Friday, September 1, 2017

"The Rich Young Senator"

The point of departure for this one entered my head many, many years ago.  I have a cousin who serves in ministry in North Dallas, and she once remarked to me that pretty much all of America’s churches – not just the high per capita ones – were filled with rich young rulers, referring to the common name for the original story in the gospels.

The schoolteacher or middle manager may not think of themselves as wealthy, but we as American Christians do in fact behave this way.  We definitely lay hold of our political rights this way. We have achieved such a level of ‘democratic’ wealth and spiritual/societal conscientiousness in our civilization, that we have adopted the attitude of a self-reliant, yes-I’m-doing-what-I’m-supposed-to, God-fearing lord or lady.  My cousin went on to explain to me that this material-driven self-righteousness was the true scourge of the church in our country today, much more than anything like false teaching, addictions, etc.

This conversation has stayed with me ever since.

This fall will mark a loose anniversary I have in my mind of when I officially became politically active.  It was this time of year in 1988.  Another cousin had roped me into being a yard sign distributor for Republicans in my home of Hunt County, Texas, owing to the fact that I had a newly minted driver’s license and my parents’ giant ’84 Suburban.  He himself was the official Hunt County coordinator for the George H.W. Bush campaign, and he moonlighted on Wednesday nights as our youth group leader.

One Wednesday night, our regular youth time overlapped with a conference call he had with the state campaign director for Bush 41.  My cousin brought in what was, at the time, a state-of-the-art desktop conference phone he had persuaded his dad, a propane retailer, to buy so that they could talk to all his drivers across East Texas at once.  After a shortened youth group lesson, my cousin dialed in a number as a couple of us huddled around the speaker set up on a table in our pastor’s study.  In a second, a 42-year-old George W. Bush came on the phone and gave a quick status report (I will admit that today I am older than this, but not by much).  The future Bush 43 began ticking through a list of all the county coordinators in Texas working for his father’s campaign.  Texas was still heavily Democratic then, and it was not a shoo-in for the Vice-President, especially with a popular U.S. Senator, Lloyd Bentsen, filling the other half of the Dukakis ticket.

“How are ya, Tim?” asked Bush 43, like my cousin was close friend.  My cousin was the only coordinator in that long list that was addressed by name.  In that instant, I was hooked on politics. Even as a sixteen-year-old, I immediately thought, oh, that dude just has a list in front of him with my cousin’s name on it, and he’s just playing off it.  But even that nascent cynicism could not the overcome the wildfire that was really ignited in my conscious.  I fell in love with the idea that if you just showed up when a connection asked you to, the rich and powerful would know your name, and that they might even listen to you if you stayed cool.

Twenty-nine years later, I realize this has been my modus operandi for every political deed I’ve undertaken, whether I was helping a complete political rookie get elected to the school board or was trying to persuade John McCain to his face that consideration of his amendment to preserve trade with Vietnam was protected by the Senate rules, and that Trent Lott was not out to get him.

I also realize now that I have been trying to be heard by the wrong people.  I have a touch of lament that this has taken twenty-nine years, but, like my cynicism, that is not more powerful than heaven’s conviction.  But if the Trump era has taught us anything, no matter how long he lasts, it is this:  the people very much run the United States.  It has always been this way.  Sure, the engagement level of that leadership may seem to come in spurts – but our nation is absolutely ruled by the Social Security check, among others.  We ourselves are the people who must listen to ourselves.  That is the true power structure of all of us rich young rulers.

What, then, of followers of Christ?  Should we be ruling?  That’s not what Jesus seemed to tell the young man in their encounter.  Or was it?

I hope this new little story will help us all think about this question a little more, and of course be entertained.  It is all G-rated for the most part.  But, there’s your money’s worth of violence (Also in high school, I spent too many weekends helping my orthopedist dad as his surgical tech not to sprinkle in a little gratuitous bloodshed here and there).  There is a tiny flicker of profanity, but it will make sense for the character who utters it.  I may be criticized for not allowing my inebriated journalist characters to use their normal barracks English, but I think the tale is otherwise plenty realistic.

You can absolutely read this book on any device once you perform a simple download (if even necessary).  You can read it on your handheld phone!  Thanks for taking the risk and time.

Enjoy the story.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

RE: Confederate Monuments

The Confederate Soldier statue in Greenville, Texas

I have stated my views about the War Between the States and how to commemorate it before.  Although that article is more than two-and-a-half years old, my opinions are unchanged about this period in our history and the criticalness of remembering it and the people of it.  If anything, my thoughts have become more ingrained, especially in the sense of how we should study the subject and arrive at informed opinions.

