when no one owns anything except the government. Socialism is when government provides services for the greater good of society, based on some collective investment of the society. And when you’re a socialist democracy, the people actually get to vote on what the greater good ought to be and what the acceptable cost of that greater good is.  Communism aims to eliminate the working poor at the expense of any notion of personal property.  And it doesn’t work. Because it ignores the one thing that our founding father’s knew out about the nature of mankind.

We are beings who crave liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Which really means we are beings who crave choice.  We crave it so badly that when we run out of it we’ll walk across the desert to lands unknown, build canoes and sail over the horizon, cross thousands of miles in covered wagons with our family to find it.  We want choice.  And with communism, you have to surrender it.  But mankind refuses unless it’s forced by oppressive, self serving autocracies that eventually, like the earth’s frontiers and bounds of gravity, surrender to the will of mankind’s craving for choice. We are defined by our intellect. Our intellect is our ability to think. The outcome of our thoughts is our choice.  Mankind is choice.

Never is our craving for choice more powerful then when we are young. And what the Sanders movement is shouting in it’s throaty Brooklyn accent is that they’re losing it. But why?

Because the most dangerous problems of America today, the ones that are going to impact us for the next fifty years are not because government is growing too much or because our economy is failing.  It’s not because we’re losing world influence. It’s because we’re starting to lose our choice. Because capitalism is starting to devour our democracy.

Here’s the picture that young America is looking at.  The middle class is shrinking.  Wage growth is stagnant. The top 10 percent of earners received 46.5 percent of all income in 2011, the largest slice of the pie since 1917. The top one tenth of one percent of earners earned 11.3% of all income in America.  In 1972, they earned 3%.  The bridge to financial independence for American youth is starting to look too far. Not because of our president-or the last one-or the one before him. But because automation and globalization are eliminating our working class and the capital it is making is moving to the rich. And staying there.

As it stands, corporate profits are higher then they have ever been in our history as a country.  Corporate taxes are the lowest they have been since we entered into the modern economy of the 20th century.  And no one dare force corporate America to make choices that hurt growth-no matter how much growth is costing us. So they are sitting on unprecedented piles of cash, not investing in the American workforce.

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So if you’re a kid these days, you’re starting to feel like your power of choice is not what generations before you had, you may be right. And if you haven’t been brainwashed by your parents or aren’t interested in blaming the destruction of the middle class on the break down of “traditional values” and immigration, then you might be interested in Bernie’s message.

At least some part of that message is this. At the core of our massive American problem today is the fact that our capital markets are controlling our democratic process. And though economic considerations should be a part of the democratic discourse, they should not control it. Right now we have unlimited corporate participation in our political process as a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. We have a 285 Billion dollar media market that follows ratings and clicks to provide us with our consciousness.  And we have a belief that our country’s economic success is completely dependent on creating as much friction-less capitalism as possible. Anything else is unimaginable.  And as much as we feel like “kids these days” are overly entitled, as just about every generation in history has felt about the one after it, the data shows that they’re in for a steeper climb than what you and I grew up with. And that’s a legitimate beef that Bernie Sanders is giving voice to.

Here’s the hard truth though.  I’m probably not voting for Bernie Sanders.  His tone is likely too divisive to usher in the era of compromise we so desperately need to govern more effectively than we are now. But one of the harmful things we do in politics, and life in general, is dismiss an idea because of what’s wrong with it instead of taking the time to consider and build on what’s right with it. There’s a lot right with Bernie’s message.  And the problems we’re going to face in the next 50 years will need to include solutions to the problems his movement points out. Inequality, segregation and the general marginalization of the democratic process by the unchecked forces of capital are all very real problems.  Shouting down their existence in the name of American capitalism is uninformed at best, dangerous at worst.  Our founding father’s didn’t promise lubricated capitalism. They promised choice and participation in governance.  Capitalism isn’t going anywhere. Democracy is far more fragile.

 

Nothing… in the Name of Liberty

Tomorrow would by my mother’s 70th Birthday. She’s been gone for ten years but I remember when the end began as if it were yesterday. I was far away, leading my team in some crappy corner of the globe talking to her on a satellite phone. It was cancer. They’d caught it early and were able to operate and contain it. She dodged a bullet. Cancer alone, wouldn’t do it.