What has changed is the wild-eyed Bastille-ism now affecting Confederate symbolism around the country.  I stated in the article that basic recollection of the war and its memorials were soon to fall off a cliff of ignorance, but I meant that in terms of simply knowing key nouns by anyone under the age of 40.  I did not predict the devilish glee a bunch of self-righteous revolutionary wannabees would be demonstrating around and toward various statues, etc.  The racist socialists on the one side are, of course, repugnant by any measure.  And the righteousness of the be-tolerant-or-die leftists to “stand up to white supremacy” and “right the wrongs of the past” is as hypocritical as their lack of direct involvement with the black community to start with.

In the face of this chaos, I will continue to be the voice of reason, no matter how weakly my voice may sound amidst the shrieking.  Accordingly, I will lay out what I think is a sensible way to address Confederate monuments – a policy that may surprise some of my brothers in arms – but I must first correct some publicly disseminated ignorance.

The non-profit Texas Tribune recently reported on an estimated 180 Confederate-named locations in Texas.  This list, as reported, used as its starting point a list compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Although some of their legal tactics against the KKK and Aryan groups have been effective, the Southern Poverty Law Center has its own questionable heritage, but that is another blog.  Suffice it to say the SPLC is primarily a fundraising organization which, like many of them regardless of the cause, end up spending more money to raise it than they do in supporting their stated purpose.

In terms of the SPLC list, I have uncovered a blatant falsehood, which I think proves that anti-monument people aren’t really interested in facts or, worse, the decisions that some communities have already made on this issue.  The error that the SPLC and, by extension, the Texas Tribune are making concerns a Confederate memorial in my own hometown of Greenville.  The reference is to Smithsonian American Art Museum inventory record #TX000782, the Confederate Soldier statue commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter 1236.  The Smithsonian record is not up to date (but why should the SPLC or anyone else care about accuracy?).

This statue was first put up on the Greenville High School Wesley Street campus in 1926 (the GEUS Customer Center currently occupies this space, for those of you in/from G-town).  The statue followed the high school when it moved to a new building built on Texas Street in 1951.  Then, the marble sculpture of a simple CSA infantryman moved again to a new Junior High School on Stanford Street in the 1970s.

Due to it being a repeated target for vandalism, the statue was moved to its current resting place on the grounds of the Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum along I-30.  Incidentally, I-30 is also named locally as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Freeway within the city limits.  Why was the statue vandalized?  Local race issues may have been a factor over the years, but more often than not it was simply teenage hooliganism.  Regardless, there could be no better, safer place for it than its Blackland prairie spot between the Ende-Gillard House (also relocated to the museum grounds to protect it from vandals) and our town’s awesome bronze statue of Audie Murphy.

And this is a prime example of why so much ignorance persists when it comes to memorials.  No one bothered to check on the true status of the statue before they pushed it on out as something that should be taken down (this is the push of the SPLC website; the Tribune may not overtly be advocating it, but their reliance on the SPLC for sourcing brings their objectivity into question).  I hold these organizations responsible for these details.  As researchers, they should have contacted the Smithsonian to verify that their survey was up-to-date; if they did, then the blame is on our esteemed national curation system.  NOTE:  I will be copying and pasting my blog address into the form the Tribune has provided for “monument reporting.”

And to further correct the constant ignorance that is being perpetuated on this issue, I will lay out what I think should be the solution.  It’s very simple, and it’s an idea recently referred to by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz as he referenced the monument situation at UT Austin:  let the community decide.  In other words, let’s try to go back to good ol’ fashioned local democracy and allow citizens to make their own choice.  And it can be done through a public comment system, a city council agenda item, or even a full ballot referendum; just let the people – and not a liberal, Orwellian elite – decide for everyone else, which is the path we are on.

The irony is that by doing so, we would be returning to the original process that plunged the country into the Civil War in the first place and all its nightmare after effects:  popular sovereignty.  Abraham Lincoln split the country not because he was for or against slavery per se; he was, however, steadfastly against the people deciding about advancing slavery in new states, and this what drove the South to secede (in their racism, they wanted at least the option of extending human bondage all the way to the Pacific, as cotton could be grown in optimal conditions in Arizona).

True, much in terms of how America would view equality hung in the balance on these questions at the time, and I don’t want to minimize them.  But a step in healing of all the bad decades to follow would be to allow communities to wrestle with these issues themselves, today, independent of any kind of dictum, be it a law or attitude.