Shortly after I returned from that deployment I remember noticing her speech slowing considerably more each time I would call. The doctors thought it may have been related to the cancer medications she was taking. It wasn’t. It was ALS. ALS, as it does in every person who ever suffers from it, killed her. It killed her in a slow, methodical painful horrible way.

This isn’t a story about losing a parent. We all expect to lose them at some time. I was fortunate enough to have both of mine well into adulthood, after I crossed the bridge of financial stability-after I started a family of my own. This isn’t a story about ALS either.   It’s a horrible disease. But it’s very rare. It touches less than one tenth of one tenth of one percent of Americans annually. Chances are, it won’t matter to you. This is a story of what happens in 21st century America when someone you are obligated to care for, gets sick.

My mother lived less than two years after she was diagnosed with ALS. For most of the second year, she was reduced to a completely motionless state as her nervous system rapidly shut down. There are a few things I will remember for the rest of my life that happened during that time. I’ll remember the long drive she asked me to take her on shortly before her speech completely failed. She slowly told me the story of how she met my father and how happy they were, for a brief time, when they were married. They split when I was too young to remember any of it. We’d never talked about it. She wanted me to know that I came from something good. It was the type of thing you tell your son when you know its the last thing you’ll tell him.

I remember the trip to the specialist’s office in Philadelphia. When the doctor told her that her lungs were soon going to lose the ability to draw air. And when he asked her if she wanted a respirator, because without it, she would be dead in months. She looked at me for permission to say no. Then she pointed to my wife’s stomach. We were pregnant.  She wanted to live to see him. But the pain was too much. With a silent hug, I let her know it was ok. I understood. She was done.

I remember the afternoon, a few months later, alone in the house I grew up in with her. I dozed off in the comfortable yellow fabric chair I spent my childhood watching TV in.  Something startled me. I realize now it was the gasp of her last breath that woke me up.  She was gone. The last thing I remember was the feeling of relief.

Surely you can forgive yourself for feeling relief when someone comes to the end of such a hard, painful journey. It’s only natural. But there’s a part of that relief that I haven’t been able to shake. One that wasn’t linked to the pain and suffering of my mother. One that wasn’t linked to the emotional marathon that is a long terminal illness. One I will feel guilty about for the rest of my life; the relief that my mother’s passing had given me from the ever growing certainty that we were all going broke caring for her.

My mother did everything right. She graduated from college and became a teacher. She spent 35 years teaching kids how to read in some of the lowest income school districts in South Jersey. She saved her money and put her kids through college. She even bought a long term disability insurance policy. But when she fell ill after she retired, and before she was eligible for social security, the financial burden was unavoidable.

ALS patients live an average of three to five years after diagnosis. She lived two. Had she lived longer, my family, including myself, also providing for a family of my own, would have gone bankrupt caring for her. Ten years later, I still bear financial burdens that I had to assume in order to relocate my family to provide care for her. Because we, in America,  do something with medical care that we don’t do with anything else this important. We let profit drive the outcomes.

The single most common reason for bankruptcy in America is medical cost. Whether it be injury, illness or terminal diagnosis, nothing drives us into financial failure like medical issues. More than one in four bankruptcies in America are caused by medical reasons. And that’s just for people who have issues. The happy path is no better.

The average cost of healthcare in America for a family of four is just over $25k annually.  Employers pay about 60% of that. Employees, you and me that is, pay the other 40%.  Which means that a family of four, in a good year, pays $10k out of pocket annually to provide basic health care. In 2001 that cost was a about a third of what it is today as it has increased at two to three times the rate of inflation over the last 15 years. If you’re interested in politicizing the issue and blaming the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) look elsewhere. Since it’s inception in 2014 the annual increases in cost have slowed to the lowest point since the good folks at the Milliman Group started publishing the Milliman Medical Index in 2001. If you’ve got an opinion and you haven’t yet read their 2015 issue, read it.  If you can’t take the ten minutes to do that, save your breath. This issue is too important for uninformed rhetoric.