But it can’t be done with apathetic and inaccurate information.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Health Care Debate Gets Buried in the Swamp

Senator John McCain (Getty Images)

John McCain executed his sweet revenge on Donald Trump Thursday night by killing a shell health care bill written as part of the anti-Obamacare effort.  So called “skinny repeal” was the cancellation of the medical device excise tax that was passed with the Affordable Care Act.  In theory, all Republicans should express perfect unanimity over resecting a law that both puts a tax where there was none and stifles innovation in a technology field that makes lives better.  But, a Senator from a state that is totally dependent on Medicaid (Murkowski - Alaska) and a Democrat in Republicans’ clothing (Collins – Maine) apparently thought hanging together wasn’t the way to go with Mitch McConnell’s current strategy.

As did John McCain.  Two weeks ago, the Arizona Senator underwent a routine surgery in Phoenix to remove a blood clot from above his left eye.  A pathology report of this clot revealed evidence of glioblastoma, which is an aggressive brain cancer.  Why not slow down? was the gist of his speech in favor of moving ahead with debate earlier this week.  Slowing down would also prolong his torture of our instant gratification President, a man who insulted the former Vietnam POW for being shot down and captured.  When skinny-repeal died on the table, so did Trump’s campaign hype that the GOP would repeal Obamacare.  I promise you, this was as much in the Senator’s mind when he cast his vote at midnight yesterday morning.

As tragic as McCain’s revenge vote was, the greater crime in the Obamacare repeal movement has been that Republicans generally aren’t being true to themselves - even the so-called "heroic" ones like Cruz, Lee, Paul, etc.  This is because the President is not a true conservative, and cannot guide the members of the House and Senate accordingly.  House Speaker Paul Ryan is the closest thing we have to a market-oriented health care policy wonk on the repeal effort, but he is trapped in being from a state/district that ultimately thinks it needs some type of guaranteed health coverage.  As a result, his creativity is limited to inside-the-box thinking.

Republicans’ only hope at truly reforming health care, which Senator McCain yesterday claimed was his reasoning behind his no-vote (subliminal message: yeah, whatever), is to stop, yes, but more importantly, take a deep breath and remember their conservatism.  Here are the key ideas to remember, in case their political egos have also put their ideology on life support:

  1. De-couple health insurance from employment.  There are multiple ways to do this, including, if necessary, putting a 150% tax on corporations that offer it as part of a cafeteria plan, which will disincentivize.  This is arguably the second-biggest factor as to why we have such high premiums and therefore a lack of coverage among those who are younger and poorer.

    I don’t have the space here to elaborate, but think of it as car insurance.  Our car insurance is affordable because we have to go out in the marketplace and get it; most employers only offer modest discounts if it is any kind of work benefit.  Health insurance is high because insurers know that big companies have the money to pay the premiums, hence the micro-inflation in prices.
  2. Raise the enrollment age of Medicare to 72.  Americans, for the most part, are living longer because of better information about diet and exercise and market-led pharmaceutical therapies.  They are also in the workforce longer.  Put this population back into the larger coverage pool, and more payers will reduce premium prices.
  3. At the same time, take those more aged individuals with existing conditions and put them in either a regional or state-organized risk pool.  Certainly, more work needs to be done with risk pools to make them function correctly, but this is what states are for.  Let them use trial and error, if need be.
  4. Put a DNR on Medicaid – DO NOT EXPAND IT!  Move all the poor people into some type of CHIP program, and get them to start paying SOMETHING.  This must occur – there will be no modification of consumer behavior until they are putting money toward coverage of their families instead of into junk food and drugs.

    There needs to be a tax credit for long term care policies.  The biggest cost to state Medicaid programs are nursing homes.  If an employer wants to offer a low-cost benefit to its workers that’s health-related, make it this one!  Long term care policies work and will force nursing homes to adapt to market forces instead of walking up and down the halls of state capitols with their hands out.

These are just some of the core principles that Republicans need to “slow down” with and use to grade every other idea they have.  Of course, the Obamacare subsidies need a deep hole to be tossed into; it is this part of the ACA that many Republicans are hoping will tank the program.  But this is a game of chicken that will result in band-aid spending ad nauseum courtesy of the Democrats.  And obviously, the mandates of coverage must end – these are market perversions that will not make anyone “healthier.”  But above all, there has to be a return to smart, principled thinking, not just this partisan, that’s-a-stupid-idea attitude.

If not, all we get it is revenge drama and the pettiness writ-large that is refilling the swamp faster than it can be drained.