What the data shows is massive, uncontrollable cost growth in almost every area for decades. Why? Because there’s something wrong with private medical care. It’s called profit. Take a pause here before you start with the anti-capitalist rhetoric. I’m a corporate stooge in my private life. I love profit and make a living growing it. But there’s one thing that my MBA and my years of corporate leadership experience has taught me.  Corporations are addicted to growth. And in industries like medical care, where you can’t and shouldn’t aim to grow it by increasing customers and massive efficiency gains aren’t really appropriate, you’re stuck with two options. Increase price by increasing demand or increasing services. There’s a reason why there’s more pharmaceutical ads on TV than beer commercials these days. They’ve become a consumer product. Which is a uniquely American thing. Advertising drugs is actually illegal in other countries

So what should do we be doing? It’s a dirty thing to say in America. But I’ve got worse scars than most because of this so I will. Forget about profits. Which means one thing. Yes-government run health care.

By now. it’s possible that you’ve stopped reading, posted something in the comments section of this article that screams angrily about communism or that “damn Obama”.  If you’ve made it back, perhaps it’s because you’ve realized that we do this all the time in areas that no one objects to. If we need to bring our founding father’s into this one, people who were raised a generation removed from when we were burning witches and still regularly bled people to death to get the “bad spirits” out of them, we can do that. Long ago those brilliant men set out to create a society in which “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was a right, and in as much as government existed, it existed to enable the provision of these “self-evident” aspects of the human existence.  Since then we’ve deemed things like education, police and fire, utilities, national defense and even space exploration to be so basic to our ability to pursue happiness, that we’ve invested our pooled resources to enable it. How basic health care does not fit into that group is simply a function of how recent the gap of having it and not having it has widened as a result of technology and the regrettable outcome of our current political paralysis.

Right now, there is a senseless debate going on relative to the Affordable Care Act.  The schism in American views on healthcare runs right down party lines. Here’s the truth though. The Affordable Care Act is a miserable solution to a serious problem. But it’s what we have because the real solution is a single-payer system. Until we all cross that bridge of acceptance, which I am aware we probably never will, we all need to realize that the Affordable Care Act is the only solution to date that gives more people healthcare insurance than if it weren’t in place. And though that’s a massively low bar, and it will one day collapse under the spiraling costs of profit driven health care, it’s better than what anyone else is willing to do. Which is nothing in the name of liberty.

Doing nothing means that people every day make decisions about health care based on cost. People with families decide against the best health interest of their children because they can’t afford it. People with special needs children have to choose between working to receive benefits that provide their children with care, and participating in the care that only they can provide because someone else providing it is cost prohibitive. My family is one of those last ones. I’ll be transparent for the sake of making this point.  I have an autistic son. And I make choices for his care based on cost. I still have to choose. And I’m a “one percenter.”

You see it on your Facebook feed regularly.  Someone’s gofundme.com page asking for help for their family who did nothing other then get sick. If your thought when you see one is that those folks “ought to have prepared better” then you have no idea how much catastrophic medical care costs, and how high the out of pocket limits are for standard medical plans.

Nothing in the name of liberty is the solution that my family dealt with in our painful journey with my mother. It was a journey that still haunts me to this day. Every day, millions of Americans, even ones with healthcare insurance, are forced to make decisions about medical care because of cost. The idea that politics and profit are the two dominant forces in how we care for our American citizens is tremendously painful for those of us who have suffered under the current system.  The counter-point playbook to public healthcare usually involves the argument that American  healthcare is better than any of the other countries that have public health care. And that’s true. It is. But not because it’s private. Like our military, our space program, our police officers and fireman, it’s better because it’s American.

American public programs put a man on the moon before color TV existed. American public programs sent the largest invasion force in the history of mankind over the beach in Normandy. American public programs created nuclear energy and the internet. These are the things we can do when we all agree they need to be done. Comparatively speaking, administrating and funding a public health care system-not really that hard. Unless of course you want nothing, in the name of liberty. I pray you have a different outcome then my family did. Because nothing is what you’ll get.